He may have had an unorthodox journey to the Canadian Triple Crown, but the well-travelled Ontario-bred Tone Broke asserted himself as the country’s top 3-year-old with convincing wins in two-thirds of the series.
The sleek dark bay 3-year-old, who went from his juvenile base in Oklahoma to Dubai, Kentucky and Ontario this year, powered to victory in the $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie on July 23 and did the same in the Breeders’ Stakes on the Woodbine grass less than a month later.
Add in his third-place finish behind One Bad Boy in the $1 million Queen’s Plate in June and Tone Broke became the top boy of summer.
For his American owners Lee Levinson, sons Michael and Andrew and Don Nelson, all of Oklahoma, the big wins continued a fabulous first few years as horse owners. Racing as L & N Stable, the partners raced their first horse in 2015 and the next year saw their colt Lookin at Lee finish second to Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby (Grade 1).
It was early in the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2018 that the group paid $40,000 for Tone Broke, bred by the successful program of Toronto’s Sean and Dorothy Fitzhenry.
“He was a big, beautiful colt, he looked good in the ring and was from a nice family,” said Michael Levinson, racing manager for L & N. “I think he kind of fell through the cracks.”
A son of the reliable Kentucky stallion Broken Vow, Tone Broke was the third foal produced from the Fitzhenry’s homebred Mendocino Beano, a stakes-placed Smart Strike mare.
The daughter of one of the Fitzhenrys’ early broodmare purchases, Trishyde Slew (by the great Seattle Slew and a foundation mare for the couple), Mendocino Beano’s half-sister Tennessee Lamb had already produced the Fitzhenrys’ stakes winner Mr. Havercamp.
And Mendocino Beano was off to a good start as a broodmare herself as the dam of stakes winner Stallion Heiress.
Tone Broke (Levinson said the partners made up the name) was sent to L & N’s trainer Steve Asmussen and in just the colt’s third career race, he won a maiden race by 15 1/2 lengths at Remington Park in Oklahoma. Following a fourth-place finish in the Springboard Mile, the team made plans to send the colt to Dubai.
“We wanted to try for longer distances there and the UAE Derby,” said Levinson about the big 3-year-old race held in March on Dubai World Cup day.
Tone Broke had different ideas, however, finishing well back in a prep at Meydan and in the UAE Derby itself.
“We still don’t know what happened,” said Levinson. “Maybe he didn’t like the surface, but he was not interested in running at all there.”
The good news that came from the long journey, however, was they had a fresh colt for the summer season. He returned to the races in mid-May, finishing second in the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness day before hitting the road north with Asmussen’s ace assistant Darren Fleming.
Tone Broke’s Queen’s Plate outing, his first try on an all-weather surface, had a rocky beginning as he darted sharply to the left out of the gate, crashing into rival Skywire. Under jockey Luis Contreras, Tone Broke raced wide in a chasing trip the rest of the way and finished a good third behind front-running One Bad Boy and Canadian 2-year-old champ Avie’s Flatter.
Excited about the colt’s good finish, Levinson and company were confident Tone Broke could exact revenge on his Plate conquerors on the dirt at Fort Erie. With jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. coming in from the U.S. for the ride, Tone Broke settled away third in the field of five, as One Bad Boy, who was off a step slow, established the lead from the inside post with Avie’s Flatter prompting the pace.
One Bad Boy set sensible opening fractions of :23.50 and :48.02 while Avie’s Flatter continued to stalk the leader before surging ahead in the stretch past the 1:12.59 three-quarters mark.
Meanwhile, Tone Broke fanned wide and overhauled the front-runners to score by two lengths in 1:56.56 for the 1 3/16 miles.
The Canadian Triple Crown wrapped up on Aug. 17 in the 1 1/2 mile Breeders’ Stakes without One Bad Boy and it was Avie’s Flatter who got most of the pre-race attention based on his love for turf racing. Tone Broke was making his first turf start.
“Well, as a big, galloping and leggy colt we weren’t too sure how he was going to handle the grass, but his sister Stallion Heiress liked it,” said Levinson.
For much of the Breeders’ it did look like Avie’s Flatter was going to break through while Tone Broke, fussy at the gate and hard to handle, was giving his new rider Rafael Hernandez some trouble. Early in the long stretch run, Tone Broke had to be angled out of a brief traffic jam before setting sail to the lead, catching Avie’s Flatter for the win.
“It looked like it was going to be a replay of the Queen’s Plate (when he broke inwards) a little where he didn’t want to relax early and Raffi got him to relax and everything went smoothly,” said Fleming. “We had a little traffic trouble and my heart was pumping in the turn, but luckily Tone Broke was talented enough to overcome it.”
The colt left Canada with bags full of cash, upping his earnings to $528,600 from four wins in 11 races.
“We had a great time in Canada,” said the owner. “We were at Woodbine for the Plate and it was just beautiful. Hopefully we will bring him back there next year.”