03/22/2014 7:18PM

'Star' power energizes Southwest stallion market

Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges Jr.
Owner Evelyn Benoit built an outstanding broodmare band to support her homebred Star Guitar as he entered stud.

Evelyn Benoit’s decision to get into the stallion business has single-handedly boosted the broodmare power in Louisiana. To support her homebred Star Guitar at stud, Benoit has built a band of broodmares that includes Desert Rose Drive, a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner and producer Take Charge Lady; Love That Dance, an eight-time stakes winner who earned $641,094 while racing on the East Coast; and Good Mood, a Grade 3 winner bred in Ireland.

Benoit’s brood also includes Wild About Marie, a four-time stakes winner who earned $328,629 competing in the Midwest; Persuading, a multiple graded stakes-placed daughter of Broken Vow; and Our New Empire, a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Concern who is by one of Benoit’s favorite stallions, Empire Maker.

Each of the broodmares was bred to Star Guitar, whose first foals are arriving this season. Early returns indicate that Benoit might have a hit on her hands with Star Guitar, a 9-year-old son of Quiet American who retired in the summer of 2012 as the all-time richest Louisiana-bred, with earnings of $1,749,862. Star Guitar, who won 24 of 30 starts, stands commercially at Clear Creek Stud in Folsom, La. He bred about 65 to 70 mares last year, said Benoit. 

“All my mares went to ‘Star,’ and we’re going back,” she said. “We’ve got some gorgeous babies. It’s very difficult to say anything bad about any of them. They’re very healthy and athletic-looking. I think the way the babies are looking, this will be the last year he’s at [a fee of] $4,000. I think we’ll go up.”

Benoit, a New Orleans resident who with her husband, Maurice, co-owns Brittlyn Stable, is the driving force behind the couple’s operation – although Benoit is quick to point out it was Maurice, paralyzed in a car accident about 6 1/2 years ago, who made the all-star decision to breed Quiet American to Minit Towinit in a mating that produced Star Guitar.

Evelyn Benoit savored the horse’s racing career, which closed out after he won his 10th straight race – all stakes – in the Louisiana Legends Classic at Evangeline Downs in June 2012. Long before he ever crossed the wire, she had been fast at work expanding her small group of mares through auctions and private purchases.

“She’s gone out and purchased mares that she thinks will cross well with her stallion,” said Roger Heitzmann, secretary-treasurer of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association. “She’s not afraid to take a risk, to gamble. She believes to get the best you have to breed to the best.

“She’s a bright star in our program. She has done nothing but good for Louisiana-breds, buying, raising, selling, and racing the stock that she has. She and her husband have been mountains in our game here in Louisiana. When people were striving for the hills, she was striving for mountains.”

Benoit set out to purchase a cross section of mares that would complement Star Guitar and provide diversity. The Not For Love mare Love That Dance, for example, was a noted sprinter, while the Wildcat Heir mare Wild About Marie had the bulk of her success racing on turf. And then there’s the coveted Desert Rose Drive, a daughter of A.P. Indy.

“I wanted to give him a little bit of everything,” Benoit said. “We wanted to show he was versatile with everything, and we’ll find out what he’s very capable with. I tried to pick mares who loved to run, or who had someone in their family who was a champion.”

Benoit’s increased investment in the Thoroughbred industry comes after her family sold its oil and gas service company to Japanese interests. The move has given Benoit, who spent five years overseeing the company and its 200 employees in the wake of her husband’s accident, more time to focus on horses.

Benoit hit one of Louisiana’s yearling auctions last September and spent $210,000 for an Awesome Again colt. That established a record price for a Louisiana-bred selling at auction in Louisiana, according to Heitzmann. The purchase came at the Breeders Sales Co., sale in West Monroe, La. The colt, named Coxswain, is among six 2-year-olds preparing to join Brittlyn Stable’s racing operation, which includes graded stakes winner Gantry and multiple stakes winner Class Included. Benoit said the Awesome Again colt is currently in training in Florida.

“He’ll probably arrive in Louisiana in a month or two,” she said. “He’ll be with [trainer] Ron Faucheux.”

