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Beyond Lucky Pulpit, Papa Clem demand for California stallions drops off
The youngsters Lucky Pulpit and Papa Clem are likely to dominate California’s Thoroughbred stallions in book sizes this spring, with each expected to attract 100 mares.
For many other stallion owners, the current breeding season will be a struggle to attract a significant number of mares. To drive business, some farm owners have continued a practice from recent years of discounting stud fees, or offering incentives on racing results of the offspring to lure mares to their stallions.
Experts predict the 2012 foal crop in California will be approximately 2,000, which will be a sizeable drop from the 2009 crop of 2,528, the most recent list of statistics available from the Jockey Club. The 2008 foal crop in California was 2,828.
California’s breeding market has suffered declines in recent years because of several factors, including a sharp drop in the economy that has affected breeding throughout the nation, the increased cost of raising a horse in the state, and an unsettled atmosphere at racetracks, specifically falling purses.
Breeding season opened on Feb. 15. With California’s breeders notorious for making late arrangements for mares, there is still hope among some farm managers that stallions can attract larger books than last year, helped to some extent by incentives for statebreds that win maiden special weight races throughout the state.
Incentives have not been needed to attract mares to Lucky Pulpit at Harris Farms in Coalinga or Papa Clem at Legacy Ranch in Clements.
Lucky Pulpit, who stands for $2,500, was the leading freshman sire in the state in 2010 with a surprisingly small number of runners. By Pulpit, Lucky Pulpit had 10 runners last year, eight of which were winners. He had progeny earnings of $275,371 and ranked 27th on the national list of freshman stallions.
To keep mare owners interested, his fee was not raised, and his current book will be by far the largest of the 10-year-old stallion’s life.
“Lucky Pulpit has been bred to 80 mares,” said David McGlothlin, the horse division manager at Harris Farms. “I anticipate we’ll be around 100 when we’re done. He’s done well so far.
“This is a pleasant surprise. We didn’t raise his price and I think he’s a steal for $2,500. Everyone is justified in looking for a bargain.”
Harris Farms also stands Unusual Heat, the leading stallion in the state by progeny earnings for the last three years. He was moved to the farm for this breeding season, and has a controlled book of 50 mares so far, which could be expanded later this spring, McGlothlin said. Unusual Heat stands for $20,000.
Papa Clem, a 5-year-old by Smart Strike, was a late addition to the Legacy Ranch roster in 2010 after his retirement in January of that year because of an ankle injury. He was syndicated and has benefited from shareholder support, according to ranch manager Shaun Hadley.
“It’s going pretty good so far,” Hadley said. “He’s going to get over 100 mares this year. The shareholders will support the horse and others are interested in him. Smart Strike is real hot right now.”
Hadley said that Papa Clem was bred to close to 80 mares last year. He stands for $6,500.
Legacy has two stallions this year, the other being Cindago, an 8-year-old by Indian Charlie whose oldest foals are 3-year-olds this year. Cindago was bred to approximately 30 mares last year, and is likely to draw the same number this year, Hadley said.
Cindago, who won 2 of 3 starts including the 2006 El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar, stands for $2,500. As an incentive to lure mares to the stallion, Lee Searing, who raced Cindago through his CRK Stable, has developed a promotion to pay a $10,000 bonus to the owner of a Cindago foal of 2012 who wins a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs or farther with a minimum class level of $40,000 claiming. There is an additional bonus of $15,000 if the foal of 2012 wins a stakes worth $100,000 or more.
At Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, stud fees have been reduced by $1,000 for bookings by March 15 to lure mare owners. Farm manager Tom Hudson says an aggressive approach is needed to sell stallions. The phone, he said, is starting to ring now that the breeding season is well underway.
“We’re still getting calls and I don’t know what to project for numbers,” he said. “Last year, I think I bred 138 mares between all the stallions. You used to breed 500. I’ve got more stallions this year and I presume I’ll get more mares.
“I think there is a little bit of growth this year. Maybe the purse structure has helped a little bit. If we can get the darn sales up a little bit, breeding will come back gangbusters. We’ve got good incentives with the $20,000 program.”
Since late 2009, the owners of a California-bred who wins a maiden special weight race in Southern California earn a $20,000 bonus above purse earnings. In Northern California, the bonus is worth $10,000. Hudson described the $20,000 bonus as “a big, big advantage. The little growth we’re getting is because of that.”
Doug Burge, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, cites the bonus system as an economic boost for breeders, which has led to a gain in the number of horses eligible to first-condition allowance races. That comes at a time though when the overall crop is down compared with recent years. He projects the 2012 foal crop will be around 2,000.
To get there, farms such as Tommy Town Thoroughbreds in Santa Ynez, which has six stallions, need to have successful seasons. The stallions there range in stud fees from $2,000 to Grazen to $5,000 for Kafwain.
Farm manager Mike Allen said bookings have been slow so far this year.
“We hope it’s people putting off booking mares,” he said. “I thought we’d get twice as many as we have so far.”
He said an absence of new horsemen seeking to breed mares is a concern.
“We have a lot of the same breeders that have supported the stallion for years,” he said. “There aren’t many as new faces and some of the old faces are going away. I hope we’ll get more and we’re still getting calls. It’s not like it’s it used to be.”
The problem is not limited to California farms.
“Some horses in Kentucky aren’t getting a big book,” he said.
Tommy Town benefits from support from farm owners Tom and Debbie Stull, who have helped to boost book sizes of some stallions, Allen said. Ministers Wild Cat, who stands for $4,000, was bred to less than 30 mares last year, he said.
“I think he deserves to be bred to 50 or 60 mares,” Allen said. “With our mares, we might get there.”
Tommy Town had 100 foals born on the property last year, and Allen said the number is on course to be higher this year. That has left him optimistic that those mares will be bred back to the farm’s stallions.
“The number is up for the year before,” he said. “There are some positives. It’s not all bad. We still have over 400 horses on the farm and adding all the time.”