March 2020 Member of the Month: Matt Schera

Doug and Felicia Branham

Doug and Felicia Branham are the TOBA March Members of the Month.

For Doug Branham, spring 2020 is shaping up to be pretty good. With Slam Dunk Racing and Legacy Ranch, he co-owns undefeated Tonalist’s Shape. The sophomore filly stamped her ticket to the Kentucky Oaks (G1) by winning the Feb. 29 Davona Dale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park. With his wife, Felicia, Branham bred four-year-old Whoa Nellie, who captured the Jan. 25 Pippin Stakes and placed in the Feb. 17 Bayakoa Stakes (G3), both at Oaklawn Park.

The Branhams founded Colonial Claims, an independent insurance claims service. Focusing on catastrophe insurance, Colonial Claims has two offices: one in Lexington, Kentucky, the other in Dunedin, Florida. The Branhams reside in the latter location, visiting the Bluegrass State regularly to enjoy the success of their horses.

“I was born up on the side of the hill at Rockhouse, Kentucky,” Branham said, “and I wasn’t born dirt-poor; I was born rock-rich.” Growing up in the hills of eastern Kentucky meant “the only horse we saw” was “the business end of a long-faced mule,” he joked. While working in the mines, he got the opportunity to take a five-week course on insurance adjusting in Denver, Colorado. Seizing the chance, Branham began his own firm in 1982, specializing in insurance for catastrophes or weather-driven events.

While stationed in Maryland, Branham began attending the races at nearby Bowie racetrack. He soon got hooked on racing, adding, “And then, when I came back to Kentucky, I’d go to Keeneland any chance I got.” Eventually, the Branhams purchased a farm of their own along Paris Pike about 15 years ago; named Hurricane Hills, it houses their 20 to 25 broodmares.

“When we bought the farm,” Branham recounted, “Ron Wallace laid out the groundwork and he hired Jim Petrey and we started buying broodmares and raced them.” He added, “So we were breeding most of that time and not racing much, then following Jim, he hired Christina Lynch as director of Hurricane Hills Farms.”

Christian brought in Andre Lynch to head up the equine operations and suggested the Branhams buy and race high-quality fillies; thanks to advice from the likes of Dermot Ryan, Ben McElroy, and Mike Riccio, the Branhams partnered with other owners to buy and develop promising two-year-old prospects with trainers like Saffie Joseph Jr., Simon Callaghan, and Richard Baltas. Branham bred grade 1 winner Bradester and grade 2 winner Disposable Pleasure.

At the April 2019 OBS Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training, McElroy purchased a daughter of Constitution for $185,000. Named Amalfi Sunrise, the dark bay filly raced for Doug Branham and Marsha Naify. After breaking her maiden by a flashy 6 ¼ lengths at Santa Anita Park, Amalfi Sunrise romped by six lengths in the Sorrento Stakes (G2) at Del Mar. Sadly, she succumbed to complications due to laminitis last December. Branham lamented, “At the time she got ill and she ultimately passed away, she was the highest-rated two-year-old filly on dirt and she won a grade 2 her second time out and that was her last race.”

Branham still has another contender for top sophomore filly in Tonalist’s Shape, who won the Forward Gal Stakes (G3) before the Davona Dale. He commented, “We watched it a couple weeks ago win a grade 3 and it’s thrilling to know that this horse might get in the Oaks and unbelievable to me that we can share that experience.” He added, “I think she’s a superior athlete more than anything; she seems to be really smart, follows commands well.”

Whoa Nellie also has an exciting 2020 ahead of her. He purchased her dam, the Medaglia d’Oro filly Allegheny Angel, with Ken McPeek for $250,000 at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale. Branham said, “She got injured a little, didn’t get to finish her campaign.” Sent to Orb, she produced Whoa Nellie, who got her name from a famous exclamation from college football announcer Keith Jackson.

At the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Branham sold a Medaglia d’Oro filly out of stakes winner Stoweshoe (a full sibling to grade 1 winner Taris) to Stonestreet Farm for $950,000. At the same sale the year before, a Curlin colt out of Stoweshoe sold to Godolphin for $1.3 million. Branham dubbed Stoweshow, currently in foal to American Pharoah, his “foundation mare.” He added, “I love this; it’s my passion, my hobby. The horse industry is so exciting and so many people have helped us.”

He added, “This is why we entered the business so many years ago; the past year, I have had the thrill of winning several grade stakes races.” He added, “It’s fun when your successes are noted, and you get to see progeny rum all over the country and especially in your backyard.”