12/19/2008 12:00AM

Chapel Royal returns at top of list

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The year 2008 has been a good one for Florida's first-crop sires. Leading the national top 10 list of first-crop sires with the most winners is the repatriated Signature Stallions horse Chapel Royal. In fourth place is the Vinery's Peace Rules, in sixth place is Hartley DeRenzo's Omega Code, and in ninth place is the Vinery's Alke.

William S. Schettine owns Signature Stallions and is in the energy business. His 10-acre Signature Stallions facility does what its name implies - it's a stallion station. At last count there were six stallions in service.

Bill Bazzell is Signature Stallions's general manager, and he tells the story of how Schettine set his sights on Chapel Royal and was able to purchase the near-black son of Montbrook and relocate him this year from Kentucky, where Chapel Royal covered an astounding 747 mares in the four years he served there (2005-2008).

"Bill had his mind on this horse and several other prospects," said Bazzell. "He was looking for a stallion who was priced right and would be supported by Florida breeders. Too often when Florida breeding developed one of these stallions, the horse would be on a van to Kentucky. As far as I know, Bill was the one who initiated the negotiations to buy him. At the time, last October, Chapel Royal had sired 17 winners, good but not spectacular."

This would soon change.

When a Pennsylvania-bred colt named Field Chapel won a maiden race in Japan during last week's Hanshin meet, the victory put Chapel Royal over the $1 million mark in progeny earnings. Field Chapel became the 36th winner for the stallion, the most ever for a first-crop sire.

Chapel Royal is a 7-year-old son of Ocala Stud's perennial Florida leading sire Montbrook. In fact Chapel Royal was foaled at Ocala Stud and consigned by farm president Mike O'Farrell's team to the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s Calder sale of 2-year-olds in training, where he sold for a sales-record $1.2 million to Derek Smith and Michael Tabor.

Chapel Royal lived up to his sales credentials. Starting six times, all for trainer Todd Pletcher, he won his maiden by almost 10 lengths at Belmont, won two stakes at Saratoga, and placed in three other stakes, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, earning $484,755. An injury ended his racing career early on at 3.

Chapel Royal's pedigree is coming home. There are 15 sires listed in his first four generations and five of them stood in Florida for all or most of their careers.

A new racing venue?

An estimated 100 showed up this past Tuesday afternoon at the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association's Ocala headquarters. They came in response to a forum called by Dick Hancock, vice president of the breeders and owners group, and his board to talk about the deteriorating economic status of Florida's Thoroughbred industry.

"It's frustrating," said Mike O'Farrell, president of Ocala Stud and an association board member. "We have members who are really hurting in the pocketbook, and there aren't many viable solutions out there."

O'Farrell cited worries about the ability of the Magna Entertainment-owned Gulfstream Park to survive its economic woes. Add to this the ongoing conflict between the Calder horsemen and Churchill Downs with regard account-wagering distributions.

Among the items discussed was the feasibility of operating a racetrack in Ocala at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. facility.

"We have to protect ourselves; a lot of owners and breeders can't make a living," said O'Farrell, who is chairman of the OBS board. "I am not saying it's what we should or should not do. It's an option we may have to consider down the road."

The OBS has the essentials for operating a race meet. It has a combined clubhouse and grandstand that can accommodate a couple of thousand and currently operates as an OTB facility. There are 1,200 stalls on the grounds and it has a mile synthetic course with chutes.

It should be noted that OBS currently hosts the annual Darley-OBS Champions day of racing - six stakes races to be held this year on Feb. 16. The OBS has a one-day racing permit but the races are non-wagering events.