For owners looking to make a quick return on investment from a horse they purchased at auction, few options stand above Kentucky Downs when it comes to the depth of opportunities and the size of the purses up for grabs.
Ike and Dawn Thrash experienced this first-hand in 2021 when Turnerloose, a $50,000 purchase at the previous year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale, won the $500,000 Aristrocrat Juvenile Stakes at Kentucky Downs in just her second start.
For the Thrashes, owners of the Mississippi-based real estate development company The Thrash Group, the dividend was a hands-on success. The couple shops the sales on their own, and aside from a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from veterinarian Scott Hay after physical inspections, they make the final calls on which horses to pursue and buy once they hit the auction ring.
Over the course of three decades in the Thoroughbred industry, the Thrashes have had several big hits on the racetrack, including Grade 1 winners Line of David, Tell a Kelly, and Her Emmynency.
Their entry into racing was not the big splash at auction that many high-level owners start with, but a quartet of free horses they received as payment instead of cash to settle a debt in the early 1990s. Those horses were nothing spectacular, but it confirmed their long-term interest and commitment to the sport.
“If this were truly the sport of kings, I doubt they would let me into it,” Ike Thrash said. “We have been very fortunate with the horses we’ve had, but we have always played with a reasonable budget. When we get the predictable phone call that a horse is sick or hurt, or simply can’t run, we just turn the page. We don’t believe that a horse has to cost $1 million to compete.”
Turnerloose, a Nyquist filly out of the unraced A.P. Indy mare Goaltending, entered the Thrashes field of vision early on in the 2020 Keeneland September sale, offered as Hip 1787 out of the Woodford Thoroughbreds consignment. The filly was bred in Kentucky by William Humphries and Altair Farms.
“We really, especially Dawn, always look at the individual first as to how they’re made and how they walk,” Ike Thrash said. “After that, we look at breeding. We thought Nyquist would be a great new sire, and we liked that she was out of an A.P. Indy mare.”
The hammer fell for the Thrashes at $50,000, which at the time, they thought was an incredible bargain. Thrash said he expected he’d have to pay three times that amount to secure the filly.
Turnerloose was placed in the barn of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, and she was preparing for her debut start with his string at Ellis Park. Her first start was a one-mile maiden special weight victory over the turf at Ellis Park, where she was engaged near the front throughout the race, and drew off to win by a length.
In hindsight, Turnerloose’s debut went exactly as they’d drawn it up. At the time, Cox and the Thrashes just needed a race for their filly.
“I would love to say it was a stroke of genius on somebody’s part, but it was strictly the way the condition book was written at Ellis Park,” Thrash said. “We either had to run five furlongs on the dirt or a mile on the grass. Brad figured she would at least like the distance.”
The team had a horse that they knew could handle the turf. Ellis Park is a popular place to prep for the turf-only Kentucky Downs meet, and Thrash knew that it takes the right horse getting good at the right time to take advantage of the boutique meet in southern Kentucky.
The Aristrocrat Juvenile Stakes appeared to be a “right place, right time” scenario for Turnerloose.
“You are always aware of a $500,000 race that early,” Thrash said. “We ran in that race twice before, with Cecile’s Chapter and Katie’s Reward. You really have only one shot to get there. They have to break their maiden in one or two starts.”
It was a small target, and Turnerloose hit it dead-center, drawing away early, and winning the one-mile race by five lengths under jockey Florent Geroux.
Turnerloose followed up that effort with a third-place finish in the G2 Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, then she ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Del Mar.
The filly tried racing on dirt for the first time in her 3-year-old debut, and she racked up a victory in the G2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes en route to a start in this year’s Kentucky Oaks.