clarke breeding program keeps churning out top-class racehorses

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It’s hard to know whether breeder Harvey Clarke should keep all his yearlings or sell them all. From a broodmare band of modest size, Clarke has bred some impressive stakes winners. Those he kept and raced are not household names, but among the yearlings that Clarke has sold are 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I’ll Have Another (by Flower Alley), 2013 Champagne Stakes winner Havana (Dunkirk), and Stopchargingmaria (Tale of the Cat), who won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on the weekend.

That a small operation with around 10 broodmares can produce animals of such quality is a great tribute to the breeder and the people who raise his horses. Stopchargingmaria was bred in partnership by Clarke and the Seitz family’s Brookdale Farm LLC, where Clarke boards his mares, and Brookdale consigned both I’ll Have Another and Stopchargingmaria to the sales.

Neither brought in much money, with the Kentucky Derby winner initially selling for $11,000 and then reselling for $35,000 as a 2-year-old in training, and Stopchargingmaria bringing $47,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale and reselling to current owner, Repole Stable, for $220,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s March auction of select 2-year-olds in training last year.

Whereas I’ll Have Another had been an immature little duffer as a yearling, Stopchargingmaria was a nice yearling. By the time she came to the juvenile sales, she was really coming along.

At the OBS March sale, she breezed a furlong in :10 1/5, and she showed her strength and athleticism well. With a stride length of about 24.25 feet, Stopchargingmaria was striding three-quarters of a foot longer than the very good average stride length of the March sale, which was about 23.5 feet. That was an excellent effort. It earned Stopchargingmaria a BreezeFig of 69 from DataTrack International and placed her in the advisory service’s top-ranked category of young prospects.

As an individual back at the barn, Stopchargingmaria was a neatly made, not overly large example of her sire’s better type. She had a good shoulder and hindquarter, especially for her size and body weight. At the walk, she was pleasing, with a free and easy extension. She has a feminine head with an attractive and expressive eye.

This filly is not lacking in character and courage either. She has won five of her nine starts, with a pair of placings, and she went past $1 million in earnings with victory in the CCA Oaks.

Nor did it take Stopchargingmaria much time to show that she was worth every penny paid for her. The filly won her début on July 19 last year, taking a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special at Saratoga by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:04.69.

Stopchargingmaria earned G1 black type with a second in the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga and a third in the Frizette Stakes at Belmont. Then on Nov. 3, she broke through for her first stakes victory in the G3 Tempted Stakes at Aqueduct before adding the G2 Demoiselle at the end of that month.

The filly’s first stakes victory was especially timely because her dam, the Montbrook stakes winner Exotic Bloom, went through the sales ring the next day.

Exotic Bloom, the dam of Stopchargingmaria, was sold at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton November auction. With her first foal a graded stakes winner, Exotic Bloom brought $500,000 from Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings in foal to Metropolitan Handicap winner Quality Road.

Seven years earlier, Clarke acquired Exotic Bloom in company with owner-breeder-trainer Fred Seitz at the 2006 OBS June sale of 2-year-olds in training. A well-known clearinghouse sale that annually turns up plenty of good horses, including contemporary stars like Goldencents and Wildcat Red, the OBS June auction has labored in the shadow of Florida’s trendier sales in March and April but has now come into well-earned regard as a good place to buy a horse.

Clarke and Seitz picked up Exotic Bloom for $65,000, one of the stronger prices at the June sale in 2006, and she won the Windward Stakes and My Charmer Stakes for them, placed third in the G3 Seaway Stakes, earning $257,281.

Exotic Bloom has a 2-year-old filly by leading sire More Than Ready, and the mare has a yearling colt by champion Gio Ponti (Tale of the Cat), who is closely related to the CCA Oaks winner. At the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale in May, the More Than Ready filly sold for $510,000 to Stonestreet Stables. She was the second-highest price of the auction, behind only the War Front colt Old Mountain Lane.

*The preceding post was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

sales cycle evolving with fasig-tipton kentucky’s hybrid summer auction

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One of the charms of Thoroughbred racing is its tradition. Like the cycles of the seasons or the orbits of the planets, Thoroughbred racing operates around a calendar. One season builds upon the preceding, and as we learn more about the sport, we too partake of its tradition and begin building some of our own.

Yet all too soon we find that a search of the memory produces recollections of horses and places from further back than seems possible. It does not feel so long ago that Fasig-Tipton began its yearling sale in Lexington, but 1976 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Bold Forbes was there, along with that year’s Preakness winner Elocutionist.

The 1975 select yearling sales at Fasig-Tipton included Seattle Slew, who became the 1976 champion colt, then won the Triple Crown in 1977. Those horses provided an amazing way to begin a sales operation in Lexington, and they were necessary to get the company going the right direction.

