10/05/2007 12:00AM

Bucksplasher defined an era

EmailBucksplasher died this past week at Noel and Bobby Hickey's Irish Acres Farm in Ocala, Fla. The chestnut stallion with the white blaze and two white socks died at the ripe age of 30. And with his death ends an era in Florida breeding.

The Canadian Thoroughbred industry a quarter-century ago was not as robust as it is today, and thus support of expensive stallions was limited. Canadian stallions in those days often went to stand in Kentucky, Florida, or Maryland. Florida, in part because of the effort of the Canadian Roy A. Kennedy, a founder of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. and developer of Gateway Farm, was instrumental in syndicating the Canadian stallions L'Enjoleur and Norcliffe for the Ocala market. Both were champion racehorses, and both shared a similar pedigree in that they were by Buckpasser and out of Northern Dancer mares.

"Both of these stallions got off to a super start here in Florida," said Noel Hickey, who had moved from Montreal to Ocala in the 1970s to start Irish Acres Farm. "I said to myself that I need to get a stallion with similar breeding."

Hickey and his scouts began the search and finally found a suitable prospect in Bucksplasher. He was a 6-year-old racing for the Ken Mort Stable at the 1983 Saratoga meet. He fit the criteria, as he was bred in the purple, being by Buckpasser out of the Northern Dancer mare Victoria Star, and the mare's family read like a breeding industry "Who's Who."

"I had a young college student, Karen Hallberg, working summers for us at Irish Acres," said Hickey. "She did pedigree research. When Bucksplasher was cataloged in the Fasig-Tipton horses-in-training sale at Saratoga in the summer of '83, we made plans to attend and see what was what with the horse."

Hickey did not like what he saw and was about to dismiss the notion of buying Bucksplasher, feeling that a turned-out leg and other faults of Bucksplasher's conformation would make breeding to him risky.

"I remember saying to Karen something like, 'Well, on to the next one,' " Hickey said. "And she replied that Bucksplasher's pedigree had not changed and that we went to Saratoga to buy a stallion prospect. She was right, of course."

Hickey successfully bid $85,000 for the stakes-placed stallion prospect and made him the nexus of the Irish Acres Farm breeding program. It proved to be a savvy move.

Back in the 80s and 90s, when state breeding rules were not as strict as they are nowadays, Hickey would have his stallions cover mares in Florida, ship the pregnant mares to Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Canada to foal, and then immediately bring the offspring back to his Florida base, where these non-Florida-breds could mature and be prepared for racing in the state where they were foaled. So it was that the best of the get of Bucksplasher, the Eclipse champion turf horse Buck's Boy, was an Illinois-bred. He is the only Eclipse champion to have the same breeder and trainer. Plate Dancer, a multiple graded stakes winner, is officially a Canadian-bred. Soaking Smoking earned best of Ohio-bred honors.

Bucksplasher has sired 54 stakes horses, and nine have won graded stakes. A review of those graded stakes winners shows no common maternal grandsire. The one mare Hickey wishes he had bred to Bucksplasher was his homebred Lady Shirl, a Grade 1 stakes winner of just under $1 million and dam of the current Breeders' Cup hopeful Shakespeare and the stakes winner Fantastic Shirl. Lady Shirl, however, was sold at the 1998 Keeneland fall mixed sale for $110,000.

"I should kick myself hard," said Hickey. "I had the chance to buy two of Lady Shirl's daughters a way back and did not do so."

The Bucksplasher saga is not quite over. At the age of 27, he covered a couple of mares, and as a result the filly Elite Splash and the colt Final Splash will be racing, as most Irish Acres homebreds do, when they turn 3 next year.

"What a good run Bucky had," said Hickey, summing up the years. "He put Irish Acres Farm on the map and money in the bank."

* The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s annual fall mixed sale gets under way Monday, with the first of the two consignor preferred sessions. Wednesday through Friday are the open sessions. In all 1,505 horses have been cataloged, with a starting time of 11 a.m. daily. Catalog pages and sales results can be viewed at www.obssales.com.