02/16/2007 1:00AM

Spring Hill aims for proven quality

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Leading Virginia breeder Edward P. "Ned" Evans is best known in the national press for breeding Saint Liam, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic and Horse of the Year in 2005.

Saint Liam was a bay son of Saint Ballado out of the Quiet American mare Quiet Dance, a stakes winner that Evans raced and then retired to his breeding operation, Spring Hill Farm, near Casanova, Va. Saint Liam was euthanized last August after breaking his leg in a fall at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky.

The most famous result of his breeding program is emblematic of the way that Evans approaches the game. He takes a middle path between breeding entirely for the sales and breeding solely for his own racing stable.

"We want to raise a seven-figure commercial yearling that will win the Kentucky Derby," said Chris Baker, manager of Spring Hill. "We are trying to be commercial and to race at the same time. We are not planning a mating that we want to sell. We are planning a mating that we believe will produce a racehorse, and those that are most commercial go to the sales."

Beginning with that premise for breeding a good Thoroughbred, Spring Hill will have "about 60 foals a year," Baker said, "and about half will go to the sales and the others we race."

This approach to breeding and racing requires a good deal of common sense and transparency in producing young stock for the sales that are not seen as "culls" by the ever-cautious sales buyers.

"I haven't seen any tangible evidence of reluctance to buy our yearlings," Baker said, "and anyone could have bought Saint Liam for $130,000 at the Saratoga select yearling sale 2001, or Yonaguska for $145,000" at the Keeneland September yearling sale two years before.

Both yearlings turned into Grade 1 stakes winners for other racing stables.

"If you bring a nice horse to the sale, buyers will forget about most of those issues," Baker said. "Sharp people will be on him, regardless. And if he's not the right horse for the market, they won't be on him."

With this pragmatic approach to breeding for the sales, Evans and his crew at Spring Hill plunge into the hectic business of breeding horses each spring.

For 2007, Baker noted that the farm has 84 mares.

"They will all foal in Virginia, go to Kentucky to be bred back, and then return to the farm pregnant," he said.

The annual cycle of foaling, breeding, shipping, and weaning keeps the staff at Spring Hill very busy, and the horses they raise will find success at the sales ring or at the racetrack, which keeps morale high.

"Spring Hill has many good things going on, and the critical mass of horses is here," Baker said. "We've been doing this long enough and trying to do it right to get our fair share of good ones. We're also very fortunate to work around a man who is very involved and very invested in the whole game."

Part of the enthusiasm that Evans possesses for the sport is evident in his consistent and methodical approach to breeding.

Baker summarized the approach to selecting matings for the Spring Hill stock: "The physical match of the mare and stallion has to be right, the cross of the bloodlines should be proven, and the value of the stud fee should be in the right range for the mare."

Spring Hill does some other things to push the probabilities into its favor. For instance, Baker said: "We usually breed to proven sires. In 2006, none of the mares was bred to a first-season sire, except Saint Liam. And if we hadn't bred Saint Liam, we probably wouldn't have had five mares in foal to him."

The Spring Hill policy of largely avoiding unproven sires works counter to the commercial market, which puts a premium on new blood. Unproven sires are notoriously the least reliable for getting racehorses, but they are also the sires who get the most attention and usually the highest returns at the yearling sales.

Therefore, using proven sires sacrifices something in immediate economic return for the long-term prospect of breeding a better athlete.

Another practical approach to breeding that is practiced at Spring Hill is grading the farm's mares.

"We rank our mares A, B, C," Baker said. "The C group are on the bubble, either earning their way or failing to earn their way into the broodmare band. We expect a lot of the mares and are critical of what they produce. We try to make a fair assessment of what they are going to contribute [in producing likely athletes], and if they aren't contributing what we need, it's time to move on."

One of the A mares at Spring Hill is Quiet Dance. She is a stakes-winning daughter of leading sire Quiet American, also the sire of Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet and champion Hidden Lake. Quiet American's daughters have been on fire in producing top-class runners.

In 2005, Saint Liam won four Grade 1 stakes, as well as the Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year and champion older horse. In 2006, Bernardini, who is out of the Quiet American mare Cara Rafaela, won the Eclipse as the leading 3-year-old colt. Those are two of nearly two dozen stakes winners from Quiet American mares, and Spring Hill is still breeding to the stallion.

The farm's most famous daughter of Quiet American is Quiet Dance, and she has produced a second graded stakes winner in Congressionalhonor (by Forestry).

A typical Quiet American in size, looks, and scope, Quiet Dance has produced a 5-year-old full brother to Saint Liam named Dance Quiet, a 4-year-old daughter named Beatem Buster (by Honour and Glory), and a 2-year-old colt by Tiznow.

The mare has a yearling colt by A.P. Indy. She is in foal to Giant's Causeway and is due in early April.