Kitty Day, the owner of Warrendale Sales, had the road to her career in the Thoroughbred industry begin at an early age. Day was obsessed with horses and began riding, which is where she envisioned her future. After graduating college, she had an opportunity for a nomadic position as a warm-up rider breaking and galloping horses for Bill Twyman. Having grown up in a military family, the opportunity to be in one place was appealing. That led to working in sales for Lee Eaton.
"The first sale I ever worked was Fasig July in probably 1980. And so I did that for a number of years. And then I had a child and then you realize that galloping racehorses and breaking horses—there's an expiration date on that. And so I went to work for Ben Walden in his office and was there at Vinery when he had Black Tie Affair, Strike the Gold, all those horses, and I ran the sales division for him," Day said.
But that transition was not without its challenges.
"It was a rude awakening for me because I went to college where you literally typed your papers on a typewriter, and by the time I had transitioned back into an office kind of setting, it was DOS and it was computers. And I had to really work hard to get my skills back up. As far as that goes. I had no skills. But he wanted someone who knew about horses. So when Ben was winding down Vinery, I went out into the sales arena and had been there ever since on my own. It was scary, very scary," she recalled.
Day spoke with BloodHorse MarketWatch about launching Warrendale, her inspirations, what made going out on her own so scary, and more.
MarketWatch: What was the scariest part of that transition in your career and your life?
Kitty Day: Going from being an employee who doesn't have to worry every day "Where's the money coming from?" to being the employer who has to worry all the time, "Where's the money coming from?" and "How much will I have this year?" Any consignor you talk to, especially one who doesn't have a farm like me, your income is totally based on what you generate each year at the sales level. You still have the overhead of an office and office staff and people that you're taking care of. So that was the hardest, scariest moment and that was in 2000.
MW: It's been a little more than 20 years since you launched Warrendale. What would you say is your biggest achievement in that time?
KD: I have a client who went with me when Vinery was closing. Hargus and Sandra Sexton were a core client for Ben Walden, and Hargus told me, "I will give you horses to sell; I'm giving you all my horses to sell if you go out on your own." So I did, and though Hargus is no longer with us, Sandra is still to this day selling horses with me. I have a great relationship with a lot of my clients—Ben Berger has been with me forever. That would be my greatest accomplishment in my opinion, representing horses to the best of my ability for the people who I really care about that I sell for, because honestly a small breeder, a big breeder, it doesn't matter who you are. I want to do the best job I can. I've always been a fear-motivated animal. I always want to make everyone happy and do the best I can for everybody.
MW: What are your operations like now? How have they evolved in 20-plus years?
KD: Well, a number of people transition through my company. And what was happening was they were being cherry-picked off of me like Allaire Ryan, who's been with Lane's End ever since she left me. So as Allaire was transitioning out, Hunter Simms…came and got a job with me. And I was so impressed with him because he was very well-spoken, graduated from Ole Miss and worked in the horse industry. Very well-presented, very professional, and polished. He was willing to come to work for me in a secretarial capacity as a sales coordinator, and I was blown away by the lack of ego and just the eagerness to have a potential career in sales with me. He has been wonderful. He had a background in finance, which I did not. So I started running a company, not really, just kind of flying by the seat of my pants financially, which a lot of those start-ups do because you don't know. I had horse knowledge. I had some people skills, but my main function and the thing I bring to the table is the horse knowledge. …Whereas Hunter, who had some of that but not the years that I have had, he had the financial background. … He has very much become a crucial asset to the function and success of this company.
MW: What makes Warrendale stand out from other consignors?
KD: Well, there's a number of things. My horse knowledge; not every consignor has spent time doing what I did on the backs of horses, around horses, showing horses. And the people who I came up under Noel Twyman and Delmar Twyman, who I started with when I was 15, Noel's father; Ronnie Jenkins, Bill Graves, all these guys that I learned from in the '80s. … I'm always trying to tweak, identify a problem, fix a problem, manage a showman. …The other big thing I think we bring to the table is there are two of us. He's younger, I'm older. I've got a handle on some of the older folks who come through to look at horses that he has no idea who they are. He's got a handle on the younger folks. I'm like, 'Who's that person connected with and what do they do, and what's their story?' And he knows. The other big thing that people should keep in mind when they're picking a consignor, whoever that consignor might be, is at what level in that consignment is your horse competing with a house horse or competing with 20 other Tapits or 10 other Curlins? You want to put your horse where he has a chance to really stand out.
MW: Who inspires you?
KD: Gosh, I mean, I came up with such great people, people that I really miss. Lee Eaton was an incredible inspiration to me. And because of when I worked for Lee, girls didn't show, only the guys showed. The girls groomed. But he ran his shedrow with military precision, which I was very comfortable with because that's what I grew up in, and I understood it. So he inspired me that if you're organized in life—and I tell this to my kids—then you are one step ahead of any potential hiccups. My dad always said if one is good, two's better, and three is best. So (Lee) would cross those steps over and over again and check on things. Ben Walden was a huge inspiration because Ben was such a great salesman. He had the gift of gab, which I did not; I was kind of a shy kid growing up because we moved so much. I had to develop into the ability to just walk up to strangers and ask for horses to sell. And watching Ben with his people skills was a huge inspiration as well. I was observing those people and how they handled themselves.
MW: Tell me about your 2023. We've got just a few weeks left. If you were going to review the year to this point, what would it be?
KD: It was a good year for us. I'm somewhat concerned about the market going forward. I obviously watch other sales whether I'm participating in that sale or not. I look at Fasig December, I look at what's going on on the digital platforms, which fascinate me. I haven't really dipped my toe into that but it's interesting. I guess because of my age, I'm again thinking if I want to buy a horse, I want to see the horse, touch the horse, look at the horse, and the convenience of an actual auction makes it easier for me to do that. But we had a great year. We've got a good team in place ... We had a good, solid year financially, we're in a good position going forward, but you've got to be really, really careful. You've got to be really on top of expenses and continue to recruit and generate support for the company.
MW: You have consigned some very notable horses. Could you pick a favorite?
KD: That is a hard question. Exaggerator was a cool horse because he was a plain brown wrapper. He just went under the radar and ended up being a classic winner. … I love Bleecker Street. I sold Bleecker Street in Saratoga; she was a Quality Road filly. I loved her name. Bleecker Street was also near where my daughter was living at that point in the West Village (in New York City). … Another horse that I have a lot of attachment to is Channel Maker. We sold Channel Maker as an RNA years ago for Ivan Dalos at Tall Oaks, and he raises such a great horse. Channel Maker just retired, and he's a quirky horse who ran with his head up in the air, but he was so durable, and he was just fun to watch.