by Tracy Gantz
“Boisterous” describes many winner’s circle celebrations. If Boisterous the stallion hits the way Tommy Town Thoroughbreds hopes he will, there will be plenty of boisterous moments in the farm’s future.
Tom and Debi Stull have structured Tommy Town Thoroughbreds as a multipurpose farm that continues to produce top runners every year. Tommy Town annually is one of California’s leading breeders and was number one in 2015, 2013, and 2009, in large part through the California-breds the Stulls get by supporting their own stallions.
Their stallions proliferate the various California leading sire lists. Ministers Wild Cat always gives a good account of himself while Old Topper has long been a Tommy Town stalwart. The Stulls also brought Kafwain to Tommy Town from Kentucky several years ago.
“Boisterous is our newest venture,” said Tom Stull. “We’re really happy with the babies. We’re in partners on that horse with Gary Barber.”
Boisterous, a millionaire on the track, entered stud in 2015. His first foals arrived this year. Client stallions thrive at Tommy Town. Nick Alexander stands
Grazen there, and several good runners have represented Grazen at California racetracks.
While the Stulls breed a few mares in Kentucky every year, the crux of their program is the historic piece of land in the Santa Ynez Valley on which the farm sits. It first began as a horse farm in the 1940s through the efforts of Mrs. Amory Hare Hutchison, who dubbed it Westerly Stud Farm. Fletcher Jones turned it into a showplace during the 1960s and 1970s, and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas later made it his training center.
“Money was no object when Fletcher Jones built this place,” said Tom. “It’s first class.”
The Stulls purchased 165 acres of the Jones property in 2000 and quickly set about making Tommy Town Thoroughbreds one of California’s leading operations. In 2001 they brought in Mike Allen, formerly with John and Betty Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farm, to manage the farm, and he has been with them ever since.
As their operation grew, the Stulls bought contiguous land. Some of the property once belonged to the late Alex Madonna, who built the Madonna Inn, a
unique hotel with a wide variety of motifs that is located in San Luis Obispo.
Tom and Debi met through her brother when they were growing up in Whittier and have been married more than 40 years. Debi has ridden throughout her life, and their daughter, Shelly, trains hunter-jumpers at her Bradbury facility. The Stulls’ son, Aaron, is in the motorcycle business in Orange county and has also worked in property management in Costa Rica.
As the Stulls developed an interest in racing, they started claiming horses in the mid-1980s. One of their earliest successful runners, owned in partnership with Jim Wilson, was Cal-bred Fa La Te Dough, a multiple stakes winner and earner of $254,050. That led to a bigger racing stable and ultimately breeding. Debi recalls their sending mares to some of that era’s finest California stallions, including Calbred Flying Paster.
When the couple decided they needed a farm, they looked throughout Southern California and purchased the Tommy Town property. Later they discovered the adjoining Westerly property, where they now live, though Tom continues to travel to his machine-shop and property businesses in the Los Angeles area and Wisconsin.
Sometimes they can put both of their businesses together on a trip, such as when they traveled to Wisconsin on the way to this year’s Keeneland yearling sale in Kentucky. The Stulls often buy yearling fillies, both to race and ultimately to join their broodmare band of 50-60 mares in California and about nine in Kentucky.
They work the sale themselves, with the help of Mike and his wife, Lisa.
“We physically walk it and see every single horse,” said Debi. “The four of us go through the catalogs, and we tag the ones we like. Then we go through the BloodHorse Auction Edge. We have a certain criteria that they have to meet or we kick them out. Then we go look at them. It takes a lot of time.”
This year they bought nine fillies—two Bodemeisters, two More Than Readys, and one each by Lemon Drop Kid, Malibu Moon, Medaglia d’Oro, Scat Daddy, and Speightstown.
Two years ago at Keeneland their purchases included a Kentucky-bred daughter of Speightstown—It Tiz, by Tiznow, who has a unique distinction. Named Tiz a Tommy Town, the filly to date is the only horse to be favored over champion Songbird. In Songbird’s frst race, at Del Mar July 26, 2015, Tiz a Tommy Town went of at 8-5 and finished second to 2-1 Songbird.
The Stulls buy the occasional mare at auction in foal to a Kentucky stallion. They can bring those mares to California to foal a Cal-bred and then breed them back to one of their stallions.
One of their current homebred winners, for example, is Ms Wakaya, a Cal-bred daughter of Flower Alley who broke her maiden on opening day of the Santa Anita fall meeting.
Even now, Tom and Debi manage to successfully use a third route—the claim box. Over the years that has proved very lucrative, though more difficult these days. In 2009 they claimed Northern Station for $12,500 at Santa Rosa and later won a stakes with her at Laurel. She has since produced 2015 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) winner Barbados, by Speightstown.
“I don’t look as much anymore because I get tired of not finding anything,” said Tom. “I did find one at Del Mar that had nine claims in.”
The Stulls won the shake for Wife Approved at $12,500. It looks like a fabulous bargain as she is by Street Sense and sold for $140,000 as a 2-yearold. Owner Mick Ruis liked her so much that he immediately approached Tom and asked to buy into her.
