Sinatra Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding, L.L.C. at Berkley Farm

Sinatra Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding, L.L.C. at Berkley Farm

Customized Concierge Care In A Premier Training Facility.

Monday November 3, 2014

The day started off not as a typical fall day, but rather as a day in which Summer seemed unwilling to let go of a last opportunity.  The temperature was in the middle 50’s as I completed a sunrise jog around the Griffin Gate Hotel that was the home base for the team. Dr. Sinatra’s flight arrived that morning and the team gathered around noon. After a brief discussion of things, David & Steve made a trip to the Keeneland Sales Barn to check on both the mother and weanling filly that would be sold on Wednesday. Joe Sites and the crew at Brookdale Farm reported that many people had looked at the duo and provided the owners a list.

Two of the horses that would be sold that week were:

Sage Cat in foal to Union Rags with her groom, pre-sale

HIP #394 Sage Cat 

The 16 year-old  mare is no doubt best known for being the Dam of Desert Party, a contender in the 2009 Kentucky Derby that Was won by Mine That Bird . (Desert Party had raced against his Dubai stablemate Regal Ransom that day, after successful stakes wins in Dubai for owner, Sheik Mohamed.

Presale: Sage Cat-Bodemeister filly (photo by Julie Kent)

HIP #395 Weanling Filly of Sage Cat

This is a filly that was sired by the notorious Bodemeister. The weanling horse has great confirmation and with the exception of being a little small due to being a May foal, there were no blemishes.

Monday afternoon the team gathered in the lobby around 4 PM and headed to the Fasig Tipton November Sale.  This sale was a mixed bag of horses, but had a very deep and talented catalog. There were several horses that had run the preceding weekend in the Breeder’s Cup races that were now being sold to new homes.

The Fasig Tipton grounds are just north of Interstate 64. When you pull through the gates you see a sign designating the grounds as being on the Historical Register. When I drove the 2 miles from the gate to the parking area, all I could think of was the quality of horses that sold after establishing careers in that famous sales ring.   

Once parked we entered the grounds, we strolled around looking at several horses that were a part of our past equine careers. David Smith had picked out Wine Princess for their former owners. We went by the Hill & Dale barn and looked at her. Wine Princess looked as if she could be saddled and win a graded race that evening. What has amazed me about the sales is the access that you get to past champions that we have witnessed on the racetrack. We inspected about 5 other horses that I remember seeing perform at the highest level as well as some very well conformed yearlings.  

After a brief walk around the grounds and rekindling some old acquaintances, we headed for the auction ring.  Another aspect that I really think is neat about the equine auction is how most of the people either have on the hat or jacket highlighting some particular horse or stallion. Unlike other sports, you can’t simply buy this merchandise, you obtain it as an award for being a part of the connections. This merchandise represents a connection a groom/owner/trainer always has with a horse no matter that it is sold to a new home. Home truly is where the heart is.

We settled into our seats at the northern side of the auction arena.   The seats allowed us a great view of the profile of the horses being auctioned and one could still see the definition of the muscles that make these equine athletes both beautiful and powerful. It was not long before horses that I recognized were being sold to new homes. Among these included:  Ria Antonia, Princess of Sylmar, My Miss Sophia, Leigh Court (I wondered how she got to Kentucky as I remember how she had to be vanned from Toronto to Los Angeles for the Breeder’s Cup race held 48 hours before),  and She’s a Tiger.  

The horse that caught my eye the most was Stephanie’s Kitten. I had followed her in great detail through her career. She entered the ring and looked like the champion that she was. The bidding began and the bids increased rapidly. She finally sold for $3,950,000. I sat in my seat and compared that to what kind of home I could get for that amount. Then I realized that no home has the ability to establish a legacy like a good mare. You could see production of 10 champions out of this brood mare.

The bidding continued at a very competitive pace and the sales results were up sharply from last year.  That bode well for the horse’s to be sold across town in the next few days as the auction venue moved from the prime time select show at Fasig Tipton to the deep 10 day Keeneland sale.

Tuesday November 4, 2014

This day started out different from most Tuesdays as not only was it the first day of the Keeneland sale, but also Election Day.  David started at sunrise at the sales barn passing out donuts to the workers and informational flyers to the potential bidders detailing the benefits of purchasing one of the two horses offered for sale.

