By Mike Kane
Surprises, for sure, Sole Volante and his co-owner, Andie Biancone, each has the genetic makeup to be competing in the important races on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
Versatile Sole Volante takes his deep, classy pedigree – albeit for distance and turf – into Saturday’s Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, the 1 1/16th-mile test on the dirt at Tampa Bay Downs. He has already proven his ability on the surface at Tampa Bay, coming from off the pace to win the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis on Feb. 8.
Like Sole Volante, Biancone was born into the sport. She works for her father, the accomplished international trainer Patrick Biancone, who gave her the gift of the then 2-year-old colt he purchased for $20,000 on her 22nd birthday in April.
Andie Biancone, now a fourth-generation horsewoman, said the birthday present from her father was completely unexpected. “I was shocked,” she said. “At first I was like, ‘Whoa. That’s so cool.’ I was very excited about it. Just to own any horse is amazing; just to have that opportunity. We thought he was going to be a little for-fun horse. That was my impression. When he had his first start at Gulfstream Park West, I was at Keeneland and I was thinking, ‘oh, he’s going to need a race, he’s a little bit immature.’ And he just won so impressively. It was crazy. And to see my silks, which my dad and I designed together, was really special.
“I can’t believe I have part of a horse that could potentially go to the Kentucky Derby. That’s just crazy. Even to work with him every day is a blessing. It’s awesome.”
Sole Volante won his debut, 7 ½ furlongs on grass, by three lengths on Oct. 12. He rolled from well back to take the mile-on-turf Pulpit Stakes by two lengths on Nov. 30. After he finished third in his first try on dirt, the mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Jan. 4, he went on to the Sam F. Davis. Jockey Luca Panici was up for the Mucho Macho Man and the Sam Davis, but broke a collarbone in a spill on Feb. 21. Florent Geroux will replace him in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Patrick Biancone chuckled as he talked about his present, which he felt would help his daughter understand the challenges and cost that are part of owning a race horse.
“It was a good birthday gift,” he said. “She was turning 22. I said, ‘OK, if I gave you $1,000 a year since you were born you would have $22,000 and you’d buy a horse.’ We bought him for $20,000 and what I saved, $2,000, was great.”
The team of Sole Volante and Andie Biancone make up one of the more unlikely and interesting stories of this year’s quest to reach America’s most important horse race on the first Saturday in May. With another big performance, Sole Volante could join his Biancone stablemate Ete Indien in the Derby on May 2. Ete Indien picked up 50 Derby qualifying points on Feb. 29 with a front-running victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth – which typically is enough points to make the Derby field – and is expected to compete again in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 28.
From the first crop of 2014 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Karakontie, Sole Volante sold for a mere $6,000 as a yearling and Patrick Biancone acquired him as a 2-year-old at a price far below what most Triple Crown prospects go for. He has won three of four career starts, picking up $196,310 in purse money. His on-track success has yielded even more profit to the Biancones. They sold a half-interest Limelight Stables and after the Mucho Macho Man the partners sold a controlling interest, a total of 60 percent, to Reeves Thoroughbred Racing. Though Dean and Patti Reeves usually don’t invest in turf horses, Sole Volante’s performance in the Mucho Macho Man convinced them that he might have a future on dirt.
The Biancones had different impressions of the Sole Volante, who went through the ring as hip 270 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale on April 23.
Patrick Biancone thought the colt showed promise in his under-tack work of 10.40 seconds on the track and saw some physical similarities to Sagace, his 1984 Prix de la Arc de Triomphe winner.
“He’s not the same color but the same conformation, a typical European kind of horse,” Patrick Biancone said. “He had a great pedigree for me because I’m European, but that may not have attracted the other people. We got him for what we got him. Sometimes you pay a lot and they turn out to be no good, and sometimes it goes the other way.”
Sole Volante, bred in Kentucky by the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings, is out of the Kingmambo mare Light Blow, who produced Explode, winner by disqualification of last year’s Grade 3 Canadian Derby, at 1 1/4 miles on dirt. Through the Flaxman homebreds Karakontie and Light Blow, Sole Volante has the Niarchos superstar, two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Miesque on both sides of his pedigree.
“Since I was a little kid I’ve always known that I wanted to be a trainer,” she said. “I have flip-flopped a couple of times in my head between horse trainer or vet, but organic chemistry kicked my butt and I was like, ‘Nope, it’s horse training.’”
Beginning when she was a young teen-ager Andie Biancone worked for her father on weekends and during school vacations. She started college in California, completed a two-year associate’s degree at Palm Beach State College and moved on to the University of Florida. With about two semesters left to graduate with a degree in equine studies, her studies are on hold at present.
By Mike Kane