Don Alberto have big dreams for Europe
Cunco: Frankel's first winner is owned by Don Alberto Corp
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) Chilean operation with big ambitions for Europe
By Michele MacDonald in Kentucky 2:38PM 14 SEP 2016
AFTER establishing a major Kentucky breeding and sales operation in just three years and nearly doubling its acres within the past year, Chilean-based Don Alberto Corp is aiming to acquire a farm in Europe and race more runners there in the future.
"Time will tell, but yes, we want [a farm in Europe]. It's in our minds – Ireland or England, maybe," said Carlos Heller, who oversees Don Alberto while serving as chairman of his family's huge Bethia Holdings conglomerate headquartered in Santiago.
"We've been looking, in fact, but we have to go one step at a time," added Don Alberto bloodstock adviser Fernando Diaz-Valdes regarding a European farm as he joined Heller in Keeneland's cafeteria prior to the second session of the September Yearling Sale on Tuesday.
Don Alberto already has been a buyer and a seller in the opening sessions of the world's largest yearling market, which is apropos for one of the most expansive global breeding and racing enterprises.
Heller and Diaz-Valdes said the operation has about 200 horses in North America, including 85 broodmares and about 30 horses in training split among Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Richard Mandella, Wesley Ward, Jerry Hollendorfer and Tom Albertrani.
In South America, Don Alberto owns about 1,000 horses, including approximately 300 mares and 210 runners in training, with most in Chile and some in Argentina. Ten juveniles sired by Frankel on Southern Hemisphere time are being prepared to begin their racing careers.
Don Alberto's current presence in Europe is relatively small, with twice stakes-placed Frankel colt Cunco, trained by John Gosden, a highlight, along with the multiple Group-placed mare Look At Me, who produced a Galileo filly this spring and is back in foal to Dubawi on a foal share with Darley.
The dreams for Don Alberto in Europe are big, however.
"I will answer for him: I would love to be at Royal Ascot," said Diaz-Valdes, who helped with translations in the bilingual interview, when Heller was asked about European aspirations. "It would be nice to have horses winning good races, and good stallions.
"He is in a little bit of a rush because he wants to do these things as soon as possible so his mother [Liliana Solari, who founded Chile's Haras Don Alberto in 1987] can enjoy it," he added. "It means so much to his family."
Heller has spurred Don Alberto's growth at a rapid pace. He quietly added significant additional property to the Lexington farm, the former Vinery, a 440-acre nursery purchased in 2013 for $13.82 million. About 360 acres were acquired over the past year from adjoining Crestwood Farm, owned by Pope McLean, and Don Alberto is in the process of building new barns on that land.
"It's remarkable," said Pope McLean Jr, Crestwood business manager, of Don Alberto's investments, adding that his family bought other land to replace the acres sold. "I'm sure they are going to take good care of the land. It's in wonderful hands and we're thrilled they have it."
"After three years, we have added a second farm, and also now we have a good amount of broodmares, but we are trying to clean house and add better quality [so we can breed better] products. That's where we are at this stage," Heller said.
During the Keeneland session on Tuesday, Don Alberto paid $250,000 for a Tiznow filly out of stakes-winning A P Indy mare Dance Quietly – a half-sister to 2005 horse of the year Saint Liam and to the Grade 2-winning dam of Gun Runner, third in this year's Kentucky Derby. The filly was bred by Three Chimneys Farm and Besilu Stables.
On the other side of the ledger, Don Alberto sold a Bernardini colt from the family of Canadian champions Tilt My Halo and Ruling Angel to Shadwell for $550,000 during Monday's session at Keeneland.
Four other yearlings sold, including a Kitten's Joy filly produced by a daughter of Grade 1 winner Mauralakana and acquired by Qatar-based Al Shahania Stud, helped generate total revenue of $1.36 million during the first two sale sessions.
But Heller and Diaz-Valdes have been careful, withdrawing 19 of the 31 yearlings entered in the sale's Book 1 and not selling four others after bidding did not meet reserve prices. They indicated they wanted to retain some of the fillies and colts and did not want to risk others at a discount due to inconsequential Xray issues.
Fillies and mares are a prime focal point for Don Alberto, which has bought over $30.8 million worth of mares at Kentucky bloodstock sales since entering the market in 2013. Heller indicated it is likely Don Alberto look for opportunities to acquire more elite producers at the November sales.
Mares Don Alberto have purchased to date include Grade 1 winners Angela Renee ($3 million) and Sarah Lynx ($2.6 million), as well as Modeling ($2.85 million), a Tapit half-sister to Belmont Stakes winners Jazil and Rags to Riches.