02/13/2015 12:20PM

New player Strong Contender should make quick impact in Indiana


If you are the owner of a stallion farm in Indiana, where the breeding industry still is in relative infancy, how do you go about acquiring the leading sire in the state? Well, you drive down to Florida and pick him up.

That is what the R Star Stallions operation of Leigh Ann and Kerry Hopper did last October, hauling Strong Contender back to their farm near Anderson, Ind., where he will stand the 2015 breeding season for a fee of $3,000.

Strong Contender stood in Florida in 2014, but his progeny earnings of more than $1.34 million would have topped the Indiana sire list.

“We were researching and felt like this was a stallion with amazing potential,” Leigh Ann Hopper said.
Indeed, Strong Contender was a medium-sized fish in a fairly large pond while stationed in Florida, though he had some success there, rising from 17th on the state’s sire list in 2012 to 15th in both 2013 and 2014.

In Indiana, the pickings for stallions remain slim. That’s despite a fairly robust racing program at Indiana Grand, which offers great opportunities for Indiana-bred and Indiana-sired horses, both in maiden and allowance races, and even more so through a series of lucrative stakes races. Hopper did not want to speculate on how many mares Strong Contender might cover in 2015, but one could imagine him catching on rapidly.

A foal of 2003, Strong Contender is by Maria’s Mon and out of the Dynaformer mare Kopenhagen. His second dam was Argentine-bred, and his female family is both interesting and diverse by North American standards. Owner John Oxley, who campaigned another Maria’s Mon son, Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, purchased Strong Contender for $800,000 as a yearling. Trained by John Ward Jr., he was one of the top 3-year-olds of 2006, winning the Dwyer and the Super Derby, but at 4, he was diagnosed with a torn tendon the morning he was supposed to race in the Donn Handicap and was retired to stud that year at Stonewall Farm in Kentucky, eventually being relocated to Stonewall’s Florida division.

Strong Contender’s best recent performer is multiple graded stakes winner Grand Contender, but Hopper correctly points out Strong Contender is far more than a one-hit wonder. He has gotten a series of solid performers with six-figure earnings, and his offspring, on pedigree, have the potential to race on both turf and dirt over a broad range of distances.

“We felt like he’s a proven talent,” Hopper said. “He’s consistently throwing good horses.”

Strong Contender stands a full 17 hands, Hopper said, a massive horse with good balance and conformation. “He’s sort of awe-inspiring when you first see him.”

The Hoppers bought a hay field and made a stallion farm out of it, standing their first stallion, Indy King, in 2010. Now there are five stallions at the farm, including Deputy Storm, Sangaree, Drinkwiththedevil, and What Now. But those four are going to have to make room for the new guy – he should have a quick impact in Indiana.