Rockingham Ranch on the Rise

(source:, benoit photo)
BigLeague winners circle BenoitBy Jessica Martini

Gary Hartunian’s Rockingham Ranch cut back on numbers to increase the quality of its young stock this year and the results have been on full display over the past month, with a pair of juveniles tabbed ‘TDN Rising Stars’ while graduating in the Rockingham turquoise and black colors at Del Mar. First up was the impressive Chasing Aces (Flatter), who flew home first by 5 1/4 lengths in track-record time at Del Mar July 17 (video). That performance was followed up by the 3 1/4-length triumph of Big League (Speightstown) July 30 (video). Both 2-year-olds, trained by Peter Miller, now take aim at graded stakes, with Chasing Aces pointing towards the GI Del Mar Futurity and Big League expected to start next in the GII Best Pal S.

“I bought 29 2-year-olds two years ago and 22 last year and we only bought 10 this year,” Hartunian, who has been in the racing game for only four years, explained. “We went lighter and more selective this year. Pete did a great job of picking out some nice horses at these sales. We were a little more selective, a little more patient and did a little more homework this year. The bottom line is now we know which sires we like and which we don’t from experience.”

Both Rising Stars were graduates of this spring’s juvenile sales. Chasing Aces (hip 30) was purchased for $225,000 at the Barretts March Sale. It was announced Tuesday that a controlling interest in the promising youngster had been sold to Earle Mack and Adam Wachtel.

“Pete was getting offers and we wanted to keep him with Pete,” Hartunian explained of how the deal came about. “Adam Wachtel called Pete and said he liked the horse and he liked the Ragozin sheet–he got a four–he was very impressed and he wanted to keep him with Pete. We had other offers from the east coast, but Adam is an asset to have. He’s a real sharp horseman. And I liked the situation with keeping him with Pete and it just felt right. Certain partners bring something to the table, the knowledge of having been there and done it before. I thought it was a good fit with Adam. I’ve talked to him before and I’ve seen how he’s done things before, so it seemed more of an asset than just selling 60% of the horse.”

Big League (hip 209) was purchased for $100,000 at the OBS March sale. He was in training at Miller’s San Luis Rey Training Center before being re-offered at the Barretts May sale. Despite a speedy quarter-mile work in a bullet :20 3/5, the colt failed to sell at $275,000.

“I had two Speightstowns and I thought the other one might be better,” Hartunian admitted of the decision to send Big League back through the sales ring. “So I told Pete, ‘Let’s see if we can make some money off of this one.’ Thank God he didn’t sell.”

In addition to his racing stable, which currently includes some 50 runners, Hartunian was busy in the pinhooking arena this past spring. Among his sales successes was a son of Curlin–On a Roll purchased for $430,000 at last year’s Keeneland September sale who fetched $1 million at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale.

“I thought last year was a good time to pinhook some horses and sell them this year,” Hartunian explained. “I’m not so sure this year is the right year to do it. I think the economy might be a little slower next year, so I might cut back.”

The results, helped by the back-up option of his racing stable, lived up to expectations.

“I took half the money off the table and I’m going to race the rest of them,” Hartunian said. “It was a good year. If I sell them great, if I don’t, I race them.”

In addition to his racing and pinhooking ventures, Hartunian also maintains a small broodmare band and will offer two yearlings at next week’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale.

“I have about eight broodmares and they are all in foal and I have two yearlings in the Saratoga sale–a Tapit colt and a Bernardini colt. The mares that don’t make it on the racetrack, we might as well see what they can do as a broodmares.”

Both yearlings are consigned by Taylor Made. Hip 72, a son of Tapit, is the first foal out of Grade I winner Lady of Fifty (After Market) and hip 207 is a colt by Bernardini out of A Story of Revenge (Tale of the Cat).

The Bernardini colt is co-bred with David Lanzman, who campaigned the stakes-placed dam and first introduced Hartunian to racehorse ownership.

“I went to the races with Dave Lanzman and Jason Wood and they had some horses and asked if I wanted to buy a piece,” Hartunian said of his initial foray into the industry. “I bought a little piece of one and then, like anything, you get a comfort level. Then I met Pete and I had a real good comfort level with him. We just started buying a few horses here and there and then the A.D.D addiction kicked in. I said I was going to buy 25 to 30 horses and run them. And now I have about 50.”

Rockingham Ranch still has a few promising juveniles waiting to debut, including 2-year-olds by Uncle Mo, Macho Uno, Tapit and Speightstown. The stable also includes an Overdriven half-brother to graded stakes winner and fellow Miller trainee Calculator (In Summation). Purchased by Miller for $525,000 at the OBS April sale, the unraced Earnhardt worked five furlongs at San Luis Rey Wednesday in a bullet :59.20.

“He just ran by one of the horses here, so we’re thinking he’ll be good long on the grass,” Hartunian said of the gray colt.

Also on the roster is Chalon (Dialed In), who won her debut at Santa Anita June 23, and California Diamond (Harbor the Gold), who topped the recent Barretts Paddock sale at Del Mar when selling for $125,000. That juvenile went postward under the Rockingham Ranch colors for the first time in Wednesday’s Graduation S. at Del Mar.

Hartunian, who is also co-owner of G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen runner-up X Y Jet (Kantharos), is involved in commercial real estate and he sees similarities in the two industries.

“It’s kind of like I do in real estate,” he said. “I buy some stuff and sell some other stuff. It’s kind of fun. It gives me a little action. Real estate is a very slow, long-term investment–slow, slow and slower–and this has given me something to look forward to on a daily, weekly basis.”

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