After taking care of some other business, Dr. Sinatra, his wife Jan and myself met in the lobby around noon.  We drove to the sales grounds.  After a brief walk of the grounds, the team met outside of the sales pavilion and would be travelling to the farm of Matt Hogan.  He is a young trainer who has a nice, large farm about 8 miles from Keeneland.  The drive to the farm was everything one could want in a pretty postcard.  Winding roads through the manicured rolling pastures with eye catching leaves of every fall color dangling from the trees.

The purpose of our visit to Blackwood Stables that day was to see a 2 year old filly out Sage Cat, sired by Blame named Flame.  We had seen the horse about 90 days prior,   when we were enjoyed the treat of watching her gallop up the green grass of the pasture.  The usual training track was not available that summer day due to an early morning rain. But, we thoroughly enjoyed piling ourselves into golf carts to follow her up the grassy inclines as she enjoyed her romp. And, Flame definitely relished in taking the lead as she ran with her stablemates! 

Today’s follow up would allow us to see the effects of the nutriceutical products that Steve had put on her since our last visit. She exhibited  a little bit of a belly in July.  We were accompanied that day by a German horsewoman and equine acupuncturist named Carola Ortleib.  A bit the "horse whisperer", Carola spent time with Flame and suggested the filly was self-conscious about her tummy compared to the slimmer horses in the barn.

Really. Flame could feel shame?  

Horses love contact.  July 2014: Flame at Blackwood Stables with Jan Sinatra, Steve Sinatra, and her trainer Matt Hogan

Well, Flame definitely enjoyed having physical contact and praise from all of us of that day.

So, Steve took that observation "in stride" enough to ask that Blackwood manager and trainer Matt Hogan  start Flame on twice-daily doses of CoEnzyme Q10, L-carnitine, and natural anti-inflammatories  to increase her energy and promote a "tummy tuck". In addition, Steve yanked the molasses out of her diet to limit her sugar intake.  The intention was to help attenuate any inflammation she might have, while helping her to lose a little weight at the same time. 

When we pulled into the farm’s gate we noticed  that the new racetrack they'd told us about in July  had already been completed!  It sits in a slight valley from the main road and is ¾ of a mile in circumference.   Matt Hogan had worked in great detail with well known track consultant Randy Bloc, and now has one of the best training tracks in the area.  When describing the course, Matt went into detail about how the track was installed 6 inches in depth at a time, instead of the usual 2 feet.

New track

This detail to quality not only provides the best cushion for the horse, but also allows for maximum drainage of runoff water.  This attention to detail is why Steve selected Matt to train this filly.

Dudley proudly presents his stick and shows his happy spirit

Due to my error, we went to the wrong barn (barn 3 instead of barn 4).  I only mention this to describe one of the cutest sights I have seen.  As I walked from the barn to the car, I was greeted by a couple of Matt’s dogs.  One of these dogs only had 3 legs.  Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he bound about and played just the same as the other dogs.   It was truly heart warming to an animal lover like myself.  I just could not love on this little guy enough.  Time and again in this sport I am reminded that the animals have natural recuperative power and the ability to adapt to physical setbacks.

In fact, I was so moved by this inspirational pup, that Jan contacted Matt to learn more about him. Matt put her in touch with his owner, Tara. Once Jan saw the photos Tara sent over, she recognized her as Flame's rider that August day of our visit! And we had loved the way Tara touched, handled and encouraged Flame that day, with a heart full of true love for animals.  Now I know that dog is named Dudley, and I'd like to share her story just the way Tara texted it over to Jan, along with some photos:

Dudley loving his equine twin in the barn

Dudley loving his equine twin in the barn

"Dudley is my 10 year-old lab and the love of my life! I've had him since he was born. I was told 14 months ago that he had 60-90 days to live because he had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). I chose to amputate the leg and start chemo. We are beating the odds so far and I am thankful for every day with him! I could not love him an more, but each day my love grows. He has taught me so much and I aspire to be like him."

Tara has shared more moving photos of Dudley that you can view at Dudley's photo corner.

Soon we got to barn 4. We walked through the manicured shed row looking for Flame, but  one of her handlers already had her out in front of the barn in anticipation of our arrival.   It was amazing how much she had developed in the 2 months since we'd last seen her.  The small belly was gone, and Flame had developed so much in the hips.  Someday these hips will drive her down the stretch and to the winner’s circle.

