Despite being around horses her entire life, Tami Bobo is in the midst of one of her biggest learning curves to date: managing a Kentucky Derby contender.
As the owner of Simplification, the 3-year-old, Florida-bred bay colt who earned his Derby berth in January by winning the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes, Bobo admits she didn’t have much Thoroughbred experience. Despite being on a horse at age 2 and showing horses all over the country while growing up in Ocala, Fla., Bobo’s foray into horse racing started just 12 years ago.
However, Bobo has made her livelihood in the horse industry since she was a teenager. She was just 17 when she became a single mother, and she continued riding and showing Arabian horses for a nearby Ocala farm to make ends meet.
When she was able to save money, Bobo would head to the local auction barn and began buying Quarter Horses that most people didn’t want. These “rejects” were considered “problem horses” or horses that weren’t yet broken or fit to ride. She would train and resell them, usually turning a modest profit.
“(Horses) are like humans: We’re not perfect and neither are they,” Bobo told NBC Sports ahead of the 2022 Kentucky Derby. “You learn to live with the imperfection and if you feel that that horse can overcome that imperfection, give that horse a shot.
“That horse doesn’t know that its front legs are little crooked, technically. It didn’t get a memo. That horse knows those are the four legs God gave him, and that’s how that horse goes through life. So, if you don’t create an issue for an animal, chances are, they’re gonna run through it.”
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With every resale, Bobo was able to save money and eventually able to buy better quality of horses through the years. By her late 20s, she was able to move into the higher-end Quarter Horse market, eventually showing her horses at places like the Quarter Horse Congress.
The American Quarter Horse Congress, known as the world’s largest single-breed horse show with more than 25,000 entries, was a jumping off point for Bobo, whose entrepreneurial spirit led her to combine her knowledge of horses with web development. Bobo began buying and selling horse-related domain names, developing equine information centers for local businesses.
It was from those earnings that Bobo was able to make the transition in 2010 from Quarter Horses to Thoroughbreds. She struck gold with the first Thoroughbred she bought, Take Charge Indy, a well-bred colt sired by A.P. Indy – the 1992 American Horse of the Year – and successful broodmare Take Charge Lady, whose Grade 1 victories included the Ashland Stakes and Spinster Stakes.
Bobo found Take Charge Indy at the September 2010 Yearling Sale at Keeneland, where he failed to reach the $80,000 reserve price due to a conformation issue and short stride. Bobo believed the colt could overcome his deficiencies over time and seized the opportunity, purchasing the horse privately.
Trained by Patrick Byrne, winner of three Breeders’ Cup races, Take Charge Indy won the Grade 1 Florida Derby by a length under Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel. That win earned the colt his spot in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, but Take Charge Indy underwhelmed at Churchill Downs, finishing 19th (out of 20) by 50 lengths.
More disappointing, however, was Bobo’s experience at the Derby, where she and her daughter, Brittney Polite, looked on from the stands after selling to Chuck and Maribeth Sandford.
“I was the working-class girl that brought the horse up to find the wealthy buyer to buy him, and that was my Indy story,” said Bobo. “We didn’t experience any of the Derby (that owners do). We experienced, you know, sitting there together for the day – which is invaluable – and being there, but we had no interaction with the horse, the people, anyone involved.”
Bobo credits her time with Take Charge Indy as invaluable to her development and knowledge within the Thoroughbred industry. And she’s already planning for a very different experience when she and Simplification make their way to Churchill Downs this weekend.
“I want to share anything that I can share with someone,” she said. “So, for me, making a difference in anyone’s life is important to me. So, my family’s coming, my friends are coming, and I just want to enjoy it for what it is, and I just hope that Simplification has a safe trip. And if we’re blessed with anything better, fantastic.”
Since that first Derby trip 10 years ago, Bobo has had multiple graded stakes winners and Grade 1 winners come through her farm in Ocala, called First Finds Farm, which she and her husband Fernando De Jesus purchased in 2016. They run boutique pinhooking operation, purchasing racehorse prospects as foals and nurturing them for resale as yearlings.
“I think what maybe makes our program different than the majority of others, Fernando and I are hands-on daily with these horses,” she explained. “I think being in the barn with these horses for hours on end and just spending the amount of time with them is probably somewhat different than others.”
Simplification was originally bought as a weanling-to-yearling pinhook, however, when the horse showed evidence of sesamoiditis (inflammation of the proximal sesamoid bones, which are in the ankles) Bobo says they opted to keep him.
“Sesamoiditis, to me, is part of growing pains,” said Bobo. “It’s part of Thoroughbred horses. It’s just part of growing. So, I didn’t find it to be significant when we X-rayed the horse to buy him for ourselves. He had it. We were aware, and we didn’t find it to be alarming.”
As for Simplification’s development into a racehorse, Bobo said she relied on her experience and instincts after first impressions also let her to describe the colt as “kind of tough.”
“He had an edge about him, so Fernando and I just decided if this colt can channel this, he might be a heck of racehorse,” Bobo explained. “We just bypassed the 2-year-old sales and decided to take a shot, and we’ve been blessed.”
Regarding the takeaway she hopes people will glean from her story, Bobo believes her journey can serve as an inspiration to others who have similar passion and drive.
“I want people to see that it’s anyone’s game,” she said. “You don’t have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to get to the highest places in life. Stay humble, be kind, work hard and you’ll get there.”