SHEPHERDSTOWN – Charles “Buck” Woodson knew as soon as he laid eyes on him that the leggy dark brown colt was destined for great things.
How correct his breeder has turned out to be.
Giovanni Boldini, born in 2011 on Woodson’s 40-acre Buckstud Farm near Charles Town, was named West Virginia-bred Horse of the Year on Sunday, as more than a dozen horses and horsemen were honored during an awards banquet at the Clarion Hotel recognizing the 2013 state-bred champions as selected by the West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
Breeder James W. Casey also had a stellar day as he and his Taylor Mountain Farm operation collected six total honors, including West Virginia Breeder of Year. But it was Woodson who claimed the biggest prize.
Named for an Italian artist, Giovanni Boldini wrapped up an impressive 2-year-old campaign last fall by finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, the best-ever finish by a West Virginia-bred racehorse on thoroughbred racing’s biggest stage.
“I think he was marked for greatness and I could see that in him,” Woodson said. “A lot of other people did, too.”
Woodson, who collected additional honors for Giovanni Boldini as co-champion state-bred juvenile male and also co-champion broodmare for that horse’s mother, Dancing Trieste, proudly recalled the beginning of Giovanni Boldini’s jet setting career.
The son of War Front garnered record prices for a West Virginia-bred as both a weanling and yearling before ending up in the barn of renowned Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, where he resides today.
Woodson sold Giovanni Boldini as a weanling for $190,000 in 2011. The colt was later pin-hooked at a yearling sale in 2012 for $675,000 and ultimately sent to Europe for training. The horse earned a berth in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in November as a 2-year-old following a pair of victories in Ireland.
“He was an outstanding individual right from the beginning,” said the 87-year-old Woodson. “Not only was he good looking, but he did everything right. Whatever you wanted him to do he did, and he was calm and quiet. I think you could have actually shot off a firecracker next to him and he would just turn around and look and think ‘what’s that?’”
On Nov. 1 at Santa Anita, Giovanni Boldini stalked the early leaders in the one-mile Juvenile Turf before putting his head in front with about 100 yards to go. But he was nipped at the wire by a fast-closing Outstrip and finished second by a half-length.
Woodson wasn’t in attendance that day as he was in Lexington, Ky., for a thoroughbred auction, but he watched the race on television at Keeneland Racecourse. Another local horseman, however, was a little closer to the action.
“I watched the race live and I thought he was going to win,” said Ollie Figgins, III, a Charles Town-based trainer who was in California to saddle Dance to Bristol the following day in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. “I was excited like he was mine. I was disappointed to see him lose, but actually my house is probably 200 yards from where he was raised. So for me and that horse to be at the same place at the same time was kind of special.”
Giovanni Boldini is one of more than 400 horses nominated for the Triple Crown series for 3-year-olds, which begins with the Kentucky Derby on May 3. But he is also nominated for equally prestigious races later this year in Europe, where his penchant for success in grass racing may be better developed.
“I think he probably leans a little bit to the turf, but I think he could run on dirt,” Woodson said.
It’s unknown at the moment if Giovanni Boldini will return to race this year in North America, but it certainly is possible. However, it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will run in the Triple Crown series, as horses must earn entry in those races by collecting points while placing in the top-four finishes in designated races, most of which are run in the United States.
“I’d like to be able to go watch him race in Europe,” Woodson said. “Maybe if I could get enough advance notice that he was running somewhere we could go.”
Casey collected the most hardware Sunday as his Taylor Mountain Farm operation was named West Virginia Breeder of the Year and it’s star stud, Windsor Castle, earned Stallion of the Year honors.
Casey also garnered recognition as the breeder of Amherst Street, who shared 2-year-old champion male honors with Giovanni Boldini. Amherst Street finished the year undefeated in five starts, including four stakes victories.
Blisstikus, also bred by Casey, shared champion 3-year-old filly honors with Jax and Jill, who was bred by her owner Robert L. Cole, Jr.
The Casey-bred Greenway Court was named champion West Virginia-bred Sprinter, while Casey-owned broodmare Romantic Twist shared Broodmare of the Year honors with Woodson’s Dancing Trieste.
Other winners included champion 2-year-old filly Henny’s Princess, who was bred by her owner James Miller Jr. Owner and breeder James A. Casey took home champion older female honors for Down Town Allen.
John D. McKee collected honors as the breeder of champion 3-year-old male Hidden Canyon, while Robert Furr Sr. took home recognition as the breeder of champion older male Lucy’s Bob Boy, a former winner of the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic.
Two-time West Virginia Breeders Classic winner Russell Road, an 8-year-old gelding who has earned more than $1.6 million in purses, earned a special recognition award, which was received by his breeder, Robert H. Lloyd.