02/18/2010 1:00AM

Economy rules newcomers


There is no getting around the fact that the general economics of the horse business is crushing the acceptable level of stud fees to a third or a quarter of what they were in recent stallion crops.

The malaise has encouraged some owners with outstanding stallion prospects, such as champion Gio Ponti and classic winner Summer Bird, to go forth boldly and race again in 2010, because racing is at least as good a venue for earning money as breeding. Few people would have said the same just a few years ago.

The downward trajectory of fees is illustrated by the range among this year's new stallions.

The leading fee from this group is $25,000 for multiple Grade 1 winner Zensational (by Unbridled's Song), who won a trio of premium races in California last summer before finishing unplaced in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

That effort may have cost Zensational, a gray son of Unbridled's Song, an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. His principal opponent for that honor was Kodiak Kowboy, a son of Posse who won the Grade 1 Carter and Vosburgh sprinting, then won the Cigar Mile after the Breeders' Cup to lock up support as champion sprinter.

Kodiak Kowboy stands at Vinery, on the opposite side of Spurr Road from Hill 'n' Dale, where Zensational is located, and Kodiak Kowboy is priced at $15,000.

A neat and well-balanced bay, Kodiak Kowboy had the speed to win sprinting, and the scope to win at the highest level going a mile. Kodiak Kowboy raced well at 2, winning the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and running third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He has quickly proven to be popular with breeders booking seasons.

The only stallion with an entering stud fee between $15,000 and $25,000 is Pioneerof the Nile, the son of Empire Maker who ran second in the Kentucky Derby behind Mine That Bird and who will stand for $20,000 at Vinery, in the same barn as Kodiak Kowboy.

Pioneerof the Nile is a big horse, cast clearly in the mold of his paternal grandsire, Unbridled, as a horse of size and scope with substantial bone.

Alongside Kodiak Kowboy in the $15,000 stud fee range are the new stallions Colonel John (Tiznow) and Tale of Ekati (Tale of the Cat), both Grade 1 winners by important sires.

Winner of the Santa Anita Derby and Travers, Colonel John is a big, rangy horse who looks like he was made to run two turns, like most of the good Tiznow stock. Colonel John is out of the Turkoman mare Sweet Damsel. His broodmare sire was no peanut, so Colonel John has every reason to be a big horse. He also offers good class from his racing on the track.

Likewise, Tale of Ekati proved his ability at the highest level, winning the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and Cigar Mile at 3, as well as the Futurity at 2.

As a son of Tale of the Cat, Tale of Ekati was naturally quicker and speedier than most of his rivals on the track but also managed to carry his speed well enough to win a Grade 1 at nine furlongs.

Tale of Ekati has one of the best physical profiles for balance and athletic quality among this crop of first-year stallions. He has a deep and well-angled shoulder, muscular hip, and a round, hardy-looking barrel.

Just below the $15,000-$20,000 set is the Unbridled's Song colt Old Fashioned at $12,500. An expensive yearling and talented young horse who was much fancied for the classics last year, Old Fashioned came out of his second-place finish in the Arkansas Derby with a knee injury and never raced again. He is arguably the most beautiful horse among the entering stallions of 2010. Old Fashioned is not huge, unlike so many of his sire's offspring, but he is splendidly shaped, with balance and quality nicely joined to muscle and scope.

Old Fashioned also provides a line of demarcation between the upper-echelon entering stallions and the young prospects standing for $10,000 and less. Above that price are the horses we might consider the Kentucky elite prospects and below are the ones we might label Kentucky competitive. That is, they have hopes but will take savvy marketing and management to get the best results.

After the sour results of the 2009 sales season, breeders are under pressure to make prudent decisions about the stud fees they part with, and the pressure on stallion managers may be even more extreme to put their young horses in the right price bracket.

As a result, most of the entering stallions for 2010 are compressed between $5,000 and $10,000. With horses priced below $5,000, most stallion managers and farm owners believe they do not receive enough good mares to "make" their stallion, and in the current market, a prospect priced above the upper limit of this range is in a rarefied atmosphere where only the most commercially viable prospects can attempt to climb.

In the $5,000 to $10,000 range, the competition is intense.

There are three stallions at $10,000 (Dunkirk, Thewayyouare, and U S Ranger), four at $7,500 (Cowboy Cal, Einstein, Tiago, and Visionaire), and five at $5,000 or less (Ambassador, Boboman, Modigliani, Parading, and Singing Saint).

