Bobby Zen

Leo and Sarah Dooley can tell you a thing or two about the Thoroughbred racing industry. But don’t let their youthful appearances fool you–the couple has already forged a most impressive, not to mention broad, resume in the game. And while they can hardly be called newcomers to the sales game, having sold horses through other agencies in the past, the couple will embark on new territory when selling horses for the first time under their own banner, Norevale Farm, at the upcoming Fasig-Tipton July Sale July 9.

Explaining the process that has led the couple to strike out with their own consignment, Sarah explained, “We’ve been in operation four years in September. We’ve boarded yearlings that our clients have sold at [Fasig-Tipton] July, Keeneland September, the New York sales and in [Fasig-Tipton] October. Gradually over the past three years, we’ve also sold our own pinhooks and our slow burner project, our homebreds as well, something we are developing over the next couple of years.”

“We are starting off with a smaller consignment rather heading off to a sale the scale of September, but this is the first sale that we had some horses that we thought would really fit here. It just worked out timing-wise. Ultimately, I think it’ll work out that it’s a smaller sale and we can get one under our belt.”

While never having managed a sales consignment entirely on their own, Leo feels that the couple’s past experiences will help lead the transition.

“We always used several consignors in the past and they did an excellent job for us,” he said. “We’ve learned bits a pieces from each of them, and we just decided that we’d like to stand behind our own horses a bit more.”

Among Tuesday’s collection of select yearlings, Norevale will lead over Hip 106, a filly by Bolt d’Oro, who will be followed by Hip 110, a colt by Practical Joke. The Norevale consignment will be rounded out by Hip 237, a filly by Army Mule.

“This year, we have a nice group of three,” Leo said. “They have sire power–they’re all by proven horses. And they really is a look of precocity with all of them. We are really looking forward to offering that group here.”

The dark bay daughter of Bolt d’Oro is out of Bama Belle (Giant’s Causeway), a half-sister to GI CCA Oaks winner Funny Moon (Malibu Moon) and SW Throng (Silver Deputy). This represents the family of three-time Grade I scorer Vanlandingham. An $80,000 RNA at Keeneland last November, the filly was bred by a partnership of Norevale, Tony and Michael Holmes and Jacalyn Tillman.

“The Bolt d’Oro filly is nice and the timing is right after the 2-year-old sales season he’s had,” he said. “She’s a really athletic and fast-looking filly.”

Representing the sole colt of the Norvale consignment, hip 110 is out of the unraced Street Sense mare Be Joyful. The colt’s 8-year-old dam is out of the Peteski mare Trickski, also responsible for GI La Brea S. winner Dearest Trickski (Proudest Romeo) and GSP Gray Sky (Tapit). The colt brought $50,000 at Keeneland last November.

“The Practical Joke colt is a very solid horse,” Leo affirmed. “He’s forward going and would suit end users and pinhookers. The sire is doing very well right now which is a big advantage.”

Rounding out the July sale triumvirate, Hip 237 is out of stakes-winning Secret Action (Tiz Wonderful). She was purchased by Norevale for $65,000 at Keeneland last fall.

“The Army Mule filly just seems like a racehorse,” he opined. “She’s by a proven sire and is just beautiful.”

Asked why the July sale should suit the operation’s initial offering, Leo explained, “The July sale has been very good to us over the years. For this sale, they need to be a little more forward and to look precocious. We have found that, if we brought the right horse over to the July sale, we were rewarded every time.”

 

Building on Success

Norevale has already enjoyed success on the racetrack, albeit a bit more behind the scenes. Heading some of its most recent graduates is TDN Rising Star Barbara T (Army Mule), a flashy winner at Keeneland in April. Offered by Norevale on behalf of its clients at Keeneland November in 2021, the weanling filly brought $25,000 and subsequently sold for $40,000 at the same venue the following September. Offered at the OBS March last season, she brought $120,000 from Michael Warnick and Joseph Hinkhouse.

TDN Rising Star Barbara T, another Norevale grad by Army Mule | Coady

Another notable graduate is Common Defense (Karakontie {Jpn}), who is campaigned by David Bersen, Tony and Michael Holmes and Norevale Farm. Trained by Kenny McPeek, the colt won his second career start and subsequently finished second in the GII Rebel Stakes. The son of Allusion (Street Cry {Ire}) RNA’d for $9,000 at Keeneland November in 2021.

“He’s probably the flag bearer for us,” offered Leo. “He was second in the Rebel and had to take a little bit of time off before the Derby otherwise we were probably looking for a day out.”

Also from the Norevale program, Snead (Nyquist) brought $125,000 for a partnership of Norevale and its partners at Keeneland November in 2021 before selling the following season as a yearling for $210,000 at Fasig-Tipton. A $325,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic juvenile purchase, Snead broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in his third start before adding a 7 1/4-length score at the Fair Grounds last November. The grey rounded out the season with a runner-up finish in the Gun Runner S. in New Orleans Dec. 23.

“Since we’ve had a few horses go on and do well for their new owners, it has been important for us to stand a bit more behind our horses, like we are doing with our own consignment,” explained Leo. “Some of our [graduates] have done well on the track, and for a hot minute we even had two on the Derby trail. It’s nice for us to stand behind our horses and create our own brand. And this also gives our clients the option to sell with us year-round if they like.”

