09/16/2005 12:00AM

Report for 2004 holds promise


Apprehension about the future of the state's tracks, added to the lure of richer pots in neighboring states, have many Maryland breeders considering options other than staying home. But if there is one silver lining for the future of Maryland's breeding industry, it is the strength of the state's stallion base.

Jockey Club figures released this week confirm breeders' support of Maryland stallions. Maryland ranked among the top 10 in the nation by number of foals by state stallions in 2004 and was one of seven states among the top 10 to see the number of foals increase over figures for 2003. Based on reports received through early September (compared with the same time last year), Maryland stallions had 997 foals reported for 2004, compared with 978 foals in 2003, a rise of 1.9 percent.

Maryland's top five stallions by 2004 foals (through Sept. 8) are Lion Hearted (81), Not for Love (79), Two Punch (60), Louis Quatorze (49), and Outflanker (48). The top three stallions stand at Northview Stallion Station, while Louis Quatorze stands at Murmur Farm and Outflanker is at Maryland Stallion Station.

The Jockey Club's 2004 figures, the most recent, from the reports of mares bred reveals a trend among the majority of major breeding states, including Kentucky, Florida, California, and Texas, as well as Maryland, that there are far fewer stallions standing than five years ago.

But while the average book size for sires in several states has gone down, Maryland stallions are seeing increases - in 2004, local stallions covered an average of 21.8 mares, third in the nation behind only Kentucky (54.4) and Florida (28.3). In 1999, the average size of a Maryland stallion's book was 17.8.

Million Day a strong marketing factor

Since its inception 20 years ago, the Maryland Million has become one of the top promotional tools for Maryland stallions. The event, which showcases the state's stallions, will be run on Oct. 8 this year at Laurel Park. Maryland Million Day has helped launch the careers of young stallions - last year's Maryland Million Lassie winner Hear Us Roar was from the first crop of Lion Hearted - and boosted the fortunes of established sires. This year offers a $1.48-million, 12-race card, and larger purses for nine of the races.

The purse of the biggest race of the day, the Million Million Classic, has been raised to $250,000, and $50,000 purse increases were also applied to the Distaff, Ladies, Turf, Oaks and Sprint - each now worth $150,000. The two juvenile races - the Lassie and Nursery - will offer $125,000. Also on the card is the second running of the $100,000 Turf Sprint, and three starter handicaps with purses ranging from $30,000 to $50,000.

The pre-entry deadline for Maryland Million Day is Wednesday, Sept. 28.

In addition, Maryland Million is offering purse premiums during Laurel's fall meet. Eight stakes, including the Selima and Laurel Futurity at the Fall Festival of Racing on Nov. 19, will be worth an additional $25,000 over the guaranteed purse for Maryland Million-nominated runners.

Country Life Farm gets Oratory

Stallions from Country Life Farm have sired the winners of more than 30 Maryland Million races, and the operation got a jump on the upcoming breeding season with the addition of Oratory.

The 3-year-old Oratory, a son of the hot sire Pulpit, arrived at the farm in Bel Air the first week of September.

Country Life had been searching for an A.P. Indy-line stallion since moving Malibu Moon to Kentucky before the 2004 breeding season. Oratory, a grandson of A.P. Indy, proved his quality with a 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont in May. That would be his final start, though, as he was injured in a workout three days before an expected appearance in the Dwyer Stakes on July 4.