02/21/2009 12:00AM

Illinois: In down year, Fairberry adds two sires

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CHICAGO - The foal crop is shrinking. Purses are stagnant. Fairmount Park teeters on the brink of dissolution. Chicago, home to five different Thoroughbred tracks in the last several decades, is down to two racetracks, and one of them, Hawthorne Race Course, is struggling. All in all, it is not a great time to try and make a stallion in the state of Illinois.

One of the only breeding operations in the state that is actually attempting to expand its stallion roster in 2009 is Fairberry Farm, property of the first couple in Illinois racing, Harvey and Nancy Vanier. Fairberry, located in Waterloo, already stood four stallions, but has added two more for this breeding season, with both Deputy Wild Cat and Fappie's Notebook moving from Florida this year.

"One was a good racehorse, the other is a well-bred horse," said Nancy Vanier.

The good racehorse was Fappie's Notebook, who won 10 races and $561,085 during a solid career. The horse with more pedigree is Deputy Wild Cat, a son of Hollywood Wildcat and brother to War Chant, but his racing career consisted of just one start, a loss. At stud, Fappie's Notebook has just 46 foals from three crops to race through 2009, but has gotten 34 runners and 23 winners. Deputy Wild Cat has two crops to race, including 40 named foals, 26 runners, and 14 winners.

Both stallions are being retained by their previous owner, Irving Cowan, and Vanier said Fairberry merely is standing the stallions.

"The owner contacted us, and there's no reason not to take them," Vanier said.

Vanier said local interest in Deputy Wild Cat was so far running slightly ahead of Fappie's Notebook, but Vanier, an astute and accomplished student of pedigrees, said she is more inclined to breed her own mares to Fappie's Notebook.

"We're going to breed mares to both of them, but especially to Fappie's Notebook," she said. "He was a sound horse, and I just think sound horses make better studs."

Vanier's perspective is worth heeding. Her mares and the Fairberry stallions have continued producing useful homebreds for decades, and Vanier (along with various partners) has maintained her position as one of the state's most active owners. But many Thoroughbred breeders in Illinois are scaling back, Vanier said.

"Well, I think the toughest thing for us is the thing about the economy," she said. "People aren't breeding their mares this year; they're taking a year off. All the books are down."

A similar assessment was offered by Frank Kirby, the successful trainer who also co-owns Hondo Ranch. Hondo's stallion roster will remain at two this year, though Kirby said one of his owners, John Haran, was bringing two stallions - including the mildly established Shore Breeze - to his Eagle Valley Farm North for 2009.

"Things are not very good right now, but that's not just here, it's everywhere," said Kirby.

But hey, this is Illinois, and you might have heard that an Illinoisan recently has assumed the mantle of president of the United States.

"We keep hoping that things will turn around and the purses will get better here," Vanier said. "If they don't, we may just have to go and ask Obama for some money."

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