01/20/2017 12:10PM

Kantharos getting big break in Kentucky

Barbara D. Livingston
After launching his career in Florida, Kantharos tests the Kentucky market in 2017.

The string of announcements from Kentucky farms ushering stallions to a better fit in regional or international markets is a common sight in the months between breeding seasons.

Less common is the stallion who gets a call-up to the North American breeding industry’s major leagues and settles into a stall in the Bluegrass State after entering stud in another market.

When the move has gone as planned, it has produced names that have become ubiquitous in the stud book, including the legendary Mr. Prospector and his sons Fappiano and Crafty Prospector, who all debuted in Florida before moving north. In recent years, the roster of relocated stallions into Kentucky includes Saint Ballado, Northern Afleet, Stormy Atlantic, Malibu Moon, Macho Uno, and City Zip.

This breeding season once again produces a handful of incoming Kentucky stallions who got their starts out of state, headlined by Grade 2 winner Kantharos.

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The 9-year-old son of Lion Heart moved to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms in Lexington for 2017 after standing his first six seasons in Florida, most of them at Ocala Stud. His first foals are 5-year-olds of 2017.

A lightning-fast start by his runners made Kantharos Florida’s second-leading sire by progeny earnings in 2016 with just three crops on the racetrack. He has 12 stakes winners from his first 106 starters, chief among them Grade 2 winner Ancient Secret and Grade 3 winners X Y Jet and Mr. Jordan.

John Moynihan, bloodstock adviser for owner Stonestreet Farm, said the time had come to expand the stallion’s portfolio and increase his stud fee from the $5,000 at which he was advertised in 2016. The boost to the $15,000 he commands this year at Hill ‘n’ Dale, though, would have made him Florida’s highest-priced stallion.

“In our case, Florida is an excellent place to stand a young horse and get him off the ground,” Moynihan said. “When you get to the point where your horse commands a stud-fee range of $15,000 or higher, they don’t really have the mare population to support a horse to a large degree like maybe Kentucky would at that level. That was a large part of our decision making.”

Stonestreet had a long-running relationship with John G. Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms, which already stood Curlin, Maclean’s Music, and Atreides for owner Barbara Banke. However, the Stonestreet operation’s history of spreading its assets meant landing Kantharos was no certainty.

Sikura said he first expressed interest in standing the horse more than a year before the deal to relocate was announced. With several other Kentucky farms also on the scent, Sikura knew he had to assert himself from the gate to succeed.

“If you’re in this business, you have to try to be aware of everything, if at all possible,” he said. “Any trends in the marketplace, any new or regional horse getting runners, you need to pay attention to that success, and if it gets to a level to where you think those horses are ready for that move, you’ve got to express an interest, you’ve got to solicit the people, and you’ve got to talk about it. You have to jump on early, too early probably, to make the offer, but early enough to let them know that you’re serious.”

Early response has been positive for Kantharos, who Sikura said had more than 100 mares in his book before the turn of the new year.

Sikura had been down a similar path with Hill ‘n’ Dale stalwart Stormy Atlantic, who stood his first five seasons at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla., before moving to Kentucky for the 2003 season. Stormy Atlantic was a top-10 freshman sire when the deal was announced, led by Grade 3 winner Atlantic Ocean.

“What you need to do is make sure the success is real and it’s not a blip because if you bring the horse to Kentucky and he falters, they’ll look at your horse skeptically,” Sikura said. “Stormy Atlantic, we really went out on a limb. He had one [graded] stakes winner, and we brought the horse up, and he exceeded everyone’s expectations. He was champion juvenile sire, he had Grade 1 winners and in excess of 100 stakes winners, so that’s high standards for any horse, particularly a horse who stood in Florida for $5,000.”

While the destination might be the same, there are many different roads for a regional stallion to take to central Kentucky.

For some stallions, relocation to Kentucky is a function of a farm moving its own pieces around the board.

Adena Springs in Paris, Ky., brings in two stallions for the 2017 season who started their stud careers in Florida.

Grade 1 winner Capo Bastone joins the Kentucky roster for his third season after retiring to owner Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs South in 2015, while Grade 3 winner City Wolf stood elsewhere in Florida before being moved to Stronach’s Florida farm and later Kentucky.

The most prominent example of a fairly recent call-up gone right is Malibu Moon, who entered stud at Country Life Farm in Maryland and later became a classic sire in Kentucky.

Owned by B. Wayne Hughes, Malibu Moon was retired to the Pons family’s Country Life Farm in 2000 with a strong pedigree but just two starts before being sidelined by injury. The son of A.P. Indy spent his first four seasons in Maryland before moving to Castleton Lyons in Lexington in 2004 and later down Iron Works Pike to Spendthrift Farm for the 2008 breeding season.

Spendthrift Farm general manager Ned Toffey was still working at Three Chimneys when Malibu Moon was establishing his reputation in Maryland and when he made the move to Castleton Lyons but said he was aware of the buzz the stallion quickly generated.

“He was a horse that immediately started getting great-looking foals,” Toffey said. “I remember Josh [Pons] telling me he started developing a cult following based on the foals alone, so there was this little grassroots support building for him.”

That early enthusiasm gained even more traction once Malibu Moon got runners, led in his first crop by multiple Grade 2 winner Perfect Moon. The stallion was moved to Kentucky while his debut crop was 2, but his legacy in Maryland was defined by his second crop, which included champion juvenile Declan’s Moon and Grade 1 winner Malibu Mint.

“I think Declan’s Moon was the real game changer,” Toffey said. “When they can get the national horse that goes beyond the regional and gives you something to be able to sell seasons with, then you know that you’ll be able to get continued support. That’s what you need for a horse to make a transition.”

Malibu Moon continued to live up to his early returns, siring multiple Grade 1 winner Life At Ten in his first Kentucky crop and later siring 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Grade 1 winners Carina Mia, Devil May Care, and Ask the Moon, among others.

Spendthrift has maintained its relationship with Country Life Farm since Malibu Moon departed and currently entrusts Super Ninety Nine and Freedom Child to the Pons family. Spendthrift also stands stallions in Louisiana and New York.

The partnership between Spendthrift and its regional affiliates has produced success in the past, but Toffey noted that the farm also has begun finding solutions to keep new stallions with potential holes in their résumés at the Kentucky base, removing the need to move them in the first place.

Toffey highlighted Temple City as an example of a stallion whom farm management was on the fence about standing in Kentucky but turned out to be a pleasant surprise with the proper support.

Temple City bore fruit early, with three-time Grade 1 winner Miss Temple City and Grade 2 winner and Kentucky Derby starter Bolo coming from his first crop.

“In our initial discussions, we thought he was probably a regional horse because his race record was a little limited,” Toffey said. “He got started a little later, he was a Grade 3 winner, Grade 1-placed, and the Grade 1 placing was long on the turf, and we worried those were going to be negatives.

“By that time, we had the infrastructure in place to get the support we wanted for a horse like that,” he added. “We came up with a new spin on one of our programs and did a ‘one-and-done’ deal on Share the Upside [which typically requires a two-year commitment]. That was a horse that was priced aggressively low, so we got interest. In the past, there was a good chance that was a horse that would have started in a regional market, but we had had enough experience at that level of the market here that we were able to make it work so you can start that kind of horse in Kentucky.”