09/03/2009 11:00PM

Oregon gets a boost from Grindstone

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When he attended the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 1996, Dr. Jack Root would never have guessed that someday the winner would be standing at his Oregon farm.

"That was the one Grindstone won," Root, a 56-year-old veterinarian, said. "But that wasn't why we got him. We were looking for a proven stallion, because we've gone through unproven ones, most of which don't work out. We've had our share of super-bred horses that don't work out as sires, so we thought we'd better get one that was proven."

Root and his wife, Margaret, who operate the Oakhurst Equine Farm and Oakhurst Thoroughbreds in Newberg, Ore., signed the contract to purchase Grindstone privately on Thursday. That deal will bring the 16-year-old Grindstone, a son of Unbridled, from Overbrook Farm in Kentucky, where he was bred and has stood since 1997, to a state whose breeding industry has been slowing. The Roots hope the Derby winner will add some charisma and stamina to Northwest breeding and racing - and perhaps help the industry turn around.

Between 1997 and 2007, the last year for which complete figures are available, Oregon's registered foal crop has dwindled from 358 to 212, a drop of nearly 41 percent, according to the Jockey Club. Between 2007 and 2008, the state's active stallion population has fallen from 56 to 41 who bred just 287 mares last year for an average book size of seven mares. Root is aiming for bigger things for his new stallion.

"I think we'll breed probably 50 a year," he said.

To get to that number, Root will have to tap mares from the whole region, particularly from Washington, where breeding also has declined recently.

"In years past, we've also gotten a reasonable number from British Columbia, and we've had mares ship from as far away as Utah," he said. "We'll also get some from Idaho and Northern California. I've already had a call today from someone in Northern California who wants to book two mares right away.

"This year, in particular, because of the economy and everything, our local horse market has been bad, and a lot of people stayed on the sidelines instead of breeding. They still have their mares ready to breed, so I think Grindstone will bring them back out of the closet. Hopefully, we can use him to ramp up local interest in breeding somewhat."

Root plans to stand Grindstone for $2,500 and will offer previous Oakhurst clients a special 2010 fee of $1,500.

One major calling card for Grindstone is his son Birdstone, sire of 2009 classic winners Mine That Bird and Summer Bird this year.

The farm plans an Oct. 17 open house to introduce Grindstone.