Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Goodnight Olive Gave Owners Much More Than A Ghost Story - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Goodnight Olive Gave Owners Much More Than A Ghost Story

First Row Parnters and Team Hanley lead Goodnight Olive into the Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle after the 2023 Filly & Mare Sprint. First Row’s managing partner, Steve Laymon, is closest to the mare on the right (navy suit).

There's an old black-and-white photo of an early 1900's actress hanging on the wall of a theater in New Amsterdam, N.Y., with which half the members of the Thoroughbred ownership group First Row Partners have taken a “selfie.”

Following the back-to-back success of First Row-owned racemare Goodnight Olive in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, and her subsequent sale for $6 million at auction, several others in the ownership group are now making plans to head to the theater for their own “selfie” memories.

The photograph depicts Olive Thomas, a Ziegfeld girl, flapper, and silent film actress whose ghost is said to haunt the New Amsterdam Theatre. Thomas often performed at the venue before her untimely death in Paris in 1920.

So prevalent is the legend of Thomas' spirit that stagehands and security guards regularly end their shifts by saying, “Goodnight, Olive!”

Steve Laymon, managing partner of First Row Partners, acquired a Ghostzapper filly out of the Smart Strike mare Salty Ghost at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling sale in 2019. When he took to Google searching for name ideas, Laymon's first query, “salty ghost,” led to a link about the Olive Thomas legend.

The story, published at, ends with the phrase, “Goodnight, Olive!”

“I remember thinking, 'What a great name for a racehorse,'” Laymon said. “At first, when we had partners going up to take selfies with Olive's picture, the theater employees asked them not to do so. Then my partners explained the story, and the employees started following Goodnight Olive's career. Well, when my son Tyler made it up there to take his selfie, the employees stepped up and wanted to help him get it just right!”

They wouldn't want to disappoint Olive – it's probably best to stay on a ghost's good side. 

It was First Row member Will Robbins who came up with the idea of honoring Olive while in New York. 

Will Robbins, of First Row Parnters, with the image of Goodnight Olive's namesake, Olive Thomas, at the New Amsterdam Theatre (photo provided)

Now, Laymon plans to get his own selfie with the Olive Thomas photograph when he takes a trip up North in a few weeks' time; first, he's taking a breather to reflect on the joy the last few weeks have brought to his team.

“All the excitement this year happened so close together,” he said. “She won the race on Saturday, and the sale was on Tuesday; it was a big few days for all of us. For a guy who purchases three to five horses a year, I have just been so blessed. My son came up to me after she won, and said, 'Do you know we've had six starters in the Breeders' Cup, and you've won three and had a third?' I'll be honest, I didn't know the numbers, but that is just so special.”

Dayatthespa was Laymon's first Breeders' Cup winner, capturing the G1 Filly & Mare Turf in 2014, and Goodnight Olive is responsible for the other two victories, capturing back-to-back editions of the Filly & Mare Sprint in 2022 and 2023.

That success is partially attributable to luck, Laymon believes, but it's primarily a result of the team he's surrounded himself with.

“I heard Arthur Hancock once say: 'Line yourself up with good people, and hope good luck runs over you,'” Laymon recalled. “I knew (bloodstock agent) Liz (Crow) and (trainer) Chad (Brown) when they started out, working for Pete Bradley and Bobby Frankel, and I just felt that they were two young people that had a lot of talent, and I felt like they were gonna be successful in their careers. When they went out on their own, I knew them anyway, but it felt like supporting the next generation.”

Crow was the one to call Laymon about Goodnight Olive as a yearling. Though Laymon typically works the sales alongside his agents, he was forced to miss the Fasig-Tipton sale in 2019.

“Liz had called me and said, 'I found a Ghostzapper filly I like,'” said Laymon. “I said, 'Gosh, Liz, you know I'd love to have a Ghostzapper.' I'm a Ragozin sheet guy, and he was the fastest horse on Rag sheets ever. Then she called me back, and said that Jay Hanley had an interest in the horse as well, so I said, 'I've known Jay for 10 years; 'I'm sure we can work something out.'”

