04/10/2017 2:06PM

Small chance turns Mr. Big into big shot

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Keeneland/Coady Photography
Big Score became the first stakes winner for Mr. Big after the 3-year-old won the Transylvania Stakes.

George Krikorian had more riding on the finish of Keeneland’s Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes than the purse money his runner, Big Score, stood to gain.

The colt’s grinding victory over top-flight runners Oscar Performance and Ticonderoga helped make good on a bet Krikorian made seven years earlier on a towering allowance winner he started at stud himself and built into a graded stakes-caliber sire from a miniscule roster of runners.

Krikorian, a California-based cinema magnate, purchased that stallion, Mr. Big, as a weanling for $220,000 at the 2003 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. The colt earned his name, growing to a sky-scraping 17.2 hands, but struggled to stay on the racetrack.

He debuted as a 4-year-old, winning in his second start, and completed the campaign before spending two years on the sidelines. He came back at age 6 to race six more times over the next two seasons, winning once, before being retired.

What Mr. Big lacked in a race record he made up for in physical stature and pedigree. Out of the Grade 2-placed stakes-winning Fappiano mare Fashion Delight, Mr. Big is a half-brother to Grade 3 winner Magnificience, from the family of Epsom Oaks winner Casual Look, Grade 1 winner Charleston Rag, and Italian Oaks winner Fashion Statement.

“He had some unfortunate racing luck,” Krikorian said. “He didn’t get a chance to really show his talent, but he was such a good-looking horse, I couldn’t bring myself to just pension him, so I decided to breed him to a couple mares.”

Krikorian stood Mr. Big at his Starwood Farm in Versailles, Ky., and bred him to two mares in his first season. One of the ensuing foals became Big Break, a five-time winner and an earner of $236,259.

“The first mare he was bred to, the first time the first foal ran, she won by almost [eight] lengths,” Krikorian said. “That motivated me to breed him to additional mares, and he’s been very successful ever since, and this is an example of the kinds of horses that he’s producing.”

Mr. Big’s second book comprised eight mares and netted him his first black type as a sire when Big Book finished third in the Grade 3 Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar. Big Score, from the stallion’s fourth crop, was Mr. Big’s first stakes winner.

All eight of Mr. Big’s runners from his five crops of racing age are winners and represent exactly half of his total foals ages 2 or older.

In the months following Big Book’s graded placing, Mr. Big was relocated to E. A. Ranches in Ramona, Calif., where he stands for an advertised fee of $6,000.

The bulk of the stallion’s success had come in Southern California, and breeders took notice. In his first Golden State season, Mr. Big bred nearly double the mares he covered in his first six seasons at stud combined.

“Last year, I moved him to California, and he bred 39 mares that were in foal and are now having their foals coming around,” Krikorian said. “He’s being bred to 50 or 60 mares this year in California, so there are going to be a lot of Mr. Bigs on the ground in the next couple years. What’s happened [in the Transylvania] is really going to help our program.”

Though the sample size is small, Krikorian said the sons and daughters of Mr. Big have proven versatile on the racetrack.

“They’re all different,” he said. “They run short on the dirt, and they run long on the grass. The thing that’s consistent is they’re all very strong, good size, good bone, and very good mentally, too.”