03/05/2010 12:00AM

Farms finding ways to sweeten deals

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ARCADIA, Calif. - For California's stallion farms, 50 is the new 100 - at least in terms of the number of mares a stallion can attract.

A little marketing and salesmanship from the state's stallion farm operators have been necessary to lure a dwindling number of mare owners. While some stallions, such as Unusual Heat, who led the state's stallions in progeny earnings in 2008 and 2009, can attract full books, many will have book sizes ranging from 40 to 70, depending on bloodlines and race records and how their progeny have fared.

Managers at several leading farms said Thursday that bookings for stallions are down in the first month of the breeding season, but some expressed hope the 2010 season could finish close to 2009 figures.

According to Jockey Club figures, there were 2,828 registered foals in California in 2008, the most recent year that statistics are available. The figure represented a 12.4 percent drop from the 3,069 in 2007.

Some managers fear the figure could be close to 2,000 for the 2011 crop. To combat the loss of mare owners, many stallions are being offered at reduced fees, and some farms have opted for promotions.

At River Edge Farm in Buellton, Calif., a 10 percent discount on stud fees is available if paid by Nov. 1, and a discount is offered to mare owners who breed four or more mares.

Farm manager Russell Drake said bookings "have been down a little bit since last year, but things are starting to pick up a little bit. I don't know if we'll get back to where we were a year or two ago. There are people calling every day. I think they're getting motivated."

The farm's freshman stallion, Dixie Chatter stands for $5,000 and could have a book of 70 or 80 mares. The farm's veteran, former California leading stallion Bertrando, may have a 50-mare book.

"His age hasn't been him bothered in the breeding shed," Drake said of Bertrando. "If we got about 50 [mares], that would be good for a 20-year-old."

Like many farms, Drake is not hearing from as many breeders as he has in past years. A poor economy in California has drained some enthusiasts of the discretionary dollars needed to fund a racing stable or breeding operation.

Drake offered the scenario of a construction executive with a stake in Thoroughbred breeding as someone who has dropped out.

"The guy that had four or five horses that was a contractor, he's history," Drake said.

At Rancho Temescal in Piru, the farm has developed a promotion for Suances, its top stallion.

Suances stands for $3,500, but the fee is free if the mare owner agrees to name farm owner Jed Cohen's Red Baron Barn as co-breeder on the resulting foal. Under that scenario, the mare owner and Red Baron would share in the resulting breeder awards.

At Poplar Meadows in Sanger, the farm has put together a $125,000 incentive package to lure mare owners to the second-year stallion Bedford Falls, who stands for $2,500.

The breeders of the first 10 resulting foals to win maiden races will be entitled to a $5,000 bonus. The breeder of the first black-type stakes winner from the 2011 crop will receive a $12,500 bonus, and the breeder of the first graded stakes winner will receive a $25,000 bonus. There are also bonuses to the owner of the first stakes winners from that crop.

Despite those elaborate plans, some farms are finding that lower fees can attract as much attention.

At Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, stud fees were reduced before the breeding season, farm manager Tom Hudson said.

"Unfortunately, people still want a deal," he said. "I'm getting a lot of phone calls."

He said Decarchy, the sire of Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint winner Quisisana, will probably get 40 to 50 mares.

Dave McGlothlin, the horse division manager at Harris Farms, compared dealing with mare owners to an old game show.

"It's like Monty Hall," he said. "Let's make a deal."

He said some of the farm's stallions - such as Lucky J.H., Stormy Jack, and Swiss Yodeler - are close to their 2009 book sizes, even though none has attracted more than 50 mares.

"I think we're pleasantly surprised it's as good as it is," said farm owner John Harris. "We're off where we'd like to be, or from the historic numbers. We've priced them pretty realistically."