01/29/2010 12:00AM

Papa Clem joins high-end crowd

Barbara D. Livingston
Papa Clem, with more than $1.1 million in earnings, his racing career ended by an ankle injury.

The $7,500 that mare owners will pay to breed to Papa Clem in the upcoming breeding season immediately puts the 4-year-old toward the top of California's most expensive stallions.

Papa Clem, the winner of the Arkansas Derby last year, and the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes earlier this month at Santa Anita, was retired last weekend because of an ankle injury. He will stand at Legacy Ranch in Clements, Calif.

Papa Clem's fee is the highest among stallions standing their first season in California in 2010. First-year stallion Dixie Chatter, along with Kafwain and Southern Image, who have arrived from other states, will all stand for $5,000 this year.

Unusual Heat, the state's leading stallion by progeny earnings in 2008 and 2009, has been booked full at a cost of $20,000 per breeding. He is the most expensive sire in the state.

The decision to stand Papa Clem at Legacy Ranch was made earlier this week by owner Bo Hirsch. The stallion was being sent to the farm on Thursday afternoon.

"This happened so quick," said Legacy Ranch's owner, Pete Parrella. "We're very excited about it, to have a stallion like this. This is great for California. Hopefully, we can get enough support to make this work.

Parrella says the timing of Papa Clem's retirement, weeks before the start of the breeding season in mid-February, worked in favor of California's breeding industry. If Papa Clem had been retired last fall, he might have gone to stud in other states, such as Kentucky or Maryland, Parrella said.

"It's a little late in the season, and Bo is a California guy," Parrella said. "We had the right people in the meeting that sold him on the idea."

Papa Clem won 3 of 13 starts and $1,121,190. His biggest win was the Arkansas Derby, which was followed by a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 6 3/4 lengths behind Mine That Bird.

Papa Clem lost his next five starts before winning the Grade 2 San Fernando by a half-length. Trainer Gary Stute had hoped to run Papa Clem in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 6 or the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 27 this year, but the ankle injury put an end to that.

Bred by Hirsch, Papa Clem is by Smart Strike, the same sire as a two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin, and is out of Miss Houdini, whom Hirsch campaigned. Miss Houdini had a limited career, but did win the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante over seven furlongs in 2002.

Smart Strike is the sire of Lookin at Lucky, the champion 2-year-old male of 2009, who is based at Santa Anita.

"We've had many opportunities to bring another stallion to Legacy Ranch," Parrella said. "We didn't want to compete with a stallion in the $2,500 range. We were waiting for something that would make more sense for us and California."

Parrella is a member of the board of directors of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Thoroughbred Owners of California and has first-hand knowledge of how the economy has affected breeding and owning of racehorses.

He is hoping that the arrival of Papa Clem as a stallion will lead state breeders to increase their activity in coming months.

"We've given California an opportunity," he said. "We've talked about how the great stallions are getting older. We need new blood. Some of us thought about buying a stallion, and here is this deal that fell in our lap.

"Now it's time to put up. It's time to support this horse. It's time to get the breeding in California stabilized. Hopefully, this will help."