WEST GROVE, Pa.—After over 50 years of training champions both on the flat and over fences, Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard isn’t yet through setting records. In late 2016 he became the first person to train the winners of both the biggest Pennsylvania-bred 2-year-old filly and colt stakes, making those two, Rose Tree and Downhill Racer the ones to look out for in stakes this year.
Not only did Sheppard saddle Rose Tree to win the $102,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies Stakes on Nov. 23 and Downhill Racer to win the $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes on Dec. 3, but he did with all the same connections, with Mr. and Mrs. Rodman Moorhead III as breeder, Moorhead’s Buttonwood Farm as owner, and Andrew Wolfsont as jockey for both winners.
And to complete the equation, Sheppard, as agent, also picked out and bought the dams of both Rose Tree and Downhill Racer for Moorhead.
“The Moorheads had just one or two racehorses with Lillith Boucher, then immediately before January, four years ago, Rod indicated to me that he might like to get a broodmare,” said Sheppard.
The Moorhead’s Buttonwood Farm in West Grove, Pa., is just about a half-mile down the road from Sheppard’s farm with a woodchip training track, stables for many of this racehorses and turnout paddocks.
For many years, Sheppard has rented space at Buttonwood Farm to keep his broodmares and their get.
Buttonwood Farm also has a 100-acre field where Sheppard trains his racehorses on the turf.
Sheppard said the Moorheads decided to get a broodmare because they liked seeing the broodmares and their get in their fields and thought it would be nice to have one of their own.
“I FOXHUNTED for many years with Cheshire, but then three or four years ago I broke my back in two places, and my wife said `No more foxhunting,’” said Moorhead.
“Jonathan’s first wife, Penny, is my wife’s first cousin, so Jonathan has kept his mares here,” said Moorhead.
He said he and his wife enjoyed seeing the broodmares and their get, and that he had been around horses all his life as he had been born in Kentucky.
“So everything came together, and we thought why don’t we get a broodmare,” said Moorhead.
“Rod didn’t indicate how much he wanted to spend, but I wanted to be conservative,” said Sheppard. “I bought Encore Saritta, (by Consolidator out of a Sutter’s Prospect mare) in foal to Colonel John at the Keeneland January Mixed Sale for $30,000. She was due to foal in three weeks.”
So less than a month after deciding they wanted a broodmare, the Moorheads had not only a broodmare but also a foal at their farm.
“We started with one mare,” said Moorhead. “Jonathan helped us out. We liked the mare, so we decided to get three more. The field with the broodmares is 50 or a 100 yards from our bedroom window, so it’s fun to look out and see the mares and foals run around.”
“Sometime after he got Encore Saritta, Rod said, `I think this is neat, I’m retired now and I want to get more mares,” said Sheppard. “He said we could get one better.”
“I bought three mares for about $700,000 total,” said Sheppard, who bought all three at the Keeneland January Mixed Sale. “They’re all nice mares with a little bit of pedigree. I made it a little easier for them to tell them apart by buying one grey, one chestnut and one bay.”
SHEPPARD, as agent for Moorhead, bought Amusing, by Distorted Humor out of a Dr. Carter mare, for $280,000, Silk and Satin, by Storm Cat out of a Mr. Prospector mare, for $270,000 and Sanibel Star, by Unbridled’s Song out of a vice Regent mare, for $155,000. “Miraculously, two mares have turned out well,” said Sheppard, indicating thecthree winning foals out of Amusing and Encore Saritta. “The get of the other two (Silk and Satin and Sanibel Star) haven’t run yet.”
“My wife’s father was Master at Rose Tree Hunt, so we named the first one out of Amusing Rose Tree,” said Moorhead of the filly by Harlan’s Holiday. “We’re realists, and we know racing has its ups and downs, but so far we’ve done very well. Jonathan’s been very helpful. We got some outstanding offers for Rose Tree after she won. Jonathan’s done a great job.”
“We’re also partners with Jonathan in All the Way Jose,” said Moorhead of the stakes winning steeplechase horse.
Downhill Racer is out of Encore Saritta, whose first foal, Button My Button, didn’t run as a 2-year-old, but won a maiden race at Presque Isle on Sept. 27, 2016 as a 3-year-old, finished second in an Allowance race at Penn National on Nov. 16 and then won an Allowance at Penn on Dec. 7.
“We wanted to name the first one Buttonwood after the farm, but that was taken, so we named her Button My Button,” said Moorhead.
“WE GAVE Rose Tree and Downhill Racer six weeks off, and they went back into training in mid-January,” said Sheppard. “They’ll run in the spring, maybe at Keeneland or locally.”
“Downhill Racer is a nice, solid, useful horse, but in stakes he’d be more likely aimed at Pennsylvania-bred races,” he said. “Rose Tree might be able to step up in class. She’s a faster mare, more naturally gifted. She’s by a very good stallion.”
Both have younger siblings,” said Sheppard. “Encore Saritta has a 2-year-old colt by Jump Start and a yearling full brother to Button My Button. Amusing has a 2-year-old named Magical Kingdom by Animal Kingdom.”
Sheppard has had a spectacular career, winning 12 Eclipse Awards, 10 with steeplechase horses and two with flat horses; Athenian Idol (1973), Café Prince (1997, 1978), Martie’s Anger (1979), Flatterer (1983, 1984, 1985, 1986), Jimmy Lorenzo (1988), Highland Bud (1989), Forever Together (2008) and Informed Decision (2009).
He was steeplechasing’s Leading Trainer, Money Won 24 times, trained four winners of the Breeders’ Cup Grand National Steeplechase and holds the record for most Colonial Cup wins with 11.
He is the first trainer in America to win over $20 million in steeplechase races, unadjusted for inflation. His closest competitor, Jack Fisher, has yet to hit the $10 million mark, despite today’s much higher purses.
Sheppard won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Forever Together in 2008 and the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint with Informed Decision in 2009. With Anticipation was second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2002.
He won his 3,000 win as a flat trainer in 2012, just the 28th trainer in North America to hit that milestone.