N.J.-Bred Book'em Danno Puts Breeders, Sire on the Map

BloodHorse Interview: Greg Kilka
by Molly Rollins

Watching the race from his iPhone at his daughter's softball game in Ocean City, N.J., Experian salesman Greg Kilka could scarcely believe his eyes as Book'em Danno surged to the wire for a half-length victory in the $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (G1) June 8 at Saratoga Race Course.

Book'em Danno, born from Kilka's $14,000 mare Adorabella and a stallion Kilka raced in partnership, has been on a steady march to the top since last summer but became the instant poster boy for the New Jersey breeding program with his grade 1 success. The colt, owned by Atlantic Six Racing and trained by Derek Ryan, has rewarded Kilka's venture into breeding tenfold as well as put his sire, the recently relocated Bucchero  , on the map as a leading stallion in the Northeast.

Kilka spoke with BloodHorse about his partnership with co-breeder Christine Connelly of Bright View Farm, with whom he also bred Book'em Danno's stakes-winning half sibling Girl Trouble , his unforgettable experience traveling the world with Bucchero, and the convenience of breeding, raising, and racing his horses in the Garden State.

BloodHorse: What was it like to see a horse you co-bred win a grade 1 race at Saratoga? Were you in attendance? What did you think of the race?

GK: It was really surreal. As I watched it happen and he took the lead turning for home I thought to myself 'is this really happening?' It's crazy. I couldn't be there because my daughter had a softball tournament. I try to make my kids' activities a priority even if there's horse racing things going on.

BH: You picked up Adorabella (by Ghostzapper) in foal to Fast Anna for $14,000 out of the 2020 Keeneland January Sale. What did you like about her?

GK: I have a really great bloodstock partner named Chris Gracie who advises me on all horse matters. And Chris picked out Adorabella from the sale. It was as simple as we thought the physical was really good and on the page, it was a young, active family with some upside. And we basically took a shot on her.

BH: Have you been in the breeding and racing business a long time?

GK: I have not. I was part of the ownership group that raced Bucchero. So once we knew Bucchero was going to retire at stud I tried to obtain some mares with the budget I had—Adorabella being one of them. And that's when I started getting into the breeding, with Bucchero standing at stud.

Bucchero entered stud in 2019 at Pleasant Acres Stallions near Ocala, Fla., for a fee of $5,000. A third-crop stallion, Bucchero was relocated to McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds in New York after siring 50 winners for earnings of $2,704,177 in 2023. The son of Kantharos stood the 2024 breeding season for $7,500 and is currently the leader on both the New York and Northeast region stallion rankings.

BH: Can you reflect on your experience racing Bucchero with Ironhorse Racing Stable?

GK: Bucchero is definitely the best horse that I have ever owned and raced. We had a lot of fun with him. We traveled to Royal Ascot and participated in the King's Stand (Stakes) and he twice competed in the Breeders' Cup. He was a really remarkable horse when you think about his ability to win at both one turn and two turns. He won stakes on all three surfaces. He was a versatile horse. And we've seen that with some of his babies at this point—they've won at Gulfstream on the synthetic, he's had some nice turf sprinters, and now, Book'em Danno is doing it on the dirt.

BH: How many broodmares do you have and do you focus mainly on breeding in New Jersey?
GK: In partnership, I have four. In the outset, I did because I'm a New Jersey guy. I grew up going to Monmouth Park as a kid. But now I've diversified a little bit. We have some mares dropping foals in states other than New Jersey, like Virginia and New York, but I certainly appreciate the New Jersey program.

BH: What do you like about the New Jersey-bred program?

GK: The thing I like best about the New Jersey program is that I'm a New Jersey resident and I can just drive an hour away or so and be around my horses at Bright View Farm or at Monmouth Park and see them run. For me as a local guy, that's the treat to go up to a track that I grew up with and love and get to see my horses run.

BH: How did you link up with Book'em Danno's co-breeder, Christine Connelly of Bright View Farm?

GK: Once I knew I wanted to have some New Jersey-breds and Bucchero was going to stand in Florida, I started to do some research on farms here in New Jersey. And when I met Christine we hit it off very quickly. She's been a great partner to me both with the horses that we bred together and also as a sounding board, someone to talk to about the business with and tap into her years of knowledge around breeding and racing. It's been a great partnership.

Adorabella was at Bright View when she wasn't being covered in Florida and Kentucky and had both Girl Trouble and Book'em Danno at Christine's farm.

BH: You sold Adorabella last year for $550,000 to LC Racing at the Fasig-Tipton's The November Sale. Was it bittersweet to sell Adorabella at the that sale?

GK: It definitely was (bittersweet) seeing her sell but we saw an opportunity entering her in that sale and thought the timing was right based on what we had invested so there's no regrets in that regard. We're very happy for the connections that bought Adorabella. Adorabella has been a very strong producer and I hope she continues to be.

BH: Girl Trouble had already put you and Christine in the stakes-winning breeders' column with her success as a 2-year-old. However Book'em Danno did even better, sailing through his first three races while defeating New Jersey-breds as well as open company in stakes competition as a 2-year-old. When did you and Christine start to think this was more than just your average Jersey-bred?

GK: I think even in his debut—the way he won and did it very professionally. He didn't break particularly well and sat off horses and then made a move on the turn. I thought 'Wow there's something here for sure.'

BH: Were you disappointed back in the winter when trainer Derek Ryan said he would be skipping the Kentucky Derby with Book'em Danno?  

GK: It's easy to catch that Derby fever and go onto two turns when they're performing like he was. But you know I give (Ryan) credit. He felt like he knew what he had with the horse and the horse has done everything they have asked of him in these one-turn races so I don't know if you can question what the trainer has done to this point.

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