11/01/2007 11:00PM

Darley banking on new stallion stars

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud bought (above) Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, and Hard Spun for a total price that may have exceeded $100 million, bloodstock sources say.
LEXINGTON, Ky. - On Friday, Darley at Jonabell Farm held an open house to welcome two of its newest stallions and show them off to breeders.

The breeders were getting their first glimpse of Street Sense and Hard Spun just days after racing fans said farewell to them in the Breeders' Cup Classic. In the Classic, Street Sense finished fourth and Hard Spun second behind Curlin, who is certain to be named Horse of the Year. The outcome was a testament to the quality of 2007's 3-year-old class, one of the best American crops in recent years.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's global Darley Stud operation privately purchased the breeding rights to Street Sense, the Kentucky Derby winner, and Hard Spun, the Derby runner-up, last June. In August, Darley bought the stud rights to Any Given Saturday after the colt's Grade 1 Haskell score. The total price for the three horses has not been disclosed, but speculation among bloodstock sources puts it at $100 million or more.

Street Sense and Hard Spun will stand for $75,000 and $50,000, respectively, in Kentucky, but Any Given Saturday's future is unclear. A well-beaten sixth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Any Given Saturday did not appear on the Darley at Jonabell stallion roster for 2008. That has led to suggestions that the colt would return to the track as a 4-year-old, but so far Darley has not confirmed his plans.

The retirement of Street Sense and Hard Spun undoubtedly disappointed racing fans. But the class and consistency that made them popular with the public are also what make them such good stallion prospects.

For the horses' trainers, the stud deals are a mixed bag. It's an obvious loss to their stables, but at least two of them will get some compensation in the form of breeding seasons. Hard Spun's trainer, Larry Jones, and Any Given Saturday's trainer, Todd Pletcher, confirmed that they will have a breeding right; Carl Nazfger, who trained Street Sense, declined to comment on his compensation, citing a

confidentiality clause in the sale.

Still, Hard Spun's exit from his barn stings Jones a little.

"I've never had anything close to him," Jones said. "He's been so sound and so durable, yeah, I would love to run him again. We feel like he's getting better all the time now, and, especially with so many other horses retiring, what's to say he might not be close to a standout next year, if all went well?"

Now he's looking forward to seeing Hard Spun's future runners.

"As fast as he is, you have to think they'll show speed," Jones said. "He's just an extremely fast horse. But then he's got the grit and determination to turn it into stamina, as well. If his foals get either his desire to win or just his pure, raw talent, there's no reason he can't be a very successful stallion."

Darley was willing to pay such a big price for all three as part of an ambitious attempt by Maktoum to build the best stallion program in the world. Darley routinely makes its stallion deals subject to confidentiality agreements and declines to discuss financial details.

"The first thing to remember is that Sheikh Mohammed has a passion for racehorses and horses generally," said Maktoum's chief bloodstock adviser, John Ferguson. "It's well known he's a European champion endurance rider, so when I say a love of horses, it's real. On top of that, he's fascinated by racing and breeding, so it gives him pleasure to have some really exciting stallion prospects at Jonabell. On top of that, he's a competitive man, so therefore he wants to have the best stallions.

"Yes, there are commercial aspects to it, because there have to be. We have to have a sensible balance between doing what's best for the breeders and also what's fair for the industry in the long run by standing horses for fees that are fair to everyone."

Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday - when he joins the roster - will be part of a global stallion operation that could shuttle them to Darley's Southern Hemisphere base in Australia. Hard Spun, a son of Danzig, is the most obvious candidate to make the trip, Ferguson said, because his pedigree should mesh well with the popular Danehill blood there.

"When you consider how successful sons of Danzig have been in Australia with Danehill and then Redoute's Choice and now Exceed and Excel, I would say it's a strong possibility that Hard Spun might shuttle," he said. "The other two, we'll wait and see."

Maktoum was the bull in the stallion market last summer, also buying Epsom Derby winner Authorized, European champion Manduro, England and Ireland's 2006 champion juvenile Teofilo, Group 1-winning juvenile New Approach, and top Japanese performer Admire Moon. In addition, he also purchased shares in WinStar stallion Distorted Humor and Irish National Stud stallion Invincible Spirit.