Fasig-Tipton’s establishment of a select sale for yearlings made it the new boy in town. Across four preceding decades, the July sale at Keeneland had been the jeweled scepter that marked the beginning of the yearling sales season.

Then, with the swiftness of a sword’s stroke, that changed. Fasig-Tipton was operating in Lexington with a breeders’ cooperative at the helm, and the select sale was producing classic winners bought at modest prices.

By the time the great boom in bloodstock came through the 1980s, Fasig-Tipton was an entrenched element of the yearling sales season, offering a large catalog of highly pedigreed yearlings in the sweltering July heat, almost the twin of its rival auction across town.

But then changes to tax laws precipitated the first great bloodstock depression through the end of the 1980s, and something had to give. Fasig-Tipton rewrote its yearling sale as a more select environment to find a racehorse, rather than a yearling with a bejeweled catalog page. This proved popular with buyers and sellers because both were able to operate profitably, and the Fasig-Tipton July sale became the stalwart hunting ground for the new breed of pinhookers who were beginning to trade in first-rate yearlings with average or so pedigrees that could be resold as in-training juveniles at the select 2-year-old sales in February and March the following year.

And just like the seasons and decades, so the traditions of sport and sales have evolved over the years to the present moment as Fasig-Tipton renewed its select July sale with a medium-sized catalog of yearlings, strongly supplemented with horses in training and the dispersal of broodmares and racehorses from the Melnyk Racing Stables.

The evolution of the July sale at Fasig-Tipton from a yearling sale into an élite auction of all-aged stock made a strong step forward this year. The top price for a yearling at Monday’s auction, when 265 yearlings were cataloged, was $550,000 for a bay colt by Cowboy Cal out of the Unaccounted For mare Refugee. The scopy colt is a half-brother to the top-class juvenile filly Executiveprivilege (First Samurai), who won a pair of Grade 1 stakes, and to this year’s graded stakes-winning colt Hoppertunity (Any Given Saturday), who was one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.

The price for the top yearling, however, was nearly doubled by the overall top lot at the auction. That sale was for the 2-year-old Bedford Land, a chestnut filly by leading sire Speightstown out of the G1 stakes winner Pool Land. Bedford Land brought a sales-topping bid of $1.075 million from Three Chimneys Farm, represented by Chris Baker.

Bedford Land had won her début at Churchill Downs by three and a quarter lengths and will be pointed to the top stakes for juvenile fillies before she is eventually retired to the Three Chimneys band of high-quality broodmares.

Whether she matures and develops into a division leader in the manner of a Bold Forbes or Seattle Slew, only time will tell. But Bedford Land has put an exclamation point at the end of the 2014 Fasig-Tipton July sale with her seven-figure price.

As 2-year-old conditioner and reseller Eddie Woods said to me earlier this year: “A really good horse will bring all the money in any of these sales nowadays. If the horse is there, the buyers will find it, and they will pay serious money for it.”

So we go on, refitting our traditions to the demands of the day, and the gold dust swirls around us as the miners for a nugget of gold keep toiling in the hot July sun.

*The post above was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

believe it or not, the 3-year-old champion still has not been decided, nor even voted on

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Before the Belmont, and especially in its aftermath, there has been considerable discussion and analysis of the quality and ranking of the leading 3-year-old colts. There is, however, no question who’s the best gelding in the crop: Shared Belief.

Last year’s divisional champion at 2, Shared Belief was a natural prospect for the Triple Crown but was knocked out of the classics with a foot problem. When the son of Candy Ride returned to competition in a six-furlong allowance against older horses a month ago, he showed his old flair, and the champ indicated that he is not going to hand over his Eclipse mantle without a battle by an emphatic victory in the July 5 Los Alamitos Derby.

Unbeaten in five races, Shared Belief stands as a serious challenger to California Chrome, who won a pair of classics in the absence of the dark brown son of Candy Ride and who is now having some time off before being trained for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will again be at Santa Anita.

The possibility of a showdown between juvenile champion Shared Belief and the wildly popular Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is a great prospect for racing. It’s a great story; it’s interesting and dramatic.

The situation also recalls the 1966 Triple Crown and its resolution. That year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness were won by snappy colt bearing the name of Kauai King (by Native Dancer), and he accomplished the double with some elan before finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes. Is this sounding familiar?

The situation becomes almost eerily similar because the champion juvenile colt of the preceding year was Buckpasser, owned and bred by Ogden Phipps. Buckpasser was knocked off the Triple Crown trail in early 1966 by a serious quarter crack and did not return to competition until early June.

Buckpasser returned with an emphatic triumph over older horses in an allowance.  Then Buckpasser went on a tear through his contemporaries and older horses, finishing the year a thoroughly proven champion and the first million-dollar winner as a 3-year-old. Among the victories Buckpasser amassed, which eventually numbered 16 in a row, were successes over every major challenger to his supremacy, including Kauai King.

