04/24/2009 12:00AM

Sky Mesa regains favor as sire after slow start


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Sky Mesa is enjoying something of a comeback in the breeding world lately. Having survived a slump in the auction ring after his first 2-year-olds hit the track in 2007, the Pulpit horse came to prominence last year as the leading second-crop sire. Now, he leads the nation's third-crop sire list and has a Kentucky Derby hopeful in Blue Grass winner General Quarters.

His other good stakes performers this year are Third Dawn, runner-up in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks; Terrain, third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby; and other graded-placed runners Join in the Dance, Formidable, and Beethoven.

That's a strong recovery for a sire whose first crop included just a single stakes-placed runner, Twenty Eight Hours. When Sky Mesa's first runners didn't perform spectacularly, many buyers and commercial breeders alike turned their attention elsewhere. His yearling sale average dropped from $128,585 in 2006, when his first foals came to yearling auctions, to $63,148 the following season.

"In the old days, he wouldn't be considered the comeback kid, because we gave horses longer to establish themselves as a success or failure," said Robert Clay, whose Three Chimneys Farm stands Sky Mesa. "Everybody now takes such a quick view of it that they judged him on his first crop as 2-year-olds. That's not enough time to see how that crop runs out as 3-year-olds, and that's too early to make a judgment. But that's what the commercial market does these days.

"It's a mystery why the first crop of 2-year-olds didn't perform as well at 2 as the second crop did. But he's not the only horse that's ever happened to."

Sky Mesa's new luster started in 2008, when juvenile Grade 1 winner Sky Diva and Grade 2-winning Skylighter started to draw some attention back his way.

For Clay, the apparent turnaround is both a lesson to be patient with a young sire and also a vindication for his gamble on Sky Mesa's sire, the A.P. Indy horse Pulpit.

"At the time, Pulpit was an unknown as a sire of sires," Clay said. "The thing that appealed to me was the bottom line of Sky Mesa's pedigree. That was a lot of what appealed to us. We took a gamble on Pulpit."

Sky Mesa is out of the Storm Cat mare Caress, a full sister to sire Bernstein and graded winner Country Cat. Her family also includes such interesting names as Wiseman's Ferry, former champion juvenile filly and stakes-producer Outstandingly, and the Nasrullah mare Finance, a half-sister to Buckpasser.

Clay said Sky Mesa's book filled up fairly quickly for 2009. But the horse hit another setback in February, when he underwent two colic-related surgeries. He was out for almost seven weeks, costing him about 30 mares. But his book filled back up again when he went back into service in early April, and Clay said he expects Sky Mesa to have about the same number of foals he'd have had before the colic surgeries. More of those might be late foals, as some of the newly booked mares are late-producers that breeders substituted while Sky Mesa was recuperating.

"It's good that he's back," Clay said.

OBS sale posts 11 percent decline

The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's spring 2-year-old auction ended four days of selling Thursday with declines, but not as severe as had been feared.

The auction sold 809 horses for $20,194,300, down 11 percent from last year's total for 772 horses. The average price was $24,962, down 17 percent. Median also fell 17 percent, from $18,000 last year to $16,000 in 2009.

But buybacks improved from last year's figure of 28 percent to 23 percent.

The sale-topping $675,000 A.P. Indy-Got Koko colt went through the ring at Monday's opening session. M. Neal Sims, agent, sold him to Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley stable.

Thursday's session-topper was Hip No. 1256, a $145,000 Sweetsouthernsaint filly out of Doc's Stormy Girl, by Dr. Caton. Tommy Hutton's Dream Stable bought the filly from McKathan Bros., agent. Currently named Sinininthasouth, the bay filly is a half-sister to stakes-winner Leigh McLovin. She worked a quarter-mile in 21 seconds at the auction's under-tack preview.

Old Friends adopts Paragallo horse

The Old Friends equine retirement farm in Georgetown, Ky., has taken in one of the horses from Ernie Paragallo's farm in New York.

New York state police arrested Paragallo on April 10 and charged him with 22 counts of animal abuse, alleging that more than 170 horses on his Climax, N.Y., farm were neglected.

The horse sent to Old Friends is an unnamed 5-year-old Aristotle horse out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Prospect Street. The Columbia-Greene Humane Society and Old Friends volunteer Tim Ford coordinated the adoption, and Morrissey's Horse Pullmans gave the bay horse a free ride to Kentucky.

Old Friends is holding a contest to name the new resident. To enter, send a $50 tax-deductible donation and a name choice (no longer than 18 characters, including spaces) to Old Friends at 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown, Ky., 40324, or e-mail sylvia@oldfriendsequine.org. The contest closes at midnight May 1, and the winner will be announced May 3 at an Old Friends open house.