09/25/2008 11:00PM

Small-scale breeders find big success

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The victories by Seattle Smooth in the Cotillion and My Pal Charlie in the Super Derby are examples of the major role played by small-scale breeders in the Thoroughbred business.

Their breeding decisions are sometimes shaped as much by practical factors, like cost and location of bloodstock, as by notions of pedigree, but breeders with small operations are the underpinning of the entire Thoroughbred business.

There is not so much room for error with these breeders, compared to those who operate on a much greater scale and have 100 foals or more annually. As a result, small-scale breeders have to try to make every foal count.

The dam of Seattle Smooth sold for only $8,500, and the dam of My Pal Charlie brought $11,000 at the sales. Despite the relatively low cost of their dams, both Seattle Smooth and My Pal Charlie were pricey yearlings themselves, bringing $340,000 and $300,000.

In the case of the Cotillion winner, Seattle Smooth was bred by veterinarian Oscar Benavides and Darley under a foal-sharing arrangement. That allowed Benavides to breed his mare to leading sire Quiet American in exchange for a half-interest in the resulting foal.

"At the time, we didn't have the resources to pay for a stud fee that high," Benavides said. "At the time, Quiet American's fee was $35,000" and now is $20,000.

"We had big hopes for Seattle Smooth from the beginning," Benavides said. "She was a first-quality foal and she was the best yearling at the sale [Fasig-Tipton July in 2006]. More than 200 people came to check her out."

One of those attracted to her was Dennis Yokum, racing manager for Ernie Moody's Mercedes Stable.

"She was the total package: classy, athletic, great conformation, strong pedigree, and a daughter of a strong broodmare sire in Quiet American," Yokum said. "I thought she was the pick of the sale. She's been a special filly from Day 1, and the only setback we had was that she didn't show her stuff on the synthetic. She trained great on the farm, ran okay on the synthetic, then we tried her on dirt in the Bay Meadows Oaks, and we felt like she had moved up 15 lengths."

Just as Yokum liked the qualities of Seattle Smooth, the advisers for B. Wayne Hughes were taken with the looks of My Pal Charlie.

Bred by John Penn, My Pal Charlie is the third graded stakes winner out of the Halo mare Shahalo. The mare's first was Bwana Charlie, also by Indian Charlie.

Penn said he acquired Shahalo when "the client that I was boarding her for had run her through the Keeneland January sale. She had not met her reserve. I thought the sale hadn't appraised her right, and I ended up buying her privately from him after the sale."

He noted that the "thing that attracted me to her the most was the close-up Halo-Northern Dancer cross. It had worked well in the past, and I was just being a copycat."

That was a stroke of good fortune for Penn because the mare's preceding foal before his purchase turned out to be Bwana Charlie, and the colt's successes on the racetrack increased the value of the mare's foals by a hefty margin.

Shahalo's son by Holy Bull sold for $75,000 as a weanling, then $140,000 as a yearling before becoming graded winner Bwana Bull, and the mare's subsequent full siblings to Bwana Charlie have brought $300,000 and $460,000.

Penn owns all or part of 34 mares, but Shahalo is the star. Earlier this year, she was bred twice to Storm Cat unsuccessfully and then to First Samurai and is in foal on an April cover.

Whereas Penn purchased Shahalo based on her pedigree and outstanding sire, Benavides bought Our Seattle Star because "she was a beautiful mare. She is 16-2, very high quality, perfect conformation, very good muscle, and she has very nice foals."

At the time of purchase, she was carrying her second foal, by an unpopular stallion.

"We bought the mare, not the foal she was carrying," said Benavides who sold the foal for only $2,500.

However, for the mare's next three foals, Benavides received $90,000, $38,000, and $340,000.

The first of those was a talented Forest Wildcat filly, the second a daughter of Storm Boot who is stakes-placed, and Seattle Smooth is the third.

Benavides said he bred the mare to Storm Boot "because it was a very nice nick. The best daughter of Storm Boot was Bourbon Belle, who is out of a Whitesburg mare like Our Seattle Star," and Bourbon Belle is the dam of this year's Queen's Plate winner Not Bourbon.

"In selecting mares, I try to buy well-conformed mares, then I can work with any faults in the stallion," Benavides concluded.

The mare is in foal to the top-class sprinter Henny Hughes (by Hennessy), carrying a filly, and Benavides has a full brother to Seattle Smooth entered for the November sales.

From a broodmare band of five, Benavides has fashioned an uncommon amount of success from the unstinting attention that he and other small-scale breeders put into their work.

Both Benavides and Penn are hands-on horsemen who are working with their horses and evaluating their progress, or lack of it, all the time.

One of the tools such breeders use to maximize the effectiveness of their mares is proven sires. Both of these mares have been bred to proven, high-class stallions year after year, and their produce records indicate that helped.

In addition to Seattle Smooth, Quiet American has six stakes winners this year, including the additional graded stakes winner La Dolce Vita and statebred star Naughty New Yorker. The son of Fappiano stands for $20,000 live foal at Darley.

Indian Charlie stands at Airdrie for $50,000 live foal, as his market appeal continues to increase. The son of In Excess is the sire of champions Fleet Indian and Indian Blessing. Indian Blessing and My Pal Charlie both won major stakes last weekend.

Aside from his success as a sire, the only loss for Indian Charlie during his five-race career was a third in the 1998 Kentucky Derby won by Real Quiet, the most famous offspring by Quiet American, whose breeder, Eduardo Gaviria, hit the classic jackpot with the produce from one of his four American broodmares.