Time and commentators perceived that the 3-year-olds of 1966, foals of 1963, were quite a good group, with other major winners including Abe’s Hope (Better Bee), Advocator (Round Table), Amberoid (Count Amber), Boldnesian (Bold Ruler), Buffle (Zenith), Crème dela Crème (Olympia), Graustark (Ribot), Impressive (Ambiorix), Stupendous (Bold Ruler), and the leading fillies were Lady Pitt (Sword Dancer), Natashka (Ribot), Native Street (Native Dancer), Marking Time (To Market), Moccasin (Nantallah), and Priceless Gem (Hail to Reason).

Since only half of 2014 is past, it is far too early to dismiss the crop of 2011 as either better or worse than Buckpasser’s lot.

One thing is certain. There are more than a few good horses on the sidelines from this crop who are taking the steps to return to the races, and perhaps their best form is yet ahead of them. Among the list of such colts who were fancied for the Derby, the top prospects include Cairo Prince, Honor Code, and Constitution, while Tonalist and Danza also have highly competitive form to challenge the highflyers of the division.

But they better put their running shoes on.

Shared Belief is progressing very well with his return to racing, and his next start is expected to be the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. That race will be an interesting challenge for a horse who still needs to prove a good deal, and the gelding’s effort in that race will tell the racing public several things. First, it will place Shared Belief in some context with the older horses, and second, it will show us his form going 10 furlongs, farther than he has raced to date by a furlong.

Considering how well Shared Belief handled dirt at Los Alamitos while racing nine furlongs in 1:47.01, it seems doubtful another furlong will be an impediment. But the challenges are his to overcome, and in so doing, to prove whether he is the type of racer who was unlucky to have missed the Triple Crown.

And we fans of and contributors to the most beautiful sport have six months of fun and excitement to look forward to.

*The preceding post was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

steroid ban is a loaded gun for breeding

The announcement by the British Horseracing Authority late last week of a ban on anabolic steroid use was more than a shot across the bow of the American racing, breeding, and sales industry. It was an adversarial move that rightly surprised most observers and clearly was intended to redirect attention from the problem of steroid abuse in Britain.

That this announcement was significantly a public relations move hardly needs debate. The provocative press release provided cover for the BHA to point a finger at a straw man while enacting sweeping rules for domestic steroid monitoring and prohibition that might have taken a good deal more heat if presented differently.

While steroids are not a new topic in sport, they are already well-documented among racers in America, most notably the public discussion of them during Big Brown’s run for the Triple Crown in 2008.

Amazingly as it may seem, steroid use was largely legal at that time, but that has changed. The sales companies, as one example, banded together to eliminate the use of anabolic steroids in sales horses, and since the new rules were enacted in 2008, there have been no positive test results for sales horses – largely yearlings – in Kentucky.

There is a good reason for that. The conditions of sale for the sales companies prohibit any auction weanling, yearling, or 2-year-old from being administered anabolic steroids within 45 days of sales, and if any animal tests positive for steroids, then it may be returned to the seller.

No seller wants to get the horse back. He is selling the animal, not wasting money on a critter vacation at Keeneland or Fasig-Tipton. Therefore, the sellers are going to avoid any use of steroids because it could invalidate their sale, depending upon the decision of the buyer (who could choose to keep a horse, even if it tested positive for steroids).

The absence of positive test results is a pretty strong indicator that sellers and consignors have taken the prohibition to heart and that they have given a wide berth to steroids in any treatments related to their sales horses.

They are wise to do so because the sales companies do not intend this prohibition to be a blunt instrument.

The sales companies put a lot of time and money into the study and testing associated with the issue of anabolic steroids. They had to do this because sales companies, both in America and everywhere else around the world, rely on the confidence of buyers. The buyer has to believe he is getting value, whether he is purchasing a $1,000 horse or a $1 million horse.

The standards of operation that a sales company enforces and that sellers and consignors follow are the things that form the underpinnings of buyer confidence.

As a result, the sales companies spent money in quantity to develop threshold levels for all steroids found in horses, both the natural and the man-made steroids. Development of those threshold levels took the most time because there is natural variance in horses. Some have more natural steroids in their bodies than others, and some eliminate or process man-made steroids at different rates.

So how is a testing agency to tell the difference?

They have to study, study, study. Then build some functional guidelines. And as a result of the time and expense put into this work, the labs doing testing on sales horses can tell the principals involved what the horse’s levels are for the naturally occurring steroids, as well as the man-made ones.

As a result, the buying and betting public are able to feel confident that the regulatory structure provides proper oversight of both areas of activity for Thoroughbreds. That’s good for the horses, for the sport, and for the people who invest so much money, attention, and affection on the animals participating in the sport we all love.

