Mill Ridge & Nicoma News

Amerman Racing

July 28, 2017


A wonderful article about our friends/clients, John and Jerry Amerman in the Thoroughbred Daily News, by Michael Adolphson

Well intended from the beginning, they came storming out from the get go, dealt with the inevitable tribulations and continue to affirm their class to much adulation. Amerman Racing's experience in Thoroughbred ownership is not too dissimilar from the career and running style of its latest luminary, GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and GI Belmont Derby Invitational winner Oscar Performance (Kitten's Joy).

The Southern California-based equine enterprise of John and Jerry Amerman has a list of enviable accomplishments since branching off from Team Valor, and its forerunner Clover Racing (with which they had been invested since 1987), in 1995. The high-end operation has struck with about 17% of its lifetime starters, earned 23 Grade/Group I victories, struck gold while selling at auction and acquired two Breeders' Cup trophies on racing's biggest day. Their success has been so fluid, it almost seems like child's play--which is appropriate considering John is the former CEO of Mattel Toys--but the prosperity of the Amermans in their racing ventures has been much more calculated than such a surface-level impression. Through 30 years of thoughtful planning, well-advised decisions and no small amount of patience, they have reached the highest levels of a humbling sport and show no signs of breaking stride. "We had a lot of success and learned a great deal from Team Valor, but we decided to go on our own and see what we could do with what we learned," John Amerman said. "We originally had all of our horses with Bobby Frankel [before sending some to David Hofmans] and one day Bobby called me and said, "Do you want to buy a Grade I horse?" Then he told me, "There's only one catch: she's in Australia." That filly was Happyanunoit (NZ) (Yachtie {Aus}) and we had a lot of fun with her. From there we bought two horses in Chile, Printemps (Chi) (Hussonet) and Lido Palace (Chi) (Rich Man's Gold), and we won the Triple Crown for both fillies and colts in Chile that year. We also had standouts like Siphonic (Siphon {Brz}), Balance (Thunder Gulch) and Adoration (Honor Grades), who won us our first Breeders' Cup.

Happyanunoit would give the Amermans their first American Grade I victory in 1999's Matriarch at Hollywood Park before capturing two more top-level events, while Printemps and Lido Palace would land nine Grade I/Group 1s between them for the Amermans, with the latter a two-time winner of the GI Woodward. Precocious and ill-fated Grade I-winning 2-year-old Siphonic, Zenyatta's older multiple Grade I-winning half-sister Balance, and 2003 GI Breeders' Cup Distaff upsetter Adoration were top-tier athletes the stable had with Hofmans, who is among three conditioners the compact operation currently employs.

"We have about 18 horses in training and 15 broodmares, but each year we tend to sell some of them, as it is a business, after all," Amerman explained. "We were very sad when [Frankel] died and we originally split most of them between his assistants Brian Lynch, Chad Brown and Humberto Asciano, but Humberto unfortunately had a stroke. We also kept some with David [Hofmans] and we currently have nine with Brian, six with Chad, the rest with David."

The Amermans have developed a first-rate broodmare band that has become a driving force within its business model. In 2007, they sold $2-million earner Adoration to Coolmore for $3.1 million in foal to Smart Strike. Balance tipped the scales in a big way when her first foal, an A.P. Indy colt, sold for $4.2 million at Keeneland September 2010. A year later, the half-sister to the mighty Zenyatta--and three-time Grade I-winning millionaire in her own right--hit it big again with a $750,000 son of Street Cry (Ire) at the same sale.

Their breed-to-race program is matching strides. Miss Chapin (Royal Academy), who flashed great potential when winning her lone race for Frankel in July 2004, channeled her talent forward in the form of five winners of more than $1.7 million from six foals to race, including multiple graded stakes-placed Royal Fury (Langfuhr) and Grade I-winning Coffee Clique (Medaglia d'Oro)--both trained by Lynch.

Despite such notables in the Mill Ridge Farm-based band, the star of production is currently Devine Actress (Theatrical {Ire}). Trained by Hofmans through six starts, including three victories, her racing career was abbreviated after winning her first stakes in the Santa Lucia S. at Santa Anita in April 2010. Since then, she has produced solid gold in the form of Oscar Nominated (Kitten's Joy), who is a graded stakes-winning earner of $812,195 and aforementioned Oscar Performance one year later, from three foals of racing age. Losing Oscar Nominated for a $75,000 tag would have devastated the average owner, but the Amermans' experience allowed them to keep everything in perspective. "It was no fault of anyone's and we just held hands and hoped he wouldn't be taken, but he was," Amerman said. " After all, it wasn't the first time something like that occurred. We had looked at Zenyatta at the yearling sale because we had so much success with Balance, but we said to ourselves, "Maybe we shouldn't go back that same way again." Plus, she was so big, so we thought, "Let's not do that." Luckily the Mosses had the good judgment to buy her.

