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There are a number of ways to evaluate stallions in addition to the general sire list, which ranks stallions by gross progeny earnings. The leader on that list, once again, is the great gray ghost of Gainesway Farm, Tapit. A beautiful horse who has grown nearly white with age, the son of Pulpit is fertile, frisky, and blessed with a book of mares that is the envy of any farm.

In addition to ranking by raw earnings, those statistics can be sliced and diced in a variety of ways to look at horses with fewer foals, lesser opportunity, and so forth. The average earnings index (AEI) takes some of those factors into account, as does the standard starts index (SSI). The AEI list is led by Pioneerof the Nile, with Tapit fifth, and only a dozen sires have an AEI of 2.0 or greater.

Another angle that involves some greater sifting of the data is called the APEX rating used by the international bloodstock adviser Bill Oppenheim. The APEX ratings evaluate the class of races runners are competing in, and you might expect that Tapit or Pioneerof the Nile would be top of the heap in this regard too.

Au contraire, my friends.

The top-rated stallion by the APEX numbers is Elusive Bluff. I know. Elusive “who”? And thereby hangs a tale.

This son of leading sire Elusive Quality was bred in Kentucky by Eldon Farm and sold out of the Gainesway sales consignment at the 2006 Keeneland November auction for $275,000 to Bob Courtney, agent. After a couple less-remunerative trips to the sales arena as a yearling and 2-year-old in training, Elusive Bluff went into training with Bill Badgett.

The good-looking colt won his debut in September 2008 at Belmont Park in a maiden special going a mile for owner Pegasus Dream Stable. Then the colt was sold privately and went to racing for Southern Equine.

Nearly four weeks after his debut, Elusive Bluff won the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont going 1 1/16 miles on turf. And he never started again.

Although the colt had an injury, trainer Eric Guillot did not give up on the horse. As a result, Elusive Bluff did not enter stud until 2010, after two years of being on the sidelines, and as one might expect, there was not a mad rush to “secure him for stud.”

But Southern Equine found the colt a place at stud in Louisiana with Jay Adcock’s Red River Farm not far from Shreveport, La. Adcock recalled that the owners “bought him after the maiden, then were going to put him in the Breeders’ Cup, but his ankle blew up. They tried everything, but he didn’t stand training after that.

“We stood him for $1,000 live foal, or free to approved mares, and the owners were cooperative about getting mares to him in an effort to help prove the horse as a stallion,” Adock said.

The stallion’s first two seasons in Louisiana at Red River Farm resulted in 29 reported foals. Then Elusive Bluff was sent to stand in California for a season, then back to Louisiana at another farm. From his first four crops, Elusive Bluff has 36 reported foals, including 2-year-olds of 2016.

From those, the stallion has 17 starters, 10 winners, two stakes winners, including graded winner C. Zee, and gross progeny earnings of $874,618, according to Equineline stats.

Adcock recalled Elusive Bluff as a “big stout horse who weighed about 1,300 pounds, with very good fertility, who became a good-breeding horse.” The sire’s leading racer is the now-5-year-old C. Zee, and he was conceived at Red River in the stallion’s first crop.

The owners of Southern Equine “sent the mare to Elusive Bluff,” Adcock recalled, “and then they sold her at a sale in Texas while she was carrying that colt.”

At Fasig-Tipton’s 2010 Texas winter mixed sale in December that year, Jacks or Better Farm picked up the mare Diamondaire, a stakes-placed daughter of Distorted Humor, for $18,500, and they took her to their property in central Florida, where the colt was born. Bred by and still currently racing for Jacks or Better, C. Zee won the G3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes and is G2 and G3 stakes-placed.

In the meantime, Elusive Bluff had a second stakes winner and other winners and earners. But as a result of the respectable results from limited numbers, the horse came to the attention of Kentucky breeder Greg Justice, who purchased Elusive Bluff privately and is moving him to Southern Indiana Equine to participate in that state-bred program.

Justice said that standing stallions “is a hard row to hoe, but I believe he will fit well in the program I’m sending him to there in Indiana. Both of his stakes winners won on dirt, and I’m going to support him with 10 of my own mares. I’m realistic about the horse, and I’m hoping that a few Indiana breeders will come in and support him too.”

The purses for the Indiana program are set to rise this year, and Justice is optimistic about standing regional stallions there. He also stands Lantana Mob (Posse) at the same farm and is one of the leading stallions in Indiana.

With a minority of stallions making enormous books of mares, there will inevitably be others who have not earned a special place and will fall through the cracks. So perhaps the inequalities of the marketplace will shower benefits on attentive breeders who win the bloodstock lottery.

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