 

Practice Makes Perfect

A native of Kilkenny, Ireland, Leo received some his earliest instruction at the racetrack under the guidance of Irish-based conditioner Jim Bolger before adding stints with a pair of renowned European Thoroughbred operations–Ballylinch Stud in Ireland and Ecurie Des Monceaux in France.

“The time I spent at Ecurie Des Monceaux was like a master’s degree in prepping yearlings by Henri Bozo and his team. I really loved it,” recalled Leo.

Venturing to the United States in 2013, he served for a time with the late Gerry Dilger at Dromoland Farm and following a brief return to Ireland to complete college, he returned to the U.S. in 2015 for a four-year run at Hunter Valley Farm. He also held the role of broodmare manager at Indian Creek Farm.

“All those past experiences give you a feeling for what these horses are going to go on and do,” Leo said. “Since the ultimate goal is to raise a racehorse, that experience is invaluable.”

Also sporting a lifelong connection to the industry, Sarah grew up around horses, courtesy of her parents, Marula Park Stud’s Tony and Susan Holmes. After graduating with an Economics degree from the Transylvania University in Lexington, she also completed the Irish National Stud course followed by the Godolphin Flying Start program. In addition to Marula Park, Sarah’s work experience includes stints with Bluewater Sales, Hunter Valley Farm and Lane’s End Farm.

“I’ve had a different trajectory than Leo, but I think that’s what makes us work so well as business partners,” explained Sarah. “We both bring so many different things from each side to the table.”

While discussing her progression in the industry thus far, Sarah was quick to credit two of her staunchest supporters, her parents.

“I grew up on my family farm and my parents were commercial breeders, and they are to this day. They had a lot of success with a farm that their good friend and partner calls, ‘the size of a garden’, endearingly of course. And I really love the life they created for themselves. They started on the bottom rung and they worked their way up. Both of them grew up around horses. They found this piece of land and made it their own. They did it the hard way and have been successful. For my brother [Michael] and I, it was a wonderful way to see the freedom they had in developing their own business and lifestyle. I loved tailing my father around at the breeding stock sales and him teaching me pedigrees.”

She added, “That’s what I was really after too. I wanted to chase that in Thoroughbred industry. We both knew we wanted to go out on our own one day and it was just one foot in front of the other and we built it from there.”

 

Timing is Everything

Bravely, the couple launched Norevale Farm in the throws of the COVID pandemic in the fall of 2020, and despite an understandably tepid start, the operation has made steady progress since them, although the journey was not without its challenges.

“We started our farm in September during COVID but we also had our first daughter [Maeve] in December of 2020,” recalled Sarah. “We had my riding horse, his little sister and their mother. And one client sent us a mare and foal down from New York. That is literally what we started out with.”

She continued, “Since then, we’ve added a couple of additional farms and added another daughter [Ruth] this past September. It has not been easy, but it’s been so rewarding. Everyone in this industry knows how hard the days are, but we have great partners and great staff. We are surrounded by great people.”

Having started with a single 110-acre tract of leased land in 2020, the couple now has expanded to three separate leased farms and the operation has grown to just over 250 acres and approximately 100 head. Relying on scouting pinhook prospects at the breeding sales in the fall, the Norevale team also works tirelessly to improve their breeding stock, which currently numbers approximately 25 mares.

“When we started out, we leased our first farm because it was right around the corner from my parent’s farm, which was appealing since we could share equipment until we could afford our own,” Sarah recalled. “And now is the right time to start our own consignment. We’ve done everything when it felt like the right time. Sure, we might want to buy our own farm one day but it would have to be the right farm at the right time in the right place. We wouldn’t necessarily go seeking that out, and I don’t think we’d look for anything else in this business right now because we’d really like to build on what we have. Just to keep focusing on quality, quality, quality.”

Leo added, “Things have certainly progressed, but we are quite happy with where we are. This is as big as it gets.”

“We just want to keep producing racehorses. Upgrade the quality of our broodmare band over time, but the bottom line is we just want to keep producing quality racehorses. It’s nice to be able to balance the breeding with the pinhooking to where they complement each other and help each other out at times. So it would be nice to grow the overall quality of both of those sides of the business.”

With yet another goal checked off the list, what are the plans for Norevale in the future?

“We’re both very involved in the day-to-day operations,” Sarah explained. “I think if we took on any more horses, we would completely change a huge element of our business which is both of us being so involved. We enjoy it that way.”

“And the same goes for our consignment, right now it will be for our own pinhooks and homebreds and several of our year-round client’s horses as well, but we want to stay with what we are comfortable with, what we enjoy, and we know we can do a good job.”

And what is the key to continuing to grow in a career that can be fraught with setbacks, roadblocks and challenges?

“Lots of elbow grease until now, but hopefully all those hard days keep paying off,” said Sarah. “Obviously, there are less days to celebrate than not, but the days we do celebrate make it all worth it.”

The post Norevale Raises the Flag at Fasig-Tipton July With Initial Consignment appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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