With a victory in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, Real Quiet would become the 12th 3-year-old to win the Triple Crown and the third-richest North American-raced thoroughbred in history.
The $5-million bonus for winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont would give Real Quiet $7,569,923 in earnings, behind only Cigar ($9,999,815) and Skip Away ($8,306,360).
Not bad for a colt who was sold as a yearling for $17,000 and continued a trend for trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert paid $80,000 (plus a $5,000 commission) for Silver Charm in 1996 for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis, though Silver Charm had sold for $16,000 as a yearling.
Real Quiet and Silver Charm, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year before finishing second in the Belmont, have been huge bargains in a sport in which some have excelled after selling inexpensively and many have flopped after bringing big dollars.
Offered at Keeneland’s September yearling sale in 1996, Real Quiet, son of Quiet American, had a lot of buyers interested because of his bloodlines. His maternal grandmother is a full sister of Majestic Prince, who won the Derby and Preakness in 1969. Quiet American’s sire, Fappiano, sired Derby winner Unbridled, who sired another Derby winner in Grindstone.
“His pedigree is in the top 5% of thoroughbred pedigrees,” said David Heckerman, a senior editor for the Blood Horse, a weekly publication based in Kentucky.
But one glance at Real Quiet was enough to scare most customers away.
“A handler would bring him out of his stall and he wouldn’t even be all the way out and they would say they had seen enough,” Heckerman said. “He didn’t look good as a yearling. He had knock knees, he was skinny and his toes pointed out.”
Baffert saw beyond all that.
“He was sort of the sleeper of the sale,” Baffert said. “I liked Quiet American. I thought he was a tremendous racehorse. [Real Quiet] had good balance to him and other factors were in place.
“He moved well and his tail was strong and that’s where a lot of the power comes from. He toed out, but because he was a light horse that didn’t matter. If he was a bigger horse with the toeing out, I would have stayed away.”
With Silver Charm, Baffert knew instantly he wanted the Florida-bred and was willing to pay more than he actually did to get him.
“You can never pay too much for a horse if they can run,” he said. “To me, it seemed like a no-brainer. He was good looking, had a nice head on him and a long, fluid stride.
“Unbridled’s Song [who won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile] was the last horse I’d seen with a stride like that.”
How much have the Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins increased Real Quiet’s value? Highland Farm in Kentucky, which acquired the breeding rights to the colt before he ran second to Indian Charlie in the Santa Anita Derby, is selling 42 shares in him at $525,000 a share, meaning he will probably command a stud fee of $50,000-$60,000 after he is retired.
Among the list of the sport’s all-time top money winning horses, there are several others who turned out to be real bargains.
Perhaps, none more so than John Henry. The now 23-year-old gelding was sold for $1,100 as a yearling and $2,200 as a 2-year-old.
After a nondescript beginning to his career, the son of Ole Bob Bowers was sold for the seventh and last time to bicycle salesman Sam Rubin and went on to earn $6,597,947, with 39 victories in 83 starts.
Sunday Silence, who beat the more fashionably bred Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1989 before losing the Belmont, was a $17,000 yearling, then sold for $32,000 as a 2-year-old.
He never finished worse than second in 14 outings, won nine times and made $4,968,554. Besides the two wins in the Triple Crown races, he also won the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic (defeating Easy Goer again) and the Santa Anita Derby.
Spend A Buck, a $12,500 private purchase as a yearling, scored the easiest Derby win in almost 40 years in 1985 when he won by 5 3/4 lengths. Spend A Buck won 10 of his 15 races and banked more than $4.2 million.
Canonero II, a Kentucky-bred who won six races in Venezuela before winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1971, cost only $1,250 as a yearling. His career earnings wound up being almost 300 times greater than that purchase price.
Skip Away, who has won six in a row, including the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic, cost Sonny and Carolyn Hine $30,000 as a 2-year-old, and he could be on his way to becoming North American racing’s first $10-million earner.
Turned down by the Keeneland summer sales because his dam, Spectacular, had what was considered a shabby pedigree, Spectacular Bid was sold at the less-prestigious September sale almost 20 years ago for $37,000 to Harry, Teresa and Tom Meyerhoff’s Hawksworth Farm.
The gray went on to win an amazing 26 of 30 starts, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and earned $2,781,608, a record at the time.
Seattle Slew, who became the 10th horse to win the Triple Crown in 1977, was a $17,500 yearling. He finished his career with earnings of $1,208,726 with 14 wins and two seconds from 17 starts.
Of course, there have also been some expensive failures.
Yearling prices were out of control in the extravagant 1980s, boosted by bidding wars, primarily between owner-breeder Robert Sangster and oil-rich sheiks.
Seattle Dancer, purchased for a record $13.1 million by the British Bloodstock Agency in 1985, earned only $164,728.
Two years before Seattle Dancer sold as a yearling, Snaafi Dancer brought $10.2 million and never raced, and Imperial Falcon, third on the list of colts at $8.25 million and bought by British Bloodstock Agency in 1984, made only $12,449 on the track while winning two of three.
In fact, the 11 colts on the list of the highest-priced yearlings were purchased for a combined $75.75 million, and their total earnings on the track, according to figures provided by Bloodstock Research Information Services, Inc., was $252,237.