*The preceding post was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

new stakes winners are promising stars in the sky for the next crop of young racers

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With the 2014 Triple Crown in the record books, the participants are largely resting and planning to resume the fray in the heat of the summer for prizes like the Grade 1 Haskell and Travers Stakes. And now it is time to cast an eye upon the next generation of racers, those young prospects who are showing their trainers speed and early maturity.

There were good stakes in three countries over the past week that featured the younger set, with trainer Wesley Ward’s big lick at Royal Ascot coming with the 2-year-old Hootenanny, who blazed away from his competition in the Windsor Castle Stakes to win by 3 ½ lengths from 23 competitors, racing the five furlongs in :59.05.

The lanky-looking colt proved plentifully progressive and rewarded his owners, John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, with the first stakes of the Royal Ascot meeting.

Hootenanny is the first stakes winner for his sire, the Elusive Quality horse Quality Road. A really big horse of exceptional ability, Quality Road won four times at the Grade 1 level (the Florida Derby, Metropolitan Handicap, Woodward, and Donn) and was three times placed in G1s, including the Whitney at Saratoga, when narrowly defeated by champion Blame.

Quality Road came to his best form at 3, and getting such a precocious performer, on turf no less, suggests that broodmare sire Hennessy was a handy part of the equation that produced this good young performer. Although Quality Road was not a turf horse, his sire ran a record mile on the surface and has sired highweights and a classic winner on turf, like his sire Gone West. For them, all surfaces are alike, and the definitive measure is class. Quality Road stands at Lane’s End Farm for $25,000.

Here in the States, the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs offered a fast filly the opportunity to make a case for her quality and for her sire’s prospects as a stallion. Promise Me Silver, owned and bred by Robert Luttrell in Texas, won the six-furlong race in 1:11.49 by two lengths over the warmly regarded Unbridled Reward (by freshman sire Warrior’s Reward).

Promise Me Silver is the first stakes winner for her sire, freshman sire Silver City (Unbridled’s Song). Freshmen sires – especially those who are not household names – need their first foals to get to the track, race successfully, and show some form in black-type races if those stallions are going to be patronized by mares the following year.

Standing at Valor Farm in Texas, stakes winner Silver City has those pressures in spades. Equineline shows him with 19 foals from his first crop, and 10 have already started. Four have won, and Promise Me Silver, who was making her second start in the Debutante, is unbeaten. She is also the first stakes winner out of a broodmare by Macho Uno, who was the champion juvenile colt of 2000.

Another unbeaten 2-year-old is Conquest Tsunami (Stormy Atlantic), who has won both his starts and added black type to his résumé with a 7 ¾-length success at Woodbine. The colt is the 88th stakes winner for his sire, who is one of the most successful Storm Cat sons. Stormy Atlantic stands at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm for $30,000.

Conquest Tsunami was bred in Ontario by Josham Farms Limited & Yvonne Schwabe Thoroughbreds. He is the first stakes winner out of the El Corredor mare Classic Neel and is the mare’s third foal. Classic Neel won the restricted Weekend Madness Stakes, ran second in the Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland, and was third in the G3 Sands Point Stakes.

All or none of these newly minted stakes winners may play a role in the classics of 2015, but it is worth noting that early signs of ability are not a bad thing in a racehorse. Just over a year ago, on June 15, a flashy chestnut colt dueled for the lead for a half-mile and finished fifth of nine in the Willard Proctor Memorial at Hollywood Park.

Hollywood Park is gone, but California Chrome was making his third start in the Proctor, and he came back the following month to win his first stakes, the Graduation, at Del Mar.

The next champion and the next classic winner are out there. We only have to find them.

*The preceding article was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

pedigree follows performance, just as form follows function

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Despite the general perception that “pedigree” is a fixed thing, it truly is not. Racing, particularly high class shown in top races, makes pedigree; not the other way around.

Pedigree researcher and writer Joe Estes developed his life’s work into exploring and shining light through the interwoven fabric of pedigrees and performance. As he saw it, first, there is the racecourse test. If a horse passes that test with some merit, it has a place as a breeding animal. The most recent example of this revelation through performance is last month’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome.

Had someone suggested a year ago they would pay $6 million for California Chrome and all his relations, such a comment would have been greeted with convulsions of mirth, then offers of trailer-loads of horses. Those horses had no extraordinary value until California Chrome proved his value on the racetrack.

In similar fashion, both Moonshine Mullin (by Albert the Great) and Albano (Istan) have made themselves and their relations more successful, more desirable, and therefore, more valuable, after performances this weekend.

In the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, Moonshine Mullin reproduced the form he showed last month in the G2 Alysheba and defeated a serious field of prominent older horses, including last season’s champion 3-year-old colt Will Take Charge (Unbridled’s Song), who was second.