Not only had Flame developed physically; she'd also developed emotionally.  As we approached her, she leaned into Dr. Steve as if she was a child hugging a parent. 

All horses need love.

Her ears perked up as Steve and Jan stroked the horse.  Jan filmed the entire session and the horse looked like a developing teenager posing for her prom pictures.

Even though as bettors we think of horses as machines, they are living, breathing animals with a high need to be loved, just like humans.  Horses are kept alone in their stalls a good portion of the day. So, when they get the caress of an admiring human, it heals them better than any pharmaceutical product ever developed in a laboratory.  The filly could not get enough attention and Dr. Steve simply beamed as he praised and pet his prized filly.

After a brief discussion about Flame’s short term future and her upcoming s transfer to Dr. Sinatra’s Maryland farm for future development and concierge care (including acupuncture), the group headed back to the Keeneland sale.  Upon arrival at the Keeneland sale, the owners were given some news.

The Bodemiester filly had garnered lot of attention with over 60 parties looking at her since her arrival on the sales grounds. Consigner Joe Sites reported to David that a few of the groups wanted to “scope” the horse.  A scope is an endoscopy procedure in which a small tube with a camera is placed inside the horse’s nostril and allows a view of the inner breathing organs of the racehorse.   This is quite an invasive procedure and especially so to a younger horse whose parts are just not as big as a grown up horse. Every potential buyer wants their own vet to check and scope the horse personally, even though it is recorded on video like human endoscopy. Before investing in such expensive creatures, thoroughbred horse owners want to be assured they have a patent airway and sound health.

The team had a decision to make. Steve and David had to decide whether or not to allow the "Bodie Baby" (As Steve's wife Jan had affectionately and unofficially nicknamed her) to undergo the procedure another time or more.  To do so could increase the filly's  selling price, as an unknown variable of airway patency would be proven, and removed from the buyers concerns.  But, thinking of the stress on their weanling, they could take a stand and refuse to allow the procedure to be performed repeatedly, and sacrifice  the auction buyers' confidence.  .  If she didn't sell for a "respectable price", the Sinatras were prepared to enjoy keeping the filly, and naming her "Sagemeiste".

Dr. Steve & David discussed this in great detail for almost an hour with the help of their advisors.  Finally, Dr. Steve drew the line in the sand, and set a limit. His response as a horse-lover and doctor that he would allow the horse to be scoped again ONLY if she had not already been scoped a total of three times.   David checked with Joe Sites: the weanling filly had been scoped twice. Thus reassured, Dr Steve allowed a third scoping, but no more.   This is consistent with his  belief that these young horses should not be traumatized with excessive invasive, repetitive procedures. In people medicine, endoscopy procedures are performed once, and filmed. Any MD wishing to view the findings may do so. There is a standard of care, and human physicians trust and follow it. With throughbreds, owners want their own personal vet to do the procedure and give an opinion.

I left Steve & David alone to discuss the scoping situation in more detail.  To kill some time I strolled around the sales pavilion. I noticed a display of equine themed paintings.   Further inspection informed me that an auction of these fine equine paintings would be held in a few weeks.  These painting were not the type you see at some “starving artists” sale, nor were there any tapestries of Elvis or dogs playing poker.  These were full-fledged artist’s paintings of horses in a variety of settings.  Some were on the racetrack, some were in the pasture and others were paintings of horses & dogs hunting foxes together.  I admit I do like sports art and have my share of Leroy Neiman paintings.  However, this took any previous art I have observed to a new level.  This was a collection done by notable artists who put all of their energy into capturing the beauty of the equine athlete and their human connections. Some were very highly valued (and expensive) historical pieces.

A few paintings caught my eye and I sent an iPhone pic of one to a friend for their opinion.  Instead of getting an opinion, I simply received a “Don’t bid against me” text.   The auction is November 19 and the paintings are worth seeing, well except the one a particular friend is interested in.   

Race Day Painting David`s friend has an interest in

After a quick trip back to the hotel to freshen up, it was time for the team to have dinner and discuss the website.  This would be our first face to face meeting about the website since content was added in early August.  As with any start up business there are many issues to consider when you try to formulate a long term plan. 

