06/24/2016 2:10PM

Queen's Plate win no guarantee of stallion appeal


Winning the Kentucky Derby practically guarantees that the victor will have a leg up against his contemporaries when it comes to attracting quality and quantity for his first book at stud.

The Queen’s Plate is more of a mixed bag as a stallion-making race.

The first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown has its share of notable sires – names like the breed-shaping Northern Dancer as well as Awesome Again, With Approval, and Victoria Park. However, the past decade has seen the race’s sire-making power trail off.

Only three of the past 10 Queen’s Plate winners are active at stud in North America, but there are some extenuating circumstances that have affected that number. Among them is a run of filly or gelding winners, horses who died before entering stud, exports, and horses still in training.

The two most recent Queen’s Plate winners at stud are 2009 winner Eye of the Leopard at Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky., and Not Bourbon, who won in 2008 and stands at Colebrook Farms in Uxbridge, Ontario. The two briefly shared a barn when Eye of the Leopard spent a season at Colebrook in 2015.

Mike Fox, who took the 2007 Queen’s Plate, retired to Firestone Farms in Caledon, Ontario.

The difference in prominent sires generated by the U.S. and Canada’s signature classics can be largely attributed to numbers and opportunity.

The pool of eligible Queen’s Plate runners is limited to Canadian-breds, which make up a fraction of the North American foal crop. Likewise, a stallion who remains in Canada must compete for a pool of mares comparable to a larger regional market in the U.S., as opposed to Kentucky’s expansive broodmare ranks.

There are always exceptional circumstances, but the smaller populations can limit opportunities for top runners and sires to come forth.

John Burness, owner of Colebrook Farms, also stood 2004 Queen’s Plate winner Niigon, whose promising career was limited to six crops by his untimely death. Burness knows about the uphill battle that can come with standing a Queen’s Plate winner in Canada with respect to breeder expectations, a lesson he learned with Niigon.

“Nobody would breed to him,” Burness said. “Myself and Mr. [Robert] Krembil, who owned the stallion, supported him, and we bred mares to him, but we had very little support at the beginning because everyone basically looked at him as a two-turn horse.

“Up here, I find breeders in general are looking more for a sprinter. They’re looking for an early horse that’s going to give you that 2-year-old that you can bang out of the gate, and the guy that’s buying it can say, ‘I can run this horse in May or June, and I can start earning money with him.’ ”

The turning point, Burness said, came when Niigon’s first foals hit the track, producing three stakes winners and three stakes-placed horses by the end of the crop’s 3-year-old season. With precociousness no longer a question, breeders began looking at Niigon as a potential sire of Queen’s Plate runners.

While it’s been a relatively long time between Queen’s Plate winners retiring to stud, the streak likely will be broken when Shaman Ghost enters the breeding shed at the end of his ontrack career. The 4-year-old son of Ghostzapper won the 2015 renewal for Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs operation, which houses one of the country’s most prominent stallion operations in Aurora, Ontario.

However, Shaman Ghost’s growing résumé could lead management to start him in a larger market, perhaps beside his grandsire, 1997 Queen’s Plate winner Awesome Again, at the operation’s Paris, Ky., base.

Dermot Carty of Adena Springs said Shaman Ghost’s dirt form, which includes a win in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational and a runner-up effort in the Prince of Wales Stakes, gives him a broad appeal not limited to synthetic and turf racing at Woodbine.

“If he was to retire, he’d definitely have a place up here, but we’re hoping for bigger things for him,” Carty said. “He’s shown that he can do it, and if he does it in the big picture, we’ll have to give him the opportunity with Kentucky mares. Adena Springs is not just a local operation, we’re an international operation, and we look at the international scale of what we’re doing.”