Will Take Charge had a neck over Claiborne’s Departing (War Front), with Travers winner Golden Ticket and Pimlico Special winner Revolutionary fifth and sixth.

At Monmouth on Sunday, the promising 3-year-old Albano ran off and hid by six and a half lengths in the G3 Pegasus, one of the preps for the track’s G1 Haskell.

In a comparison of their sires, there is no question that Albert the Great, sire of Moonshine Mullin, was a better performer than Istan, the sire of Albano. Albert the Great (the best son of Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin) won the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and more than $3 million. His career included successes in the Dwyer, Suburban, Brooklyn, Widener, as well as seconds in the Travers, Whitney, Pimlico Special, Donn, and Woodward, with a third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic thrown in for good measure.

That is some kind of resume, and Albert the Great was a big, powerful, rather impressive creature who showed a marked resemblance to his broodmare sire Fappiano, a sire of great importance.

In contrast, Albano’s sire Istan won a pair of G3 events, the Ack Ack at Churchill Downs and the Turfway Fall Championship, earning $406,792 after beginning his racing career in France. That was a thoroughly respectable record for a horse but not the same as trading licks with champions in some of the most prestigious races in the country.

Istan, however, is a son of the top-class sire Gone West and showed high speed in winning stakes at a mile. That and his powerful construction persuaded Brereton C. Jones to bring Istan to Airdrie Stud and stand him there, beginning in 2008. Right in the teeth of the colossal bloodstock depression.

That probably wasn’t the most pragmatic decision, but Jones has faith in his instincts with business and horses, and in a discussion last week, he candidly admitted that he doubled down on Istan. Jones said, “I took mares from other stallions and put them on Istan’s book to help him out.”

And despite having only 83 foals from four crops age 2 and up, Istan has had a tremendous couple of months. His daughter Istanford won the G3 Arlington Classic against colts near the end of May, and a week before the Kentucky Derby, the stallion’s son Myositis Dan had a cracking effort to end up third in the Derby Trial. Now, Albano has become a graded stakes winner.

That proof of stallion performance on the racetrack is not only good news for Airdrie but for Istan too. The horse’s stud fee has risen, and demand for his services, in bookings of mares over the past weeks, has risen sharply, as well.

Foster winner Moonshine Mullin is one of nine stakes winners by the high-class racehorse Albert the Great, and he figures in the second test of the Thoroughbred in matters of breeding. The second test is the progeny test, which means that a stallion or mare must get quality racers and get them with sufficient consistency to make the exercise less than a hunt through a haystack.

In this regard, Albert the Great was a failure. After going to stud at Three Chimneys with great earnings and considerable laurels for toughness and ability, Albert the Great reproduced his own qualities in sparing proportion, and the breeding business is not about making excuses.

Nowadays, Albert the Great stands at Pin Oak Lane Farm in Pennsylvania for a fee of $2,500 live foal. Wood Memorial winner Nobiz Like Shobiz, Donn winner Albertus Maximus, and Moonshine Mullin are the stallion’s three G1 winners here in the States, and although three G1 winners are more than most stallions ever sire, it isn’t a strike rate than can sustain large books of promising mares.

*The preceding post was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

tapit adds a classic-winning colt to his accomplishments after his improving son tonalist wins the belmont stakes

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In this most memorable of years for leading sire Tapit, the gray son of Pulpit gained further accolades on Saturday when his lightly raced son Tonalist won the classic Belmont Stakes at a mile and a half. Getting the lead in the shadow of the wire, Tonalist pipped his kinsman Commissioner (by A.P. Indy) in the Grade 1 stakes.

Both this Belmont Stakes and this Triple Crown series have served to emphasize that A.P. Indy continues to exert the utmost influence on the classic Thoroughbred in North America. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome is by the Pulpit stallion Lucky Pulpit, and Tapit is Pulpit’s best son at stud. In the Kentucky Derby, Commanding Curve (by A.P. Indy’s son Master Command) was second, and Commissioner was second in the Belmont.

Given the consistency of his produce and continuing rise in reputation, Tapit is well-nigh staring his glorious grandsire in the eye as a sire of the absolute first rank. The 13-year-old stands at Gainesway Farm outside Lexington for a fee of $150,000, which is 10 times the fee the Wood Memorial winner commanded when he went to stud in the balmy days of bloodstock breeding in 2005.

Tapit, like his sire and grandsire, got winners from the start, and Tapit’s first crop included champion juvenile filly Stardom Bound.

Few stallions, even very good stallions, become sires of consequence who will last and spread their influence through the years and generations. But A.P. Indy rose to that level. His first crop included Blue Grass Stakes winner Pulpit, who ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and subsequent crops included Horse of the Year Mineshaft and Preakness winner Bernardini, and Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches.

