Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: Wente's Patience, Vision As A Breeder Is Paying Off - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Wente’s Patience, Vision As A Breeder Is Paying Off

Hidden Connection wins the G3 Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Fresh out of high school and with no clear career path in mind, Tommy Wente wasn't exactly sure where his life was headed. But that would change when he paid a visit to his stepdad, Thoroughbred trainer Tom Hickman, and caught a glimpse of what he was keeping in his barn.

“He (Hickman) was a trainer for years and he had a house in Indiana so when my mom moved to Indiana with him, I would go visit,” he said. “He kept all his racehorses in his barn and when I saw the first one, I was hooked. I just knew, 'I have to have one of these.' And the rest is history.”

More than 20 years later and Wente is on the precipice of one of the best seasons of his life as a breeder. His farm, St. Simon Place, recently produced stakes winner Hidden Connection (by Connect), who took the Grade 3 Pocahontas Stakes on Sept. 18 at Churchill Downs. The filly, along with several others already making an impression on the track, could send Wente and his partners to the Breeders' Cup World Championships with a roster that many Thoroughbred breeders never achieve.

But back in 1999 when Wente made his first foray into racing, the idea of the World Championships — or any graded stakes race for that matter — seemed a world away from his reality.

“My stepdad was a trainer and he got me my first horse,” said Wente. “I actually ended up losing that horse in a fire at a Quarter Horse track in Henderson, Ky. So that didn't go very well. But I stayed in the business, and I started off in the Indiana-bred program because that's where I'm from. I started at the bottom with no money, and we were foaling a lot of junk, but I thought it was the best thing in the world.”

Working and breeding in Indiana, Wente spent several years in the Hoosier State building up his program and his contacts. When the day-to-day operations began to stagnate, and with the allure of bigger prizes just over the state line, he decided it was time to make a change and shift the center of his operations south of the Mason-Dixon.

“It got to the point where I wasn't getting anywhere. I felt like I was in a rut,” said Wente. “So, I had a buddy of mine in Kentucky that had a farm, and I had a chance to move in on that deal. I just made the switch and came down. I have two partners now, they're sod famers — Calvin Crain and Shane Crain — So they do sod and I do horses.”

The trio now owns and operates St. Simon Place, a nearly 400-acre farm in Lexington, Ky. While the Crains focus on their sod business, the Kentucky Turf Company, Wente keeps his priority on the horses. In addition to breeding and foaling, the farm also offers yearling prep, lay-up, and boarding.

With the move to Kentucky came the opportunity for more frequent visits to the sales grounds and Wente wasted little time in buying. His strategy from the start was to suss out the diamonds in the rough: mares with minimal price tags that hold the prospect of future returns.

Tommy Wente of St. Simon Place

“I bought a few mares and one of those that I bought was C J's Gal, who is the dam of Hidden Connection,” he said. “She was only about $9,500. Then the other mare we bought was Jazz Tune, she was $20,000. Actually, she just had a winner the other day by Connect, a maiden special weight winner.

“Our 2-year-old crop this year is unbelievable. I sold and Indiana-bred for $130,000 in October last year. Donato Lanni bought her for Quarter Pole, and she (Electric Ride) ended up getting a TDN Rising Star mention on his first time out. I also bought a mare out of a sale named Spanish Star for $1,500 and I bred her to Trappe Shot. After that baby was born, Sir Winston won the Belmont Stakes (G1) and he is Spanish Star's half-brother, so I ended up selling her for $150,000 privately. That baby, One Timer, is entered in the Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita.

“Then we have the 2-year-old out of Jazz Tune, Rattle N Roll, broke his maiden at Churchill and he's nominated for the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. I don't know if it will work out, but it's just so exciting because that's a “Win and You're In” race for the Breeders' Cup. And of course, Hidden Connection looks like the real deal and we're all so excited to see what she does.

“I think I spent like $300,000 at Keeneland last year in November and I got a lot of babies out of those mares. All of those will go straight into the sale this November. I thought last year was a buyer's market so that's why I bought, and it really looks like it'll pay off because I got some fantastic foals.”

Today, Wente's broodmare band is comprised of close to 45 mares, several of which he owns with another partner, Scott Stevens. That being said, he does have plans to pare down in the coming months. Both C J's Gal and Why Oh You — the dam of Electric Ride — are entered in The November Sale, Fasig-Tipton's premier breeding stock sale, with the understanding that if their foals don't jump up to hit the board in their next races, they could remain with Wente on the farm.

“I'm getting to the point though where I don't want to get much bigger,” said Wente. “I'm working on trying to get some numbers down because I get more happiness out of buying cheap mares, watching them hit, and then reselling them for more money. I love that part of the game. We're getting hefty offers on C J's Gal, but I was informed to shut that down. If hers or one of the foals hit, then I'll probably sell. I know those mares are hard to find, but I can't always afford to keep them.”

While he now breeds largely in Kentucky, Wente continues to foal out a handful of mares in Indiana and shares part ownership of the stallion Speightsong, who stands at Swifty Farm in Seymore, Ind. Wente does race some of his stock with trainer Mark Casse, but his priorities lay heavily with breeding and selling. With so much upside in the pipeline — from Hidden Connection to Elective Ride, to One Timer, to Rattle N Roll — Wente finally feels that he, and his horses, have found their stride.

“We had an incredible yearling sale this year,” said Wente. “I think we sold eight horses for $756,000. None were spectacular but they were all good horses, and it was a great sale for everyone. I think I have a pretty good program going and I've gotten to work with some great people like Carrie and Craig Brogden of Machmer Hall, who consign my yearlings. I owe a lot to them, they steered me the right way. I also have friends I count on like Tim and Nancy Hamlin at Wynnstay. They've taught me a lot, too. I'm just blessed that I've met so many people who really help me.

“I'm not afraid to listen and learn things. I don't know it all, I just take it all in. With this game, the highs are the highs, and the lows are the lows. There is not in between. You will have more lows than highs, but you have to keep pushing through. It just seems like everything we did and the money we spent is coming full circle. I don't know the method to my madness, but it seems to work. I'm just very blessed.”

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