05/24/2017 10:30AM

Sikura's faith in Maclean's Music rewarded with Preakness win

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Debra A. Roma
Cloud Computing became the first classic winner by Maclean's Music by winning the Preakness.

One of John G. Sikura’s guiding philosophies in operating Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm is, “When everybody agrees, it’s too late.”

Sikura didn’t have to look hard to find dissent when he wanted to stand Maclean’s Music at his Lexington, Ky., farm. All he had to do was look at the comments sections under online stories on the stallion’s retirement to find a handy rundown of reasons why his newest resident would never make it – too fragile, too unproven, too unlikely to sire foals who could withstand the rigors of racing or get a route of ground.

Owned by Stonestreet Stables, the son of Distorted Humor raced just once – at six furlongs to boot. His career was cut short by a fractured splint bone and complications from the surgery to repair it. Would his foals hold together? His debut fee of $6,500 meant the quality of mares he’d attract likely would be too low to produce stakes-caliber foals.

Of course, the screen names and avatars weren’t nearly as tactful with their criticism.

Where some saw questions, Sikura and Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables saw potential. They were rewarded for their faith at the Preakness Stakes, where Cloud Computing, a colt from Maclean’s Music’s first crop, roped in champion Classic Empire to score as the sire’s first classic starter.

Cloud Computing’s Preakness win made Maclean’s Music the leading first-crop sire of 3-year-olds by stakes wins (five) and stakes winners (four) for 2017. Of his 56 starters, 12 have won or placed in stakes, and his first crop also produced Panamanian champion California Music.

“This is what the really important sires do,” Sikura said. “They get an abundance of quality runners, they win everywhere, they win at major racetracks, they run really fast, and they perform at the highest level.”

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The partnership between Hill ‘n’ Dale and Stonestreet is well known in today’s bloodstock market, with former Stonestreet runners Curlin, Kantharos, and Atreides also standing at the farm, but the partnership began with Maclean’s Music, who retired to stud for the 2013 breeding season.

The work to stand Maclean’s Music began two years earlier, when the colt rocketed down the Santa Anita stretch to win on debut by 7 1/4 lengths and produce a 114 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest ever for a first-time starter. Sikura watched from the popular Lexington restaurant Malone’s.

“I walked up and watched the race, and I was just awed by it,” he said. “I was trying to figure out who it was, and I looked in the Form, and it was a maiden race. It couldn’t be a maiden race. I called [Stonestreet bloodstock adviser] John Moynihan, and he was effusive about his praise for the horse. I said, ‘Keep me in mind, and we’ll follow that horse along.’ At the time, it looked like it was just the beginning, so I just wanted to tell him how much I thought of the race.”

Moynihan was not surprised that Maclean’s Music showed high talent right from the start.

“Physically, on the scale of 1 to 10, he’s a 12,” Moynihan said. “He’s a phenomenal horse, and this horse did things in the morning before he ran that just gave you goose bumps. When that translated to that awesome maiden performance, we really thought we were onto something great.”

Moynihan knew of Sikura’s success starting stallions like Medaglia d’Oro and Candy Ride, so the call on a maiden winner was a welcome one. After months of correspondence between them, including a visit to Ocala, Fla., to see the horse in person, the biggest step yet came during a cafeteria meeting at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

“I sat down with Barbara and John in the lunchroom and made an outrageous offer to buy the entire horse,” Sikura said. “They looked at me funny and said, ‘We don’t want to sell the whole horse. I’ll sell you just less than half the horse.’

“I sounded like I had a crush on that horse, talking about him. Thankfully, they hopefully found me sincere and qualified to get in the deal, and we stood the horse.”

That determination went a long way toward sealing the first of many deals between the two industry-leading outfits.

“A lot of times, it doesn’t add up when you have a horse you think the world of and he only makes one lifetime start in a maiden race,” Moynihan said. “It’s hard to get other people on board with your same level of enthusiasm and respect for how good of a horse you think he is.”

Sikura sent about 25 of his own mares to Maclean’s Music in his first season, including the Grade 2-placed A.P. Indy mare Quick Temper – who produced Cloud Computing.

“The game is about brilliance,” Sikura said. “It carries, and it can be massaged, and it can be bred to stay. With the A.P. Indy mare, there’s lots of stamina influence in Cloud Computing’s pedigree, and if you put that on top of the brilliance, that means you’ve got pace that keeps going, and that’s what the best horses have.”