After a shock defeat in the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff on May 6, last year’s champion sprint filly Goodnight Olive (by Ghostzapper) won her eighth race from 10 starts in the G2 Bed o’ Roses Stakes at Belmont Park on June 17.
The odds-on favorite at 1-to-4, Goodnight Olive followed her usual pattern of lagging a bit, then powering to victory in the stretch, and ran down Wicked Halo (Gun Runner) to win by a neck.
Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Farm, Goodnight Olive was sold by the breeder as a yearling and has proven the kind of an advertisement for their program that money cannot buy. She’s a champion.
Consigned to the Fasig-Tipton October sale in 2019, Goodnight Olive brought “only” $170,000 on a bid from Liz Crow on behalf of the owners. The champion races for First Row Partners and Team Hanley. Steve Laymon, the founding member of the First Row Partners, said, “that’s how our process works at the yearling sales. Liz and her team work the sale very hard, and then she calls me with a list of horses that should suit our program.”
And First Row does have a distinctive approach to buying, managing, and racing horses.
“First off,” Laymon said, “we buy fillies that get a thumbs up from Liz’s team, then send them to some of the best horsemen in the country to bring them along each step. When the partners and I were at Saratoga a few years ago, we saw Jack Christopher win his maiden (by 8 3/4 lengths for another partnership), and I told the partners ‘That’s why Liz Crow picks out our horses, Paul Sharp breaks them, and Chad Brown trains them.’”
From their first five years of operation to date, First Row Partners “have bought 19 horses, a mix of yearlings and 2-year-olds, with 13 going to Chad,” Laymon said. “All fillies, and he’s had four graded winners,” including Royal Charlotte (Cairo Prince), winner of the G2 Prioress Stakes; Nay Lady Nay (No Nay Never), winner of the G2 Mrs. Revere Stakes; Prerequisite (Upstart), winner of the G2 Wonder Again Stakes; and Goodnight Olive, champion and multiple G1 winner.
The latter pair are still racing and improving their earnings and subsequent resale value. The latter consideration is a practical component of the First Row Partners’ approach to the sport. It’s also a business. The first two graded winners were sold at the end of their racing careers. Royal Charlotte sold to WinStar at the 2021 Keeneland January sale for $400,000 as a broodmare prospect. Ten months later, Nay Lady Nay sold at the Fasig-Tipton November auction for $1.7 million to Juddmonte, also as a broodmare prospect.
The First Row Partners have fun at the races, but they didn’t check their financial sense at the door.
Based on the reports Laymon had been receiving from Brown about Goodnight Olive, the co-owner was very hopeful of a good result. Before the filly had won a stakes, Laymon was leafing through a sales catalog for the Keeneland November auction and found a half-sister to Goodnight Olive.
“In foal to Tiz the Law,” Laymon said, “I bought Katie’s Keepsake for $65,000. I bought her, then thought I should offer her to the partners, and they all wanted in. From what we were hearing from Chad about Goodnight Olive, we thought that Katie’s Keepsake was a good play.
“She wasn’t the most correct mare, but she was a Medaglia [d’Oro], and we really believed in Goodnight Olive.” Laymon continued, “We got a nice Tiz the Law colt out of her and bred her back to Ghostzapper.”
In the meantime, Goodnight Olive had developed first into a graded stakes winner and then a champion with victories a pair of G1s, including the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Filly Sprint.
Presented at the 2023 Keeneland January sale in foal to Ghostzapper, Katie’s Keepsake was thus a half-sister to a champion and in foal to that champ’s sire. She brought $250,000 from Dash Goff.
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And with characteristic understatement, Laymon said, “I’d rank Goodnight Olive right there with Dayatthespa” (City Zip), whom Laymon had a piece of when that filly won the Breeders’ Cup Filly Turf, was named champion turf filly, and sold at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton November for $2.1 million.
“Based on pedigree, though, when we go to sell her, Goodnight Olive is going to be more valuable.”
Not only is Goodnight Olive a top race filly. She is out of a two-time G3 winner, the Smart Strike mare Salty Strike, whom Stonestreet bought for $800,000 as a broodmare prospect at the end of her racing career. Salty Strike died in 2019 as an 11-year-old, and Goodnight Olive is her best offspring at the track.
But in addition to the graded stakes-winning dam and her daughter, this family has great depth. Salty Strike’s dam produced two stakes winners and three stakes-placed horses and traces to the legendary Cosmah (Cosmic Bomb) and her dam Almahmoud (Mahmoud).
Cosmah’s gifts to the breed include leading sire Halo (Hail to Reason), the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence (the greatest sire in the history of breeding and racing in Japan) and of champion racer Tosmah (Tim Tam). Dozens of major stakes winners trace to Cosmah.
And you could make an argument that Cosmah wasn’t quite the most influential daughter of Almahmoud. The chestnut daughter of English Derby winner Mahmoud also produced a small bay filly by Native Dancer named Natalma. She became the dam of champion Northern Dancer (one of the greatest sires in the history of the breed), the second dam of champion La Prevoyante (Buckpasser), and the third dam of highweighted sprinter Danehill (Danzig), who became a figure of legend in Australia, as well as a leading sire in Europe, where he sired classic winners, as well as high-class performers across all distances and conditions.
Nice little family, you might say.