Faucheux has runners for Brittlyn Stable at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and the Evangeline Downs Training Center in Lafayette, La. Brittlyn Stable has gone 8 for 17 with its starters at Fair Grounds through March 19, among its winners Gantry, whose victory in the Colonel Power on turf March 15 puts him on the radar for the new Evangeline Downs Turf Sprint. Class Included, meanwhile, has won three stakes in her last four starts, capped by the Bayou Handicap at Fair Grounds on Feb. 22.

“I bought her to breed, and she just won three big stakes races,” Benoit said about Class Included, a 6-year-old daughter of Include. “She’ll miss two breeding seasons because she’s doing so well, and likes what she’s doing.”

The barn’s arsenal includes Sunbean, named the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s 2013 champion 3-year-old male last week and a leading contender to be voted Louisiana-bred horse of the year in an award that will be  revealed in May. Sunbean has won four major statebred stakes in his last four starts, including the Louisiana Champions Day Classic at Fair Grounds. He is expected to be freshened for racing later in the year, Benoit said.

For the immediate future, Benoit, a one-time backyard breeder who now has her gemstone mares boarded at Clear Creek, will be occupied with the remainder of the breeding and foaling season.

“If I didn’t breed, I wouldn’t like racing as much,” she said. “I like breeding, then I like to watch those babies run.

“I love having a stallion. I never dreamed I would have a stallion. So far, it’s been such a blessing.” 

Louisiana: Quality newcomers

Grade 1 winners El Corredor and Mass Media are new to the Louisiana stallion ranks this year. El Corredor, 17, is standing for a $3,500 fee at The Stallion Station at Copper Crowne in Opelousas, while Mass Media, 13, is standing for $1,500 at Red River Farms in Coushatta. Stallions beginning their careers include Flashpoint, winner of the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes in 2011 who is standing for a $2,500 fee at Le Mesa Stallions in Carencro. He is a 6-year-old son of Pomeroy and the Two Punch mare Two Punch Lil. Bind, a 6-year-old by Pulpit, has launched his career at Red River Farms, for a $1,500 fee.

New Mexico: Slew of new faces  

There were 14 new stallions registered for this year’s breeding season, according to records from the New Mexico Horse Breeders’ Association. One of the best bred is Firejack, a son of Dixieland Band and the Secretariat mare Partygoer. He was bred by Wertheimer & Frere and is a half-brother to Grade 1 winners Dare and Go and Go Deputy. Firejack, 12, stood at stud in 2012, was inactive in 2013, and has joined the ranks at Hourigan Horse Farm in Anthony. He is being offered for an “introductory fee” of $650, according to a representative of Hourigan.

Texas: Pair new to state

Texas reports two new stallions for the 2014 season, Matthewsburg, 6, and Class Warfare, 5. Matthewsburg, a Grade 3 winner by Ghostzapper, will stand for a $2,500 fee at Swiftrun Thoroughbreds in Bulverde. Class Warfare, a son of A.P. Indy and the multiple Grade 1-winning mare Take D’ Tour, is standing for $1,500 at Key Ranch in Salado.

Arkansas: Popular runner at stud

Hamazing Destiny, a memorable debut winner at Oaklawn in 2009 who went on to run second in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, is in his first full season at stud. He is standing for $1,000 at Starfish Stables in Hot Springs, as the property of Westrock Stables and Barry Butzow. Arkansas’s leading general sire last year was Brahms, whose leading earner for the year was the Benoit-owned Sunbean.

Oklahoma: Cactus Ridge in house

Cactus Ridge, a Grade 3 winner who raced for Oklahoma-based country music artist Toby Keith, relocated from Kentucky to Oklahoma for 2014. He is standing at Royal Vista Ranches in Wayne for a $5,000 fee. There are special considerations for Quarter Horse mares. By Hennessy, 13-year-old Cactus Ridge previously stood at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky.

Notional, a three-time graded stakes winner, is also new to Oklahoma. He is standing at Rockin’ Z Ranch in Beggs for a fee of $2,000. Notional is a 10-year-old by In Excess.