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The Sweetheart, The Derby Contender and the Little Breeder That Could: The Story Behind Santa Anita Derby Favorite Creative Cause

Jim Weigel and his mare Dream of Summer
Jim Weigel and his mare Dream of Summer

Last month, while compiling research for an article I was putting together on the West Coast's leading Kentucky Derby candidate Creative Cause, I ran across the name Jim Weigel. Jim, a modest breeder from California, had sent his pride and joy, Dream of Summer to Giant's Causeway in 2008. The result was a sturdy little jet-black colt with a white star on his forehead. Over the next year the colt's coat would lighten to a charcoal gray and his breeder, Mr. Weigel would sell him at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale for $135,000 to pinhooker Becky Thomas.

Fast-forward to March 10th, 2012. The colt, now named Creative Cause would rally from five lengths back in the final quarter-mile to win the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes in impressive fashion. The win increased his earnings to $729,000 making him a lock for the May 5th Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands.

Dream of Summer was Jim's ‘big horse'. Winner of over 1 million dollars over a short 4 year racing career, she came from a modest line and was quite literally overlooked as a yearling. Jim was forced to race her himself, something he wasn't sure he was going to be able to afford at the time. Minor injuries plagued the first 3 years of her life but once she made it to the track one thing was abundantly clear, she was born to run.

Jim's story intrigued me. It appeared that we had a lot in common: He had spent his working life as a Sonar Engineer tackling government contracts for the Navy, I too had been an engineer in my previous life. We both have September birthdays and we share a common love of the race track and the horses that bring it to life.

Jim, who spent the last few days in Kentucky checking on Dream of Summer and her latest foal, a three quarter sister to Creative Cause by Eskenderya, was generous enough to answer a few of my questions for And Down the Stretch They Come:

JC: You were an Engineer by trade, how did horses enter your life?

JW: First, I became a racing fan back in 1966. One weekend, a friend I worked with, Jerry Borquez, invited me to go out to Santa Anita with him. I had never been to the horse races, so Jerry had to teach me most of the basics. I started off as a $2 bettor and finally cashed in a show ticket for $2.60 or $2.80 on the feature race that first day. I thought to myself "This is going to be easy". I didn't win very often, but I was hooked on the horseracing game.

JC: At what point did you decide to make the leap from fan to owner?

JW: A few years later, 1969 or 1970, I was talking with another friend I worked with, John Rehak, about putting together a group to get a cheap claiming horse. John owned a broodmare who had a yearling colt. He suggested that we take the colt to the races instead of claiming. So we put together a limited partnership of 37 people, some getting in for as little as $100, to take that colt to the races.

Those of us who actively participated had a lot of fun watching how an untrained colt was brought up to the races. However, the colt, who soon became a gelding, never won a race. And each time we asked for more money to support the gelding, people dropped out of the partnership until there were only six left when we had to give up the venture.

JC: Did you continue the partnership route to ownership after that experience?

JW: From then on, most of the partnerships were three or four people, with never more than one or two relatively cheap claiming horses. But the hard core were John Rehak, Joan Skinner, and me. However, we did win quite a few races, most of which were while I was out of the country working.

Eventually, John and his wife Jan decided to give up on the thoroughbreds and get into quarter horses. So I invited a friend of mine, who retired from the same company that I did, to join Joan and me to keep the partnership at three. He previously had owned, bred, and played the horses, so he fit right in. His name is Steve McDonald, and he is also Managing Partner of our company Handicapper's Report, LLC.

JC: Explain your transition from syndicated partnerships to breeding

JW: As I approached early retirement, I knew that I would need more than one or two mid-priced claimers in partnership to keep me interested. So I bought a broodmare named Mary's Dream at Barretts January sale for $7,000. She was unraced, having injured herself in the Barretts March 2-Year-Old in Training Sale. She was by Skywalker out of a long line of good California females, and so she looked like a pretty good deal.

My game plan, still in effect today, is to attempt to sell all foals at yearling auctions, provided that my price is met, or that the foal doesn't have a problem or doesn't look reasonably good.

JC: Describe how Dream of Summer came to be

JW: Dream of Summer was a foal of 1999, by Grade 1 winner Siberian Summer out of Mary's Dream. Almost from the start, Marianne Millard, my mentor and owner of Here Tis Ranch, where I keep my California broodmares and babies, didn't want me to let Dream of Summer sell cheap.

JC: And her reserve wasn't met, describe that scenario and your thought process with her going forward

JW: Although all of Mary's Dream's offspring who made it to the races were winners, none of them had made it to the $40,000 mark in earnings. So I simply wanted $10,000 or more for Dream of Summer at the Barretts October Yearling Sale. The bidding stopped at $7,000, so I sent her back out to Here Tis.

I wondered what to do with her, but because she had only brought a bid of $7,000, I decided that I would put her into training. She didn't run her first race until June of her 4-year-old season. That was because, every time she neared racing, she suffered a minor injury -- three times.

JC: Tell me a little about her racing career and what she has meant to you personally

JW: She won that first race at Hollywood Park (Maiden Special Weight for Calbreds) and went on to win 10 races out of 20 starts, including the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, and several other graded stakes. Her earnings were almost $1.2 million.

My trainer, Juan Garcia, was worried about me getting too close to her when she was unrestrained or being saddled before a race. But I think that was because, in her early training at his training facility, she was quite a handful. However, once she started racing, she was always a sweetheart to me.

Most people go their entire racing lives without a Grade 1 winner or a million dollar winner. Here I had them both with the very first horse that I raced as sole proprieter.

