Basketballer-turned-breeder enjoys first stakes success

Former US professional basketballer Todd Lichti enjoyed his first major success as a thoroughbred breeder last week when the 2YO filly Villa Verde won the $120,000 MRC Debutants S. LR at her first start.

Pictured: Michael Rodd pilots Villa Verde to a fine debut victory at Caulfield last Wednesday. (PHOTO: Bronwen Healy)

The grey daughter of Not A Single Doubt and Young and Free (by Kenmare) is from the first group of yearlings that Todd and his Australian-born wife Sue have offered at the Inglis Melbourne Premier Sale.

Villa Verde represents a very satisfying result of a calculated punt Todd took at the Inglis Australian Breeding Stock Sale in June 2010.

Todd says, “I wouldn’t normally look at a 16-year-old mare, but Young and Free was in foal to Not A Single Doubt and I thought he was a young sire on the up with good things just around the corner for him.

“I also liked that Young and Free was from Rory’s Jester’s family, while Not A Single Doubt is from a Rory’s Jester mare. She was a well put together mare and good value at the money.”

It didn’t take long for the $10,500 Todd paid for Young and Free to look even better value. Squamosa, Doubtful Jack and Karuta Queen quickly put Not A Single Doubt on the map in the spring of 2010, and on 8 November the mare delivered an attractive, correct filly.

Kiah Glenn’s Janita Edwards prepared Villa Verde as a yearling and remembers her as “a big, strong, robust filly with a bit of attitude who was very busy at the sale.”

The successful buyer at $95,000 was trainer Shaun Dwyer who did not hesitate after last Wednesday’s win to compare Villa Verde with his former stable star Regimental Gal.

“Before her first race she has shown me more than Regimental Gal did before her debut. She is very good and her times on the track have been enormous.

“She has a long way to go to be as good as Regimental Gal, but if we can hold her together she has the class to be something special.”

Although nominated for the $250,000 Inglis Banner at Moonee Valley this Saturday, Villa Verde’s next target has been confirmed by her trainer as the VRC Ottawa S. LR on Melbourne Cup day. She will then be spelled before preparing for an autumn campaign.

In the meantime, Todd will present 7 yearlings in the Kiah Glenn draft at the 2013 Melbourne Premier Sale. He is reducing his broodmares to a similar number while steadily increasing their quality. Young and Free, now 19, has already been sold, to ACT-based Harford Farm.

He says, “We’re aiming to produce at least one stakes horse and two or three city winners each year, and to offer nice, tight drafts of good types that will sell well.”

Todd, who works with premium wine distributor Sant? Wines, acknowledges the generous assistance he’s received from several experienced industry people, including Adam Sangster, Ian Rimmington, pedigree specialist Brian Messner, Inglis bloodstock consultant James Price, and the farms that care for his horses: Kiah Glenn in South Australia, Goulburn Park in Victoria and Oaklyn Farm in New South Wales.

Californian-born Todd’s interest in thoroughbred racing and breeding was sparked when he came to Australia in the late 1990s to play basketball with the Perth Wildcats, and again when he and Sue settled in Melbourne ten years ago.

He says, “Horse-racing isn’t followed by many people in the United States, but in Australia it’s much more part of the culture. Every morning, getting a coffee, you’ll meet someone who owns a horse or knows something about racing.

“I always wanted to try it, and Australia seems like the best place in the world to do it. And the Melbourne Spring Carnival is fairly intoxicating!”

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