May 2017 Member of the Month: Woodslane Farm (Rene and Lauren Woolcott)
In the April 1 Pan American (G2T) at Gulfstream Park, Sadler’s Joy edged out his rivals to earn first graded stakes win. Aptly named for Sadler’s Wells, to whom the four-year-old colt is inbred 3×4, Sadler’s Joy (Kitten’s Joy – Dynaire, by Dynaformer) is a homebred for Rene and Lauren Woolcott of Woodslane Farm. The Pan American victory followed Sadler’s Joy’s seasonal debut: a second-place finish in the January 28 W.L. McKnight Handicap (G3T), also at Gulfstream.
Woodslane Farm, located in The Plains, Virginia, has been operational for over ten years. “We’ve been steeplechase owners since about 1991,” said Lauren Woolcott. “My husband and I decided to expand to establish Woodslane as a Thoroughbred breeding farm in 2006. We just decided that it was time; we had a farm that lent itself to it and we just decided to forge ahead.”
“Because we come from a steeplechase background, we love the turf side of things,” said Woolcott. The Woolcotts purchased Dynaire, consigned by the Taylor Made Sales Agency, for $360,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale; her dam, German-bred Binya, won the The Very One (G3T). Of Dynaire – unraced due to a pre-training injury – Woolcott recalled, “She’s just an absolutely gorgeous filly and beautiful ’til this day,” adding, “The stout sturdiness of the German bloodstock drew us to her.”
Of Sadler’s Joy, Woolcott said, “What I can tell you about that is he’s a big horse. And he needed time and we aren’t pushy with our horses. We try and listen to them; it’s taken a while for us to get a team that all speaks the same language…We listen to other people. We know our limitations in terms of experience and knowledge…We built a team that communicates really well, openly, frankly, regularly.”
At four, Sadler’s Joy is finally picking up speed. “He needed time,” Woolcott remembered. “That was all he needed. What we were doing early on was just to give him his races. They get put away in a stall forever and at some point they need to go and you let ’em run and you hope to learn from him.” The Woolcotts plan to run him in back-to-back grade 1s at Belmont: first the May 13 Man o’ War, then the June 10 Manhattan. Woolcott added, “And then we have in mind the Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga and the Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga. And if all goes well…. the Breeders’ Cup.”
The Woolcotts’ original goal was to buy and race well-bred fillies, then retire the best of that number to create a small, quality broodmare band. They planned to sell the colts and keep the fillies these mares produced, but one male yearling convinced them to make exceptions—Tonalist, the first colt the Woolcotts’ operation ever produced. At the 2012 Fasig-Tipton August sale, a yearling Tonalist failed to achieve his reserve; recalled Woolcott, “They all turned their noses up at our big, leggy Tonalist. So we didn’t sell him in the ring. Our consignor found another of his clients out the backside and sold it to him.” For eventual owner Robert “Shel” Evans, Tonalist captured the Belmont (G1), the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) twice, and the Cigar Mile (G1). His triumphs were exciting for his relatively new-to-the-game breeders; Woolcott recalled, “I think we didn’t even quite know how important that was at the time.”
The Woodslane broodmare band resides in Virginia, but its members foal at Hidden Brook Farm in Paris, Kentucky. Their number includes beautifully-bred mares like Dynaire (who produced no 2017 foal, but is pregnant to the cover of Ghostzapper); Cat Myth, a half-sister to champion Johannesburg who’s in foal to Gemologist; and Settle ‘n Speight, a half-sister to Tonalist in foal to Uncle Mo.
Aftercare is particularly important to the Woolcotts. “I know that, because we came into this from steeplechase, we are very, very, very oriented towards a horse’s next career. Our steeplechase horses are for the most part bought off the flat track, only from trainers that our steeplechase trainer knows doesn’t break down his horses or will be honest about where the horse is…We repurpose our steeplechase horses in that if they’re too hot and scary…
But it’s also the Woodslane team – including trainer Tom Albertrani, pre-trainers Ron and Caroline Webster, farm supervisor Raymond Figgins, assistant Laura Smith, and more – that makes all of this success possible. TOBA has also proven a valuable resource. “The seminars that we have taken through TOBA have been wonderful introductions, [from] people who open their farms to veterinarians to professionals who have just taught us a lot of stuff,” Woolcott said, who cited visiting Jane Mulholland and her son’s Mulholland Springs Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, as a particularly remarkable opportunity.