Bonnie and Tommy Hamilton of Silverton Hill Farm had their first Classic runners in 2007 when GI Toyota Blue Grass S. winner Dominican (El Corredor) and GII Lane’s End S. runner-up Sedgefield (Smart Strike) ran in that year’s GI Kentucky Derby. Neither colt was able to get the job done that day, but now 10 years later the Hamiltons take another shot at Classic glory with Meantime (Shackleford) in Saturday’s GI Belmont S.
The Hamiltons love affair with racing started innocently enough back in the late nineties when a friend, who happened to be a racehorse trainer, suggested that the lifelong horse lovers might enjoy the Sport of Kings.
“We both have had show horses, beer and pretzel horses, whatever kind, all of our lives,” said Bonnie Hamilton just a few minutes before the Belmont post position draw. “We also have competitive field trial bird dogs and one of our friends who competes the bird dogs is also a racehorse trainer. He kept saying, ‘If you like this, you should have a racehorse.’ My husband was all about it, but I was like, ‘All those things do is run around in circles. We don’t need one of them.’ We bought one who was already running and winning. All he did was win and we thought, ‘Wow, why doesn’t everybody have a racehorse?'”
And the rest, as they say, is history. The Hamiltons have about 25 horses in training, half of which are with trainer Darrin Miller, and have since expanded into breeding. They own Silverton Hill Farm, a 2,000-acre farm in Springfield, Ky, that includes Polytrack and turf courses, and is also used to raise cattle and produce hay and grain.
“We didn’t get into any breeding for the first four or five years because our main focus was getting into the Kentucky Derby, so we only bought colts,” the 61-year-old explained. “Finally, we bought some fillies and you know how it is, it’s like, ‘Well she’s a pretty good filly, so let’s keep her and breed her.’ We only breed eight or 10 mares a year. We aren’t big, serious breeders and we don’t have big, serious pedigrees, but we’ve done pretty well with our homebreds.”
The Hamiltons have bred several nice runners, including five-time graded stakes winner Havelock (Great Notion), but their biggest scores have come courtesy of their auction buys, such as 2013 GI Carter H. hero Swagger Jack (Smart Strike), a $280,000 KEESEP buy; Dominican, a $150,000 OBSMAR purchase; and Sedgefield, a $300,000 KEEAPR buy.
Bonnie, a neuro surgical nurse, and Tommy Hamilton, who started a coal mining company called Nally and Hamilton, were in the racing business less than 10 years when those latter two purchases made it into the Derby, a feat which thrilled their entire small Kentucky town. Though Dominican could do no better than 11th and Sedgefield checked in fifth, Springfield has continued to show its support for the Silverton Hill runners.
“Nothing to take away from the Belmont, but if you’re a Kentuckian, you are all about the Kentucky Derby,” Bonnie Hamilton commented. “When we had our Derby runners, it was really exciting. We live in a small, rural community and when something good happens to one of our horses, the whole community gets fired up. Every time we go to town, there is somebody who is like, ‘Do you have a Derby horse this year?'”
Hamilton continued, “When you get into the Derby or the Belmont, you have to appreciate what an honor it is to have a horse that can step up on the big stage and deserves to be there. The longer you are in this, the more you realize every race, even if it is claiming race, you need to appreciate that that animal is able to step up and do the job. When you get to the Classics and the Grade Is, you should just be honored that you have a horse sound enough and talented enough to be in that race. I think that is probably the biggest thing we’ve learned.”
Hamilton plans to appreciate every moment this time around with her first Belmont runner Meantime, who bloodstock agent Ben McElroy purchased for the couple for $230,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September sale.
“He was always a very good looking horse,” Hamilton recalled. “He never did anything wrong and always had a good mind, but if I said, ‘Oh yeah when we bought him, we knew he was the one,’ that would be a lie. Tommy told [trainer] Brian [Lynch] to pick two horses off the farm and he picked Meantime and another homebred we had and he liked [Meantime] immediately. After he had the horse for six months, we thought, ‘Wow he is pretty nice.'”
Second behind a “TDN Rising Star” performance from the reopposing Patch (Union Rags) at odds of 53-1 on debut at Gulfstream Feb. 18, Meantime checked in third behind another “TDN Rising Star”-worthy winner in Time to Travel (Hard Spun) and next out winner Caviar Czar (Medaglia d’Oro) in Hallandale Apr. 1. The half-brother to MGISW millionaire Sweet Reason (Street Sense) put it all together when extended to nine furlongs at Keeneland, romping home in the mud to a 7 1/2-length graduation Apr. 22, and was a respectable second to “TDN Rising Star” Timeline (Hard Spun) last time in a sloppy renewal of Belmont’s GII Peter Pan S. May 13.
“He ran well in the Peter Pan and we were like, ‘Okay, we will find a race for him,'” Hamilton said. “The more he trained, Brian kept saying, ‘This horse is training really well and he just loves Belmont. He really loves it.’ The horse just kind of talked us into running him. He just kept training so well and we didn’t decide until Saturday, but we said, ‘Okay, let’s go to the Belmont with him.'”
Meantime drew post nine for the Test of a Champion and was given a 15-1 morning-line quote. Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who is in from California to ride two-time champion Songbird (Medaglia d’Oro) in the GI Ogden Phipps S. and GI Kentucky Oaks heroine Abel Tasman (Quality Road) in the GI Acorn S., will have the mount.
“If you look at his pedigree, you think there is no way he is going to get a mile and a half, but nobody thought Smarty Jones was going to win the Derby either,” remarked Hamilton. “He is a very sound horse. He has a good mind to him. Yes, he likes the front end, but we have Mike Smith, who is brilliant, and maybe he can back him down and get ‘er done.”
The Hamiltons and their family are flying in from Kentucky to attend the race and could not be more excited for Saturday. Bonnie Hamilton’s enthusiasm and anticipation were palpable when asked what a win in the Belmont would mean to her and her husband.
“You’d probably have to call 911! It would be okay if I died at that point because it would be like, ‘Oh my God! We won the Belmont,'” Hamilton exclaimed with a laugh. “I’m kidding, really, but it makes everything that you do every day worth while. We live here, so we do this every day. When I say this, I don’t mean it condescendingly, but we are not like most owners. We know everything there is to know about that horse, just about. It just means so much more when your heart and your soul is into them, so it would be the biggest thing that has ever happened to either one of us horse wise by far.”