TOBA: Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association

September Member of the Month

Joseph Sutton

Joseph Sutton picked a good time to be introduced to racehorses. While stationed at Fort Knox, he attended the 1973 Run for the Roses. “I went to the [Kentucky] Derby and saw Secretariat win the Derby and I just had a great time.” Watching Secretariat triumph over Sham en route to a Triple Crown victory, Sutton got hooked on Thoroughbreds. Now 40 years later, he’s in the winner’s circle as a breeder and owner.

About 20 years ago, Sutton met Dr. Laszlo Makk, who introduced him to racing and breeding. Once some of his homebred yearlings didn’t sell, Sutton ventured into racing. “The breeding end is enjoyable and rewarding, but, if you like the action, racing’s a lot more fun,” the Houston, Tex. resident said. Currently, Sutton owns five to ten broodmares and around the same number of racehorses, adding up to 20 to 30 horses in total.

Sutton’s most recent stable star is Bradester, who took the Ack Ack Handicap (Gr. III) at Churchill Downs on September 6. Doug Branham bred the four-year-old, whom Sutton’s bloodstock adviser Barry Berkelhammer purchased for $195,000 at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Florida February Selected Two-Year-Olds-in-Training sale.

Although he was graded stakes-placed last year, 2014 has been Bradester’s best season yet. Earlier in the year, the Lion Heart colt captured his first graded stakes victory in the Mineshaft Handicap (Gr. III) at Fair Grounds. Sutton said he is “thrilled” with Bradester’s success and is especially excited because the colt, who “seems to be improving,” is named for his grandson. Currently, Bradester is aiming for a particularly big day in November. “We’re hoping maybe he might make the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile,” noted Sutton. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Another standout in Sutton’s current program is Milam. Though the three-year-old filly has already won the Pica Slew Stakes, she has been knocking on the door of a graded stakes win for months. Most recently, she finished third in the Dogwood Stakes (Gr. III) at Churchill. Berkelhammer bought Milam for $95,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September sale as a yearling, drawn to the filly’s build and excellent female family. Her sire is dual classic winner Street Sense, while Milam is from the female family of Albert the Great, among others. Though Sutton and his team are “hoping she’ll improve and get better,” Milam is still a prize broodmare prospect. “She’s a very well-bred horse and she’s a great runner, which is really good.”

Sutton doesn’t fly solo when he builds his stable, saying, “What makes me enjoy racing so much is that I’ve got a great team.” In addition to Berkelhammer, that team includes Duncan Taylor, who put together his racing program, and trainer Eddie Kenneally. Sutton also calls on one of Kentucky’s finest horsemen as an adviser and boarder. “I keep my horses at Stone Farm [in Paris, Ky.] with Arthur Hancock. We became friends and partners initially [in] some broodmares several years ago—ten, fifteen years ago—and then we raced some together. But most of my racing horses right now…I own myself. “

Though his current successes speak for themselves, Sutton is perhaps best known as the co-breeder, with Makk, of grade I winner Unbridled Belle. Though she was sold as a yearling in 2004 for just $4,000, the Broken Vow mare, who died earlier this year after foaling complications, went on to become a millionaire. She was also one of Sutton’s first standouts as a breeder. “I wish we had kept her,” admitted Sutton. “She turned out to be really a great racehorse, a good racing filly. That was really our first exposure to the Breeders’ Cup as breeders and [that] just makes you want more.”

To keep his operation financially viable, Sutton has had to sell some potential stars, like Unbridled Belle. Others include Warbling, whom he purchased as a yearling for $260,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September sale. For Sutton, the daughter of Unbridled’s Song whistled her way to a grade II victory and grade I placing. At the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Fall Mixed Sale, Sutton sold Warbling to Aaron and Marie Jones for $1.1 million. Although he hates to part with his horses, doing so “helps fund your operation a bit” and allows Sutton to continue to breed and race more runners.

Regarding his current runners, Sutton said, “My focus on racing, although I do have some broodmares.” Two potential stars are juveniles now. One is a soon-to-race Lookin at Lucky filly named Zeven, while the other is Bugle, a War Front filly. Keep a look out for these two and other Sutton runners—chances are, you’ll be seeing them and their owner in the winners’ circle sooner rather than later.

Congratulations to Joe, TOBA's September member of the month!

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