"Devine Actress is very exciting and has just been wonderful for us," he continued. "We have sent her to Dansili (GB) at Juddmonte in England. I really like Miss Chapin's 2-year-old this year, Coffee Clique has been bred to Uncle Mo and we expect big things out of Balance's son, Brooklyn Bobby (Frankel {GB}), who is three and recently went back to New York to [Lynch] after a break. He's obviously named after Bobby and that means a lot to us."

Meanwhile, Oscar Performance, an unstoppable 2016 juvenile star on the sod, has returned to his winning ways after a pair of underwhelming starts to kick off his sophomore season. Failing to hit the board in the GIII Transylvania S. at Keeneland in April and the GII American Turf S. at Churchill Downs in May, he flashed his old self by winning two consecutive graded stakes at Belmont Park this summer, including the rich Belmont Derby  July 8 in flashy gate-to-wire fashion. He now may be on a collision course with some of Europe's top sophomores, taking dead aim on the GI Secretariat S. at Arlington Aug. 12.

"The Belmont Derby was one of the great thrills we've had in racing," Amerman said. "As the horse was coming down the stretch, you knew he was going to win by the middle of the stretch and that doesn't happen that often. It allowed us to sit back and say "Wow, this is incredible!!" It obviously made up for the disappointing first couple races this year. The Transylvania was very wet and we were stuck inside. It was wet again at Churchill and we tried him with Lasix for the first time and he reacted badly to it, which can happen. I don't like to use Lasix if the horse doesn't need it, but we tried something new and it didn't work out. We immediately took him off it, sent him back to Belmont and he ran lights out.

A"ou have to enjoy all the wins--at least we do--whether big or small,@ he continued. "We're going to enjoy Oscar Performance and hopefully he can be successful as he goes up the ladder to the bigger races and better purses. We just beat a world-class field, so that makes it special, too, but now we may have to do that again in the Secretariat. It's a logical spot, if he's ready to run another mile and a quarter race. After that, we'll decide what to do with him as far as future plans or the Breeders'= Cup."

Lynch has been over the proverbial moon since his star pupil's return to form, which validated his long-held belief that the son of Kitten's Joy is special on multiple levels. Still, it was an arduous process to return him to the spotlight, with plenty of stressful growing pains. "It has taken some time, but he's certainly advanced a lot mentally this year and is less hot-blooded than he used to be," Lynch said. "His pre-race jitters have calmed down and he has been very focused all the way to the gate. In the race, you could see it. He relaxed and came home in racehorse time, getting his last half-mile in about :45. Good horses do that. He has tactical speed, he can save energy and he's tough.

"Early in the year when things weren't going well, I thought that maybe there really was a curse that comes along with the Juvenile boys race," Lynch continued. "He had excuses at both Keeneland and Churchill and we know that. I panicked a bit and put him on Lasix at Churchill and he disappointed, but it was Mr. Amerman who suggested taking him off it after that because he didn't need it. I'm very lucky to train for owners like the Amermans. They are fantastic sportsmen and they take the good with the bad, while you hope to always give them more of the good. They put so much into the business, so it's nice to have success for them."

Evolving an operation like Amerman Racing into a stakes-focused stable is no easy task, but the earners of nearly $25 million in purses have done so with aplomb, while guiding many of their retired and unsuccessful stock toward new careers, including multiple three-day eventing Thoroughbreds. When not doing such admirable work at their Temecula, CA, Thoroughbred rehabilitation center, one would imagine the Amermans can be found at either their Los Angeles or Anguilla homes, enjoying the plot of a season that would definitely please The Academy.

"We have had a lot of fun and it's a team effort," Amerman said. "A lot of credit goes to my wife, Jerry, when it comes to Oscar Performance, Oscar Nominated and a lot of these horses. I deal with the trainers and racing and she does the breeding side, working closely with Mill Ridge and Headley Bell, taking the time to really think about these matings. Breeding your own is the ultimate thrill, but meeting her at an Auburn [University] football game was the biggest success of my life."