With these and other important sons and daughters, A.P. Indy became the most important American classic sire, and his sons and grandsons continue to prove the point.

That was not a given when he went to stud. Yes, A.P. Indy was a marvelously pedigreed horse. A son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, A.P. Indy was the highest-priced yearling of his crop and was out of the wonderful Secretariat mare Weekend Surprise. A.P. Indy won the Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic, then was elected Horse of the Year. But lots of very nice racehorses do not consistently transmit their own excellence.

A.P. Indy did, and one of those who has taken the step up and more is his grandson Tapit. A really good racehorse who probably did not show the limits of his potential, Tapit is a leading sire who has shown the dimensions of his importance at stud. His stock run on all surfaces, make good 2-year-olds who mature to become good classic stock, and they have the scope and potential to become top older horses too. Typically, the Tapits prefer a mile or more, with a few, like Tonalist, showing the scope to rise in class as the races get longer.

A big colt who possesses a great length of stride, Tonalist ran second in his début behind another son of Tapit, Matterhorn, who was eighth in the Belmont Stakes. Tonalist won his second start, and then in his 3-year-old début, he was second again to another son of Tapit. This time is was Constitution, who went on to win the G1 Florida Derby before going to the sidelines.

Clearly, Tonalist is not as precocious as his sire, who was unbeaten at 2, and is more like his broodmare sire, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, in size and in his pattern of maturation.

Tonalist was bred in Kentucky by Woodslane Farm. The farm is located in Virginia and is owned by Rene and Lauren Woolcott, who purchased the colt’s dam Settling Mist for $800,000 in foal to Seeking the Gold at the 2007 Keeneland November sale. Patrick Lawley-Wakelin was their representative at the auction and signed for the mare, who was carrying her third foal at the time.

Tonalist is the mare’s fifth foal and first stakes winner. The 17-hand colt became a stakes winner in his first attempt, the Peter Pan Stakes in May, which was his prep for the Belmont, and my column on that race offers further information about Tonalist’s illustrious female family.

The Woolcotts sent Tonalist through the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale, where he was bought back at $195,000. Owner Robert “Shel” Evans acquired the colt privately shortly afterward.

*The preceding post was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

stallion operations watching ‘chrome’s’ progress through the classics with interest

Any colt who has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness will strike a chord of interest with stallion farms. Naturally, California Chrome is on their radar, and all the stallion managers I spoke to had compliments to offer the flashy chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit.

For instance, Gainesway Farm’s Michael Hernon said that “California Chrome has captured the imagination of the racing public with a combination of raw natural speed and the ability to rate that makes him an especially effective racehorse.”

Those attributes have kept California Chrome unbeaten this year, and he will be the heavy favorite to win the Belmont Stakes this Saturday and complete the first Triple Crown in three dozen years.

John Sikura, owner of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm, noted that “winning the Triple Crown makes a big difference in the notoriety and celebrity of a horse,” and those factors make a difference in breeders’ response to a stallion prospect.

Charlie Boden from Darley’s stallion station at Jonabell Farm said that “California Chrome is a horse that any farm would be interested in standing at some level, but he will obviously be more interesting if he wins” the Triple Crown.

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One of the considerations that all the stallion farms have to assess, aside from whether owner-breeders Steve Coburn and Perry Martin want to sell their horse anytime soon, is estimating a stud fee because that is how these deals are structured.

If a colt is projected to stand for a fee of $40,000 live foal and a farm projects that it can collect on 100 live foal seasons annually for four years, then the horse is worth about $16 million. That is only $4 million more than the reported $12 million valuation for California Chrome before he had become a classic winner (based on an offer to purchase 51 percent for $6 million that included racing and earnings from the colt’s career on the track).

Normally, a stallion deal does not include racetrack earnings to the purchaser of the stallion rights, but even so, a stallion deal for the colt after winning the Triple Crown would be expected to be even higher.

The sticky thing, however, is that “stallion markets are different than in the past,” Sikura warned. “Even with such an engaging story, I would not jump to estimate how many seasons one could sell at the farm price even three or four years down the road.”

In the business of breeding, interest wanes (but only occasionally waxes), and there are few young sires who are able to maintain the same level of interest from breeders in a horse’s fourth season at stud that he held in his first season.

To do that is one of the successes of a stallion manager. He cannot make a horse succeed; all a good stallion manager can do is to provide good-sized books of the best and most compatible mares available.

Boden said, “Getting proper books of mares for a stallion is partly dependent on the bag of tricks a horse possesses that allow you to market them.” California Chrome, for instance, is charismatic and talented to a degree that most stallion prospects cannot hope to match.

That said, however, there are other considerations for the colt that leaven the mix.
As another long-time horse person described the situation, “California Chrome is intrinsically as valuable as any stallion prospect could be, but he will be discounted because he is out of an $8,000 mare and by a $2,500 stallion.”

