11/01/2001 12:00AM

Sire list rising quickly at Special T

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In 1999, when Rick Taylor left his high-powered position as general manager for John and Betty Mabee's successful Golden Eagle Farm in Ramona, Calif., he wasn't sure what aspect of the business to tackle next.

So he went home and started fixing up his own farm in Ramona while he figured out his next move. As it happened, while Taylor was busy replacing fencing and building a barn, his next move came to him in the form of a call from trainer Ron McAnally and California horseman Jack Goodwin, who wondered if Taylor would be interested in standing the newly retired runner Mud Route at his place.

From that modest stallion roster of one, Taylor's operation has quickly evolved into one of California's fastest-growing stallion stations, with a team of seven stallions, including new stallion Comic Strip, an import from Kentucky showplace Lane's End Farm, in 2002. Special T, located in Temecula, also will stand California top-20 sire Slewvescent and Robannier, sire of stakes winner Rosanda, in 2002. Robert and Barbara Walter have moved that pair to Special T from Creston Farms in Paso Robles.

Other stallions in Special T's stud barn are Siberian Summer, sire of 2001 stakes winners Swing in Satin and Russian Olive; Taskmaster, a son of A. P. Indy entering stud this year; and Phone Roberto, sire of the winner Phone Love. Taylor also manages two more stallions, Bonus Money and Walter Willy, for nearby Nexstar Farm.

Taylor attributes Special T Thoroughbreds' rapid growth, and its ability to bring a stallion like Comic Strip to California from a major Kentucky operation, partly to his time at Golden Eagle.

"I've been in California for about 15 years," he said. "While I was at Golden Eagle, I was booking mares, talking to trainers, getting to know small breeders and large breeders. And when Golden Eagle became a major consignor at Keeneland, I got to make some inroads with some of the big Kentucky farms. People got to know who I was and what kind of job I did. Getting to know breeders, from small to large farms, gave me some openings. I was lucky that way."

One of the people Taylor got to know along the way was another man with Kentucky connections, Del Chase. A Newport Beach, Calif., resident, Chase is a longtime owner and breeder whose runners have included Grade 1 winner Love Smitten, the dam of Swain. Chase arranged to lease Comic Strip from Lane's End in a deal that gave Special T its most expensive stallion of the season: Comic Strip (Red Ransom - Now That's Funny, by Saratoga Six) will stand for $7,500 in 2002.

Taylor said he already has booked more than 30 mares to Comic Strip, whose first foals arrived in 2001. The stallion is expected to arrive and be ready for viewing by mid-November.

Mud Route got things going

Taylor, a third-generation racetracker from Washington, spent 1995 to 1999 at Golden Eagle, managing one of the country's largest breeding and racing operations. He oversaw some 700 horses and 100 employees, doing everything from communicating with Hall of Fame trainers to booking mares from California to Kentucky.

When he left in 1999, Taylor moved his wife and three children from the big farm to a small, family-owned property, with only one criterion for his next job in the Thoroughbred game: He wanted to build something of his own.

It's fair to say that Mud Route helped him do that.

Mud Route, a Grade 2-winning son of Strawberry Road and Our Suzette (Sunny's Halo), entered stud in 2000. Taylor expected to breed 30 mares to him based on his solid California record, which was highlighted by an impressive list of horses who had lost to him in stakes races: Silver Charm, Deputy Commander, and Worldly Ways were among the ones left in his wake.

"We thought we would breed about 30 mares to him, but we bred 55," Taylor said. "Last year, for his second year at stud, we bred 63.

"After Mud Route first got here, I outgrew my little farm in about six months," he added with a laugh.

Taylor figured that, with California's lucrative stallion awards program, he might as well make the stallion business his focus. So he and his family - his wife, Kathleen, daughters Trisha and Tiana, and son, Travis - bought a 35-acre farm in Temecula and started renovating again.

Smaller scale more cost-effective

The farm is diminutive compared with the lavish - and expensive - spread at Golden Eagle. But Taylor points out that the small size has financial advantages, primarily in lower labor costs to maintain the land and its horses, and that the farm is well-placed about an hour from both Los Angeles and San Diego.

"The plan was always to be a stallion station," Taylor said. "I have plenty of room for mares who are only staying for 30 to 60 days. Most mares come in, breed, and go home."

For those who stay a little longer, Taylor has made an arrangement with three other farms, all within three miles of Special T.

But now that the stallion roster has increased and he has gotten interested in keeping some mares himself, Taylor said he will probably expand the farm, too, by buying one piece of property and leasing another in the area to bring his land total to about 165 acres.

And there may be one more stallion in Special T's future, said Taylor. He said been approached by several major Kentucky farms who are interested in sending a stallion or two his way, and there's always the chance that he will buy a horse himself to stand.

"I might add one more next year," he said. "I'm going to be picky. The next stallion I get, I'd like to stand him in the $10,000 to $15,000 range. There's not much in California in that bracket. But now that the Del Mar yearling sale is averaging about $45,000, I'd like to find a horse that you can breed to and bring maybe triple his stud fee at that sale."

Speed, female line are priorities

In searching for a California stallion prospect, Taylor has set criteria in mind.

"You've got to have speed, that's for sure," he said. "And we're lacking in the Fappiano line; we're overwhelmed with Seattle Slew blood, so I need something that will cross well with that. Mr. Prospector horses are what we'll probably move toward.

"You always want to get that fresh, new face off the racetrack," he added. "I look for one whose sire stands for $50,000 or more, who has a really good female line, and who has good speed over seven furlongs to a mile. And he should be a stakes winner."

Those criteria are on everyone's wish list. But that's where knowing the business and its players can make a difference in putting a deal together in this competitive stallion game.

"It's much easier to approach a big farm when you see they have a young horse that has only bred 30 to 40 mares," Taylor said. "Those horses in Kentucky are fairly easy to go after. I'm not afraid to talk to a Lane's End, a Three Chimneys, or an Ashford, because I've done that for years.

"It helps there are some breeders in the state like Del Chase who aren't afraid to go after a horse and bring him here," he added. "We have to work together. That's the only way we can compete against the Kentucky boys."