Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Nothing Like A Horse That Really Inspires You’ by Chelsea Hackbarth|06.26.2022|2:20pm Stitched and Florent Geroux winning the Mystic Lake Derby by 1 3/4 lengths When his second-generation homebred Stitched was beaten almost 32 lengths in his first start, Nathan McCauley could have lost faith in the Mizzen Mast colt. Instead, assistant trainer Travis Foley called Nathan and urged him not to give up just yet. “I was thinking, 'Okay, what's the cheapest maiden claiming race they run at the Fair Grounds,'” Nathan admitted. “Travis called me right after the race and said, 'Man, Dad (trainer Greg Foley) and I really like this horse, we believe in him.'” That faith has continued to bear fruit in 2022 as Stitched has put together three straight victories, including last week's $150,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury Park in Minnesota. Later this year, the 3-year-old will target the Grade 2, $300,000 Secretariat Stakes on the revamped Arlington Million card at Churchill Downs. “There's nothing like a horse that really inspires you,” said Nathan. “These horses have just done so much for me. A homebred got me out of the car business and created an opportunity for me to get into horses full time, and this year I got to go to Royal Ascot and Stitched paid for the trip! These horses just inspire the hell out of me. There's nothing better than having raised a horse and seeing them race.” Nathan grew up in Kentucky, though horses weren't on his radar right away. It was an afternoon of skipping school and a trip to Keeneland that hooked the young man on horse racing. “I grew up a giant sports fan, but my grandmother used to talk about the Kentucky Derby,” Nathan said. “That day at Keeneland, it had the competitiveness of sports, the beauty of horses, and the aspect of gambling was exciting. All those things combined made horse racing really easy to fall in love with.” Nathan followed his father Ron McCauley into the car business, eventually moving to Tennessee and developing a handful of dealerships, but he never lost that passion for racing. He and his brother Alex convinced their father to purchase a racehorse at Keeneland in 2007. One quickly became four, and that fourth purchase, Golden Doc A, won the G2 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita just three weeks after the family bought her. Ron and Angela McCauley made the decision to invest in racing by building a breeding farm in Jessamine County, and all five children got involved in the sport. Nathan stayed involved with his parents' racing interests, and when he sold out of the car business in 2016 made the decision to move back to Kentucky and work with racehorses full time. In 2017, Nathan took over the family farm full-time; his lease has allowed his parents to begin their retirement. The horse that made that decision possible was Free Rose, a multiple graded stakes winner. Ron and Tevis McCauley claimed his dam, Birdie Birdie, at Mountaineer in 2010 for just $5,000. The mare never ran again, but Nathan orchestrated a mating to Munnings that produced the colt he would name Free Rose in 2013. When the colt did not meet his reserve at the following year's Fasig-Tipton yearling sale, Nathan decided to race him. He broke his maiden at Parx in a $40,000 maiden claimer late in his 2-year-old season, but in late 2016 Free Rose had progressed to winning graded stakes on the turf in Southern California. “I've had great luck with running in a maiden claiming race to qualify them for starter allowances, giving the horse a chance to compete early on and give them that confidence,” Nathan explained. The same progression helped to develop Stitched, alongside Nathan's relationship with the Foley family. “The Foley team is the best-kept secret in America,” Nathan proclaimed. “I was looking for a trainer and I knew (Greg Foley's sons) Travis and Alex. I knew that Greg was a great horseman, and I asked my brother Tevis (also a trainer) about Greg. Tevis, who is a much better horseman than I am, said Greg was a real class horseman. I just had a feeling that it would be a good fit. “With Stitched, I always had the feeling that he needed to be developed. He needed a trainer to not judge him right off the bat, and Greg has been amazing at that.” Named for a clothing store in Las Vegas, Stitched is co-owned by a group of friends who'd met up at that store to purchase suits for the races. “They're an amazing group of guys,” Nathan said. “When I bought Stitched back as a yearling, it was their idea to put this partnership together, so credit to them on that! “I call them the 'OG's.' They were my first really awesome partners in the horse business, all a spinoff of Bing Bush's Abbondanza partnership. Bing is one of my best friends, and we've all become great friends and I've partnered consistently with them.” Celebrating Stitched's first stakes victory in the Caesars Stakes at Horseshoe Indianapolis Those relationships with people are what keep Nathan's passion for the horse business going strong. His business partner in River Oak Farm is his best friend Lindsay LaRoche of Highland Yard, and the other relationships with clients and mentors he's met along the way have become the best part of Nathan's day-to-day routine. “There are some amazing people in my life that encouraged me and coached me along the way,” Nathan said. “It's kind of been the '10,000-hour rule;' I've obsessed over pedigrees every day for 10 years, so now it does kind of come naturally. I pick up easily on it when a stallion's doing something unusual, though I'm still wrong as much as I'm right. I started with not a lot of money, so my income has been from the horse business. I began by breeding horses on a budget and I was lucky enough to breed some really nice horses on $10,000 stud fees, which is what I could afford. I just noticed the outliers, which stallions could help me compete.” Perhaps the top horse Nathan has bred and sold is Grade 1 winner Eda, while he's also been involved in the ownership of multiple Grade 1-placed, Grade 2 winner Venetian Harbor. The niche Nathan has developed over the past five years has been to purchase 50 mares a year off the track, whether via claim, private purchase, or auction. He puts the maiden mares in foal with the intention of selling them at the breeding stock sales. “Kind of by default we turn into breeders,” he said. “Maybe 40 of the 50 will make it to the sale, and then maybe 35 of the 40 will sell. The ones we like more than the market, we typically keep. “It's pretty wild, because we're looking for mares 365 days a year. It's about every week that we're buying a horse, selling a horse. We're looking to claim horses all the time, scouring stakes races, looking for horses at the end of their careers. This year was especially challenging, and we are constantly having to pivot. “We used to buy a lot of $50,000 broodmares that today cost $70,000 or $80,000. We've had to buy stuff a little differently. The 'obvious' horse is bringing 50 percent more than it should at the sales, while a nice horse might bring 80 percent of its value in comparison. It's all about capitalizing at the right time.” It certainly seems to be the right time for Stitched, maturing and improving with each start. “We'll keep him with 3-year-olds for the rest of the year, and hopefully we'll have a lot of fun with him as a 4 and 5-year-old,” Nathan said.