As this suggests, breeders take a hard look at pedigree, especially when they are asked to shell out $50,000 to $100,000 for a single live-foal contract, but they also assess speed, early maturity or the lack thereof, as well as conformation, and they look at owner involvement in the horse. If Coburn and Perry syndicated half of California Chrome for X million and used half of that to buy mares – serious commercial mares with appeal and depth – that would be seen as a serious commitment by season- and share-purchasing breeders in helping to make the horse a success at stud.

More than a few breeders will want to see that sort of commitment to the horse from someone – either from the colt’s breeders, or the farm that stands Chrome, or a serious syndicate of breeders – before putting money and mares into filling out the colt’s book.

Breeders and their advisers tend to be stricter with stallions who are perceived to have holes, and it is worth noting that, at the time they came through their Triple Crown series, both Seattle Slew and Affirmed were seen as having somewhat pedestrian pedigrees.
But Boden said that “stallions with what we see as modest pedigrees can go on and be significant stallions.”

The combination of racing success, well-balanced support from breeders, a fair and equitable stud fee, and a long-term commitment to the improvement of the breed and the success of all the parties will give any stallion prospect every opportunity to succeed to the highest level of his potential.

And if California Chrome wins the Belmont and the Triple Crown, he will be the center of interest in the stallion business for many months to come.

*The preceding post was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

breeding in ohio: ‘a good horse can come from anywhere’

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California Chrome’s successive victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes have turned attention to his breeding and the breeding of Thoroughbreds in California, but the Golden State is not the only jurisdiction with a record of top performers.
Florida is the regional market that most challenges Kentucky’s eminence in breeding, but the programs in Virginia, New York, Maryland have all produced classic winners and champions.

On the other hand, Thoroughbred breeding in Ohio nearly died out during the most recent period of economic collapse.

One of the breeders who has weathered that storm is Kimpton “Kim” Williams, who has Fair Winds Farm in Waynesville, Ohio, with his wife Laurie. Located about 20 minutes north of Cincinnati, Fair Winds stood leading sire Honey Jay (by Double Jay) and currently has Mercer Mill (Forty Niner), who has reigned as the leading Ohio sire for a decade.

Williams said that breeding in Ohio had collapsed to the point that there were fewer than 100 accredited Ohio resident mares, but that last year, bloodstock investor and adviser Conor Foley from Lexington had contacted him.

Williams said, “Conor called me with some investors and said that the market in Ohio is going to get better, and we’d like to put a stallion up there.”

That call led Fair Winds and a group of interested investors to purchase a graded stakes-winning son of Candy Ride (Arg) called Kettle Corn.

“When this horse became available,” Williams recalled, “I told the partners that this horse is a stayer, is by the right sire, and is a real racehorse. We negotiated a price, and they ultimately accepted it.”

So the partners had themselves a horse.

Williams is both correct and philosophical about acquiring a stallion prospect of major talent like Kettle Corn, who defeated Paynter in the G2 San Diego Handicap and twice ran second to Game On Dude in G1 events. Williams said, “We were in the right place at the right time, and if we had faltered, Kettle Corn would have been in somebody else’s program.”

Foley found the horse while Kettle Corn was out in California with trainer John Sadler. The bloodstock agent and breeder said, “I love the way he’s made. I think Kettle Corn possesses a tremendous amount of speed that will carry, and I think he will be a tremendous asset for the Ohio program. As California Chrome has evidenced, a really good horse can come from anywhere, and I really believe that this horse could be a source of major performers. Plus, the Williamses are great people.”

Both mentally and physically, Kettle Corn has impressed all the people around him. Williams enthused that Kettle Corn is a “perfectly made horse. He’s very kind, very smart, and a very typey horse. Kettle Corn stands 16 hands, carries good flesh, and reminds me of a Quarter Horse. He has a pretty head and a keen eye. When trainer John Sadler sent him to Kentucky, we went to look at him, and he was race fit. I liked him then, and he has put on a bunch of weight and filled out now. Has a lot of muscle tone and a great hindquarter.”

Foley noted that “I’m thrilled to see the people in the Ohio program get a horse like this. Their program was hurt so badly that they nearly lost the infrastructure there. But a horse like Kettle Corn can help turn that around. He won more than $800,000 and ran a Beyer Speed Figure of more than 100 eight times.”

In addition to speed and good looks, Kettle Corn also has a great attitude. Williams said, “We are building a new stallion barn, and he’s such a gentleman that we are keeping him in a barn with mares. And he is not a problem or anything.”

If the stock by Kettle Corn run to his ability and manners, they should be able to earn their keep and more. The Ohio program has high expectations from proceeds of video lottery terminals, with 80 percent of the money received from that reserved for purse distributions.

