Patty Tipton fell in love with the right horse.
When she began studying yearlings available at Keeneland’s 2017 September sale, she started and stopped with a prospect whose sire was Overanalyze and whose dam was Candy Fortune, by Candy Ride.
Her initial analysis involved nothing more scientific than her belief that she tends to overanalyze everything she does and she has a daughter named Candy. She asked her veterinarian, Dr. Rick Pelphrey, to inspect that yearling. And no other.
When the youngster passed the veterinary exam, trainer Vickie Foley, Tipton, and Stewart Smith, another investor, went to eyeball him. His appeal grew ever stronger.
“He was just a grand, athletic-looking, well-balanced horse,” Foley said.
They thought he would sell for slightly under $100,000 and budgeted that amount. Then the bidding began and there was no stopping Tipton, even as the figure climbed past $100,000 and was jumping in $5,000 increments.
“I didn’t want any other horse but that horse,” Tipton said. “We went out there to buy him, and that’s what we did.”
They finally brought home hip No. 3554 for $150,000 and gave him the catchy name of Hog Creek Hustle. Tipton hails from Hog Creek in Montgomery County, Ky., and Candy reminded her during the naming process that they came from poverty and had to hustle for everything they obtained.
Hog Creek Hustle turned out to be all they thought he could be — perhaps more.
He withstood a steward’s inquiry to give Foley her first Grade 1 victory when, at 18-1 odds, he launched a dramatic rally from the back of the pack and made a seven-wide move in upper stretch to edge Nitrous by a neck in the $400,000 Woody Stephens Stakes on June 8 at Belmont Park.
The seven-furlong triumph provided a thrill beyond measure for Foley, who had not won a graded stakes race since She Says It Best ruled the Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland Race Course 14 years ago. The Alcibiades, now a Grade 1, was then designated a Grade 2.
Tipton had never experienced anything like the Woody Stephens.
“When I led the horse down victory lane when he won the Grade 1, I was having an out-of-body experience,” she said. “I didn’t drink all day because I said, ‘I want to remember every little piece of this.’ Still, I don’t remember because it was so exciting. There was so much energy. It was just amazing.”
Tipton’s celebration later included a dip in a creek in Hog Creek, followed by a drive to view a statue of legendary trainer Woody Stephens in nearby Powell County, Ky. Yes, Tipton knows how to have a grand time. So do her primary partners who race under the Something Special Racing banner — Rex McClanahan, Beth Martin, and Stewart Smith.
Smith signed for the horse at Keeneland and said of the bidding that broke their budget, “We kept nudging each other because we wanted the horse so bad.”
They were so optimistic about Hog Creek Hustle that, upon realizing he was not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, they brought in smaller investors that included Tipton’s daughter, Candy, to raise an additional $12,000 to cover those fees.
If the 3-year-old acquits himself well in his next scheduled start, the Grade 2, $250,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes at six furlongs on Oct. 4 at Keeneland, it would almost surely be on to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
In 10 career starts, Hog Creek Hustle owns three wins with three runner-up finishes and one third for earnings of $540,100. He was on the Triple Crown trail until he finished eighth in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, prompting Foley to shorten him in distance. He has been a force since then.
He ran second to Mr. Money in the Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by LG and E and KU as part of the Kentucky Derby day undercard at Churchill Downs and, after the Woody Stephens score, barely missed by a head-bobbing nose to Mind Control in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 24 in his most recent effort.
Hog Creek Hustle can be both thrilling and hard to watch because of his style. He bides his time at the rear of the field before he and regular rider Corey Lanerie hustle to the front.
“It makes it kind of a nail-biter for all of us,” Foley said. “But if he’s got that pace in front of him, you can set your watch by him. He will fire.”
Smith is confident the colt is just beginning to show what he can do. “He’s just matured,” he said. “He’s getting stronger every day.”
Foley has trained horses for Tipton for approximately 20 years. They never sent out anything of Hog Creek Hustle’s caliber.
“This is a different level,” Foley said. “We say, ‘We’re ready for it and we deserve it. We put our time in. We paid our dues.’ ”
Sometimes success is all about falling in love with the right horse.