Thus, First Row Partners and Team Hanley purchased a yearling daughter of Ghostzapper for $170,000. By the time Goodnight Olive returned to Fasig-Tipton four years later, her record stood at nine wins in 12 starts for earnings of $2,196,200.

It's a long way from where Laymon started, an optometrist from North Carolina with no experience in horse racing whatsoever. The passion was launched at age 28, when Laymon was invited to attend the 1989 Preakness Stakes with a group of friends.

“That was the year of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer,” Laymon said, then paused to remember the epic stretch drive. “Well, it caught my attention.”

Laymon later read an article in USA Today about Cot Campbell and his Dogwood Stables, and decided he'd like to learn about becoming an owner. 

“He probably brought more individuals into racing than any single person that's been in the sport,” Laymon said. “So I started with Dogwood and kind of grew from there. 

“My wife's cousin, John Eaton, was kind of dabbling in the breeding business, so we decided to put our energies together. Now he's one of the six in First Row Partners; we sit on the first row together in Saratoga, and we started buying horses with Liz (Crow) six years ago.”

Crow was instrumental in the filly's purchase at the sale, but it was Brown and his insistence that the owners be patient that helped develop Goodnight Olive into a champion.

Goodnight Olive didn't debut until March of her 3-year-old season, running a good second at Gulfstream Park but then immediately requiring time off to remove a chip from her ankle.

The filly returned to the races in October, winning a Keeneland maiden special weight by 8 ½ lengths, and then an Aqueduct allowance race by nine lengths, but then she required a second chip removal surgery.

“(Surgeon) Dr. (Larry) Bramlage, he called after that second surgery and explained to me what he had done,” said Laymon. “He said her anatomy was a little bit atypical, so he felt like he had made some corrective changes and she would be fine.

“Well, after that was when she started on that really good roll.”

Brown ran the filly in two more allowance races in summer of 2022, then stepped her up to Grade 1 company. Goodnight Olive responded with a 2 ¾-length victory in the G1 Ballerina at Saratoga, then won the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint for the first time.

She started her 2023 campaign with a win in the Grade 1 Madison Stakes, and after her winning streak was snapped with a third in the G1 Derby City Distaff Stakes, she came back to win the G2 Bed o' Roses Stakes before finishing second in her defense of the Ballerina and winning her second Breeders' Cup race.

She is now in prime position to secure her second Eclipse Award as champion female sprinter. 

Racing newcomer John Stewart made the final bid on the mare for $6 million, then announced that she would stay in training for a 2024 campaign with Brown.

“Chad looks to be following the same pattern as last year, sending her to Florida for some rest and relaxation,” Laymon said. “I didn't think someone would buy her to race her, but I know Chad will make the right decision for her and I think John will make the right decision based on Chad's experience.”

Goodnight Olive is, of course, Laymon's stable star, but the mare means so much more than the numbers she put on her resume through the years.

“She is such a special animal to have,” Laymon said. “There's something about a horse like this that brings people so much joy.”

Perhaps the most important thing Goodnight Olive has done for Laymon, personally, is the impact she has had on his relationship with his son. Though Tyler Laymon rode pleasure horses growing up, he had moved away from the animals until he went off to college and Goodnight Olive stepped into the picture.

“He spends so much time with her,” Laymon said. “He'd been around horses a lot, and actually worked for Chad walking hots one summer. He would call me and tell me that she was the smartest horse in the barn, that they'd show her something one time, and she'd have it. Tyler said she may be the best horse we've ever owned, way before she won her first Grade 1.

“She was a little closed off when she was younger, but as she's gotten older, she became very, very kind, and she just loves the attention. She leaned right into me after her Breeders' Cup win, when I went to lead her into the winner's circle. She just knew.”

Irad Ortiz shows his appreciation for Goodnight Olive' after capturing the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint
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