My intention was to race her as a 7-year-old. In fact, she got two races in that year. After a 2nd place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita for the second straight year, Alex Solis who rode her said to Juan after the race "You let me ride her in the Apple Blossom, and I'll win it for you". However, not too long thereafter, Juan let me know that they had found wear and tear on her sesamoids. Not wanting to take a chance of hurting her, we sent her to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky. It was still early enough in the year to breed her.

JC: Describe her first 2 foals Taboo and Masters Song

JW: Taboo, now a 5-year-old mare, is by Forestry. He was the hot stallion in 2006, but subsequently became mediocre by Kentucky standards. As with all of Dream of Summer's foals so far, Taboo was the result of a foal sharing agreement. In the 2008 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, we had a written reserve in for $140,000. So naturally she brought a top bid of $130,000 (RNA). But by the time I got home to California, I had a voice mail message that Taylor Made Sales, my agent, had sold her to a pinhooker for $110,000.

In her first race for her new owners, which I saw on television, she was the favorite in a Maiden Special Weight race at Belmont. But she got cut off in the stretch and appeared to run up on the other filly's heels. My guess is that she got hurt, didn't win, and it was 11 months before she raced again. She only won one race in her career, but she sold for a good price at Keeneland earlier this year as a prospective broodmare.

Master's Song is by Unbridled's Song. We sold him at the 2009 Keeneland September Yearling Sale to a group of Japanese. They took him to Japan. It seems difficult to get information out of Japan, but the last I heard, he had won at least one race.

The first four of Dream of Summer's offspring have been a touch on the small side as yearlings, so they have not brought as much money at auction as their pedigrees would indicate.

JC: And then Giant's Causeway entered her life.

JW: The breeding to Giant's Causeway was a consolation prize. I was all signed up to breed to Storm Cat himself. But I heard that his sperm count was low. However, a Storm Cat foal was such a prize, that I sent Dream of Summer to him one time. She came up barren on that breeding. So with my approval, Steve Castagnola, my Account Manager at Taylor Made, arranged the next best thing -- a breeding to one of Storm Cat's best sons, that being Giant's Causeway.

JC: This union brought about Creative Cause. Did you watch his development firsthand? Did he stand out from her other 2 foals?

JW: Typically, I get out to Taylor Made Farm twice a year. One of these trips is in conjunction with the Keeneland September Yearling Sale so that, if a decision on the sale of my yearling has to be made at the last minute, I'm right there. But Taylor Made does send me a photo of the "kids" each month with the bill.

The last time I saw Creative Cause before the sale, he was good-natured, good looking, but, like Dream of Summer's offspring, a bit on the small side. At that time, he didn't stand out from the previous two foals. As a result, his sales price was about two-thirds of what I was expecting.

JC: Can you describe how you felt watching Creative Cause win the San Felipe?

JW: Although I was cheering as I watched the race, I don't let myself get emotional until after a race. My biggest disappointment in the Winner's Circle was, because of the big crowd there, I didn't get a chance to pat Creative Cause on the neck and kiss him on the nose. Unless he gets hurt or sick, I expect him to go to the Kentucky Derby, no matter what happens in his final prep race, most-likely the Santa Anita Derby.

JC: How do you like his Derby chances? Will you be attending?

I won't let my hopes get too high for fear of a major disappointment. But he's never been beaten by more than one length, and he has raced on the track at Churchill Downs in last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile. And he's bred to go 1-1/4 miles. So he's got to have a chance. I would be satisfied if he finishes in the money.

I've always said that I wouldn't fight the crowd at the Kentucky Derby, unless a horse that I own or bred is entered. This Derby fits that requirement. My sister Pat and I already have a hotel room reserved in Louisville, even at their exorbitant price.

JC: Did Dream of Summer produce a foal in 2012, if so, by whom?

JW: She has a filly by Eskendereya, born March 28, 2012. For those who don't recognize the name, he was expected to be the favorite for the Kentucky Derby two years ago after winning the Wood Memorial at Belmont by almost 10 lengths. But between the Wood Memorial and the Kentucky Derby, he suffered a career-ending injury.

JC: Are people knocking down your door with offers for her?

JW: I had two offers of $1 million for her. I don't know how serious they were. I turned them down, because money doesn't mean that much to me. Besides, selling her yearlings in Kentucky pays the bills from year to year in both Kentucky and California.

As far as matings after the veterinarians pronounce her fully recovered from the birth, I have had three offers, all for Giant's Causeway. I have signed a foal sharing agreement with some interests at Taylor Made to see if we can duplicate Creative Cause.

JC: Dream of Summer is shaking up the breeding world, proving that a great racehorse, regardless of her breeding, can produce great offspring. Do you feel like she is altering the way people look at breeding now?

JW: I never thought of it that way. I still think that she's flying under the radar as a broodmare, especially east of the Rockies. My feeling is that people attribute Creative Cause's success to Giant's Causeway, not to Dream of Summer. Those who look closely at this sort of thing, probably think that mediocre breeding can produce several generations of great racehorses. But unless she produces more graded stakes horses, I think that they will go back to their old ways of looking for the big names, the graded stakes producers, or the extremely well-conformed offspring.

JC: Talk about your relationship with her and what she means to you at this point.

JW: She has always been my sweetheart, ever since I got "stuck" with her. I didn't see her down at Juan Garcia's training facility, when she was known to be a little on the wild side. As I said earlier, I have no interest in selling her at any price.

JC: What does the future hold for you and Dream of Summer?

JW: My intention is to keep her in Kentucky as long as she produces foals that can bring a good price. If she is still healthy but producing lesser foals, I will bring her back to California and see how she does. When it comes time to retire her, I will do that in California at a less expensive place but where she will get good care -- like on my patio.