03/22/2014 7:14PM

Freshman sires part of market comeback

Justin N. Lane
Blame, the only horse to defeat Zenyatta, is among the sires who will have their first runners on the track in 2014.

The economic conditions facing freshman sires of 2014 when they first entered the breeding shed in 2011 weren’t pretty.

The bloodstock market was in the midst of a deep tailspin. Yearling prices had hit rock bottom the previous year, and the number of mares being sent to the breeding shed was falling precipitously – down 11 percent from 2009 to 2010. At the end of the 2011 breeding season, the population of mares bred in North America had fallen another 10 percent.

Even at the breed’s highest levels, it was far from an ideal market for a young stallion to get his start. Then, something interesting happened.

Foals from the first crops of those stallions were front and center during the auction market’s resurgence, first as weanlings in 2012, then as yearlings during the often-record-setting sales of 2013. Now 2-year-olds, the freshman-sired runners are in the midst of proving themselves at auction one more time before their value is measured not in the auction ring but on the track.

“It’s just very exciting,” said Bret Jones of Airdrie Stud, which is represented by freshman sire Majesticperfection in 2014. “The process of raising horses doesn’t happen overnight. You enter into a conversation to try and buy the horse, you get the horse bought, the next year you’re trying to get mares for your stallion, the next year you’re getting the foals, the year after that you’re hoping they sell well as yearlings, and now in year five, they’re hitting the racetrack.

“It’s a very long process, but you’re thinking about this day from the second you enter into talks to get the stallion in the first place. You’re trying to find a stallion that at the end of the day will get you fast racehorses, and I think we found one.”

Bill Farish of Lane’s End said breeders were still attracted to first-year stallions during the industry’s recent down years, with stallions in their second to fourth seasons bearing the brunt of the impact before their foals could prove themselves on the racetrack.

Lane’s End has a pair of stallions whose first runners will hit the track in 2014 – Grade 1 winners Quality Road and Discreetly Mine. In determining their success as progenitors of racehorses, Farish said patience is key.

“It’s definitely an anxious time, but really with both of these sires, we’re not going to have any definitive answers anytime soon,” Farish said. “The market tends to be pretty fickle, and if you’re not seeing 2-year-old results midway through the summer, people start to panic, but we’ve seen over the years that the answer doesn’t come for a while. We’ve had numerous stallions that appeared to be struggling early on and came on in a big way later in their careers. Smart Strike’s one that really comes to mind, and even Kingmambo went through a stretch where people were questioning him, and he just came on like crazy.”

Bernie Sams of Claiborne Farm said that starting its rookie sire Blame in the midst of an industry swoon was unlikely to have made a drastic impact on the size or quality of the sire’s first book of mares, but he said the state of the market did require especially careful stallion management.

“We were able to pick and choose through the mares that we wanted when he retired, so really, the only thing that might have been different for Blame had the economy been different at the time would have been the stud fee,” Sams said. “But I know with [farm owner] Seth [Hancock] and Claiborne, the mindset’s always to be fair and set a fee that’ll be consistent all four years to where you don’t have to adjust the fee drastically, because once you start dropping one, it just becomes a free fall.”

Sams said Blame’s first foals have been well received throughout their development and are often uniform in their appearance – bearing a similar bone structure and bay color as their sire. Blame, an 8-year-old son of Arch, stands the 2014 season for a stud fee of $30,000. He has made the biggest early headlines among the aforementioned sires as this spring’s juvenile sale season kicks into high gear, with a $425,000 purchase at the recent record-setting Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. select March auction.

“All early indications so far have been good from the 2-year-old guys in Florida, and we’ve gotten good reports out of South Carolina, so I would hope they’ll run and run well,” Sams said. “So far, he hasn’t done anything wrong. Obviously, you never know, but it’s very exciting.”

Blame was one of three first-year stallions to stand for a class-high $35,000 in 2011; the others were Quality Road and Lookin At Lucky of Ashford Stud.

Farish said both Quality Road and Discreetly Mine received strong support from breeders in their first year at stud, and that Florida-based trainers have spoken well of the foals as juveniles. Quality Road, an 8-year-old son of Elusive Quality, stands for $25,000 in 2014, while the 7-year-old Mineshaft horse Discreetly Mine stands for $10,000.

“The Quality Roads tend to have a little more scope to them and look like they could go a little bit farther than the Discreetly Mines, but that wouldn’t surprise you given how they both ran and how they’re both made,” Farish said. “The Quality Roads do tend to look a little bit more like him, a little more stretchy and classic-looking, where the Discreetly Mines are a little more compact and might be a little quicker.”

Majesticperfection, an 8-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday best known for winning the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap in 2010, stands for $10,000.

“He’s given us every reason to have very high expectations,” Jones said. “We really thought he was the best sprinter in the country the year he was running. He was also an exceptionally good-looking horse, and thankfully, he’s passed those good looks on to his foals. We couldn’t be higher on his chances.”