02/01/2013 2:42PM

Cream of last season's 3-year-old crop now standing at stud

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Justin N. Lane
I’ll Have Another, winner of the 2012 Kentucky Derby, is standing at stud in Japan this year.

If a poll were taken asking participants to describe last year’s crop of 3-year-olds in one word, a popular response might be “snakebit.”

From the beginning of the Triple Crown season through the Breeders’ Cup, the division’s top males seemed to fast disappear from the racing scene, first canceling scheduled starts because of injury or illness, followed by many being shuffled off to the breeding shed for 2013.

By the end of the summer, news of another high-profile sophomore being retired to stud seemed to come on an almost weekly basis as racing fans wailed over the deteriorating state of the 3-year-old crop and the murky future of the handicap division for this year.

This attrition is best illustrated by looking at the 2012 Kentucky Derby field. Of the classic race’s 20 starters, six already have been retired to stud, including three of the top five finishers – I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, and Creative Cause. Others in the field that have been retired to stud are Union Rags, Hansen, and Gemologist.

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Of the remaining 14 horses still in training, six took hiatuses of four months or more in the latter part of 2012, and one, Sabercat, was scheduled to return at Fair Grounds on Saturday. Only five of these 14 horses have won a race since the first Saturday in May.

Aside from the Derby horses, other newly turned 4-year-olds headed to stud in 2013 include Algorithms, Empire Way, Overdriven, Thunder Moccasin, and Teeth of the Dog. Additionally, Take Charge Indy has a stall waiting for him at WinStar Farm when he is ready to call it a career.

With the news of champion 2-year-old male Shanghai Bobby already scheduled to retire at the end of the year to stand at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky., last year’s mass exodus from the racetrack to the breeding shed might look like a tipping point in the trend of retiring colts younger and younger.

However, Justin Zayat, racing and stallion manager of Zayat Stables, a prominent owner of numerous horses on the Triple Crown trail in recent years, said that last year’s rash of retirements could have been a fluke.

“I think most owners in the game still want to race them at four,” Zayat said. “To Honor and Serve stayed around another year, and he could have retired after three [To Honor and Serve went on to win the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes in 2012 at age 4]. I just look at it as an unlucky year.”

Zayat Stables had two of the highest-profile sophomores of last year, Grade 1 winners Bodemeister and Paynter. Both suffered career-threatening setbacks in the second half of the year, with Bodemeister retiring to WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky., with a shoulder injury, and Paynter recovering from a highly publicized battle with colitis and laminitis to resume training in January.

While the operation has had notable horses that retired to stud early due to injury – Bodemeister and Pioneerof the Nile at WinStar and Eskendereya at Taylor Made Stallions in Nicholasville, Ky., to name a few – Zayat said the stable’s policy is to race them as long as they are sound, willing, and happy, which he said was the case with Paynter upon his recovery.

“Obviously, if a horse is running off the charts and winning numerous graded stakes, every single farm in Kentucky will be calling on that horse,” he said. “We try not to get carried away by the farms. They can always wait another year, and that’s our perspective. If they want our horse, they’ll have to wait until he’s retired.”