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Cup Coronation A True Family Affair

Trot Feature - JK Endofanera

The July issue of Trot Magazine takes an in-depth look at the 2014 North America Cup, including a trip of a lifetime for three brothers from New York City. They reveal the story behind JK Endofanera, and the reason he won't be racing in the Little Brown Jug.

When three brothers loaded up the car in New York City, they did so with a North America Cup dream firmly fixed in their minds. On this magical night, their amazing homebred would not disappoint.

By Debbie Little (en français içi)

AS CHILDREN, Ronald, Steven and Alan Katz took plenty of family car rides from their home in New York City to vacation at Kutsher’s Resort in the Catskill Mountains with weekly trips to Monticello Raceway. About 50 years later, the three brothers were back in a car together heading for a racetrack, but this time the trip was eight-plus hours.

“I’ve got one brother who’s scared to fly so we accommodated him by driving,” Alan Katz said.

The men, who collectively are known as the 3 Brothers Stable, were heading to Canada for their first North America Cup, with a homebred named for their father and the vet who delivered the foal.

“My father [Jack] had a massive heart attack in 1997 and my mother, who was healthy at the time, said she wanted to name all the horses JK. It makes it a lot easier when you have to name the horses because nobody puts a JK in front of their horses name, so you can have any name you want,” Alan Katz said.

JK Endofanera, by Art Major out of Presidential Lady, was foaled at Heritage Hill Farms in New Jersey by Dr. Stephen Dey II, who passed away shortly after delivering the colt.

“The people at Heritage Hill told me [Dr. Dey] wasn’t feeling well and they said, ‘Go to the hospital’. And he made sure the foal was fine first… so we named the horse Endofanera because of that,” Alan Katz said.

During their long excursion, the Katz brothers were contacted by members of the press, who wanted an interview and to set up photos before the race. They decided to kindly decline to do anything until after the race because every time they’d done it in the past, they’d lost.

They remembered one specific situation where they gave an interview prior to a big race and the horse developed colic and never raced again. They don’t truly believe the interview gave the horse colic, but they’re not looking to take any chances.

Prior to setting off for Canada, Alan Katz spoke with their trainer, Ron Burke, to see how the colt was doing. “I spoke to Ronnie Burke before I left and I said ‘Is there any reason I shouldn’t go?’ I made it clear to him I don’t want to make a 16-hour trip, eight and eight, to find out when I go up there the horse was no good all week,” he said.

Burke assured him the horse had trained well and even though Katz would be pleased with just getting a cheque, Burke was expecting more. “Ronnie [Burke] and [his brother] Michael made a whole bunch of changes. Honestly, I don’t get involved in it and they were pretty optimistic the horse was going to put in a good performance,” Katz said.

Upon arriving at Mohawk, the Katzes were impressed by the size of the crowd. They went to the paddock and spoke with Michael Burke, since his brother Ron wasn’t there. “I basically said, ‘If the horse gets a nice cheque we’d be thrilled’, and Mickey said not him. They sounded pretty optimistic and Brian Sears thought the same thing. Take away last week and he had a lot of confidence in the horse. And then when Brian heard they made a lot of changes and they scoped him and he was a little sick last week and he got over it, Brian thought the horse was going to do really good also,” Alan Katz said.

For the Katz brothers who rarely travel so far, the weekend was perfect. They saw Niagara Falls and the unexpected win topped it off.

“I called [Ron Burke] after the race around 11 at night and he said, ‘See, it’s a good thing you guys went’,” Alan Katz said. “I don’t know when Ronnie’s going to race him next. That’s his decision. I don’t get involved with that.”

JK Endofanera is staked to all of the big races, except for those on a half-mile track.

“When he was born he was a real big colt and we took it really slow with him as a two-year-old. He missed about a month of training last June or July because he bucked a shin and we didn’t qualify him (at the time trained by Linda Toscano) until September as a two-year-old. Then we gave the horse to Ronnie Burke to take to Indiana. He came on late and he kept getting better and better and better and he kept winning and getting confidence and at the end of the year -- luckily a lot of the good horses stopped after the Breeders Crown -- he won the Governors Cup and we turned him out,” Alan said.

