12/07/2017 10:26AM

For Lord Nelson, a long and trying road to stud

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Barbara D. Livingston
Multiple Grade 1 winner Lord Nelson is ready to begin his stud career in 2018 after laminitis delayed his debut.

A stallion open house at Spendthrift Farm is often a laid-back affair. Expensive decisions are made by breeders as they inspect the horses and plan their matings, of course, but the business is broken up by laughs, handshakes, and catered sandwiches. The stakes are relatively low for the stallions themselves in the moment as they stand, walk, and go back to their stalls.

For Lord Nelson, just getting to that point was a triumph.

The trials of the 5-year-old Pulpit horse have been well documented over the past year, starting last fall when a cut on his leg developed into an infection that forced his withdrawal from the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and his retirement to Spendthrift Farm.

Set at a 2017 fee of $25,000 under a standard “stands and nurses” contract and for $30,000 as part of the Share the Upside program, Lord Nelson was poised for a well-supported debut season at stud. However, the onset of laminitis in both his front feet forced Spendthrift to cancel his book in January.

He spent a redshirt season under careful monitoring by Spendthrift staff, which worked closely with top Kentucky clinics Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Slowly, the team rebuilt Lord Nelson’s hooves and treated his infection with antibiotics.

“I think this is a horse who is always likely to be at a little bit greater risk for issues than another horse, but so far so good,” said Ned Toffey, Spendthrift’s general manager. “After a lot of gradual, small, incremental increases in exercise, we’ve got him to the point where he’s going out into a small paddock for several hours a day, and he’s handling that really well.”

His condition improved at such a satisfactory rate that Spendthrift announced in October that Lord Nelson would make his belated debut at stud for the 2018 breeding season.

He was showcased publicly to breeders for the first time in November, walking gingerly on modified rocker shoes and kept to a limited schedule out of his stall to avoid overtaxing his still-recovering frame. There was still plenty of work to be done for Lord Nelson as a patient, but his development from an ailing horse into a viable stallion prospect earned the respect of many that saw him.

“I thought he looked fantastic at Spendthrift when I saw him during the November sale,” said George Adams of Maryland-based Housatonic Bloodstock. “I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, and obviously his feet still aren’t perfect, but he looked to be in great condition otherwise, and he’s still a very attractive, well-balanced horse.”

Toffey said a number of special measures would be in place to ensure Lord Nelson’s safety during his first season.

The first will be reining in Lord Nelson’s book. The stallion will once again be advertised at $25,000, but only under a stands-and-nurses contract. Toffey said it was difficult to ask breeders to commit to a long-term plan like Share the Upside when Lord Nelson’s capability to handle a full workload was still unknown.

Share the Upside is an incentive program started by Spendthrift Farm in which breeders can earn a lifetime right to an incoming stallion by breeding to him for an agreed-upon number of seasons and producing a live foal each time. Breeders would have activated their lifetime breeding right for Lord Nelson after two seasons.

However, breeders who bought into Share the Upside seasons on Lord Nelson last year were put at the front of the line for the stallion’s limited book in 2018. Toffey said there had been a few defectors, but the vast majority of breeders who were on board last year have remained on board after seeing him this fall.

“We’re pretty optimistic about the fact that he should be able to breed mares this year,” Toffey said. “Right now, the plan is to sell 80 seasons, and then depending on how he handles that kind of book, we may supplement it with more seasons that we may sell or use ourselves.

“It’s tough to sell a season and tell someone they can’t breed, so we’re trying to be conservative with the numbers, and want to make sure we do the right thing for the horse and not put too much stress on him,” he continued. “We’ll try to keep him close to one or two covers per day, and if he’s handling things well, we may add some of our own mares in there.”

One early adopter who will be back is Adams, who planned to send the winning Broken Vow mare I’m Engaged to Lord Nelson in 2017, and once again penciled in the mare to be part of his first book in 2018.

Adams was sold on Lord Nelson following his victory in the Grade 1 Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita in June 2016 and informed Spendthrift of his intent to buy a Share the Upside season when they became available. The farm kept him updated on the horse’s condition after his injury, and Adams sent I’m Engaged to Ashford Stud resident Declaration of War when Lord Nelson’s season was canceled.

“They told the Share the Upside folks before they’d announced it publicly that the horse wasn’t going to breed last season,” Adams said. “So I was prepared for it, and didn’t feel like it came out of left field. Obviously, it was disappointing, but it’s great that they did the right thing by the horse.”

Missing out on the chance to earn a lifetime breeding right to Lord Nelson was a downer for Adams when he heard the stallion would not be offered through Share the Upside in 2018, but he said the time and convalescence did not change his pedigree or race record.

“Even though I’m a commercial breeder and did have a moment where I wondered if missing the year would hurt Lord Nelson’s first foals at the sales, I think he’s been in the news enough that people haven’t forgotten about him,” Adams said. “Plus, as good looking as he is, he should have beautiful foals. Actually, with Spendthrift limiting his book because of his health, that might help out those of us who are breeding to him a bit in the sales ring when the time comes.”

Mare selection will be a key element of Lord Nelson’s first book. Toffey said the farm will aim for his mares to be veterans of the breeding process, especially early in the season, to reduce risk in his covers. I’m Engaged, for example, would meet Lord Nelson for her seventh mating.

“He’s not the type that needs to be fighting with tough maiden mares, so we’ll insist the mares be in very good heat and stand very well,” Toffey said. “He’s in a shoe that gives him a tremendous amount of cushion, and he’s going to stay in a specialized shoe, certainly through breeding season.”

While Lord Nelson has shown the physical development and interest that suggests he will be ready for the breeding shed, Toffey said the stallion has not yet covered a test mare, and likely will not until January, but that schedule would be standard procedure regardless of the horse’s history.

“In relative terms, it wasn’t that long ago that we were in quite serious condition with this horse,” Toffey said. “We’re trying to put as much time between that and doing anything as stressful as breeding. Tentatively, it would be sometime in mid-January that we would test-breed, and that’s not an uncommon time for us to test-breed our stallions anyway. If he was a horse that just came to us after the Breeders’ Cup and he were here settling in, that’s roughly the time we would be looking at doing it anyway.

“By that time, we’ll probably have another one or two settings on him from a shoeing standpoint,” Toffey continued. “Lately, with every new shoeing, he’s improved in growing more foot and getting closer to something approaching normal. We’ll try to get him to that point. I don’t think we’re being overconfident.”