TOBA: Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association

Member of the Month

Bruce Lunsford

Bruce Lunsford is a Kentuckian to the core. Having served as state commerce secretary and as an integral member of several Kentucky businesses, Lunsford has since turned to the Bluegrass State’s equine pastime as both an owner and breeder. His latest stable star is his homebred Stacked Deck, who repelled a charge from Calgary Cat to win the Bold Venture Stakes (Can-III) by a neck at Woodbine on September 13.

A four-year-old gelding, Stacked Deck achieved his first graded victory in the Bold Venture, though he’s also finished in the money in the Woodford Stakes (gr. III) on October 3 and King Edward Stakes (Can-IIIT), also at Woodbine, this year. A stakes winner at three, the Barbara J. Minshall trainee has thus far earned $311,685 in six victories from fifteen starts. In his most recent start, Stacked Deck was unplaced in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT) at Keeneland.

Lunsford, who resides in Boca Raton, Florida, expects Stacked Deck to build on his successes. “I have a gut feeling there’s going to be a lot heard from him before he done if he stays healthy,” he said. The gelding has had a “pretty good year, and Lunsford added, “I think he's just going to get better. He’s a horse that gets smarter as he goes."

Lunsford co-owned Stacked Deck’s sire, First Samurai, winner of the 2005 Champagne and Hopeful Stakes (both gr. I), who now stands at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. He also owns the gelding’s dam, multiple graded stakes winner Bel Air Beauty (by Smart Strike), whom he bought for $210,000 at the 2005 Keeneland September Sale. The mare has since rewarded him by foaling Stacked Deck, as well as graded-placed Valentino Beauty (by Vindication) and winner Bel Air Bullet (by Indian Charlie). Bel Air Beauty produced a Malibu Moon foal in 2015 and is in foal to 2013 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) hero Orb, also holding court at Claiborne.

In the late 1990s, Lunsford began to dip a toe into the racing waters. One of his first successful homebreds was Vision and Verse, winner of the 1999 Illinois Derby (gr. II). But Vision and Verse was best known for his narrow second-place finish to Lemon Drop Kid in that year’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I), which foiled dual classic winner Charismatic’s Triple Crown bid. 

Around the time of Vision and Verse’s success, seeking to expand his operation, Lunsford gained “two top-notch mentors.” Those experts were the late W.T. Young of Overbrook Farm, which stood Vision and Verse’s superstar sire, Storm Cat, and John Gaines, who built Gainesway Farm into a powerhouse operation. “Both of them were very good to me, gave me a lot of good advice,” Lunsford said. Young’s words of wisdom—he told Lunsford to avoid buying a farm unless he wanted to live on it, and advised investing in a few stallions instead—rang true. Lunsford took that advice, and his operation has remained trim – and successful – ever since.

He currently maintains five to ten broodmares, which he boards at Claiborne, and begins each year with ten to twelve racehorses. His modest numbers help keep him from worrying too much, as he quipped, “It doesn’t cause me to lose a lot of sleep.”  But Lunsford’s own track record is as deep as his own resume. One of the standout runners he owned grade I winner Madcap Escapade, whom he called “so talented,” and later sold for $6 million - carrying future grade I winner Mi Sueno, by Pulpit - at the 2006 Keeneland November Sale.

Of “Madcap,” Lunsford recalled, “She was a beautiful racehorse. I can honestly say this, and I’ve owned a lot of good horses and had a lot of fun in my life…” A highlight of her career came in only her second start, when the Hennessy filly won the Old Hat Stakes by nearly twelve lengths, setting a stakes record in the process. When the then-undefeated Madcap Escapade went on to win the 2004 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland, Lunsford was floored. “It was a great thrill to win there, and her to be undefeated and have the whole crowd give her a standing ovation as she came back, that was pretty special,” he beamed.

Lunsford also bred Canadian Horse of the Year Arravale and Golden Missile. The latter horse (A.P. Indy - Santa Catalina, by Cure the Blues) was a fixture on the handicap scene in 1999 and 2000, en route to becoming a grade I winner and multimillionaire. But it’s racing that holds the key to Lunsford’s heart. “I don’t think you can compare with winning a big race. I think it’s pretty special,” he admitted. In fact, he has high hopes for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup. With the luck of his old Kentucky home on his side, Lunsford might make this year’s edition to remember.

Congratulations to Bruce Lunsford, TOBA’s October member of the month!

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