Winning the award for Armstrong Breeder of the Year in 2015 and 2016, Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld’s breeding syndicate was nominated for the 2017 title alongside breeder Stan Klemencic in search of a third consecutive award in this category. In 2017, Katz-Libfeld bred and campaigned two O’Brien Award finalists, three-year-old trotting filly Ariana G and two-year-old trotting colt You Know You Do.
Ariana G, trained by Jimmy Takter, raced 15 times over the course of her sophomore season, winning 12 and accruing over $1.1-million in earnings, winning stakes including the Hambletonian Oaks, Elegantimage, and Breeders Crown. Nearing $2-million in overall earnings, Katz and Libfeld decided at the end of last year to bring Ariana G back at four.
“[Ariana G]’s so exceptional, though, and we’ve enjoyed watching her race these last two years,” Katz told Trot Insider. “For a number of reasons, we decided to bring her back at four -- not only for the good of our breeding operation, but for the good of the industry. And this is not something we typically do.
"Jimmy [Takter] was probably the most critical point in our decision to bring [Ariana G] back, because it was Jimmy’s confidence in her and his confidence that she could benefit from going on and racing as a four-year-old. And who would know this filly better than Jimmy Takter?"
Katz and Libfeld, who recently retired Idyllic Beach (1:50.3S; $1,078,349), Princess Aurora (Q1:53.3; $327,323), and Thats All Moni (1:52.1M; $425,264), usually send their fillies to the breeding shed at the end of their three-year-old season.
“Our focus over the last five to ten years has been on fillies that we have chosen –- either bred ourselves or purchased at sales –- to race them and then add them to our broodmare band,” Katz said. “We’re carefully selecting these fillies on their individuality, their confirmation, their pedigree.”
Ariana G demonstrated her supremacy over her division through the season, winning the Hambletonian Oaks in near wire-to-wire fashion, parking most of the mile in the Breeders Crown to progress to an open-length win, and competing in open sophomore competition. Her win in the Oaks, too, made Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld breeders of back-to-back winners.
“I don’t think I ever felt as nervous about a race as I did [Hambletonian Oaks day] just because of the expectations leading up to it,” Katz said. “There was pressure on us about whether or not we’d race in the Hambo or the Oaks, because of the history involved in winning back-to-back Oaks, of breeding back-to-back winners. The historical element was very significant.
“When she raced against the boys, she was superb. For a trotting filly to compete with the trotting colts and be able to race at the highest level, that was another highlight; we’ve never had a filly that was able to do that.”
Peter Haughton-winner You Know You Do, winning five of 12 starts and earning over $400,000, popped on the stakes scene early in the season, with his next big stakes appearance following the Haughton being the William Wellwood Memorial, where he was second to Alarm Detector, the other nominee for the O’Brien two-year-old trotting colt award. The Takter-trainee rebounded with a win in a division of the Bluegrass Stakes, but ended his season with a tenth-place finish in the Breeders Crown final.
“Training down, he looked like he had a lot of potential; high ability,” Katz said. “Jimmy was very happy with him training all the way down. Qualifying in baby races, [he] looked like a top performer, and went on early to win the Peter Haughton. It takes a unique skill to win those early [two-year-old] major events –- they have to be naturals to do that.
“We have high hopes and expectations for him as a three-year-old and I look for him to be one of the top ones in the three-year-old crop. He has the talent, but the pressure of the early racing seemed to have taken a toll on him. Probably, by the time we got to Lexington, he wasn’t as sharp as he was early on.”
Having bred earners of nearly $35-million and multiple stakes winners, Katz and Libfeld attribute most of their success to their team, including trainer Jimmy Takter, Yannick Gingras, who drove most of the breeders’ crop, as well as Perry Soderberg, Bob Brady and Jim Glass.
“They deserve all of the accolades,” Katz told Trot Insider. “[Racing is] like any business. You have to make the right decisions, of course, but I think Al and I get far too much credit. We’ve learned through the years that we have some of the best people in the industry assisting us, and the hardest lesson we’ve learned is to listen when its appropriate because we’re family.
“It’s not just knowledge. There’s chemistry and rapport between us and that’s all very helpful. It creates an environment where success can be facilitated.”
The 2017 O’Brien Awards are scheduled for Saturday, February 3 at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel and will feature an Academy Awards theme. The O'Briens will be hosted by Ken Middleton and Jason Portuondo, with Juno Award nominee Heather Bambrick singing the national anthems. The Marc Joseph Band, one of Toronto’s best event bands will be taking the stage after the awards presentations and provide dance music until 1:00 a.m.
Follow the latest updates on the O’Brien Awards on Standardbred Canada’s Facebook Event page and on the SC website. Standardbred Canada will also provide live updates on the event through its social media channels. For anyone tweeting or adding photos to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, please use the hashtag #obriens17.