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.
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.