It doesn’t matter which end of the business you’re talking about: horse racing is a difficult game. But to look at the success of Black Type Thoroughbreds over the last few years, you might be fooled into thinking it’s not as hard as it looks.
On Friday, they’ll run Sacred Wish in the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico, marking the third year running they’ve bought a horse to run a major stake for three-year-old fillies contested on one of racing’s biggest weekends (they saddled Pass the Champagne and Hidden Connection in the 2021 and 2022 Kentucky Oaks respectively).
The story of how Sacred Wish came to run for Black Type is a familiar one for the team.
“We went back and looked at her numbers and her pedigree, what she had done on the track, and numbers wise we thought she’d fit well with the rest of the crop, especially if we could bring her forward a little bit,” said Maddie Mattmiller, one of the Black Type managing partners along with her husband, Jake Ballis.
This idea of looking at a crop of horses holistically is central to what they are trying to do.
“When we are scouting, first off we go through the whole crop – we want to know about the competition we’ll be facing, what else is out there and how does this horse stack up against the rest of the horses we’ll be facing down the line. If the horse doesn’t look like it will be able to compete at the stakes level, we pass on them,” Mattmiller continued.
They also have a larger mission. Ballis, a former standout college basketball player who grew up in a horse racing milieu, laid out another key part of the Black Type vision.
“We want to get as many people involved in racing as we can to grow the game. And the new wave of ownership is all about partnerships, and the more people you can partner with the better. We don’t focus only on private purchases, we are also very interested in buying at the sales.”
As for Sacred Wish, they ended up just missing the cut on the Oaks, but going to the Black-Eyed Susan on Preakness weekend isn’t a bad backup plan. Ballis wasn’t thrilled with the draw, however.
“The rail draw isn’t ideal and if she doesn’t break well it could be a long day,” he said, “but with John Velazquez up maybe we can work out a trip from down there.”
In any case, just running on such a big weekend means a lot to the Black Type partnership as this is what they’re in business to do.
“Our business model is to try to locate and scout horses that we think are going to be stake horses,” Ballis said. “We want to focus solely on quality to run on big days.”
As far as trainers go, Mattmiller and Ballis will let the larger picture dictate whose hands their horses end up in. For example, when they looked at this year’s three-year-old fillies, it appeared the best opportunity for Sacred Wish to get black type might be in Florida so they called on an old friend, George Weaver.
Mattmiller said, “We’ve had a bunch of success with George so it was a no brainer to put her there. She was kind of a quirky filly, we had been warned about that, and at Palm Beach Downs it’s such a quiet place where a horse can relax and George is very patient and she needed that kind of atmosphere.”
“George is very hands on,” Ballis continued. “It’s a medium-sized operation and you don’t get lost in the shuffle with him. We’re very close friends and the communication is very good. He’s very honest. If he doesn’t like your horse, he’ll let you know. He’s not going to sugar coat anything which is very important, especially when you have partners and you have to get information to people that don’t follow racing on a day-to-day basis. He’s as good as any trainer out there.”
Black Type have loyal supporters who have been with them since the start of their operation in 2019, and they’re always looking for new people to partner with. One of the original partners is Reagan Swinbank, who is getting more involved in the industry by the day.
“Being involved with Jake and Maddie has been unbelievable,” he said. “It’s been a great experience having ownership in world-class horses. You buy a share and you care with all your heart and you get to go to all these great places like the Oaks and the Breeders’ Cup and now Preakness weekend.”
Both Ballis and Mattmiller were introduced to the game at a young age. Ballis’ father, John Ballis, owned champion sprinter Groovy, and legendary jockey Angel Cordero, Jr. is like family to him. Mattmiller grew up in the Lexington area.
“Like most women in this business, your love of the game starts with a love of the horse,” she said. “I was blessed to be around horses form a very young age. My Dad had a background in the racing world and he took us to the track quite a bit.”
She got a job out of school but racing called to her. “I went back and looked at all the kids my age that had gotten somewhere in the business,” she continued. “Where did the sons of trainers and farm owners start? That was at the track. So I went to the track, picked up a pitch fork and starting cleaning stalls, and was able to work my way up there, meeting people, and wanting to learn for free, and then I would go to my day job after that.”
From there, Mattmiller used her newfound connections to learn more about other sides of the business including the sales. Josh Stevens, a bloodstock agent friend whose had a lot of success (including podcast favorite Divisidero), helped her learn the ropes.
This season, Black Type appear to have a new club in their bag – success with two-year-old private purchases. They got stakes wins with Youalmosthadme in a stake at Churchill and Crimson Advocate in the Royal Palm Juvenile Fillies at Gulfstream, a win-and-you-re-in race for Royal Ascot.
Ballis explained, “We weren’t necessarily looking for two-year-olds to buy, it just happened to be that we were able to focus on two two-year-olds than ran at Keeneland and both came back to win. “
Mattmiller went on, “As much as I would like to say we planned it all out, these two just kind of fell right in front of us, and they couldn’t have fit our mold any better.”
If all goes well, the next stop for Crimson Advocate will be Royal Ascot.
“Our goal when we bought her was not Royal Ascot,” Ballis admitted, “but after she performed the way she did you obviously get excited thinking about going over there.”
“She didn’t break well on debut at Keeneland,” Mattmiller said, “but she was able to run on which I thought showed a lot of heart as a two-year-old. We had confidence she had more speed than that and with a clean break she was going to be a live filly going forward.”
Black Type have a lot to be excited about this Spring. Stable stars Hidden Connection and Pass the Champagne are scheduled to run soon, with the former heading for the Grade 3 Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 3 and the latter slated to compete in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
It’s important to note that Black Type aren’t buying proven stakes horses; they are making these bets on the come, and the results speak for themselves. There are six stake winners out of 16 purchases, and seven of 13 who’ve run ended up with black type for their catalog pages – an impressive 53 percent.
“I’m not going to say that we think that type of percentage is going to be the norm,” Ballis confessed,” but we do but we do put a lot of work and time in it and our goal is to get black type, especially for these fillies, and we put them in the right hands and so far we’ve been very, very lucky and right now we’re just trying to keep the luck going.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez famously once said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” For Mattmiller and Ballis and the whole Black Type team, the right formula is to be lucky and good.