02/21/2009 1:00AM

Louisiana: Looking for quality over quantity


NEW ORLEANS - One day, Michele Rodriguez woke up and found out she was standing 15 stallions at her Elite Thoroughbreds in Folsom, La.

Okay, so it wasn't quite that sudden, but Rodriguez, co-owner of Elite with Lee Daniel Thomas, said she never really intended for the Elite stallion roster to become so large.

"We double our number in two years," said Rodriguez.

But expect 2009 to mark Elite's high-water mark in the Louisiana sire business, at least in terms of sheer numbers. Rodriguez readily conceded that Louisiana, with its relatively healthy racing industry, has become super-saturated with stallions. Other major stallion stations in the state, like Clear Creek Stud and Red River Farms, have basically kept their stallion rosters steady this year. At some point - and this may be that point - there will be too many sires to support the number of mares being bred, and contraction seems inevitable. And it will be happening at Elite, Rodriguez said.

"It's been five years since we got started," Rodriguez said. "The state definitely has too many stallions, and I'm one of the culprits. I had some naivete coming into the business. If some of these stallions have progeny that don't do that much this year, they'll be moving on. I'd like to have half the number that I have right now. Now, I'm trying to bring in better horses."

There's progress being made in that area. Midway through the 2008 breeding season, Brahms arrived at Elite and quickly attracted plenty of attention from Louisiana breeders. And this year, Rodriguez has another late arrival to the state who should quickly fill his book: Yonaguska, who in early February was moved from Kentucky to stand the remainder of the 2009 season.

"Yonaguska already has been well received," said Rodriguez, who is partners on the horse with the Vinery Stable.

Yonaguska, by Cherokee Run out of Marital Spook, immediately will shoot to the top of Louisiana stallions in terms of progeny earnings. In 2008, his runners earned more than $3.5 million, ranking him eighth among third-crop sires. From three crops to race through 2008, Yonaguska has gotten 171 runners, 90 winners, and 6 stakes winners, and he has had several high-priced sales horses. Standing for $4,000 at Elite this season, Yonaguska could attract a book of 80 mares, Rodriguez said.

If so, that would put Yonaguska in the same range as Brahms, who stands for a $3,500 fee this year. Despite coming in late last year, Brahms still bred 70 mares, Rodriguez said. Brahms, a 12-year-old Danzig horse who is being leased by Elite, has proven capable of siring higher-class performers, most notably the current handicapper Arson Squad. Brahms also is the sire of promising Florida-based 3-year-old Theregoesjojo.

Elite also has brought in Fire Slam - who stood in Florida last year - for the 2009 season, and though Rodriguez does plan to cull her stallion roster for 2010, she said Elite is not having problems filling the book of her more attractive horses. With slots-enhanced purses at all the major tracks, and a functional workers' compensation program in place for the state's horsemen, the Louisiana horse industry actually is maintaining a degree of health that's somewhat surprising given the current economic conditions.

"I don't think Louisiana is suffering like the rest of the country is," Rodriguez said. "I'm hearing some of the guys in Kentucky saying their books are way down from last year, but we're on target. I'm not going to say it's not going to drop, but the Louisiana program is so strong, we're doing okay right now."

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