05/26/2009 12:00AM

Stallion marketing turns inventive in tough times

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The widespread economic downturn has prompted dramatic changes in the way many stallion owners do business. Competition for broodmares has been fierce all breeding season, and farms have slashed stud fees and offered creative incentives to lure breeders to their stallions' books.

Now, with the end of breeding season drawing near, another by-product of the recession is likely to become obvious in the stallion business, bloodstock agents say: a slower market for selling and syndicating stallion prospects.

That could be good news for racing fans who want to see horses compete longer. But it's bad news for horse owners hoping to turn a profit.

Elite stallion prospects can still command top dollar, especially if a seemingly recession-proof buyer like Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum is interested. But many horses are worth less now than they would have been two or three years ago. A key reason: The bloodstock market's 30- to 40-percent declines have kept stud fees and mare bookings lower this year. That makes it harder for farms to pay off a stallion's purchase price quickly, and few investors feel confident enough in their cash or credit lines to buy shares that could take several years to pay off.

Syndicators are doing what they can to help shareholders get value from their existing investments, said Jamie LaMonica of The Stallion Company. That includes waiving shareholders' annual limit of one or two matings per share for shareholders who own broodmares.

"In an effort to keep shareholders happy, we're trying to give them as much opportunity to get a return on their investment as they can," LaMonica said. "That helps their horse, and we've seen people take advantage of it up to 10 mares."

Meanwhile, breeders for first-year stallions are harder to find. Many today favor proven sires of winners over unproven first-year stallions even though an unproven horse might get them a home run at auction, LaMonica said.

"Blue sky used to outsell reality, but now reality's outselling blue sky," he said. "People don't want to make bets. They'll take the better odds of guaranteeing a 20-percent return than longer odds on a 500-percent return."

But blue sky still has some appeal, says Brent Fernung of Journeyman Stud in Florida. To build interest in second-year sire Saint Anddan, Journeyman and partners WinStar and Taylor Made are making breeders an unusual offer: breed three mares to the A. P. Indy horse starting in 2009 at a reduced fee of $4,000, and you'll earn a lifetime share. As long as the stallion stays at Journeyman, those shareholders will pay no expenses and will get no cut of any revenue, but they'll get a free season each year. If the horse is sold or moves to Kentucky, shareholders will get a cut of the revenue (they will also incur expenses if the horse moves to Kentucky).

"We did this in response to the economy," said Fernung, who said Journeyman has sold 25 shares under its incentive plan and expects to do five more. Saint Anddan's book will be about 50 mares this year, down from last year's 115, but he is guaranteed a base of at least 25 for the next couple of years as the syndicate deal stands now.

"We're hoping the horse becomes a success, and there's no reason he couldn't be with his talents and record and looks," Fernung said. "We hope all the people who bred to him three years in a row to gain a 1 percent interest make a big chunk of money. If not, they're buying their stud fees at a lower level and just guaranteeing three mares over the next three years.

"We're giving people the incentive to breed. What we were looking for was a win-win situation."

Japanese yearling catalog released

Catalogs are out for the Japan Racing Horse Association's July select sale of yearlings and foals. The sale runs July 13-15 at Northern Horse Park in Japan.

The catalog includes 161 yearlings and 336 foals by such well-known Japanese runners as Admire Moon and Deep Impact as well as by sires more familiar to Americans - Grand Slam, French Deputy, Roses in May, Ghostzapper, Medaglia d'Oro, and Unbridled's Song, to name a few.

Some of the dams also will ring a bell. The Ghostzapper colt selling as Hip No. 221, for example, is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Island Fashion. Katsumi Yoshida paid $950,000 for her (and the foal in utero) at this year's Keeneland January sale. Grade 1 winner Vivid Angel has a Ghostzapper colt in the foal sessions, too. Also represented by produce in the sale are Grade 2 winner Josh's Madelyn, who has a Gold Allure colt foal, and Grade 3 winner La Traviata with a Symboli Kris S yearling colt.