by Bill Finley
New Jersey-based breeder Greg Kilka knew the odds were not in his favor when he arrived at the 2020 Keeneland January Sale. A small-time owner and breeder with a modest budget, what chance did he have of coming home with a horse that could be life-changing? He was playing the lottery.
“I didn’t have unlimited resources,” he said.
What he did have was $14,000, what it cost to buy an unraced mare named Adorabella (Ghostzapper) in foal to Fast Anna (Medaglia d’Oro). It was the only horse he bought at the sale.
Fast forward some three years later and Adorabella’s first two foals are both stakes winners and her third, a yearling colt by Classic Empire just sold for $135,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midatlantic Fall Yearling Sale. All three are New Jersey breds.
She is currently in foal to Medaglia d’Oro.
“People may think we’re overnight successes,” Kilka said. “But my wife and I have been putting money into the sport for some 15 years. But never have we had anything like this.”
Kilka arrived at the sale with bloodstock agent Chris Gracie. They looked at dozens of horses, hoping to find that diamond in the rough that everyone else misses. Hip 945 caught their attention. There wasn’t a lot to go on. She was bred by Tracy Farmer but never made it to the races. Her dam, Alydorable (Arch) was 1-for-3 during her brief career and finished third in the Revidere S.
“Physically, she was beautiful,” Kilka said. “There was nothing we could see that was wrong with her when we purchased her. Chris went through a lot of mares on my behalf. He liked this one physically and thought she could be a productive broodmare. Looking at her family, he thought there was some upside.”
Kilka said he had no idea why Adorabella had never raced. It turns out she had the type of niggling problems that keep a lot of horses from making it to the races.
According to Joe Miller, who helped manage the racing and breeding operations of Tracy Farmer, Adorabella was sent to Mark Casse to prepare for her debut but came down with some ankle issues.
“We felt like we’d be better off breeding her because she was going to struggle to make it to the races,” Miller said. “Now I feel embarrassed that we sold her. Fortunately, Tracy still has the rest of the family. He’s pressing on with the family, so, hopefully, they’ll keep breeding stakes winners out of Adorabella.”
Kilka teamed up with Christine Connelly of Bright View Farm and they are the co-breeders of the Fast Anna foal, which they decided to sell at auction. Named Girl Trouble (Fast Anna), she sold for a mere $15,000 at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Midatlantic Fall Yearling Sale. The buyers were Swilcan Stable LLC and LC Racing and they turned her over to top Midatlantic trainer Butch Reid. She’s gone 5-for-13 and has won two stakes, both at Parx, the Future Stars Filly Division S. and the Parx Futurity.
Kilka and Connelly were off to a fast start with Adorabella, but it would only get better.
Kilka had been part of a partnership that raced Bucchero (Kantharos) and was eager to give the stallion a try. He didn’t know at the time that Bucchero would become a rising star among stallions. From his first two crops to race, he’s had 61% winners to starters, second only to Army Mule and ahead of horses like Justify and Good Magic. He’s had eight total stakes horses from modest books of mares.
“I probably wouldn’t have been shrewd enough to breed her to Bucchero, who is off to a phenomenal start as a stallion” Miller said. “More power to them. They’ve done a great job managing her.”
The mating of Bucchero and Adorabella produced Book’em Danno (Bucchero), named for Steve McGarrett’s go-to closing line in the old Hawaii Five-O series. This time Kilka and Connelly decided to sell the foal privately and he was purchased by Atlantic Six Racing LLC., which is comprised of a group of friends who are residents of the Jersey Shore.
Trained by Derek Ryan, Book’em Danno broke his maiden on Aug. 2 at Monmouth, besting a field of Jersey-breds by 9 ½ lengths. Believing his horse was ready for a tougher challenge, Ryan entered him back against open company in the Smoke Glacken S. at Monmouth, which he won by two lengths.
That had the connections thinking Breeders’ Cup and they wheeled Book’em Danno back in the Oct. 8 Futurity at Aqueduct for what was to be his turf debut. The race was a “Win and You’re In” for the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, but things took a wrong turn when the race was rained off the grass.
That didn’t prove to be a problem on the racetrack as Book’em Danno dominated, winning by 6 ½ lengths. But because the race came off the turf it was no longer a Win and You’re In race, so “Danno” will not be headed to Santa Anita. It was also downgraded from a Grade III to a listed race.
“Maybe that was a blessing in disguise, Ryan said. “The Breeders’ Cup race is at five furlongs and that might be too short for him.”
Ryan now plans to run Book’em Danno in the Nov. 5 Nashua S., run on the dirt at one mile at Aqueduct.
“We plan to stretch him out now,” Ryan said. “It’s a one-turn mile and I don’t think that will give him any trouble. He’ll handle the distance. He’s a very laid-back horse. He switches himself off and then when you call on him he’s there. I’d like to try him on the grass at some point. He’s bred for it. I think if that race stayed on the grass the result would have been the same.”
Should Book ‘em Danno win the Nashua he’ll join the conversation when it comes to hopefuls for the 2024 GI Kentucky Derby. But Ryan isn’t ready to look that far ahead. He said the Nashua will be the gelding’s last start of the year. He will then ship to Tampa Bay Downs and gear up for his 3-year-old campaign.
For Kilka and Connelly, the best should be yet to come. The $135,000 they picked up when selling the Classic Empire-Adorabella foal was their first real payday. (The yearling was bought by the same connections that own Girl Trouble). Especially if Book ‘em Danno continues to flourish, the foal by Medaglia d’Oro should sell well. Kilka said that going forward, Adorabella will be bred only to top-tier stallions, ones like Medaglia d’Oro. The mare is only seven, so they have a lot to look forward to.
So what did Kilka really get for his $14,000?
“A dream come true,” he said. “An absolute dream come true.”