Tom Carley, Steve Sinatra and David Smith meet up at JW

While we continued to discussed the product and decide which strategic focus we would head in, one thing became apparently clear:


What does this mean? There are many websites that report on the news. There are many website that interview the stars of the sport. Those are all good and I am taking nothing from them. However, the purpose of this website is to examine real issues and educate those that follow the website in all aspects of the business. That includes the c current debate about the use of drugs such as Lasix pre-race.


  • Why are horses given so many drugs these days when horses performed more frequently in generations past with veterinarian involvement only in catastrophic occurrences?
  • Why aren't more younger people drawn to the sport?
  • Why are horses not given the proper nutrition, including the use of organic ingredients?
  • What is the importance of energized/natural mineralized water in the development of the horse.
  • How do we encourage more females to participate in the sport?

While this was the initial meeting and there were few concrete decisions made, the meeting did yield a strategy.  Several short term developments are going to be made to the website. These include informational and educational offerings that address:

  • The benefits of proper nutrition with non-GMO organic foods.
  •  How to use natural foods and supplements to help eliminate the need for "bleeder" medications.
  • A racing 101 interactive teaching session to teach new fans the basics of handicapping-- including key things to look for in reading the racing form.
  • Confirmation 101, which would include an explanation of "the basics" in  what defines "good  confirmation" in a thoroughbred, and how to look for it while at the sale.
  • Wagering 101, to include physical items should you look for when a horse is in the paddock & warming up on the racetrack before you make a wager?

I walked away from the meeting not only confident in the future success of the website, but also just feeling that we are a simple group of guys doing the right thing for the animals & the sport. Dr. Sinatra has purchased a farm in Maryland that will be the first of its kind. The farm will offer customized concierge care for the racehorses. This care will focus on non-GMO feed, natural spring water, targeted nutritional supplements, omega 3’s, various energy medicine modalities, and most important, love, and nurturing of the animal. Pharmaceutical involvement will be carefully discerned and will be limited. Steve’s immediate goal is to win a Grade I race without the use of traditional veterinarian intervention. Energy medicine -- interventions like acupuncture and more -- is an emerging trend in humans and this kind of treatment also has benefits for the horse.

Wednesday November 5, 2014

Winter chose this day to make its annual appearance in Lexington. The morning started with temperatures near freezing. The sun of the previous day was replaced by a gloomy grey ceiling. I had breakfast with a former co-worker and could not help but hope that the red hot bidding of the past few days would not turn as grey as the skies had.

The horses Steve and David were showcasing that day would not sell until 4:30 or so, based on placement within the sales catalog. Around noon, I decided to go see the stallions at Darley’s Jonabell farm. The farm is kept in such immaculate shape that I immediately felt guilt as to how I care for my own yard. Along with two other visitors, I strolled from the farm’s trophy room to the stallion barn. There, I saw Alpha, Emcee and Desert Party. All were impressive in their own way. The two recently retired horses were sleek while the established stallion looked powerful.  I took a deep breath and realized we spend so much of our lives in offices, that we have forgotten the benefit of fresh air, relaxation and the effect that the tranquility a peaceful setting can have on the soul. For that brief period of time, all of my cares, concerns and stresses of my life were removed.

I arrived at the sales pavilion around 1:15 PM. The action had been hot & heavy for over 2 hours. To get a feel for the sale, I sat in the sales pavilion and watched 25 or so horses be auctioned off. When one allows themselves to get caught up in the moment, you realize how magnificently prepared these horses are for the auction. They shine like a new car in the sunlight. Their eyes gleam with confidence and well being. They have been prepared for months for this moment and are the pictures of health.

Also eye catching to me was the connection that the horse handlers establish with the horse. These handlers hold the horse with a lead shank and display the horses under the auctioneer stand for the bidders to conduct a final inspection. They speak reassuring words to the horse and also with a reassuring twitch of the lead shank settle the horse down and make the process as easy as possible on the horse. A calm horse is a more appealing to a bidder and will yield a higher price. Auction price is not the only motive for their actions. Their handlers also truly care for the well-being of the animal and to a younger horse being paraded in the sales pavilion can be a traumatic experience. These young horses are used to the solitude of a lonely pasture, not being paraded in front of hundreds of eyes focusing on their every flaw or strength.

