10/15/2014 3:53PM

Gisser: Can year-end awards help in the breeding shed?

Derick Giwner
Captaintreacherous will begin his stud career in 2015.

Just as in 1775, when militiamen had to fall back from Lexington to make a stand at Concord, the past couple weeks saw several of the sport’s top stars fall back at Lexington. Sebastian K, Artspeak, Sweet Lou, and Father Patrick were among the Top Ten horses to fall at the Red Mile. While those losses did not scramble the poll as much as you would think, it certainly scrambled year-end Horse of the Year thoughts.

With many of the top male competitors losing, folks may be taking a long, hard look at distaffers like JK She’salady, Mission Brief, and Shake It Cerry as possible HOTY contenders. But there is plenty of racing left for all the contenders to stake their claims, as Father Patrick showed in the American National. This may truly be a year where it all comes down to the Breeders Crown (Meadowlands—Nov. 21/22).

This column is not about who should be Horse of the Year. Rather, I ask, “What difference does it make?”

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Sure, the connections get bragging rights at the end the year, but what does it really mean? What if Captaintreacherous had beat out Bee A Magician for the 2013 title?  Which would weigh more heavily in the breeding shed? His HOTY trophy of 2013 or his disappointing 2014? I’ll be honest, I have no idea, but I think he will still get a pretty solid book of mares to breed.

Here is what I do know: A Horse of the Year award is far more valuable to a stallion than to a mare. Once a mare foals, the baby still has to stand correctly, be of good size, and have all the other physical traits needed to succeed. If he or she does, the fact that mom was HOTY is probably good for his price at auction since having a famous mom will garner attention and possibly more bidders, plus we know what his upside is.

Bee A Magician was horse of the Year in 2013, so we do not yet have any foal prices for her. Rainbow Blue was Horse of the Year in 2004 and has produced six foals of racing age. Other than millionaire Somwherovrarainbow, the other five have been lackluster to date. Only her first sold at auction and Western Blue Sky brought just $75,000. Bunny Lake took the title in 2001. She has produced two $500,000 winners, and her foals have averaged slightly over $80,000 at the sales. Good number, but a gross of just under $500,000. Not chump change, but not real money when you consider her exploits on the racetrack and that HOTY trophy.

But breeding your mare to the HOTY is like buying a lottery ticket. Owning the HOTY (or syndicating him) means you get to sell 125 lottery tickets (give or take). And you get to pick who you sell them to. And for how much. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Horse of the Year Rock N Roll Heaven (2010) stands at Blue Chip Farms in New York. I spoke with Jean Brown, VP of Operations at Blue Chip. Rock N Roll Heaven breeds a full book of 140 mares each year. With his current stud fee of $8,500 and assuming a 75% live foal rate (he has averaged 75-78% through his career), that’s nearly $900,000 annually in stud fees.

I understand there are higher related costs and so on, but you get the picture. The stallion has gross earnings potential of around four times what the mare has. So, clearly winning Horse of the Year is a big deal in the barn. My premise is correct. Not so fast, says Brown.

“There are many factors in setting a stud fee,” Brown explains. “Who is the competition – especially other first crop sires. Rock N Roll Heaven was so dominant among pacers in 2010 that even if he had lost Horse of the Year to a dominant trotter, it would not have changed his fee. We did start him at $12,000, but he has been at $8,500 for awhile now and his book is full every year. He did so much on the track, I am not sure it would have mattered.”

So, Brown has proven why handicappers should stay out of the breeding shed (insert your own punch line here). Who will be HOTY? Who knows? But whoever it is will be assured of banking significant additional cash for his (or her) connections.