SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Jack Brothers grew up in Elmont and broke into racing as a hot walker and groom for Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens. Sergio de Sousa, a native of Sao Paulo, was introduced to the sport by his grandfathers and uncles, who owned show jumpers and pleasure horses in Brazil.
In 2002, Brothers, de Sousa, Mark Roberts, Dan Hall and Danny Vella founded Hidden Brook Farm in Paris, Ky., and in only 10 years turned it into a world-class operation. Among the dozens of stars they have been associated with are Big Brown, the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, and Game On Dude, North America's top-ranked thoroughbred in training.
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"The partnership has been together from the beginning," Brothers said. "We started with 300 acres, bought 150 more after that and then a few years later bought about 150 more to get the farm over 600."
Hidden Brook Farm bought Big Brown as an unraced 2-year-old in April 2007 for Paul Pompa Jr., who later sold majority interest to Long Island-based IEAH Stables and its president, Bethpage native Michael Iavarone. Big Brown has become a hot sire for Three Chimneys Farm, shuttling between Kentucky and Australia.
Hidden Brook is involved in this week's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale, which in 2010 sold this year's Belmont winner, Union Rags. Hidden Brook is consignor of nine horses, including one it bred and raised, a filly sired by Colonel John out of the mare Las Malvinas. As a rule, most of its sales horses are bred, raised, broken and boarded for outside clients.
A consignor receives a commission of 5 percent -- "sometimes less, never more," de Sousa said. The agent and owner settle upon a minimum price they're willing to accept, known as a reserve, and if the bidding doesn't go that high, the horse is not sold. That's what happened to the Colonel John filly after she topped out at $190,000. Twenty-six of the 78 yearlings didn't meet their reserve Monday.
Hidden Brook had some luck with two fillies sired by Street Sense, the 2007 Derby and Travers winner. One went for $200,000 and the other for $30,000, meaning its cut was at best a modest $11,500 for the evening. Another opportunity disappeared when a colt was withdrawn. De Sousa was hopeful of doing better with five yearlings Tuesday.
De Sousa, who was 20 when he came to the United States in 1987, runs Hidden Brook's breeding program. In 2006, he and Jim Nelson of Tulsa, Okla., bred Musket Man, who became a standout for his owners, Jericho resident Eric Fein and Vic Carlson of Oregon. De Sousa watched the colt grow up at Hidden Brook before selling him for $15,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September selected yearling sale. Musket Man won the 2009 Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby for Fein and Carlson before missing second by a nose in the Kentucky Derby.
De Sousa was at Churchill Downs on that rainy first Saturday in May with his wife and two daughters, and the experience was unforgettable.
"When we saw Musket Man on the track and they started playing 'My Old Kentucky Home,' it was like being in another world," de Sousa said. "It was unbelievable to see a horse you bred run well at that level, and I wish more people could experience that.
"I have to be politically correct, so I can't say it's better than when your children are born, but it's pretty close."
Notes & quotes: Monday's figures were disappointing, with the $261,346 average price down 20.7 percent from last year's opening night. The $1.2-million sales topper, a Street Cry colt, went to Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum of Dubai. Only one other horse commanded seven figures, a $1.1-million Empire Maker colt purchased by George Bolton and Stonestreet Stable . . . The action heated up Tuesday night, when the average for the first 10 yearlings was $406,500. A filly by the late Dynaformer went for $900,000.