02/13/2015 12:23PM

Illinois stallion Road Ruler's strength is in breeding shed

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It started out promisingly enough for Road Ruler, a son of Unbridled’s Song, back on the first day of 2005. Racing for Padua Stables and George Bolton, and trained by Steve Asmussen, the gray colt won his debut at Fair Grounds by a neck.

It is a long way from a winner’s circle picture with the jockey wearing silks of major owners to life in Burnt Prairie, Ill., population of 52 – 0 percent urban, 100 percent rural. But that is the road Road Ruler has taken. And it has worked out surprisingly well for the horse.

That debut win led nowhere. Road Ruler didn’t race again for a year, and he came back diminished in 2006, when he ran twice, then was laid off again, this time for two years. Back from the long break, Road Ruler was in for a $10,000 claiming tag, and though he made it through an entire season racing in 2008, by year’s end, Road Ruler had dropped to the bottom. He raced for a $4,000 claiming tag in November at Remington Park, was claimed, came back in December in a $7,500 claimer, and was claimed again.

The new owner was Jake Bryant, of Burnt Prairie.

“He was so banged up, he couldn’t get along racing any more,” Bryant said, “but I claimed him for a stallion. All I needed to see was his papers.”

And a stallion Road Ruler has become. In 2014, Road Ruler ranked second among Illinois sires by progeny earnings, with $634,776, and the only horse ahead of him, Cherokee Rap, died in 2012. In 2013 (the most recent year for which the Illinois Department of Agriculture has published such records), he had the most named foals of any Illinois stallion, 15, and his popularity has since grown. 

“I’ll have a chance to breed more to him this year than I ever have,” Bryant said.

Bryant said 28 mares were bred to Road Ruler in 2013, and 40 more in 2014. The operation can’t handle many more. Bryant, 82, still leads Road Ruler to visiting mares when he can, and he has just one “hired man” to help out.

Out of the Strawberry Road mare Stephanie’s Road, Road Ruler has no major winners in his immediate family, but his pedigree is laden with quality, with the great Round Table being the sire of his third dam, Round Pearl.

No doubt, Road Ruler’s emergence has been helped by the deterioration of the troubled Illinois racing industry. The number of Illinois stallions has dropped sharply, from a peak of 343 in 1989 to 70 in 2014.
But the Road Rulers – nearly all Illinois homebreds – have performed well since hitting the track in 2012. There were just a handful that year, Bryant’s own horses, but they showed enough that Road Ruler’s book has increased every year. In 2013, he had 26 runners and 18 winners; in 2014, 34 runners and 25 winners.

“And they can run on anything – turf, dirt, long, short,” Bryant said. “The horse – he’s beautiful. He’s 16 hands 2, muscled out like a Quarter Horse, pretty head. You can’t get a better disposition. You could let the grand kids play with him.”

Bryant once had five stallions, including the good stud Cartwright, but now is down to two. The Nashwan horse Elhayq stands alongside Road Ruler at the farm. Bryant fell for horses when he was a kid. He has no intention of getting away from them anytime soon. 

“I’ll always have a stallion as long as I’m here,” he said. “The gray horse, he’s God-sent to me. He’ll never belong to anyone else as long as I’m around. Me and him are buddies.”