“We brought him back at three with the intention of going to all of the major stakes with him. Everything but half-mile tracks. We don’t want to race him on a half because of his size,” he added.

The Katz brothers are not against half-mile tracks and have had great success racing at Yonkers, but they say their trainers know they are not interested in racing in the Little Brown Jug or Jugette.

“I don’t like running two heats. I know Maltese Artist, when we owned him, raced in the Jug and he got third or fourth in the final and he was a tired horse after that. And if you don’t win the second, you’ve got to go three heats,” he said.

“I hear John Campbell’s trying to make it (the Jug) a bigger purse to get more people to go. Maybe in the future (we’ll go), but for right now we have no interest,” he added. What the brothers are currently more interested in is a two-year-old filly named JK Shesalady, a full sister to JK Endofanera.

Nancy Johansson, (Jimmy) Takter’s daughter, has about four of our babies and JK Shesalady just qualified [on N.A. Cup Day]. She finished third and paced her last half in :55.4, and Nancy was tickled pink with her. So we’re hoping she does well, too,” Alan Katz said.

JK Shesalady is the last foal from Presidential Lady.

“When we started breeding Presidential Lady, we started with the Western Hanover line. No luck. Once we switched to the Art Major line then it started clicking. Then [Presidential Lady] got up in age,” Katz said.

Katz says the love of the horses was instilled in him and his brothers from an early age by their mother.

“My father really didn’t care about the horses that much. My mother loved them. My father went along for the ride being a good husband. He enjoyed two things, playing poker and going to work. So my mother got into the horses more. We used to go to the tracks together, Roosevelt and Yonkers. So my mother said, ‘Let’s buy a horse’, because that’s one thing the whole family enjoyed. It was exciting at the time and we had broodmares as well because some of the horses we bought weren’t doing well and we started breeding some of them... that’s how we started breeding horses. It was expensive to keep buying them, so we tried breeding them. But it’s not easy breeding them,” he says.

“I’ll never forget this story: About 25 years ago, Phil Tully called my father and said ‘Jack, we’re trying to promote harness racing’, and Phil Tully was a great salesman, so he told my father he was making up a video and he wanted to know how could we get more owners involved. How do we find the owners? So Pop told him, ‘Phil, what I would tell an owner is you better have a good day job because if you’re going into this business to make money, get out right away’.” Phil laughed, he understood my father’s point. It’s a hard industry. Who makes money? The trainers and the drivers. It’s for them, basically. How many owners make money? Three per cent, if that many? You need a great horse,” he added.

It is still to be determined if JK Endofanera is that great horse, but the Katz brothers have had plenty of success in the past. The aforementioned Maltese Artist, the Per Eriksson-trainee Giant Force that won the International Trot, as well as many JK horses. But the one that stands out the most was a mare name L’Chaim.

“The only thing that kept my mother happy the last five months of her life was a horse called L’Chaim. For that two minutes, when that mare raced, her pain went away. That’s one mare we never sold. She’s 20-something years old and right now she’s like a pet,” Alan Katz said.

His mother Pearl died of cancer in 1999, followed six months later in 2000 by his father Jack.

Katz says his dad died of a broken heart. “After 51 years of marriage, he couldn’t live without her.”

The Katz brothers continued in the business after the passing of their parents because it’s what they grew up with and what they know made their family, especially their mother, happy.

“My mother had no grandchildren, so she had a lot of horses. She used to carry pictures on her of the babies. I remember one baby died, one of the first we ever owned, and she was crying like it was a real person. She used to go down there and feed them carrots. She used to buy bags of carrots and take off the ends so the horses only ate the good part of the carrot.”

For the Katz brothers, horse racing is more than a hobby. It is a bond that has brought a family together, and lasting memories alive.

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