09/02/2008 12:00AM

Darley's buy of Stonerside happened fast


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The private sale of Stonerside Stable to Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley organization came together in only three weeks, according to representatives for Maktoum and Stonerside owner Robert and Janice McNair. The quick deal was borne out of their familiarity as partners in both racing and breeding horses.

The sale, announced Monday, gives Darley Stonerside's 2,000-acre Kentucky farm, a training center in Aiken, S.C., and about 250 broodmares, horses in training, yearlings, and foals. Stonerside owners Robert and Janice McNair will keep their racehorse Cowboy Cal and all of their stallions and stallion shares.

The decision to keep Cowboy Cal was largely sentimental, said Stonerside's bloodstock and racing manager John Adger, because the 3-year-old Giant's Causeway colt is named for the McNairs' youngest son.

"The deal came about because John Adger came to see me when I was at Saratoga for the sale and just mentioned that the McNairs' time was really being taken up by the [NFL's] Houston Texans, and the football had to be Bob McNair's main focus, so if there was an opportunity to do something they'd be interested," said Darley's chief bloodstock advisor, John Ferguson.

"I didn't think it would move nearly this quickly," Adger said. "Then John called me about a week ago, and they basically were able to put a deal together. I think it's a compliment to Stonerside that they feel that comfortable with us."

Adger said that the deal includes Stonerside's shares in some mares owned in partnership.

"Our partners are happy with it and will be partners with Darley," he said.

Ferguson said three factors particularly held Maktoum's interest: the high-quality broodmare band, the quality of the farm itself and its location on the productive land around Paris, Ky., and the personnel and successful management structure that came with Stonerside.

"John Ferguson's a friend, and of course we sold the Saratoga property to them," Adger said, referring to Stonerside's 2007 sale of its Saratoga training center to Darley for about $17.5 million. "And we've been partners with them. We've had a very good relationship with the Darley group over the last several years."

Stonerside sold a half-interest in English Group 2 winner Raven's Pass to Darley last year and Maktoum and the McNairs bred Oude, a Group 2-placed stakes-winner, from a foal-share agreement in 2001. Oude is by Dubai Millennium, Maktoum's homebred European champion who died during his first season at stud.

"We are absolutely pleased," Adger said of the sale. "We've got some nice 2-year-old colts that we're excited about, and it would thrill me to no end if one of them would win the Kentucky Derby for Sheikh Mohammed. I'd love for all of us to come up with his first Kentucky Derby winner."

The acquisition of Stonerside is the latest in a string of major purchases by Maktoum recently. Earlier this year, he bought Australia's famed Woodlands Stud and its 1,000 horses. Last year, he struck deals totaling an estimated $100 million for Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday, and overseas he purchased Authorized, Manduro, Admire Moon, Teofilo, and New Approach. He also snapped up such promising broodmare prospects as Octave and Round Pond.

The activity has given commercial breeders pause for thought. With all that bloodstock going into Darley's hands, will Maktoum want to attend future Thoroughbred sales?

Ferguson says yes.

"Sheikh Mohammed always enjoys sales," he said. "You have to remember that, yes, we have a large number of horses, but there are 35,000 foals born in America every year, there are 15,000 born between England and Ireland, there are 6,000 in central Europe - there's a huge pool of Thoroughbreds produced every year. No question, Sheikh Mohammed will continue to enjoy sales and looking for the ones that he thinks might hold the key to the treasure chest, the dream."

Under-tack show changes

Barretts, Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland, and the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company have agreed to prohibit front toe grabs and to closely monitor whip use during under-tack shows at their 2-year-old auctions.

The new regulations are meant to bring the four auction houses, who account for most of the Thoroughbred sales in the United States, into line with recommendations The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee made in August. The Jockey Club committee recommended banning toe grabs higher than two millimeters. The Association of Racing Commissioners International also has added that provision to its model rules, and the American Graded Stakes Committee has made a toe grab ban a requirement for tracks wishing to retain their stakes' grades.

Research has identified toe grabs taller than two millimeters as a factor in catastrophic breakdowns.

Riders who are judged to have misused the whip during under-tack shows could be subject to "stiff penalties and suspensions," according to a release issued Tuesday by the four auction houses.

The companies' joint announcement said "details of implementation and enforcement are being studied independently."

The first sale to operate under the new policies will be the Feb. 10, 2009, select 2-year-old sale at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company in Florida.