For a horse that ran in arguably the most visible horse horse race on the planet, Tencendur has spent most of his life under the radar.
Prior to his 17th place finish in the 2015 Kentucky Derby, the son of Warrior’s Reward was best known for a runner-up effort behind Frosted in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. After the Derby, he was best known for finishing second to Mr. Z in the Ohio Derby.
He was a New York-bred in the Derby, which is usually a novelty for fans, but even that had a somewhat dimmer spotlight, having to share it with a pair of other runners born in the Empire State: Upstart and International Star, the latter of which was scratched after the draw.
This might sound like a hard-luck story, but for owner and breeder Philip Birsh, Tencendur was his star.
Birsh, the president and CEO of Broadway publication Playbill and a longtime breeder in New York, knew what he had with the horse, and that horses reaching those levels sometimes don’t even come once in a lifetime.
“How many owners have an $18,000 mare that they breed to a $15,000 first-year, unproven stallion and get a Derby horse?” Birsh told reporter Bill Heller for New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., ahead of Tencendur’s Derby start. “How crazy is that?”
Tencendur raced once at age four, finishing second in a Saratoga allowance, before retiring with one win in eight starts for earnings of $368,500. He remains the highest earner for Birsh as an owner.
Prior to Tencendur’s Derby start, Birsh shared his dream of standing Tencendur in his home state at the end of his racing career, and when that time came, he called upon a longtime partner.
Anne Morgan of Mill Creek Farm in Stillwater N.Y., had success standing Birsh’s stallion Mayakovsky in the early 2000s, and she had previously foaled out his mares before he got his own farm in Galway N.Y. Birsh could do a lot on his new 90-acre property, but there was one thing he couldn’t get done.
“I’ve got good owners that take care of their horses, and Mr. Birsh is one of those,” Morgan said. “His farm isn’t set up for a stallion. That’s why he stays here.”
Tencendur arrived at Mill Creek ahead of the 2017 breeding season, and it was quickly apparent that the new stallion’s strength and frame were going to be his selling points.
“He walked off the trailer, and we all just went ‘wow,’ because he was just big, good looking, and fit,” Morgan said. “Just drop-dead gorgeous.”
Morgan had plenty of experience with Tencendur’s family. Prior to Birsh buying his own farm, one of the mares under Morgan’s watch was Still Secret, a winning daughter of Hennessy who produced a pair of six-figure earners at Mill Creek. Among them was Mother Russia, a daughter of Mayakovsky who was a multiple Grade 3-placed stakes winner and earned over $500,000. Still Secret was moved to Birsh’s farm before Tencendur was born.
Life at stud has been quiet for Tencendur. Over the course of four crops at stud, he has sired 20 foals, with the most in a season being nine in his 2020 crop.
Birsh has carried the load in supporting the stallion, responsible for all of Tencendur’s named foals to date. He has also campaigned the two Tencendur foals to race so far.
“He throws beautiful babies,” Morgan said. “He just hasn’t had a lot of interest.”
Morgan said Birsh still follows Tencendur regularly, calling about the stallion monthly, and visiting several times a year.
“You’ve got to give Mr. Birsh credit,” she said. “He’s got the life of a good horse.”
Tencendur resides in a four-stall stallion barn on the Mill Creek property, across the lane from rookie stallion Venezuelan Hug. Across the barn is another young stallion, in Killybegs Captain.
Tencendur watched his roommate exit the stall to go to work plenty of times during the recently completed breeding season, but he waited for his number to be called to little avail.
“He didn’t breed a mare this year, unfortunately,” Morgan said. “We did breed him to a nursemare, and he was pretty happy about that.”
Though he was quiet in the breeding shed in 2022, Tencendur remained at the ready whenever the stall door opened. Already a towering horse, the stallion somehow grew even more imposing when he exited the stall with acceleration at the end of his shank.
Morgan said the theatrics were just part of the package with Tencendur, the same as any other stallion in the barn.
“He’s really good in the stall, but when he comes to the breeding shed, or you’re trying to deal with him, he’s doing the dance,” she said. “He’s a good horse to breed. The mares always caught.
“Stallions all have their own personalities, so you have to learn to deal with them on their level,” Morgan continued. “They’re big, they’re aggressive, and sometimes, you have to make them think it’s their way before you get what you want. Venezuelan Hug is the nicest horse to be around in the world, Killybegs Captain is great, except for running the fence, and that’s his thing. Tencendur has his Zenyatta moves coming in and out of the stall.”
Though he stands for a private fee, Morgan said Tencendur was still very much available to outside breeders. Nine of his 18 foals of racing age are 2-year-olds of 2022, which means his best chance to make a mark at stud might just now be hitting the track.
It only takes big one horse to turn skeptics into believers. Tencendur was already that big horse for Birsh, and there’s still hope that the stallion will give his owner one more.
“We love to tell people, ‘Listen, he ran in the Derby. Of 20,000 foals, he was one of 20,’” she said. “You just never know. You’ve gotta get that one to hit. He’s probably the best-kept secret in the world, who knows?”