12/12/2008 12:00AM

Farms brace for changing climate


With the declining sales market and national economic slide as backdrops, New York breeders are preparing for the 2009 breeding season.

Stud fees are being lowered for many New York sires, and state owners and breeders are hoping for the long-awaited video lottery terminals at Aqueduct finally to kick in by 2010 and provide some help. Expectations are high for substantially bigger purses in New York when the operation is up and running.

One of the state's most experienced facilities is Highcliff Farm, in Delanson, N.Y., which has been home to dozens of stallions since its founding in 1980. It is currently home to Key Contender, Maybry's Boy, Stanislavsky, Stonesider, Talk Is Money, and Western Expression.

"I'm sure we're going to take a hit, no doubt about that," said Suzie O'Cain, who manages Highcliff Farm along with her husband, Dr. C. Lynwood O'Cain. "Money is tight, and I would be foolish to say otherwise."

Highcliff Farm annually foals more than 100 babies each year, and its honor roll of graduates includes Travers Stakes winner Thunder Rumble.

Highcliff Farm will keep Western Expression's fee at $5,000 for 2009. A 12-year-old son of Gone West, Western Expression is currently the fifth-ranked sire in New York, with 2008 progeny earnings of $1.9 million. His daughter I Lost My Choo captured the Grade 3 Virginia Oaks earlier this year.

Highcliff will also hold the line on Key Contender at $3,500. Winner of the Suburban Handicap and a son of handicap triple crown winner Fit to Fight, Key Contender is the sire of multiple open stakes winner Weathered this season.

Akindale Farm, in Pawling, N.Y., recently booked two mares to Key Contender for 2009, which has prompted O'Cain to think a positive change could be happening in these tough times.

"This could be a plus for some of the New York stallions," she said. "The weights and measures of our industry between people who breed to race, and those who breed to sell, became incredibly top-heavy on the commercial side.

"Well, the commercial market is so scary right now that some people might not want to breed into it. But breeding to race with some of our less-commercial New York stallions might become a bit of a trend."

O'Cain also thinks an eventual purse boost from video lottery terminals will help New York owners and breeders endure the economic slump.

"Those of us in the program might be in a tough spot today," she acknowledged. "But in the end, those babies in the belly now could be partakers of what is coming from those machines. It's close enough where we can see it."P

Significant stakes wins

The East View and Damon Runyon, important races for New York-bred juveniles, were run last Sunday at Aqueduct, with Don't Forget Gil and Haynesfield the respective winners.

Don't Forget Gil, a filly by Kafwain and owned by Alan Brodsky, won her stakes debut in the East View, sending her career earnings to $84,665 with a record of 2-1-0 in 3 starts.

Bred by Jonathan Thorne, she is out of the stakes-placed Livermore Leslie, by Mt. Livermore. Her second dam, Whitesburg Express, placed in the La Troienne Stakes, and is also the mother of Highland Gold, winner of the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap.

Don't Forget Gil was purchased by Brodsky for $43,000 at the Fasig-Tipton New York-bred preferred yearling sale at Saratoga in 2007.

Haynesfield, owned by Turtle Bird Stable, was also making his stakes debut in the Damon Runyon. A son of Speightstown bred by Barry Weisbord and Margaret Santulli, Haynesfield sent his career earnings to $83,465 with a record of 2-0-1 in 3 starts.

The colt was purchased for $20,000 at the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale.

Haynesfield is out of the stakes-winning Tejabo mare Nothing Special. An earner of $266,590, Nothing Special captured the Cumberland Stakes and placed in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, both at Laurel.

Haynesfield is a half-brother to New York-bred Mama Theresa, who placed in the Iroquois Stakes and earned $240,898. Nothing Special's dam, Moody Maiden, is out of the Northern Dancer mare Cool Mood. Winner of the Canadian Oaks, Cool Mood's marvelous family includes Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold and Canadian Horse of the Year With Approval.