06/28/2012 1:28PM

2012 yearling sales: Flower Alley having rebound year

Barbara D. Livingston
Flower Alley’s stud fee this year began at $7,500, but it doubled to $15,000 after his Derby- and Preakness-winning son I’ll Have Another’s success this spring.

With the 2012 Triple Crown in the history books, it’s interesting to compare the career of Flower Alley with that of another classic sire, Birdstone, since the two have traveled similar paths to success.

Flower Alley is the sire of this year’s Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes winner, I’ll Have Another, whose sale to Big Red Farm in Japan was recently announced. It’s disappointing that Kentucky stallion masters couldn’t find enough enthusiasm (or cash) to purchase I’ll Have Another, but perhaps he can be the next great sire for Japan, which appreciates stamina more than we do, and follow in the footsteps of his Derby-Preakness predecessor Sunday Silence.

I had an insider’s view of Flower Alley during my years at Three Chimneys Farm. His win in the 2005 Travers Stakes put him on top of the 3-year-old division in the absence of the sidelined Afleet Alex. This, along with his status as the best non-gelded son of Distorted Humor, caught my attention, and I pushed him as a stallion prospect worth having. Flower Alley ran a great second to Saint Liam in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but his only win at 4 was in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile Handicap, a race also won by his sire, Distorted Humor.

I inspected Flower Alley at Saratoga that summer and came away even more of a believer. He is a handsome, copper-colored horse, bigger than his sire, with good muscling, good bone, and good, straight legs. That kind of package is rare, especially with a Grade 1 pedigree and race record. There’s almost always a catch – too big, too small, light boned, crooked legs, something − but not this time.

I also like to see a stallion from a family that has produced good stallions, and Flower Alley is from the same female line as the great sire Lyphard. In fact, his dam was inbred to Lyphard’s dam, Goofed. To me, Flower Alley ticked almost all the boxes for a stud prospect.

It was very satisfying to greet Flower Alley at Three Chimneys when he retired. Since Distorted Humor’s stud fee was going to $225,000 for 2007, there should be a lot of breeders wanting to use the bloodline but not pay that kind of money. Priced at $25,000, Flower Alley was booked full before the breeding season began. He sired a pair of graded stakes-winning fillies in Grade 1 winner Lilacs and Lace and Grade 3 winner Bouquet Booth in that first crop, but the market declines of the last few years set his 2012 fee at $7,500.

When second-crop I’ll Have Another burst onto the scene this spring, Flower Alley’s fortunes turned. His fee doubled to $15,000 after the Preakness, and he became one of the busiest stallions in Kentucky in May and June. Now we’ll see how his newly earned respect will affect his yearling prices this year and in the future. In 2011 his yearling average was $14,437 with a median of $12,000, a combination of his fourth crop of foals, often a soft year for many stallions, and a weak market overall. There will be four Flower Alley yearlings at the July Sale and one at Saratoga.

Flower Alley’s career has parallels to that of Birdstone, who won the 2004 Travers Stakes. Birdstone won the Champagne Stakes at 2 and the Belmont Stakes at 3, famously ending Smarty Jones’s Triple Crown bid, before his Travers win in a thunderstorm. Birdstone entered stud at Gainesway in 2005 for just $10,000, and his fee stayed there until May 2009, when his first-crop son Mine That Bird surprised to win that year’s Kentucky Derby. Birdstone’s stud fee was tripled to $30,000, and he went from covering 63 mares in 2008 to 105 in 2009.

Mine That Bird ran second to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness Stakes, and Birdstone’s other good son Summer Bird won the Belmont Stakes and the division title. Two classic winners and a champion in his first crop kept Birdstone’s fee at $30,000 in 2010, and he got even more mares, topping at 117. That’s the crop that will be walking through the ring as yearlings this year, with three opening the season at the July Sale and one at Saratoga. Last year, his yearlings averaged $42,037, with a median of $15,500, including a $225,000 seller at Saratoga.

For all hype about milers making the best sires, the 10-furlong Travers Stakes is becoming a more significant sire-making race. In addition to Birdstone and Flower Alley, its recent successes include Medaglia d’Oro, winner in 2002, and Bernardini, winner in 2006. Despite the naysayers, there still is classic stamina to be had in the American Thoroughbred, and the record of the Travers winners as sires is proof.