Two weeks ago: May 6, 2017, the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby took place in Louisville, Kentucky. The field had 20 horses in it, the 20 best 3-year-old Thoroughbred racehorses in the world. Four of the 20 horses, or 20 percent of the field, had direct ties to bloodlines my family purchased firsthand, including the winner, Always Dreaming!
Proud is an understatement. We did not have anything to do with those four horses, we haven’t been involved in Thoroughbred racing for over a decade now. But still, to see the selections of years ago be validated in victory – that in itself is something we are immensely proud of.
My father purchased Always Dreaming’s dam, Above Perfection, in 2002 at the Fasig-Tipton November Selected Mixed Sale as a racing/broodmare prospect. My dad, brother Spencer, my uncle Nick and the rest of our team sought her out not only because she was a Grade 3 winner and Grade 1-placed runner, but her phenotype was simply perfect. In fact, she topped the sale.
This Saturday, May 20, 2017, the Preakness Stakes will take place – the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown. My family has enjoyed the emotional rollercoaster of having a connection to a Triple Crown runner. I remember clearly the Triple Crown races of 1998. That year, we bred several mares to Quiet American. A Bob Baffert-trained son of Quiet American dominated the Kentucky Derby, winning the first leg. The colt’s name was Real Quiet. Shortly after the race, my father secured the breeding rights to this great stallion – we were all in on him. Real Quiet went on to win the Preakness Stakes and became by far the closest “non-winner” of the coveted Triple Crown in history when jockey Kent Desormeaux quit riding him on the last furlong of the Belmont Stakes and aptly named winner, Victory Gallop, beat him by a nose. By a nose! Shouldn’t have happened. Visa was prepared to pay a $5 million bonus to a Triple Crown winner. Wow was that a tough one. Real Quiet went on to win over $3.2 million on the track.
One side note with our Thoroughbred Triple Crown connections is although Real Quiet may have lost the Belmont Stakes by a nose, my parents owned Belmont Stakes winner Danzig Connection. So with that, we will bask in a little Triple Crown glory.
My family has a proud history in the horse business. Surprisingly, we found, through doing genealogy and our family history, our roots in horses run deep going back many generations. Beginning shortly after the Revolutionary War (eight direct relatives fought in the war), our direct ancestors brought the first Thoroughbred horses into Kentucky. In 1779, Captain James Gay, Alexander Dunlap and John Stevenson brought the first “English filly” into Kentucky. Those three men are direct grandfathers of the Plummer family.
My parent’s journey into the horse business began in 1973. Armed with a degree in accounting, my father, S. David Plummer, and my mother, Debora, jumped in with both feet, starting Plummer Land & Livestock in West Bountiful, Utah. The ranch amounted to 2.5 acres. My dad remembers that his parents cried when he told them he was leaving his accounting job to raise horses full time. It didn’t help that my parents knew nothing of horses, having neither grown up around them or had much to do with them with one exception – my dad’s every-other-year summer vacation visiting Grandpa Hansen’s potato farm in Idaho, where there were a couple of pleasure horses.
My parents learned quickly by necessity, and together they made a perfect owner-operator team. It takes a great partnership to survive and to have achieved all that they have. In the beginning, they did everything themselves: collecting stallions, breeding mares, breaking 2-year-olds, feed, care…everything. My father had his trainer’s license in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, and trained his own horses. He got his education training racehorses by checking out books at the public library. Some things are truly stranger than fiction.
Hard word and luck paid off, and they moved to a spacious ranch in Bern, Idaho, just across the Utah/Idaho border near Bear Lake. They renamed their company Viking Ranch (having graduated high school as the Vikings and lived for two years in Minnesota, where they were influenced by the NFL’s Vikings purple curtain). Their stallion business began to blossom. They selected the very best racing Quarter Horse stallions they could afford, and breeders supported them. In the late 1970s, they made a trip to California to visit Dr. Jensen’s place, home of the great Doc Bar and Mr Gun Smoke. They purchased their first cutting horse, Smokey Skipjack, a son of Mr Gun Smoke. My father has wished he’d purchased one of the small Doc Bar sons in the pasture back then, who knows where that would have lead! My dad has always enjoyed the fact that his NCHA membership number is 801.
It did not take my parents long to realize that a warmer climate might make it easier to have a commercial stallion station. My mother has said jokingly, Bern, Idaho “has three seasons: July, August and Winter.”
Their big break in the horse business came when a friend and mentor Ivan Ashmant saw something in my dad and gave them a great opportunity to purchase his facility and horses in Apple Valley, California. They made that big leap and things really started rolling. Those years were full of racing success, and they lead the nation as a breeder in number of wins every year from 1988 to 1992. During two of those five years, Dad broke the then all-time record for wins as a breeder.
They pioneered commercial embryo transfers during that time. Now it is total common place, but at that time, it was total sacrilege to most within the horse industry. My father has said many many times, “You can always tell who the pioneers are because they are the ones with arrows in their back.” They famously had a champion running mare, Finely Tuned, win a stakes race the same day she had a foal via embryo transfer. That was big news during the 1980s.
Due to economic and industry changes, a big decision in 1989 lead my parents to leave California, and they returned to their roots in Utah. Taking on partners for a couple of years during the downturn in the economy actually boosted their profile and lead them to their next adventure. Transitioning from running Quarter Horses to Thoroughbreds did not take long, and they founded Blue Blood Farm. We began standing many stallions from Kentucky, which bolstered the local market and gave us better access to better bloodlines at home and abroad. My oldest sister Jennifer and my oldest brother Spencer began to have active leadership roles in the business. I started working part-time along with my brother, Scott, and sister, Stephanie, learning from the bottom up. Now, all five Plummer children had something to do with the business. We learned how to work hard, raising horses, trusting the process, and believed God would bless our crops.
In 1998, my parents and brother made their next big move to Lexington, Kentucky, the heart of the modern Thoroughbred breed. My parent’s focus on stallions, the increased demand for leasing top mares, and the infusion of capital placed them on a path that eventually catapulted them onto the world stage as one of the leading commercial breeders in the Thoroughbred industry.
The family business was sold twice (1998 & 2001), both times the new owners regrettably mismanaged our time-proven model. Those lessons were hard to learn, but won’t be forgotten. Never again to let someone else take the reins of control.
It is hard to summarize going on 50 years in the horse business in just a few paragraphs. Most of my readers will know us through Buffalo Ranch, established in 2002 after my dad had a chance encounter to ride a cutting horse gelding named Docs Tom Tari, who was in training with Dwayne Stamper in Oklahoma. Buffalo Ranch began as a hobby business for my dad, but that changed almost overnight becasue of a deep passion he’d all but forgotten about that began with his first cutting horse, Smokey Skipjack, back in the late 1970s. We used years of experience, countless battles in life that have been both won and lost, to fuel our passion for horses. My parents are proud to have been breeders of over $8 million in racing and performance horse winners, and owners of much, much more.
My wife, Jane, and I purchased the family business in 2009. We founded Legacy Stud LLC to give homage to our roots and the Plummer family legacy. Legacy Stud LLC does business as SDP Buffalo Ranch. Today the business is solely focused on one thing and one thing only – stallion management and promotion. You see, through all the change, one thing stayed constant and that was the knowledge of what it takes to be successful with stallions. I have a degree in business, but I have an honorary Ph.D. in what not to do.
You can count on one thing this Saturday, the Plummer family, all 30 of us plus my brother, Scott, in heaven, will be rooting for Always Dreaming in his run for greatness in the Preakness Stakes. We are immensely proud of our roots and the connections made throughout the years. Will Always Dreaming notch another win? Tune in to find out!