Earlier this year, the governor of Ohio appointed Williams to the state racing commission as an advisor on the use and distribution of the money for the breeding and racing industry there. Noting that this is a serious responsibility, Williams said that “there is opportunity for breeders and racehorse owners here, especially if they participate in the Ohio accredited program, which means that the foal is by a stallion who stands in the state and is foaled here too.”

In addition to the possibility of making money with horses in Ohio, there is also the chance to dream. Dreaming as big as a Triple Crown success doesn’t seem out of reach for regional breeders, and we can thank California Chrome for that also.

*The preceding article was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

breeders assess pedigree of california chrome, along with his wide appeal as a bright copper penny of a racehorse

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After California Chrome collected the second jewel of the Triple Crown in authoritative fashion on May 17 at Pimlico, a perplexed observer asked me, “How can a horse with that kind of pedigree be so good?”

Rather than go through a list of top horses with “that sort of pedigree” or something less fashionable, let me just say, “John Henry.” As one of the less-fashionably pedigreed multiple champions, John Henry was both an advertisement for excellence and for the reality of the racetrack. Pedigrees don’t make champions; champions make pedigrees.

And, just like John Henry, California Chrome has combined an emotional story with big wins to become a fan favorite.

On Monday (May 19), I spoke with co-breeder Steve Coburn just before he went on a tour at Gettysburg battlefield, and he said, “California Chrome has a good pedigree, and looking back through the generations there is champion after champion. There is Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Buckpasser, Northern Dancer, and they say that once in a blue moon, some of that old blood will come through. I believe that’s what has given us this wonderful horse.”

The colt’s sire is a stakes-winning son of Pulpit, and this is the eminently classic male line of Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, his Triple Crown-winning sire Seattle Slew, going back to 1957 Preakness winner Bold Ruler and classic sire Nasrullah.

As Coburn summed it up: “The old champions’ blood just showed up again, and we are gonna enjoy the ride.”

And truly they should because a Triple Crown contender comes once in a lifetime. If ever.

For the lucky few, it comes with one of their first horses, and that is the case with Coburn and co-breeder Perry Martin.

Just a few years ago, they and their wives were fractional owners in a racing syndicate that owned the filly Love the Chase, by Not for Love. They bought out the other partners and raced the filly a couple of times on their own before retiring her to be a broodmare.

Love the Chase was bred in Maryland by another set of partners: Tom Bowman and Milton Higgins III. They have been comrades in breeding and racing for decades, and like the majority of dedicated breeders and owners, they have never taken the big ride to the winner’s circle in a Triple Crown race.

They did, however, breed the first two dams of California Chrome, and that gives them a special perspective on the colt’s pedigree and the quality therein.

In a recent interview with Higgins, who is now living in Hawaii, he admitted to being “very committed to using good mares because they are so much of the equation in breeding quality horses.” As Higgins quickly noted, access to top mares is limited, both by scarcity and by economics.

But the partners used a pair of stallions at Northview Stallion Station in Maryland, Not for Love (by Mr. Prospector) and Polish Numbers (Danzig), who both descend from champion Numbered Account. Not for Love is her grandson out of Grade 1 winner Dance Number (Northern Dancer), and Polish Numbers was the next to last foal out of the mare, born when Numbered Account was 18.

Both stallions were stakes-placed, indicating some athletic talent, and were bred by Ogden Phipps, like Numbered Account and her sire Buckpasser, the 1966 Horse of the Year.

For the breeding program of Higgins and Bowman, they “didn’t have the opportunity to inbreed to top mares until Polish Numbers and Not for Love came to Northview Stallion Station,” Higgins noted.

Taking that approach was not a given for them, either. Higgins said, “We really talked about using the 3×3 to Numbered Account because its success wasn’t a given. It works better with peas and corn than it does with animals. But the 04 model that sold for $70,000 [at the 2005 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale] we thought was a really nice colt. That led us to go back to Not for Love, and we got Love the Chase.”

At the racetrack, Love the Chase proved to be only a winner, but that puts her in the top 40 percent of the breed. With a first foal who has won two classics, she has leapt to entirely another level as a broodmare and become a producer of great significance to fans everywhere.

In Higgins’s estimation, the choice of breeding the mare to Lucky Pulpit “set up an outcross that capitalized on the inbred Love the Chase [3x3 to Numbered Account and 3x4 to Northern Dancer] and got the hybrid vigor that resulted in California Chrome, with his only inbreeding being Mr. Prospector 4×3.”

Mating the chestnut Lucky Pulpit with the chestnut Love the Chase produced the bright copper penny on four legs that we know as California Chrome. For the millions of sports fans who are coming to love the glamorous colt, he represents a dream come true, and it’s a dream they can be part of by watching and rooting for the colt to achieve the most elusive triumph in sports.

*The article above was first published last week at Paulick Report.

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