09/08/2006 12:00AM

Greelys hit it big with small operation

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - John Greely IV and his brother Beau have done something unusual. With a relatively small roster of stallions, half of them homebreds, they have two young horses, Five Star Day and Ecton Park, who rank among the nation's top 15 second-crop sires.

And their commercial stallion operation, Wintergreen Stallion Station in Midway, Ky., has only existed since 2001.

It helped that John and Beau are the sons of John "Bud" Greely III, a former trainer and third-generation horseman who founded Wintergreen Farm, which is just across the road from Wintergreen Stallion Station, in 1971. Even with that history and family connections, establishing a new, small stallion operation in central Kentucky's highly competitive sire market was risky. At a time when a commercial stallion prospect often costs tens of millions of dollars, the Greely brothers planned to start by standing a horse they owned themselves - Five Star Day.

"He was the reason this place got built," said Wintergreen business manager Jamie Hill. "John had driven by this 20 acres and always said, 'This is where I want to have a stallion operation someday.' "

Five years later, Five Star Day is ranked 10th among second-crop sires. Ecton Park is ranked 15th on that list. In 2007, Wintergreen Stallion Station will add two new horses to its roster: dual Grade 1 winner Borrego and Honour and Glory, whom the farm is leasing from South American interests. The Greely brothers are confident enough in the future that they are adding a five-stall annex to their stallion barn.

"We've been pretty lucky," said John Greely IV, 40, who added that Wintergreen will cap its stallion roster at nine.

"We've been offered up to 10 different stallions to stand, but our theory is that smaller is better for us. We want to be able to give each stallion as much attention as we can and get the best quality and quantity in each book as we can."

Borrego, in particular, exemplifies Wintergreen's strategy for acquiring stallion prospects. A 5-year-old El Prado horse, Borrego is one of three Wintergreen stallions who were bred at the farm; the others are Five Star Day and Pollard's Vision, who covered 133 mares in his first season this year. John and Beau, 35, have courted owners who have stallion prospects Wintergreen raised, hoping their customers' knowledge of the farm will mean more than the bigger check a larger operation might be able to offer by promising 200-plus books of mares in a horse's early season.

John Greely credits his father with building a patient client base that is okay with small, tailored books instead of immediate profit.

"They're our clients and shareholders now, and they don't expect us to do a sheer numbers game," he said. "They've seen firsthand how we do business, that you don't have to have huge numbers to be successful. We offer close attention to each horse. People who want the big numbers, we're probably not the right fit."

Borrego has Wintergreen's highest stud fee to date, $20,000, but the Greelys are banking on his versatility as a two-time Grade 1 winner on dirt who also won on turf. Turf form has not always been a big selling point for Kentucky's commercial breeders, but John Greely said he thinks the new era of artificial racing surfaces may change that. Many breeders feel turf runners may prove particularly adept on artificial surfaces like Polytrack, which they believe more closely resembles turf than dirt.

"The fact that Polytrack is at Keeneland and Turfway and will be at the California tracks by the end of 2007, I think that will raise the commercial value of a number of stallions here," Greely said. "Borrego was precocious at 2, and winning on the turf and the dirt is important today with the inception of the Polytrack. We know he's a superior runner on the dirt, but being by El Prado and having proven he can run on turf is something every breeder is going to have to consider."

The Greelys are in the process of selling shares in Borrego for $175,000 each, and they are offering terms over four years. Each breeder will get two seasons per share. So while they are selling yearlings at the Keeneland September sale this week, the Greelys are also thinking ahead to the Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton November sales, where they'll likely be buyers, too.

"We're in yearling mode now, but once those November catalogs come out, we're going to be actively purchasing mares for syndicate members to breed to Borrego," Greely said. "I'd kind of like to breed right around 120 mares to him."

* Tattersalls Ireland ended its September yearling sale Thursday with dramatic gains in average and median price. Topped by a High Chaparral colt that sold for a sale record of about $285,150, the auction averaged about $21,100 and posted a median of about $16,500; considered in the local currency of euros, those figures were up 49 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

* Racing Update has changed its name to Sireaverages.com as part of the launch of its online services. Racing Update will continue to publish its monthly newsletter about the Thoroughbred bloodstock market, but now also offers such online features as stud fee searches, broodmares' commercial histories, including purchasers, and average and median prices for sires at auction that are updated while auctions are under way.