02/28/2014 4:05PM

Sparkman: Playing the regional sire lottery

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mr. Prospector, who began his career in Florida, is possibly the most famous regional sire who began his career in a smaller market before moving to Kentucky.

Selecting a stallion to stand in a regional market is a much trickier proposition than selecting one for national breeding centers like the Kentucky Bluegrass area or Newmarket, England. As a general rule, stallion rosters of the major Kentucky stallion stations feature each year’s champions and Grade 1 winners with highly fashionable pedigrees. Owners of the most desirable stallion prospects often select among competing stallion farms as much or more than the stallion managers themselves make selections.

Stallion farms in regional markets like New York, though, must be more selective and circumspect. The smaller pool of breeders and broodmares means that the stallion must be a good fit in terms of pedigree as well as being a good racehorse. Since the champions and the Grade 1 winners with the most fashionable pedigrees coming off the track are destined for the major farms worldwide, regional markets, New York included, usually attract slightly less-accomplished horses that are often closely related to the best Kentucky stallions and to stallions that have succeeded in the regional market before.

Thus it is no surprise that the most consistently successful stallion standing in New York for most of the last decade has been Freud, a younger full brother to three-time leading North American sire Giant’s Causeway. As noted in an accompanying article, Freud once again stood at the top of a New York sire list in 2013 as the leading sire of turf horses.

The influence of Freud’s sustained success, as well as the general cachet enjoyed by both his full brother Giant’s Causeway and their sire, Storm Cat, is evident in the accompanying table, which compares the sire lines of horses standing in New York with those standing in Kentucky. The table shows that the percentage of Mr. Prospector-line horses in New York is almost identical to the percentage in Kentucky, while the percentage of Northern Dancer-line horses is 9 percentage points higher in New York. Of course those percentages are based on a small sample size, and can change rapidly as horses move in and out of state from year to year.

That difference is mostly due to the proliferation of Storm Cat-line horses in New York, many of them sired by Giant’s Causeway. New York’s leading second-year sire of 2013, Frost Giant, is a Grade 1-winning son of Giant’s Causeway and there are several more promising sons of “the Iron Horse” in the pipeline. As noted in an accompanying article, New York’s overall leading sire of 2013, Bluegrass Cat, is also a son of Storm Cat.

It is also notable from the table that New York is somewhat behind the curve on the most powerful nationwide bloodstock trend of the last decade – the dramatic rise of the A.P. Indy male line. Due primarily to the success of Pulpit and his sons, the male line of the 1992 Horse of the Year now accounts for 13.6 percent of the stallions standing in Kentucky, but only 6.8 percent of New York stallions. It is probably pretty safe to predict that this will change over the next decade as New York stallion managers respond to the powerful national trend. It is almost inevitable that a good son of Tapit, one of the world’s hottest sires, will appear in New York over the next few years.

If nationwide trends mean anything, New York breeders also can look forward to seeing male-line descendants of the great American-bred Irish stallion Sadler’s Wells standing in the Empire State in the near future. The success of El Prado’s sons Medaglia d’Oro and 2013 leading general sire Kitten’s Joy is all but certain to make some of their sons available to New York breeders in the next decade. Sons or grandsons of Sadler’s Wells’s great son Galileo are also probable targets for New York stallion masters as Sadler’s Wells’s male line expands globally. The cachet of Galileo’s undefeated son Frankel has already expanded to Kentucky through his three-quarter brother (and his pacemaker) Bullet Train, by Sadler’s Wells. Can New York be far behind?

As the New York breeding program expands, courtesy in part to Aqueduct casino-fueled purses, the state is likely to attract more and better stallions. Already, global operations like Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s Darley have sent beautifully bred Grade 1 winners like Girolamo, by A.P. Indy, and now Emcee, by Unbridled’s Song, to stand in New York. The presence of Darley stallions, however, will always be at least partially dependent on the needs of the mother ship in Kentucky – witness the transfer of Girolamo to Darley at Jonabell this year.

It has been a long time, though, since a New York stallion truly earned his way to Kentucky. Belong to Me, by Danzig, began his stud career in New York, but proved himself good enough to be purchased by Lane’s End and moved to Kentucky to complete his stud career.

That transition is much more difficult now than it once was, and it was never easy. The transfer of Alibhai, by Hyperion, from California to Kentucky in the early 1950s began a storied and glorious history of regional sires succeeding beyond all expectations and forcing Kentucky breeders to take notice. The victory of Alibhai’s son Determine in the 1954 Kentucky Derby confirmed that his sire was good enough for the Bluegrass State.

Mr. Prospector, who began his stud career in Florida, is perhaps the most famous and most successful sire who proved his worth first in a regional market before moving to Kentucky. Although obviously brilliantly fast and bred well enough to be one of the highest-priced yearlings of his year in 1971, Mr. Prospector perhaps could have stood in Kentucky from the beginning, but his owner, Abraham I. Savin, preferred to stand him at his Aisco Stud near Ocala. The days of private breeders standing homebred champions in regional markets seem to have passed. The last leading American sire to stand anywhere but Kentucky was Tartan Farms’s Dr. Fager in 1977. The more likely scenario these days is exemplified by the story of Malibu Moon.

Bred and raced by B. Wayne Hughes, Malibu Moon broke down soon after winning his second start as a 2-year-old. By A.P. Indy out of French Group 1 winner Macoumba, by Mr. Prospector, he was obviously talented, but as a non-stakes winner, there was no place for him to stand in Kentucky.

Maryland’s Country Life Farm took a chance on him, with Hughes retaining a share in the horse. Malibu Moon sired champion juvenile male Declan’s Moon in his second crop, motivating Hughes to move the horse to his Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. Malibu Moon has since sired 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, and he finished fourth on the 2013 North American general sire list.

Is there a Malibu Moon or a Belong to Me among current New York stallions? With 100-plus-mare books a necessity, competition among Kentucky stallions is more vicious than ever. With purses for New York-breds rising, perhaps there is no reason to go to Kentucky.