05/20/2004 11:00PM

Bids for Smarty could hit $30M

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When a colt like Smarty Jones wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and produces such a positive and dramatic effect on the general public, you should see what it does to breeders and stallion managers. Everyone in the breeding business wants to have the next hot stallion prospect, and nothing is hotter than classic performance and the promise of a Triple Crown.

The competition among the leading farms for the season's best prospects is typically so intense that many farms have bought into horses when they were 2-year-olds, and if a horse wins the Kentucky Derby with his breeding future still undecided, there is a wild rush of speculation and activity around the new classic winner.

This is certainly the case with Smarty Jones. The colt's victory in the Derby impressed breeders more than some of the handicappers, and some farms approached his owners, Pat and Roy Chapman, and their representatives after the first classic. His dashing victory in the Preakness, however, made everyone a believer.

Now, barring some unforeseen circumstance, Smarty Jones will yield his owners and breeders a larger return as a stallion prospect than he could hope to win on the racetrack. With the promise of becoming the next Triple Crown champion, his value has been placed at upwards of $30 million, according to industry insiders.

In the recent past, the beautifully pedigreed and conformed Fusaichi Pegasus brought out the highest level of competition and bidding for a classic-winning stallion prospect. Coolmore was the winning buyer, getting Fusaichi Pegasus, a son of Mr. Prospector, for a total value of somewhere around $60 million and standing him at Ashford Stud in Kentucky, as well as shuttling him to Australia.

As its enthusiasm and strength in dealing for top prospects suggest, Coolmore is an international force in the stallion market. The Irish stud enterprise of John Magnier revolutionized the business of standing stallions by regularly shuttling top-class prospects between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and breeding them to immense books of mares. These practices allowed Coolmore to maximize cash flow from their stallions and forced most other stud farms to follow suit if they wished to compete with Coolmore for the world's most exciting stallion prospects.

Now, Smarty Jones has beome the next object of that competition. Despite all the hype about the "blue-collar boy from Philly," Smarty Jones has a pedigree that reads well - a chestnut son of Elusive Quality and I'll Get Along - and the industry is rife with rumors about who is bidding for the colt and how much they are likely to pay for him.

Although practically every farm would be thrilled to have Smarty Jones in its stallion barn, the breeding heavyweights are pulling out the stops in efforts to acquire the colt.

Quite naturally, Coolmore is regarded as one of the parties with significant interest in Smarty Jones, according to bloodstock agents and other industry insiders. Other farms mentioned by those with knowledge of the current negotiations include WinStar, Three Chimneys, Taylor Made, and Lane's End.

Darley is another expected player. Darley is Coolmore's arch-rival in the international contest for leadership in racing and breeding. Whether in the Southern Hemisphere or the Northern, whether in Europe or America, Darley and Coolmore are intense competitors with similar goals.

Darley is the breeding operation of Sheikh Mohammed, the crown prince of Dubai, and functions as a multinational entity to select and breed the best racehorses. Sheikh Mohammed raced Smarty Jones's sire, the Gone West horse Elusive Quality, and Darley owns the stallion entirely, standing him at Gainsborough Farm in Versailles, Ky. Gainsborough is owned by Sheikh Maktoum, a brother of Sheikh Mohammed and a member of the family's joint racing operation, Godolphin.

In addition, John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed's principal representative at auctions, bought Elusive Quality's full sister for $3.8 million last year, making her the most expensive yearling in the world for 2003. She will race for Godolphin.

Sheikh Mohammed clearly has an affinity for the members of these bloodlines, and has been well rewarded for his interest by owning Elusive Quality, who is one of the best young stallions in the world.

So, why wouldn't he want to stand the stallion's best son, who would become the first Triple Crown winner in 26 years with a victory in the Belmont?

The same question could apply to any of the contenders in what has already become an intense fight for Smarty Jones's breeding rights.