At the upper range of this group, the pedigrees are strong, but there are holes in the stallion prospects' resumes. For example, Dunkirk, a son of Unbridled's Song out of Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status, was the most expensive yearling by his sire at $3.7 million in 2007. But Dunkirk never won a stakes, although he did run second in the Grade 1 Belmont and Florida Derby. Had he won either, the game would be much different.

Thewayyouare was a Group 1 winner at 2 in France and U S Ranger a group-placed horse by Danzig, but both found their greatest success on turf, which compromises their appeal.

At one step lower in price, Cowboy Cal is among the more appealing prospects on value because he is a son of Giant's Causeway, who has a massive reputation with breeders. Only Pulpit ranks more highly among the most sought-after young sires of stallions today.

Cowboy Cal has a seriously good race record, winning the Strub and the San Pasqual, but he is also viewed by most breeders and advisers as a horse who was better on turf or synthetic than dirt. That may or may not be the case, but perception is reality in horse breeding, at least until reality punks the pundits.

Both Einstein and Tiago are entering stud this year at Adena Springs for the same stud fee. They could hardly be more different, except in terms of athletic ability. Einstein, a Brazilian-bred by Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck, is an elegant, lengthy, nearly black horse who looks like a complete classic athlete. A big, correct horse, Einstein raced over all surfaces and was an impressive mover and contender on all.

In contrast, Tiago - a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo - is not even half a beauty. But he could really run, too, winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and Goodwood Handicap, running third in the Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic, and earning $2.3 million.

Tiago's combination of physical balance, excellent mechanical properties, and outstanding durability make him an interesting prospect among these stallions for homebreeders and others looking to take the game to the racetrack.

The last of this quartet is the Grand Slam horse Visionaire, who was a come-from-behind sprinter who succeeded at the Grade 1 level. Visionaire is a big, powerfully made, and heavy-topped chestnut who shares a lot of the physical characteristics of his broodmare sire, French Deputy, another big, powerful, handsome horse.

These horses all offer qualities to attract breeders, and different programs or needs will direct some owners one way and some the other.

At the stud fee level of $5,000 or less, the German-bred Ambassador offers a powerful outcross possibility for committed breeders, just as Boboman offers an outstanding American pedigree with a strong concentration of turf inclination. Boboman is by the top-class sire Kingmambo, whose offspring typically prefer racing in Europe or the Pacific Rim, where most racing is contested on turf.

Modigliani, sire of a top filly in Italy, was repatriated to stand in Kentucky, presumably because of the high reputation of his sire, Danzig. Like several of the stallions in this price bracket, Modigliani showed his form on turf, which is less commercial in America than dirt performance.

The last two in this set are also interesting. Parading, a graded stakes winner and son of leading sire of stallions Pulpit, has a fabulous female family. He is out of a full sister to champion Storm Flag Flying, and his second dam is Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner My Flag, by Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer out of the unbeaten champion Personal Ensign.

His is a pedigree that reeks class, and if Parading had won a Grade 1 stakes on dirt, he would be standing for $15,000 or more. He is a handsome horse, nicely balanced yet powerfully muscled, and stands over a lot of ground.

For pure class and value, he is hard to beat.

The odd horse in this selection is Singing Saint, an unbeaten son of El Prado out of the Easy Goer mare Relaxing Rhythm, winner of the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher. He never even ran in a stakes in his two-race career.

Putting him to stud is a gutsy play by Adena Springs, but Adena Springs is holding a couple of aces. First, Singing Saint is a very handsome horse: muscular, round-bodied, good-sized, and correct. Second, he is a son of El Prado, who elevated himself to the status of an important sire of stallions (Medaglia d'Oro and Kitten's Joy, for example) late in his career.

The significance of success as a sire of stallions is hard to overstate. It is the most important factor in stallion selection for most farms, right alongside the excellence of a horse's race record.

The rationale for this is that a stallion who gets a successful son at stud is likely to get more and that the sire of stallions is likely passing along a potent combination of genes that allow his offspring (both sons and daughters) to produce more successful racers than other good horses.

El Prado is the current node in a succession of successful sires of sires along this male line from Phalaris to Pharos, Nearco, Nearctic, Northern Dancer, Sadler's Wells, and his son El Prado.

Because of the economic circumstances, these young stallions are also likely to cover fewer mares overall than the freshmen sires of the past several years. The smaller crops will increase scarcity for nicer yearlings, and as a result, this should make everyone more financially prudent and profitable as the market improves in the future.