About 2 PM the team went to consigner Joe Sietz’s barn to inspect the horses being sold, one last time.

One final decision needed to be made. What would the reserve prices be set at for each horse?  In a horse auction, the owner has the right to set a reserve price. This is the minimum price that an owner will accept for the horse. This is one of the most important decisions made during the auction process. If the reserve is set too high, then the animal will not sell at the auction. Yet, the owner is still required to pay the expenses to the auction house based on the highest bid as well as costs to the farm for marketing and preparing the horses. Van transportation to and from the sale is another expense incurred whether the horse sells or not. If the reserve price is set too low, the owner may be giving away the horse for less than market value.

Dr Sinatra, David Smith, Sage Cat/Bodiemeister filly, and groom pre-sale.

The first reserve discussed was that for the weanling baby. Joe Sietz and his staff had done a perfect job of listing all of the people (107 groups) who had looked at the horse since her arrival on the sales grounds. This list was compared to auction prices for each of the other Bodemeister yearlings sold to that point. The range for Bodemeister weanlings was from $90,000 to $150,000. This weanling was considered well conformed and the reserve should be near the higher end of the range of prices received for the previous weanlings sold. After much discussion the reserve price was set at $124,000.

David Smith and Dr Sinatra: an emotional moment saying goodbye to Sage Cat before the she was sold at Keeneland. Lots of history with this G2 producing mare.

The time had come to set a reserve for Sage Cat. This was not as easy as a process. She is one of the older mares being sold in the sale. She has thrown some stakes wining horses, but also had thrown some horses that had never raced. Adding to the difficulty of this exercise was the fact that she was in foal to Union Rags, a former winner of the Belmont Stakes who has a stallion fee of $30,000. A lengthy discussion analyzing variables such as age, how many foals she could still be expected to have at 16 years old, the annual insurance premium, and an injured back foot that makes breeding more difficult than a traditional horse was discussed amongst all parties.  The reserve figure was established at $104,000.

After a final inspection of each horse, the team moved to Barn 39. At that location was a weanling owned by Steve that is out of a Holy Bull mare named Downstream Bull who sired by Desert Party. He will be selling Friday in the sale. The weanling was walked in front of the barn and inspected. He “toed in” slightly, but appeared in good physical shape. The team then went to review the X-Rays and the recorded endoscopy that had been completed on the horse. The horse did have a slight cough, but this was due to the stress of being shown for the sale and travelling in the cold weather, not a lingering physical ailment.

The team took the magnificent stroll back to the sales pavilion. Even though the day was cloudy & cool, the activity mixed with so many pretty horses made this walk very tranquil. The team felt a calm before the storm of the horses selling back to back.  There were still 60 or so horses to sell before the mama & weanling would sell.  

Instead of sitting in the sales pavilion until the sale occurred, David suggested that we sit in the dining room. David took the pressure off and fetched a bowl of Burgoo for Steve. Burgoo is a Kentucky stew with vegetables and meat. Steve had never tried Burgoo before, so after David had doctored the stew up with hot sauce, he gave the bowl to Steve to sample. The doctor-owner indicated his approval, and so David joined him in a bowl.

The auction results were being monitored by the group closely. As each horse sold, comparisons were being made to their own duo that was to be sold. Sales results were still at a high rate and expectations ran high.  

With about 15 horses to sell before the Sage Cat mare, the group headed to the Show Ring.  This an area at the rear of the sales pavilion where about 20 horses are walked in a circular path around the ring and prepped before they are auctioned. This is an important area as it represents an area for buyers to conduct one last inspection of the horses before the auction.

First observation of Sage Cat is that she looked like she was ready to run a race. As she walked in the Show Ring her ears were perked up, she had a small amount of sweat and she pranced on her feet like Zenyatta did in the post parade.  Horses can sense excitement and the effect of the group of onlookers combined with the public address system displaying the voice of

Keeneland race caller Kurt Becker as he conducted the auction made this 16 year old mare revert back to her days in the paddock before a race.

