No matter the sale, you’ll almost always find the name of Denali Stud among the top consignors at any given session. The Paris, Kentucky-based operation is the brainchild of Craig and Holly Bandoroff, who have a ready heir apparent in their eldest son, Conrad. Currently training in Australia as part of Godolphin’s Flying Start program, the 24-year-old promises to be a formidable presence on the international Thoroughbred scene.
After graduating from Sewanee-The University of the South in 2015, Conrad immersed himself in Flying Start. A two-year program, it teaches trainees about “every aspect of the Thoroughbred industry on an international scale,” Conrad said. “We spend time at the various Godolphin operations in Ireland, England, America, Australia, as well as in Dubai,” he added, noting that the most valuable experience thus far has been “the exposure we get to leading industry professionals the world over. The people we get to meet and talk with because of the program [are] just simply unbelievable.”
But Conrad has two distinct advantages: he studied abroad in Sydney as an undergraduate, and he grew up around some of the world’s most talented horsemen and women. He started working around horses early. “Some of the earliest memories from my childhood though are hanging around the sales. I was an entrepreneurial kid and set up a lucrative shoe shining business and lemonade stands at the Saratoga Fasig-Tipton Sales grounds,” he recalled.
Unsurprisingly, his parents weren’t keen on their child entering this difficult business, but their son put in the work. What changed their minds? “My summer working for Bill Mott in Saratoga, getting up at 3:30 a.m. every morning, and calling home to tell my parents how much I loved it,” he recalled, adding ruefully, “Aside from childhood ambitions of being a fighter jet pilot, I never really entertained other career aspirations.”
In addition to Hall of Fame trainer Mott and his own family, Conrad also worked for conditioner John Ward. He also interned with Bradley Thoroughbreds, Peter Bradley’s agency that is involved in every aspect of the horse business, from pinhooking to putting together racing partnerships. As part of Flying Start, Conrad has learned even more about the partnership game, which is increasingly popular in Australia. “Racing syndicates are massive here and enable a broad base of people to get involved in the industry without great financial investment. Your taxi driver could own a share of a horse,” he explained.
Conrad is impressed by Flying Start’s thoroughness, saying, “The program is rigorous; I would liken it to an MBA for the Thoroughbred industry.” His current area of study finds him on “practical rotations at various farms in the Hunter Valley,” an area in New South Wales that plays host to many important nurseries. “I have spent the past two weeks at Vinery Australia working with mares and foals,” Conrad said. “We also go on visits to many of the stud farms in the area and have lectures from industry professionals, as well as projects and assignments we have to complete.”
Understandably, Flying Start keeps him very busy, but Conrad still makes time to check in with Denali business and family back home. “Denali will consign 300-350 at auction this year. I try to stay as involved as I can while I am away, and do my best to play the role of cheerleader,” he said, keeping a particular eye on each major sale. The time difference can be a beast: Book 1 of the Keeneland September Sale made him so nervous, he recalled, that he stayed up all night to watch it, making for a tough start the next morning. Despite his worries, Denali did nicely at that sale, selling a $500,000 War Front–Wine Press colt in the first session, and a $625,000 Speightstown–Night and Day colt on day 3. One of sale’s standout sires was champion Uncle Mo, whom Denali sold as a weanling to eventual owner Mike Repole. Under the Denali banner, his dam, Playa Maya, fetched $1.65 million at auction in 2010.
Throughout the years, Denali has played a role in the careers of numerous stars, but Conrad’s favorite is Hall of Famer and champion Serena’s Song. “Serena, to me, is one horse that I have to pay tribute for developing my passion for the industry,” he enthused. “She was not only a brilliant racemare, but did what many great racemares fail to do, which is to replicate and pass on their brilliance as a broodmare.” Conrad also has fond memories of Animal Kingdom, who was born at Denali for owner-breeders Team Valor. “I have a lifetime of memories thanks to Animal Kingdom, and it is gratifying for his career to come full circle with us having the opportunity to support him at stud and raise progeny by him.”
The Bandoroffs and their team maintain close relationships with their clients. Those numbers include some of racing’s most important owners and breeders. From his father, Conrad has learned to “work as hard as you possibly can to secure the best result for your client and, at the end of the day, that’s all anybody can ask of you.” He added, “We are fortunate to have built a world class team, and I believe it is the strength of that team and the culture of paying attention to detail that results in our graduates succeeding on the racetrack.” After he completes Flying Start in 2017, Conrad plans to return home to join that team. He said, “It has been my dream for as long as I can remember, and I am looking forward to and am excited to embark on the beginning of my career.”
From Thoroughbred Daily News