02/01/2013 5:19PM

New sires offer risks, but also potential for rewards

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Barbara D. Livingston
Brilliant Speed has appeal as first-year sire because he is a son of Dynaformer.

It has practically been a year in the making.

From the first announcements of horses retiring in the spring, through the farewell efforts at the Breeders’ Cup, the roster of new stallions set to debut in breeding sheds in 2013 has grown. When the breeding season begins in mid-February, those horses move into the next phase of their lives.

There are 69 stallions in North America who will be standing their first year at stud in 2013 and have an advertised fee of $1,500 or more. For the group, the average age is 6 years old, and the average stud fee is $7,304. Of those 69 stallions, 33 will begin their careers in Kentucky.

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There are few bigger risks in the Thoroughbred business than standing a new stallion. A strong pedigree, a sterling race record, and great conformation can help draw mares early to a sire prospect, but the true test of the horse’s worth won’t come for at least two years, when his first yearlings are sold at public auction. The ultimate test comes another year or two later when the sire’s first foals start to race.
To stay in stallion business, though, it’s all part of the game.

“When you have a stallion barn, you have to have inventory,” said Case Clay, president of Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky. “Horses are not machines, so they get older, and as they get older, you have to replace the ones that retire with new stallions. It’s a necessity.”

Three Chimneys will stand two new sires in 2013: Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Caleb’s Posse, by Posse, and Grade 1 winner Brilliant Speed, by Dynaformer. In seeking out new sires to stand at the farm, Clay said the most important factors to consider are the most simple to understand, but a potentially difficult combination to find in one horse — race record, pedigree, and conformation.

“With a new stallion, it sounds [like a] cliché, but you have to have horses that check as many boxes as possible, hopefully all of them,” he said.

Another factor that is becoming more important in the minds of breeders when evaluating a new sire is who handled the horse during his racing career.

Suzie O’Cain of Highcliff Stallions at Mill Creek Farm in New York stands new stallion Smart Bid, who was owned by George Strawbridge Jr. and trained by Graham Motion. The positive public reputation of the horse’s connections from both a care and medication standpoint, she said, has given prospective breeders added confidence in the horse. Strawbridge has been one of the most vocal owners advocating elimination of race-day medication.

“I’ve noticed over the last few years, people are asking me, ‘Who trained that horse?’ ” O’Cain said. “I never used to get asked that question, ever.”

Noticeable in the newly retired horses to stud for 2013 is the move to replace the blood of top sires who are no longer available. Of the top four sires by number of sons headed to stud this year, three have departed the North American market in the past few years: A.P. Indy, who will have five new sons at stud this year, was pensioned in 2011. Dynaformer died in 2012. And Empire Maker was sold to Japanese interests in 2010. Dynaformer and Empire Maker both have four sons entering stud in 2013.

“It certainly plays a part,” Clay said of trying to find sons of prominent sires.

Three Chimneys stood Dynaformer the majority of his stud career and now has his son Brilliant Speed.

“You want to give the market a product that they want,” Clay said. “With Empire Maker, that certainly is the case. There is a shortage of Dynaformer blood, so that certainly played a part in our decision [to stand Brilliant Speed].”

Without the finished product of foals to show breeders what a stallion is capable of producing, breeding to a new sire requires vision. Clay, though, said the stallion himself has always been the product.

While a photo in a stallion directory can give breeders a general idea of what a stallion looks like, O’Cain said the best way to get an impression of a new stallion is to see him in the flesh.

“When people call and have an inquiry to a new stallion going to stud, the main thing I always want people to do, if possible, is for people to come see the animal,” O’Cain said. “In a picture, you’re looking at a profile, and you’ve got to look at the animal from all angles. In a profile, you can’t tell if they’re crooked. You can’t tell if they’re offset. I think that’s the key.

“If the stallion manager does their homework and picks the proper individual that will show well, then get some people to come and see them, you can probably have some success.”

Clay noted that inspection of a new sire should be taken with a grain of salt. Only a few months ago, many of these stallion prospects were standouts on the track, and were on a training regimen to match, meaning they look very different from the typical veteran sire.

“Stallions look a lot more appealing to breeders after they’ve been at the farm for a year,” Clay said. “When they retire off the track, they look like an Olympic track and field athlete, and once they get to the farm, they fill out. When you go see new stallions, you really have to remember to yourself, ‘Okay, I’m looking at a horse that just got off the van and just ran in a Breeders’ Cup race.’ ”