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Getting into the horse racing business and hoping to make it big requires a lot of faith, plenty of luck and a sense of optimism that will test the biggest of dreamers.
So, Pierre and Leslie Amestoy, veterans of the sport, had eyes wide open when they plunked down a very modest $230,000 for a colt they would name Practical Move.
Did they think that this horse would one day have a ticket punched for the Kentucky Derby?
“No,” Pierre said emphatically during a phone interview from his home in New Mexico. “We knew we bought a good horse but …”
Practical Move, by virtue of winning the San Felipe Stakes and Los Alamitos Futurity, has enough qualifying points to make the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field on May 6. He hopes to add to that point total Saturday as the favorite in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. Twenty horses that have run in the Santa Anita Derby have crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Pierre said. “We brought this colt last April hoping to get on this journey and surprisingly enough we’re on it. Tim [Yakteen] and his team have done a great job getting this horse ready and getting better each race. Now we find ourselves a Grade 2 winner twice, favored for the Santa Anita Derby and then going on to the Kentucky Derby. We’re surprised but we’re very excited about it.”
Pierre, 68, and Leslie, 63, are no strangers to horse racing. Leslie was a champion equestrian before becoming one of the first women trainers in New Mexico. She retired in 1988 when she married Pierre. He entered the sport as a jockey agent at Santa Fe Downs despite knowing very little about his new vocation.
“The racing wasn’t very good in New Mexico, there were no purses and it declined so much there wasn’t much to hope for here,” Pierre said. “So, we went to Kentucky and started buying horses for some of Leslie’s clients. We bought a couple and pinhooked them for ourselves and we did good.”
Pinhooking is when you buy a horse as a yearling, train and condition them before selling as a 2-year-old.
“That’s when we decided to buy a farm in Kentucky and we were back in the business in a different way,” Pierre said. “Not in racing but buying, selling, breeding, pinhooking.”
The couple did well with the farm and eventually sold it and moved back to Albuquerque.
“Racing got good again when they got the casinos here,” Pierre said. “The money came back and we got back involved in New Mexico racing.”
The couple own about two dozen horses, a mix of thoroughbreds and quarter horses that mostly run in New Mexico and Arizona. They have had three quarter horses run in the All-American Futurity. Pierre also operates a drywall, stucco and land development company.
The couple usually bring in a partner on the horse ownership side. Equibase lists 20 partnerships that include Pierre or Leslie. Their partner on Practical Move is Roger Beasley, who owns car dealerships in Austin, Texas.
It was actually Beasley’s idea to get into the big-time horse ownership business. Pierre and Leslie were dispatched to Ocala, Fla. last year for a sale of 2-year-olds.
Practical Move had a lot going for him but prospective buyers were leery of his late foal date of April 30. He will be the youngest of nine horses scheduled to start in Saturday’s race.
“When those guys go to the big sales they see the breeding and they see those January and February foals,” Leslie said. “They think they are so much more mature and they swamp them. It’s not like they gave him to us but that might be why we got him.
“Usually when we go for our first pick, we don’t get it. Your eyes are bigger than your wallet. But he was our first pick at this sale and we got him.”
They already had a trainer picked from earlier when in partnership with Mike Abraham they bought a colt sired by Into Mischief, the leading North American sire for four straight years.
“I said to Mike, ‘I don’t want to send him to [Bob] Baffert, who has 300 [horses] or [Doug] O’Neill, who has 500,’” Pierre said with a bit of hyperbole. “We need someone who is more hands-on. He said, ‘I know this guy Tim Yakteen. He used to work with [Charlie] Whittingham and Baffert. Here’s his number, call him and talk to him and see what he says and thinks.’”
As it turns out the colt was injured during a workout at Sunland Park and was retired before ever racing. But Yakteen was ready and willing when the Amestoys had more horses.
Yakteen has been in the spotlight lately as the recipient of some of Baffert’s best 3-year-olds. Baffert is currently ineligible to receive Kentucky Derby points or run at Churchill Downs after a positive medication test for Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby. This is the last year of the two-year ban as litigation continues.
Yakteen has had a good meeting at Santa Anita with 11 wins in 61 starts, including three stakes wins. After the San Felipe, Yakteen was quick to try to turn the attention away from him and onto the Amestoys.
“They’re horsemen so they know what’s going on,” Yakteen said Friday. “They’re great and very easy to work with because they’ve been in the game. They understand what takes place. They are very good about saying we’re giving you the horses and you lead the path. They will give me their input and their thoughts postrace.
Despite her background, Leslie has not been offering training advice to Yakteen.
“I trained in the ‘80s and that was a long time ago,” Leslie said. “Things have changed since I trained. I just trained some New Mexico-breds around here. I think Tim’s above me. It’s a big step up [to train Practical Move] from a regular race horse.”
There is certainly nothing regular about Practical Move, which has won three times, finished second once and third twice in six lifetime starts.
“If he’s healthy and runs a good race [on Saturday] we’ll be in Kentucky,” Pierre said. “He doesn’t have to win but we hope he does. We’ll be there to give him his chance.”
That’s all anyone in racing can expect.
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