“Leonardo da Vinci’s mother was a maid, and she gave birth to the greatest mind in history.”
This was Italian bloodstock agent Eugenio Colombo’s way of downplaying pedigree when asked about some of the deals he has brokered for one of the world’s premier Thoroughbred breeding operations run by the Yoshida family of Japan. Colombo recalled meeting the family patriarch, Zenya Yoshida, in 1970, did bloodstock work for him, then continued to do so with the passing of the torch to Zenya’s sons Teruya, Katsumi, and Haruya upon the elder Yoshida’s death in 1993.
Put more bluntly, Colombo added, “Pedigree is British autocracy bullshit. Many self-made men have no pedigree but a great brain.”
It was puzzling to me when Colombo helped put together a deal for multiple Grade 1 winner Mind Your Biscuits to stand at the Shadai Stallion Farm on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been.
The horse had talent, to be sure, winning the G2 Amsterdam and G1 Malibu at 3, the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen and G2 Belmont Sprint Championship at 4, and the Dubai Golden Shaheen again and the G3 Lukas Classic at 5. In his final year of racing he also suffered a tough beat in the G1 Metropolitan Mile when his stretch rally fell a nose short of Bee Jersey at the wire.
But Mind Your Biscuits is a son of Posse, who started out in Kentucky but then was moved to New York and performed well enough as a regional sire before being exported to Uruguay. Mind Your Biscuits is out of an unraced mare by Toccet, who entered stud in Kentucky before moving on to Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and finally Turkey. Those aren’t the most commercial bloodlines, and commerce is what the American Thoroughbred breeding and auction business is all about.
That pedigree, along with the fact that he raced through his 5-year-old season and didn’t reside in a leading stable, made Mind Your Biscuits unappealing to most American stallion farms, according to trainer and co-owner Chad Summers.
Enter Colombo, who was willing to overlook these factors and focus on the talent Mind Your Biscuits demonstrated on the racetrack. “A Group 1 winner could be a son or daughter of Pinocchio,” he said. “I believe in the power of the individual.
“He was just a freak,” Colombo said of Mind Your Biscuits. “Super game, super sound, talented, and he retired completely sound. The Yoshidas don’t care about pedigree, they care about the racing level.”
Summers recalled his visit to Shadai Stallion Station on a cold, winter day in 2019 when all of the farm’s stallions, including Mind Your Biscuits, were shown to local breeders.
“There must have been 500 people at the stallion show, even though it was about 10 degrees and snowing,” Summers said. “When I saw all those people and the condition of the horses – including a 27-year-old stallion who was all dappled out – I realized this was a great opportunity. They give their horses great care at Shadai.”
Mind Your Biscuits was bred to 155 mares upon entering stud in 2019 and his first crop of 103 registered foals won 36 races and about $2.4 million, making him No. 1 among Japanese freshman sires of 2022. Included in that group is Shadai Farm-bred Derma Sotogake, a stakes winner at 2, third in the G3 Saudi Derby Feb. 25, and winner of Saturday’s G2 UAE Derby over 1 3/16 miles on dirt at Meydan in Dubai.
Ridden to victory by Christophe Lemaire, Derma Sotogake led a 1-2-3-4 Japanese finish in the UAE Derby and now takes aim on an even bigger prize: the G1 Kentucky Derby on May 6.
A look at the dam side of Derma Sotogake’s pedigree reveals more uncommercial bloodlines mined by the Yoshida family. The Mind Your Biscuits colt was produced from Amour Poesie, a daughter of Neo Universe, a G1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner and 3-year-old male champion of 2003. Neo Universe was sired by Sunday Silence, the 1989 North American Horse of the Year who entered stud at Shadai Stallion Station after majority owner Arthur B. Hancock III was unable to find enough American breeders willing to support him.
Derma Sotogake’s second dam, Happy Request, is by Tony Bin, an Irish-bred by Kampala who did most of his racing in Italy before winning France’s G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1988. When there were no major suitors in Europe for his stallion services, the Yoshidas made an offer to bring Tony Bin to Japan, where he became a leading sire.
Both Colombo and Summers credited the Yoshidas with creative thinking when it comes to bloodlines and planning matings for their extensive broodmare bands, but they also said advanced training facilities and the use of technology in training has given them and other Japanese horsemen an edge on the world racing stage.
“The Japanese have the most advanced, scientific training in the world,” Colombo said. “They have superior facilities with multiple surfaces to train on, including long, uphill straight courses. We train too many American horses on a track that’s like a velodrome.”
“They’ve learned. They’ve studied. There’s a science behind what they do and training is statistically driven,” said Summers. “They weigh their horses every day. Everything is monitored: heart rate, stride analysis. There is such pride in that nation to be successful. Every time they ship horses around the world, they learn more and more.”
Derma Sotogake was one of three Japanese horses that won on the Dubai World Cup program. Reigning Japanese Horse of the Year Equinox (by Sunday Silence grandson Kitasan Black) crushed his G1 Dubai Sheema Classic opposition over a mile and a half on turf in a breathtaking performance. In the night’s biggest race, the G1 Dubai World Cup at 1 ¼ miles on dirt, Ushba Tesoro (sired by another Sunday Silence grandson, Orfevre) rallied from last to win going away. The field of 15 included eight Japanese runners, three from Dubai, two from the U.S., and one each from Saudi Arabia and Europe.
Horse racing in Japan dates back to the eighth century, though it wasn’t until 1862 when the first Western-style racing was introduced by predominantly British foreigners in Yokohama. Betting was made legal in 1906 and government began promoting the sport through the creation of the Japan Racing Association in 1954.
Though the sport was wildly successful within Japan, racing was a closed market to outsiders, and Japanese breeders did not have any incentive to improve the quality of the breed. The introduction of the Japan Cup in 1981 was an important first step to opening the market, and the JRA gradually expanded that to allow more foreign-born Thoroughbreds to compete in their races. The Yoshidas and other breeders seized the opportunity to introduce more foreign bloodlines into their stud book, and a coordinated and strategic plan by the JRA to encourage improvement of the breed began bearing fruit shortly thereafter.
Zenya Yoshida didn’t live to see the day horses bred on his farm would win some of the world’s most prestigious races, but that was his goal. At the Northern Horse Park in Hokkaido – a facility modeled after the Kentucky Horse Park – there is a section devoted to the elder Yoshida that includes a plaque with a posthumous message from him.
“Now, as I look around my farm,” it reads in part, “I feel happier when I think that Shadai Farm is approaching the quality found overseas. But I always think that if you stop with satisfaction even once, then you stop making progress. So (to always have a goal to aim for) I try to hold the thought that international success may not come to us in my lifetime.”
The Japanese domination we witnessed on Saturday was no accident. Encouraged by the JRA through forward-looking policies, it was scripted by Zenya Yoshida decades ago and carried out by his family and many others. And there are more chapters to play out.
That’s my view from the eighth pole.