Ferguson said the aggressive buying was not a change in emphasis at Darley, away from yearlings and toward established runners and sires. Instead, he said, the moves were due to the unusual convergence of good young horses with willing sellers.

Street Sense was an obvious choice for Darley because he was from the first crop of Darley's young stallion Street Cry. Maktoum, who long has wanted to own a Kentucky Derby winner, kept a close eye on Street Sense from early in his career as he raced for his breeder, Jim Tafel.

"When he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in such amazingly impressive style, we approached Mr. Tafel and said he's a horse we'd followed with interest, and if anything happened, would he please let us know," Ferguson said.

Street Sense went on to become the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner to also take the Kentucky Derby. In early June, Darley swooped in for his breeding rights in a private deal. At the time, speculation among bloodstock sources put the price at $50 million. Such deals can often increase in value based on performance incentives for winning Grade 1 races or achieving other benchmarks.

"He ticks all the boxes," Ferguson said, noting that Street Sense went on to win the Jim Dandy and the Grade 1 Travers after the deal. "And the other thing about him is he has a fabulous attitude. He seems to be very similar to his father in many ways, and for them to be standing alongside each other is very exciting.

Nafzger, who trained 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled as well as Street Sense, said: "I'd rank him right with Unbridled at the top. I thought he had maturity in him yet, I really did. The way he was coming along, I thought he'd make it as a 4-year-old."

Nafzger pointed to several characteristics that make Street Sense a good stallion candidate.

"No. 1 is his soundness; he was unbelievably sound all his life," Nafzger said. "He also has a great mind, as good as I've ever seen on a horse and as good as Unbridled's. He has great conformation, and if he passes that on he'll be a great sire. And he has a great immune system.

"The only thing that separates this horse and Unbridled as far as stallion duty is that Unbridled didn't have the same unbelievable conformation this horse has. And Unbridled didn't have the turn of foot. He was a big, lanky horse, and he'd build his momentum as he went. If he didn't get checked, he was as good as anything, but if he checked he'd have to start over again. This colt could hit a hole, relax, hit another hole, relax. He could give you a burst anytime you wanted it."

At the same time as the Street Sense deal, Darley struck an agreement believed then to be worth $20 million for Hard Spun's breeding rights. The one-two punch made perfect sense, Ferguson said.

"Obviously, Hard Spun, being one of the last sons of Danzig and showing such talent, was of interest to us," he said. "When he ran such a fantastic race in the Kentucky Derby, the way Street Sense came alongside him and he didn't give up, if we were interested in Street Sense, we have a son of Danzig finishing second to him and looking to have a great future, well, that made sense. And that's worked out well with him winning the King's Bishop," a Grade 1 race.

Any Given Saturday, a Distorted Humor colt, was something of a do-over. Darley didn't buy Any Given Saturday when he went for $1.1 million at the 2005 Keeneland September sale. Bloodstock sources speculate that Darley paid $30 million or more for him last August.

"That probably was our mistake," Ferguson said, referring to the 2005 Keeneland auction. "But Distorted Humor's star was a lot higher by the time Any Given Saturday won the Haskell. We were two years on; we knew a lot more about the sire. It's a similar question to why didn't we buy shares in Distorted Humor earlier. We wanted to see the evidence first."

More evidence of Any Given Saturday's talents might be forthcoming if he stays in training. Asked if he thought the colt could maintain his form or improve at 4, Pletcher said, "He had speed, stamina, and precocity, and he was able to maintain his form well into his

3-year-old year. I think if he raced at 4, he was the kind that would continue to train on."

The books are closed now on the great

3-year-old season of 2007, and the fans who saw Curlin, Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday are left with the feeling they saw something special.

"I rate them very, very highly," Ferguson said of Darley's three new acquisitions. "Not because we own them, but because I think it's remarkable they have remained, along with Curlin, the top 3-year-olds since April. Nothing has changed. That is incredible when you think how many 3-year-olds there are in America. To show not only that ability and talent, but also that consistency, and for all four of them to be knocking heads the way they have - I can't remember that ever happening before."