By Bill Heller
By definition, breeders are patient optimists. They get their mare in foal, wait 11 months for her to produce a foal, wait months more to see the foal turn into a yearling and then, if it is not sold as a yearling, wait at least another year hoping the foal, if not sold as a two-year-old, is precocious enough to race. Otherwise, they debut at three. Or four. Five? Seriously?
John Hicks, an attorney in Albany, and Joan Harris of H and H Farm in Fort Edward, co-bred Ratajkowski, a daughter of Drosselmeyer out of Quiet North by Quiet American who was named for Emily Ratajkowski, a model and actress who was born in London and raised in San Diego. She’s now 29 with credits in film and television.
Hicks and Harris lost track of their filly after she was sold initially for $33,000 as a weanling at the 2014 Keeneland November Sale, then pinhooked and sold to her current owner, Gary Broad, for $75,000 at Saratoga in 2015.
Hicks and Harris waited anxiously to see Ratajkowski’s name in a race. Or a workout. They didn’t.
“Honestly, I had her on a watch list,” Harris said. “Her name never came up at all. Nothing. I didn’t know she still existed. I thought something happened to her. I thought she was done. Last year, she showed up in a workout. I said, `Wow! She had a work.’”
Hicks was equally stunned. “Nothing came up for a year, two years, three years,” he said. “I deleted her from my virtual stable. Then (writer) Paul Volponi called me and asked, `What do you think of your chances in this stakes coming up?’ I said, `Are you kidding me?’”
He wasn’t. Thanks to Broad and trainer Brian Lynch’s extreme patience, Ratajkowski made it to the races on May 25th, 2019, at Belmont Park. As a five-year-old.
“She wasn’t injured,” Lynch said on July 8th. “She’s 17 ½ hands. It took her a long time to grow into her body.”
Her sparkling works made her the 8-5 favorite in her debut under Jose Ortiz, who has ridden Ratajkowski in seven of her eight career starts. She showed speed before tiring to finish third by three lengths. On June 20th, Ratajkowski and Ortiz powered to a wire-to-wire maiden win by 3 ¼ lengths as the 2-5 favorite.
Think about it. Odds-on for this late-starting, obviously talented five-year-old mare.
At Saratoga, Ratajkowski made two starts last year, finishing second by three-quarters of a length at even money and first by a neck at 1-2 odds in a pair of mile-and-an-eighth allowance races.
When she followed that with a one-length allowance win at Belmont Park, she earned her way into a stakes race, the $250,000 Empire Distaff on New York-bred Showcase Day at Belmont Park last October 19th. She sat second for more than a half-mile, took a one-length lead and then held on for a victory by a head at 9-5 odds.
Ratajkowski’s connections then upped the ante, shipping her to Churchill Downs to compete in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap on November 28th. Ridden by Julien Leparoux, she set the pace before weakening to finish fourth by 6 ¾ lengths at the highest odds of her unique career: 7-2.
Despite her sensational five-year-old season, Ratajkowski switched trainers, landing in Graham Motion’s barn for her 2020 debut in the $121,000 Critical Eye Stakes at Belmont Park on June 18th. Ratajkowski trained at Fair Hill in Maryland for her return. “She’s a real kind filly,” Motion said. “She was already pretty far along in her training when I received her.”
Despite the layoff of more than seven months, Ratajkowski won by a neck.
This incredible mare has now posted five victories, one second, one third and one fourth in eight starts, earning $369,490.
She’s a bona fide New York-bred star.
“You have to tip your hat to the owners,” Hicks said. “I haven’t met them, I don’t know them, but I thank them very much. They had a lot of patience, and they deserve to be rewarded. And they were.”
So were Hicks and Harris. Thanks to the New York-bred’s incredible incentive program, each earned four-digit breeders’ awards from Ratajkowski’s win in the Critical Eye Stakes. “I just got mine this morning,” Hicks said on July 7th. “We’ve been getting the checks all along.”
Harris said, “It’s exciting, absolutely. We split the breeders’ awards.”
Harris was thrilled to see Ratajkowski race twice at Saratoga last year.
“I couldn’t believe how big she got,” Harris said. “I always watch my baby because I pulled her out. She was a beautiful filly.”
Surprisingly, Ratajkowski the mare looks nothing like her actress/model namesake. And Harris confessed that Ratajkowski didn’t recognize her. “I only had her for six months,” Harris explained.
Regardless, a dual stakes winner is quite an accomplishment for a rural farm like H and H. “We’re small,” she said. “We foal 15 to 20 a year. I have some clients who race or sell five or six mares. We bought the farm in 1999 and started breeding in 2001.”
Hicks had several seasons for Drosselmeyer and contacted Harris on a recommendation from Joe McMahon. “I boarded my horses there for quite a while,” Hicks said. “She’s a great lady.”
Harris said her mare’s ongoing success is much appreciated. “It’s exciting, absolutely,” she said.
In the Critical Eye Stakes, Ratajkowski, the 6-5 second choice, broke third then dueled on the inside of even-money favorite More Mischief, put her away after fast fractions of :22.64, :45.10 and 1:09.04, opened a 2 ½-length lead, and then gamely held off 17-1 Mrs. Orb and Dylan Davis by a neck in a sharp final time of 1:35.05. “She’s a nice filly, very big, and she has a beautiful stride,” Ortiz said. “She also has some speed, so we used it early and then she got going. If they have speed and have the stride she does, you just don’t want to get in their way. We went kind of fast, but she always throws those kinds of fractions. She’s fast, and she stays. She has speed and stamina, so she’s easy to ride.”
And the ride continues for this five-for-eight mare. No matter what’s next for Ratajkowski, she’s already proven she was well worth the wait.