Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: Kirstenbosch No Garden Variety Homebred For Keith Abrahams - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Kirstenbosch No Garden Variety Homebred For Keith Abrahams

Keith Abrahams’ Kirstenbosch and jockey Kazushi Kimura after their victory in the Grade 3 La Cañada Stakes

Owner/breeder Keith Abrahams was quietly confident in Kirstenbosch ahead of last weekend's Grade 3 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita. The filly, named for a famous botanical garden in Abrahams' native South Africa, proved his confidence was not misplaced when she won by a nose. 

Kirstenbosch became the second homebred graded stakes winner to race in Abrahams' colors, quite a feat for a small-scale breeder who keeps only three to five mares at any given time.

Though the 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute was the third choice on the board behind a pair of Bob Baffert trainees, Abrahams believed the extra distance of 1 1/16 miles would be perfect for his filly after her third-place finish in the seven-furlong La Brea (G1).

“I thought she had a very good chance,” Abrahams said. “She's quite talented, we think, but she's one of those horses that we still think she's not quite putting out 100 percent of her effort.”

Juan Leyva, longtime assistant to trainer John Sadler, readily agreed after watching Kirstenbosch win by a nose at the wire.

“When she started running, I thought she was going to win by at least half a length, but then it looked like when she got to (runner-up) Ganadora, she kind of just hung with her and this filly just tends to do that,” Leyva explained. ”She does just enough to win, she's never been one to just pull away, so that's the only thing I was afraid of. … But she got the job done, so that's the main thing. I'm really happy for Keith because they have been longtime clients of John and they are just good people.”

Keith Abraham, second from left, bookended by Sadler assistants Juan Leyva (right) and Enrique Miranda, along with jockey Kazushi Kimura and stakes coordinator James Kasparoff

Loyalty in his business relationships is one of Abrahams' key tools to success, both in his real estate work as co-founder of the Brentwood Real Estate Group, and in the racing industry. Originally a CPA by trade, Abrahams figured out early on in the business realm that having the right people around him was paramount to success.

Abrahams' relationship with Sadler dates back 20 years, while his work with bloodstock agent Kathy Berkey traces back more than 30 years. He's kept his small band of broodmares at the same Kentucky farm (Columbiana) for nearly 20 years as well.

“I learned in business that you should always try to surround yourself with good people,” Abrahams said. “You hire them to do a job, and then that's their expertise so you let them do it. John Sadler and I always sit down and discuss the race options, but ultimately it's what he thinks we should do. 

“I'm very involved in the breeding, where I like to make decisions; my agent Kathy provides me with information, then I do my own research as well and we come to a decision.”

Abrahams' passion for the bloodstock side of the business, albeit on a small scale, has led to strong results on the racing side of the industry. 

“I love the breeding, the challenge,” he said. “That's pretty much 95 percent of all the horses I've ever run are all horses I've bred. That whole challenge of finding the right crosses, making those decisions, and seeing them come to the track and do something with it, whether it be a low-level race, or we've been fortunate to have some good runners at the higher level.”

One of his earliest breeding successes came in the form of Taste of Paradise, a horse on whom he is listed as co-breeder with his father-in-law. Berkey helped him select that horse's dam, Tastetheteardrops, at the 1997 Keeneland November sale, for $60,000. Taste of Paradise was foaled in 1999 on a breeding to Conquistador Cielo, and won the G2 San Diego Handicap for Abrahams in 2003 before selling for $425,000 at the 2004 Barretts January sale. Taste of Paradise would go on to win the G1 Vosburgh in 2005, retiring with earnings over $1 million.

The next major success came with Get Funky, a colt Abrahams acquired via a $62,500 claim from a maiden race in 2006. The colt would go on to win 11 of his 45 career starts, including the G2 Del Mar Derby, before retiring with earnings of $781,675.

Also in 2006, Abrahams and Berkey bought a mare named Azure Spring for $32,000 at the Keeneland November sale. Her most successful offspring was Selcourt, named for the small town in South Africa in which Abrahams was raised. The 2014 filly by Tiz Wonderful won the G2 Santa Monica Stakes in 2018, and retired a multiple graded stakes winner with earnings of $393,160.

Selcourt and jockey Tyler Baze winning the 2018 Santa Monica Stakes

Kirstenbosch, the latest in a stream of homebreds named for South African landmarks, is actually a second-generation homebred for Abrahams. Berkey helped select the filly's granddam, And Guess What (Kris S.) at the 2001 Keeneland January sale for $24,000. A 2010 cross with Belong to Me led to Llandudno, a graded stakes-placed mare, who in turn would foal Kirstenbosch in 2019 on a cross to Midnight Lute.

“I love the game, and it's so fun to have the highs because we all know how tough this game can be,” Abrahams said.

In fact, his first foray into U.S. racing could hardly be described as a profitable one.

Though Abrahams had some exposure to horse racing while growing up in South Africa, courtesy of his grandfather, a rural hometown meant the young Abrahams was more involved with riding horses and working with farm animals. 

Following a mandatory two-year stint in the South African army, Abrahams had a last-gasp chance to follow his family to the United States; he could get a green card if he arrived before his 21st birthday, which was just 10 days away when he learned of the opportunity. Taking the risk, Abrahams fell in love with California and decided to stay, eventually graduating from USC and beginning his journey as a CPA.

“I was just out of college and working for a big accounting firm when a friend's family, who was involved in a very small way in breeding a mare of two, had one foal they needed to find a home for,” Abrahams recalled. “Two of us decided that we'd take the foal and try to race it.”

It would have been a perfect Hollywood ending had that filly had any success. Instead, she never made it to the race and became Abrahams' personal riding horse before passing away at the ripe age of 35 just a couple years ago. Despite the perceived failure, Abrahams had been fatally bitten by the racing bug.

“I ended up taking over a layup facility in Bradbury, Calif, right near Santa Anita,” Abrahams said. “I was working in the office during the day and trying to run a boarding facility at night, so that I could pay my way to get into the business. I made a lot of bad breeding decisions on my own early on, until I met Kathy and started breeding more seriously in Kentucky a few years later.

“The industry is a fun one to be in, but I also love being around the horses. I pretty much go out to the track every week to see them work, and I try to be in Kentucky as much as I can to see the mares and babies.”

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