“We brought her home,” said Debi. “We’re not going to race her.”
Wife Approved could very well be one of the mares the Stulls will use to support their stallions. It is a system that has worked well, as evidenced by the success of Ministers Wildcat.
“We’re real happy with Minister,” said Tom. “He’s been pretty solid. He was always bred to California mares only. He’s done everything in California.” Ministers Wild Cat has sired 21 stakes winners, including Doinghardtimeagain, Going for a Spin, and Curvy Cat, all stakes winners bred and raced by Tommy Town. The Stulls keep Doinghardtimeagain, an earner of $734,304, in Kentucky while Going for a Spin and Curvy Cat are part of the California broodmare band.
Mike explained why he believes Ministers Wild Cat has succeeded. “He’s been really versatile—they run on dirt and turf,” he said. “They have good conformation. I think you can breed a lot of different types of mares to him.”
Ministers Wild Cat, like all of the other Tommy Town stallions, is well behaved.
“He’s playful—he’ll try to take the shank from you,” said Mike. “But he’s not mean at all.”
Old Topper is another farm favorite, especially since he has been on the farm since it began as Tommy Town. His 25 stakes winners include Top Kisser, Ain’t No Other, and Topper Shopper, all stakes winners bred by Tommy Town.
“He’s not breeding as many as he used to, but he still throws real hard-knocking horses that get to the races and seem to run for a long time—real sound horses,” said Mike.
Old Topper personifies the benefits of California’s incentive program. Many of his offspring compete for years, reaping breeder and stallion awards for the farm, even if they are claimed away.
“It’s definitely an incentive to breed here,” said Debi of the program.
Added Mike, “I think it’s the best program in the country. More people should get involved. It’s good for breeders who sell or race.”
Old Topper’s progeny have also demonstrated an affinity for second careers over fences. The Stulls often receive emails from people who ride horses bred by the couple.
“They want to tell us if the horse has gone on to be an eventing horse or a Western horse,” said Debi, who added that people ask if the Stulls have photos of the horses as babies. “It’s nice to see that these horses have gone on and had another career.”
The Stulls brought Kafwain to California after standing him a year in Kentucky.
They got 2014 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) winner Let Faith Arise by breeding Babe Hall to Kafwain in Kentucky.
Kafwain is also the sire of California stallion The Pamplemousse.
“He throws a real big-bodied horse, real nice shoulder and hip,” said Mike. “He himself is pretty good-sized. He can help out a smaller mare or a medium- sized mare. He throws a lot of bone. I think they actually run better as late 2-year-olds or 3-year-olds because of their size.”
Even though the Stulls own these three stallions, they are looking to the future by bringing in Boisterous. The son of Distorted Humor—Emanating, by Cox’s Ridge, earned $1,458,792 by winning such races as the 2013 Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT).
Mike said that Boisterous bred 82 mares in his frst season. The farm manager called the first crop “real balanced, real pretty babies, pretty head, good front end, correct, with a nice hip on them.”
Of their more than 50 California-based mares, the Stulls bred 14 to Boisterous in his first season.
No matter where their homebreds are born—California or Kentucky—the Stulls raise them at Tommy Town.
“They all come home after they’re weaned,” said Debi. Fortunately, Tommy Town has its own wells, so while during California’s drought they have cut back on water usage, they are still able to irrigate some pastures.
They raise youngsters in large, grassy pastures to give them room to grow. The Stulls usually sell their colts and keep their flies so that they can replenish their broodmare band.
“I think the guys here on the farm do a very good job breaking the babies, and they do it in a kind way,” said Debi. The farm has a seven-furlong training track, and the infeld doubles as a place to grow forage hay. Tommy Town grows oat hay in another part of the farm, and it also has 30 acres of vineyards.
While the Stulls lease the vineyards, they do bottle their own wine. They have donated some of their wine to Wine to Water, an organization that provides clean water to many places around the world.
But Tommy Town’s primary business is producing runners. To that end, Mike oversees about 20 employees, including stallion manager Esteban Melchor and Robin Hardin, who works in the office doing, among other things, mare bookings, stallion contracts, and billing. Deanne Beer, the CFO, is an integral part of Tommy Town. Tom and Debi hired Deanne in 2002 to set up the administrative end of Tommy Town Thoroughbreds. She has been there ever since, overseeing the daily operations in the office.
Brothers Margarito and Chato Medino-Ramos have been with Tommy Town since its inception. “Both of them help out at the training barn,” said Mike.
“Both help during foaling season on the night watchman’s night of. They can haul horses. They both work the track with the water truck and harrow. They’re pretty key employees.” Employees need to be versatile because of the many activities going on at the farm year-round. With five stallions, the breeding and foaling operation is extensive, and Tommy Town also provides lay-up and sales prep services. Owners of permanent boarders can also take advantage of the farm’s training service.
That versatility, coupled with attention to detail, keeps Tommy Town at the forefront of the California breeding industry.