12/22/2010 3:10PM

Harris, Ballena Vista benefit from sire moves


Mare owners need to update their address books, with four of California’s most established stallions having changed farms recently, including the state’s leading sire, Unusual Heat.

Unusual Heat, the top stallion in California the last three years by progeny earnings, will be based at Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif., in 2011, having previously stood at Old English Rancho in Sanger. Benchmark, who ranks third on the earnings list, Bertrando (sixth), and Tribal Rule (10th) have moved from River Edge Farm in Buellton to Ballena Vista Farm in Ramona. Another River Edge sire, Dixie Chatter, whose first foals will arrive in 2011, also moved to Ballena Vista.

Unusual Heat is co-owned by Madeline Auerbach and is one of a number of Auerbach horses, including broodmares, moving to Harris Farms. Auerbach said last week that she does not envision a major change in Unusual Heat’s stallion career at Harris, one of the state’s leading farms. Unusual Heat will remain the highest-priced stallion in the state, at $20,000, and will be bred to 50 or 60 mares, she said.

The list of breeders booked to Unusual Heat in 2011 is a familiar one, she said.

“I’ve looked at the book, and most of the people have bred to him before,” Auerbach said. “It’s not necessarily the same mares, but the same people with different mares. Everybody who had mares that wanted to go to him found us.”

Those breeders are trying to capture a level of Unusual Heat’s success in the last few years. He holds the California record for single-season progeny earnings – $5,827,513 in 2008 – and is the 2010 leader through Dec. 20 with $4,306,684.

At age 21, Unusual Heat will be closely managed in terms of the number of mares bred to him.

“With his age now, we don’t want to overburden him,” Auerbach said. “He’s booked, but not overbooked. We’ve always had all the mares we can handle. He’s going to be 21, and he has moved. Everyone would like to get off to a smooth start and see how we do.

“I’m hoping if he can do 50 or 60 that would be great. He was right around the 65 area last year.”

Marty and Pam Wygod, the River Edge Farm owners, decided to close the farm after the 2010 season but wanted the stallions to remain in California. They chose to send them to Ballena Vista. Marty Wygod and Ballena Vista Farm owner Don Cohn share ownership of the sire Idiot Proof, who stands at Ballena Vista.

“It’s the fulfillment of a long dream,” Cohn said of the arrival of the four new stallions. “It’s very exciting for us. We’ve been building this farm for over 20 years and trying to reach a high level of excellence.”

Bertrando, a former leading sire in California, is the senior member of the group at 21, followed by Benchmark, 19, Tribal Rule, 14, and Dixie Chatter, 5.

Some mares bred to the former River Edge stallions have also moved from that farm to Ballena Vista, according to Craig Allen, the stallion manager at Ballena Vista.

Still, Allen said that the new stallions may have smaller books of mares in 2011 than they had in 2010, when Tribal Rule was bred to 101 mares, Dixie Chatter to 68, Bertrando to 50, and Benchmark to 40, according to Jockey Club Statistics.

One factor Allen pointed to is Ballena Vista’s location in San Diego County, which is not as centrally located as River Edge, located between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Allen also noted that Ballena Vista owns far fewer mares than the Wygods did.

“That needs to be recognized when the numbers dip,” he said.

Bertrando is the most expensive of the new Ballena Vista sires, with an $8,000 fee, followed by Tribal Rule at $6,000, Dixie Chatter at $5,000, and Benchmark at $4,000. Ballena Vista owns Benchmark and is a partner with Wygod in Tribal Rule and with Wygod and Herman Sarkowsky in Dixie Chatter. Bertrando is owned by a syndicate.

Allen was reluctant to predict book sizes but remains optimistic.

“I don’t want to put a number on it,” he said. “We’ve been sending out contracts every day, and interest has been brisk. We feel good about it.”

Volume discount for mare owners

Ballena Vista is offering a 20 percent discount to mare owners who breed four or more mares to any of the stallions.

Allen, who worked at Old English Rancho until switching farms last summer, is hopeful that a higher overnight purse structure at California tracks in 2011 and a $20,000 bonus paid to California-breds who win maiden special weight races in Southern California will encourage breeders to be more active.

“The maiden special weight awards have been the positive thing we’ve done,” he said. “The immediate cash in hand has gotten attention.

“I think our base of breeders is still solid. What we’re seeing happening in the recession is that people who were breeding 10 are now breeding five. The guy with one mare is having trouble justifying putting up a big stud fee for one mare.

“I hope we’ve leveled out and we can be on the rise.”