11/30/2007 12:00AM

Alberta farms buying up stallions

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - Thoroughbred stud farms in Alberta, Canada, have been highly active in the United States stallion market this fall. Encouraged by a favorable exchange rate, such operations as Highfield Stock Farm, Bar None Ranches, and Esquirol Farms have all come across the border to purchase new stallions for their province, which is benefiting from a booming energy market, generous breeders' awards, and the construction of a combined racetrack, slots parlor, and retail facility in Balzac, near Calgary.

And soon there could be another attraction for some of the province's breeders, in the form of a proposed stallion incentive program that could subsidize some horses' stud fees. The result is a push to upgrade bloodstock and add value to Alberta-breds.

The one-mile Balzac racetrack is due to be completed in 2009, and stallion owners in the province already are positioning themselves to take advantage of a market they believe is poised to rise. Since September, Highfield Stock Farm has added former Kentucky stallion Cape Canaveral to its roster. Bar None also went to Kentucky to acquire Gilded Time and also has imported U.S. graded winner Saint Stephen, a full brother to Ashado, to stand his first season. Esquirol Farms, a new operation in the province, sprang for California sire Kissin Kris.

The farms' reasons vary for bringing in sires from across the border. Highfield's Cal Britton noted the proposed stallion incentive program when announcing Cape Canaveral's purchase, while Bar None manager Mike Vanin said that farm was inspired mainly by the new track's potential to generate both interest in racing and purse revenue.

For Esquirol Farm owner Pierre Esquirol, the province's existing incentive program was the main draw.

Before standing stallions, Esquirol said, he was a "dabbler" in broodmares with a band of five or six mares. In 2006, that dabbling got him $42,000 (Canadian) in breeder awards, and he expects to earn about the same this year. Now that he is standing stallions, Esquirol will be eligible for more awards as both a stallion owner and a breeder.

"I'm doing this because the battery of stallions in this province is less than average, and the stallion bonus program allows me to capitalize against my peers," he said.

The Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society's Alberta division hopes stallion quality will improve in the next several years. Last May, CTHS representatives joined members of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Horse Racing Alberta, and the government's Horse Industry Branch to form the eight-member Alberta Stallion Task Force to examine ways to increase sire quality.

The group's first draft for a stallion incentive program, currently under review by the CTHS membership, includes a provision offering breeders $2,500 rebates for each live foal sired by an eligible Alberta stallion, who must stand for a minimum fee of $7,500. To be eligible, an imported stallion must have stood at least two seasons at that level, including his season of purchase, and sired a North American graded winner. Stallions are only eligible for the program for three years.

Some of the first-draft provisions have sparked debate. Those include one allowing only three stallions at any one time to be eligible, with priority based on their arrival in the province, and another allowing stallion owners or syndicate members to apply for rebates on up to 10 foals from their own mares if those foals are needed to bring a stallion's live-foal total to 35 in a season. Some smaller stallions owners fear that by subsidizing stud fees for higher-priced horses, the current proposals could put lower-budget horses at a disadvantage.

The initial draft may be tweaked, but the CTHS Alberta general manager, Rennie Gellner, said there's a consensus that Alberta's industry should upgrade its stallions. One reason: increased mare quality through the province's mare-purchase incentive program. That program, launched three years ago, offers a 30-percent rebate, up to $10,000, to Alberta breeders purchasing young, in-foal broodmares for $10,000 or more at auctions outside Alberta.

"We felt we needed to upgrade the stallion industry as well," Gellner said, adding that more than 30 new mares came into Alberta, mostly from Kentucky and Canada, in 2006 under the program. "We felt that we had to stay competitive not only with horses racing inside of the province, but also ship-ins coming in for our major stakes races, and with horses outside the province," Gellner said of industry efforts to develop stallion incentives. "We want Alberta-bred horses to go elsewhere and be competitive."

"That's the end result we want," agreed Bar None's Vanin. "We want to see horses by our stallions be able to succeed everywhere."

Coolmore opens its checkbook

Coolmore representative Demi O'Byrne purchased the three most expensive weanlings Friday at the penultimate session of the Tattersalls December foal sale in Newmarket, England. O'Byrne paid a session-topping 470,000 guineas, or about $1,011,675, for a Galileo-Epping colt, a full brother to classic-placed The Last Drop consigned by Newtown Stud. He also purchased a Monsun-Mandamou colt from Hillwood Stud for about $968,625 and a Montjeu-Masskana colt for about $817,950.

The session grossed about $26,810,463 for 176 horses, resulting in an average of about $152,332 and a gross of approximately $109,777. Gross was up 3 percent, while average and median fell 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively.