C. Oliver “Ollie” Iselin lll and his wife, Mary, were longtime breeders of Thoroughbred horses at their Wolver Hill Farm in Middleburg.
Five months after one of their horses was born in 2017, Mr. Iselin died. He was 90.
Mrs. Iselin, known to family and friends as “Swannie,” was 86 when she died in March 2019.
That horse that was born shortly before Mr. Iselin’s death? Attachment Rate, which on Saturday is set to become the first Virginia-bred horse in eight years to run in the Kentucky Derby. The last was Bodemeister, which finished second in 2012.
Mrs. Iselin died a few months before Attachment Rate’s first race (under other owners) in June of 2019. So neither of the Iselins got to see the horse run on the way to the pinnacle of horseracing.
For a breeder, said Virginia Thoroughbred Association executive director Debbie Easter, having a horse in the Derby “would be like having your kid run in the Olympics.”
“Arguably the Kentucky Derby is the one race in the world that everybody knows about and everybody wants to win,” Easter said. “It’s quite an accomplishment, out of the [20,000-plus] Thoroughbreds that are born every year, to have one of the … horses that line up in that field.”
Another horse in the field, Ny Traffic, has a Virginia connection. Bred in New York, Ny Traffic spent six months as a yearling at Spencer Young’s Sunny Dell Farm in Barboursville as part of the Virginia-Certified program. Easter said that’s an incentive program that brings out-of-state horses to Virginia farms. Owners of Virginia-Certified horses are eligible for 25% bonuses for winning at Mid-Atlantic tracks.
Virginia has produced four Kentucky Derby winners: Triple Crown winner Secretariat (1973), probably the most famous racehorse in history; Sea Hero (1993); Pleasant Colony (1981); and Reigh Count (1928).
Virginia-bred horses are not in ample supply these days. Of the 22,200 Thoroughbreds born in North America in 2017, Easter estimates about 1% — “and not even probably that at this point” — are born in the state.
“Virginia was one of the leading breeding states up through the ‘70s, but we’ve dropped off some because of our lack of having year-round racing here like other states,” she said.
Attachment Rate was sold for $100,000 in November of 2017. Trainer Dale Romans bought him for $200,000 for current owners Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister in September of 2018.
Attachment Rate has one win, three second-place finishes and a third-place finish in eight career starts. His win came in a maiden special weight race at Gulfstream Park in February.
He’s finished in the top five in all seven of his races this year on the way to the Derby, which was shifted from its traditional date in May to September because of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s coming off a second-place finish in the Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9.
Romans told the website Horse Racing Nation that he thought that finish made Attachment Rate “worthy of trying the Derby.”
“He’s sound, he’s smart, he’s peaking,” Romans said.
He was also a 50-1 longshot Friday morning — Ny Traffic was 20-1 — behind heavy favorite Tiz the Law, which won the Belmont and has won six of his seven career starts.
“I really think he’ll like the mile and a quarter,” Romans said of Attachment Rate. “We all know it’s Tiz the Law’s race to lose, but if he stubs his toe, we’ll be running him over.”