Countdown to the Cup: Second Life

Todd Pletcher, his assistant Mike McCarthy, agent Ron Anderson, and clocker/bloodstock agent Gary Young were having dinner at a Mexican restaurant back in November of 2007, when Pletcher turned to Young and said, “I need to buy a horse who will absolutely win the next time I run it.”

Pletcher was looking for a horse for Candy DeBartolo, wife of former San Francisco Forty Niners owner Edward DeBartolo Jr.

Young had been eyeing an unraced 2-year-old filly trained by Dan Hendricks named Life At Ten, who had been plagued by minor injuries and actually had just been sold privately less than two months earlier. Young was impressed by the way she had been training and was waiting to unload on her at the windows when she debuted.

That debut came on Nov. 10 at Hollywood Park. Sent off at 14-1, Life At Ten closed well to finish second in a sharp 1:09.80 for the six furlongs.

Young was confident she was a lock to win her next race and felt she was exactly what Pletcher was looking for.

“I just bet my lungs on a filly last week that ran second and will absolutely break her maiden next time out,” Young told Pletcher.

Pletcher was interested and had Young contact Hendricks to make an offer. Life At Ten was about to have her third owner in two months.

But before continuing, it’s best to look back at Life At Ten’s early days, which were far from uneventful. The daughter of Malibu Moon was bred in Kentucky by Nickelback Farm and consigned to the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale by Legacy Bloodstock as agent, selling far into the sale, as Hip No. 4173.

Mark Toothaker, one of Legacy’s partners, said the filly’s sale actually was a bank transaction, and that they sold her for a bank that had taken possession of her.

All horses had to be vetted within 10 days of the sale, and when the filly was vetted, Legacy’s Tommy Eastham and Toothaker were crushed to find out her X-rays were as Toothaker said, “A train wreck.”

“Here we had this big, strong, beautiful filly ready to sell, and we were sick over it,” Toothaker said. “She had OCD stifles and other little nitpicky stuff.”

Veterinarians said it was cosmetic and wouldn’t affect her as a racehorse. But it still kept her price way down. They had her valued at $150,000 and she sold for only $35,000.

One person who was attracted to the big, leggy filly was Ben Craft, a blacksmith and pinhooker, whose grandfather was Rex Ellsworth, the owner and breeder of Swaps.

By selling so late in the sale, it put her in Craft’s price range, which usually tops off between $40,000 and $50,000.

As it turned out, Craft was able to get her for $35,000, but discovered her issues after the sale. Craft, too, was told it was pretty much a “cosmetic X-ray issue” and would not affect her performance on the racetrack. But because it was not attractive to look at it on the X-ray, Craft was afraid it would keep her price down when he pinhooked her at the Barretts 2-year-old sale the following year.

As the sale neared, the filly, who Craft named Unreadable, had been training super, but quickly started going backwards, which had nothing to do with her ankle issue. She began to tail off in her training, and it was discovered she had a tibia problem, not unlike bucked shins in that it eventually heals up 100 percent.

After taking her out of the Barretts sale, Craft turned her out, and eventually tried to sell her privately, but was turned down. He then sent her to trainer Anthony Saavedra, while continuing to look for a buyer.

Near the end of September, Craft contacted bloodstock agent Alex Solis II and told him, “I got a filly I think you might like.” Solis said he’d take a look at her, and watched her work three-eighths, but before he committed to anything, he wanted Craft to send her to Hendricks, because Hendricks’ assistant trainer, Cisco Alvarado, was "really good on the back of a horse" and Solis wanted him to breeze the filly.

After she breezed a solid half-mile, Solis told Hendricks, “Dan, work her with someone good. Let’s test the filly and see if she can run at all.”

So, Hendricks worked her five-eighths with his good 2-year-old, Beresford, who had finished a fast-closing fourth to Dixie Chatter in the grade I Norfolk Stakes. When Alvarado came back, he said, “Alex, you got to buy this filly.”

So, Solis, who liked Malibu Moon, went ahead and bought her for Jess Ravich and himself. Ravich is part-owner of The Pamplemousse , whose sale also was orchestrated by Solis. Ravich had horses with Hendricks, including multiple grade I winner Daytona, and it was he who re-named the filly Life At Ten. Ravich’s brother, Rand, was the creator and executive producer of the TV series “Life,” which aired at 10 p.m.

It was after the filly had worked six furlongs that Ravich asked Solis what he thought of her. Solis told him, “Jess, she’s a runner,” and Ravich said, “OK, can I name her after my brother’s show?” Solis told him to go for it, and they changed the name to Life At Ten.

Hendricks wasn’t expecting anything spectacular from his new addition. “She could run and looked as if she’d be at least a decent allowance-type filly,” he said.

Just before she was scheduled to run, Solis brought some friends to the barn to see her, but got a surprising reception.

“When I went in her stall to grab her she double-barreled right at me, and I was running around the stall trying to get away from her,” he said. “She’s the only filly who has ever kicked me.”

About a month and a half after being sold, Life At Ten finally made her debut, which brings us back to Nov. 2007.

Young contacted Hendricks to make an offer on Life At Ten, and Ravich and Solis sold her for 10 times the amount they paid for her.

Solis said it was Cynthia (“Candy”) who wired the money and believes the filly was a birthday present for her husband.

Ravich at first was reluctant to sell because of sentimental reasons, having named her after his brother’s TV show. “It took me a day and a half to convince Jess to sell her,” Solis said.

Pletcher ran Life At Ten on Dec. 5 at Hollywood Park, stretching her out to 1 1/16 miles, and she came from sixth to win going away by 3 ¼ lengths. Young’s guarantee she would win next time out was dead-on, and Pletcher and DeBartolo had themselves a heckuva good filly…or so they thought.

Shortly after her maiden victory, Life At Ten’s problems continued. She suffered a shoulder injury, which sidelined her for 10 ½ months, from Dec. 5, 2007 to Oct. 19, 2008.

When she returned to the races in Oct. 2008, she finished second, then was beaten again…and again…and again. Six races later, she still was eligible for a non-winners of one other than allowance race, and during that time she was out another seven months – from Jan. 15 to Aug. 14, 2009 – with a knee chip. On Sept. 30, Pletcher tried her on the grass at Belmont and she finished seventh, beaten more than 12 lengths.

Ravich no longer had any reservations about having sold her. For Gary Young, who also has been responsible for the purchases of Brocco, Crafty C.T., Midnight Lute, and Evening Jewel, he could only chalk this one up as a failure. He was told he had made a “horrible buy,” and someone even came right out and called it “disgraceful.” Following the grass race, Young called Pletcher and said, “Look, I’m sorry, I bought you a bad horse. This one is on me.” But Pletcher reassured him, saying “Don’t give up on her yet.”

Life At Ten has never lost a race since. Race by race, she has moved up the ladder one rung at a time. First came a non-winners of one allowance race at Aqueduct on Nov. 15, then an overnight stakes over the Aqueduct inner track, then a listed stakes at Aqueduct, then the grade III Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne, then the grade I Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont, and most recently the prestigious Delaware Handicap (gr. II) going 1 ¼ miles.

Now she faces her ultimate test – a showdown with defending Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the Personal Ensign (gr. I) at Saratoga. But this filly has overcome a lot more than Rachel Alexandra just to get here, and in Pletcher’s words, she is a horse you don’t ever want to give up on. She has been fighting back from adversity all her life, and now appears to be at her peak.

Whether she wins on Sunday or not, no one can say it hasn’t been an amazing and eventful journey.


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