A groom is key to keeping the horse calm. The Sage Car weanling being soothed by her groom

The weanling was a study of contrast.  She was as cool as a cucumber. Even thought she had over 100 groups look over every inch of her, she kept her composure and she was walked in front of onlookers before the auction. Two different groups of two people stopped the weanling to give her a closer look. After their inspections were completed, they made notes in their sales catalogs. This composure was especially impressive considering she was late May foal. A weanling colt that was foaled in February was to be sold 2 horses after the Bodemeister filly and he was acting up raring, bucking and snorting. Dr. Sinatra feared that this would affect the Bodemeister weanling, but it never did. She kept her focus.

Soon the time had come for Sage Cat to be led into the auction ring. The auctioneer introduced the horse including detailing the offspring of Desert Party and fellow stakes winner Ellie Cat. The auctioneer spoke about Sage Cat’s Sire Tabasco Cat. Finally, the bidding began.  The bids quickly reached $60,000.  Then after a brief pause, activity again increased. Soon the bid was over $100,000. Then the reserve was met. Finally, the bidding stopped at $135,000.  A sense of relief came over the group.

Then it was time for the weanling to be led into the sales ring. The auctioneer again introduced the weanling. The achievements of the father & mother were emphasized. The bidding started and within 90 seconds the bid was above $100,000.  The bidding continued and soon the $150,000 mark was achieved. Bidding slowed slightly at $160,000.  The horse was paraded again for the crowd and the bidding started again. The weanling stared into the crowd as if she was anticipating who would be her new owner. Finally, the bidding stopped and the horse was sold for $190,000. This was the highest Bodemeister weanling sold at the sale.

The team sat in a mixed state of relief, exultation and exhaustion. All of the walking around the sales grounds passing out fliers, all of the signs placed at the hotels, all of the ads in publications finally resulted in the successful sale of both horses.

About 10 minutes later, a nice lady came over to Dr. Sinatra and introduced herself. She represented the person who purchased Sage Cat. She indicated Sage Cat would be moved to Ocala to be bred. Dr. Sinatra asked about the quality of the home she would receive. Even after the sale, Dr. Steve’s primary concern is the well-being of the animal. Contact information was exchanged and soon the buying agent exited the sales pavilion.

Just when this observer though the drama was completed, one of Joe Sites’ employees came over to Dr. Sinatra and indicated that John Oxley had purchased the Bodemeister filly. He had scoped the horse twice and been interested from the time she hit the sales grounds. Steve sat for a moment and informed farm owner Julie Kent -- who had brought the expectant broodmare and her filly--- that she should approach John Oxley’s buying agent and offer her $95,000 for a 50% interest in the weanling.

Dr. Steve retreated to the parking lot to call his wife Jan and inform her of the good news. She had stayed at the hotel and was working on a manuscript for a book that Steve had recently completed and that would be shown to a publisher next week in New York. Steve could not reach Jan so we all headed back to the hotel to make plans for the evening.

After a brief period of celebration in the bar at the Griffin Gate, Steve joined Jan upstairs to get ready for a party that evening.  David & myself enjoyed an appetizer in the concierge level. They do a first class job in the concierge level at the Marriott Griffin Gate and the attention to detail makes it a must stay for me when I am in town.   I asked David what is the next step. Like every good horseman, David responded that the challenge is "to wake up tomorrow and start looking for the next champion."   You pick out a champion not only by confirmation, but also by heart. That is an immeasurable intangible. Identifying that is a talent acquired over time.

The team had been invited to a party that evening at Shannon White’s farm. Shannon White is an incredible horsewoman -- and she really knows how to make a successful equine gathering come together. The party   even had a theme: "Bourbon, Brews & Stews". That event definitely showcased all things good in Kentucky. The event was attended by several people within the industry. What a great party to network. Steve met some great people and actually scheduled an appointment the following day with a veterinarian specialized in radiographic interpretation. Steve wanted an independent analysis of the x-rays taken on two of his horses. The Kentucky hospitality with the food, drink, and sharing of conversations was just the icing on the cake for all of us.

Around 7 PM I left the team at the party and started my drive home 5 hours to the West. About the time I crossed into Indiana from Louisville my mind turned from the events of the last 3 days, back to the stresses of work, dealing with a sick parent and the reality of life. The Kentucky trip was very successful and has energized me to put forth more of an effort to the website. It also made me aware that my future will again have me reside in Lexington. This trip showcased all that is good about this sport and whatever little part I can do to make it better I will give all my efforts to.

Tom Carley On Kentucky Derby Day.

Tom Carley is a contributing correspondent to

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