07/18/2001 11:00PM

Support of Saint Ballado paying dividends

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - By siring the top-priced yearling at this week's Keeneland July selected yearling sale, Saint Ballado joined an elite group that includes the great Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, Nijinsky, and Storm Cat. Not just any sire gets the sale-topper at Keeneland July. But one of the distinctions between Saint Ballado and those other great proven sires is that he has the mountain of greatness yet to climb.

The market, however, has strongly supported Saint Ballado, as can be seen not only in the $4 million sale-topper at Keeneland July but also in the average price of $319,667 for his 54 yearlings sold last year. And the horse's stud fee for 2001 rose to $125,000 off that performance.

But even more than a tale of commercial success, the story behind Saint Ballado is the confidence in the horse that has been shown by Aaron Jones and the Taylor family, who stand Saint Ballado at Taylor Made Farm.

Saint Ballado, by Halo, is a full brother to two champions, Devil's Bag and Glorious Song. He became a graded stakes winner himself but went to stud near the low point in the breeding business. He did get a shot to be a stallion at Mike O'Farrell's Ocala Stud Farm in Florida and made the most of it.

From his first crop, Saint Ballado sired Captain Bodgit, a Grade 1 winner who also ran a thrilling race to be second in the Kentucky Derby. Off this excellent start, Saint Ballado was virtually sold to the Japanese.

"He was all but sold, but he showed up EVA positive," recalled Mark Taylor. The horse had been vaccinated for equine viral arteritis. So he wasn't infected, but that circumstance threw a kink in the sale to Japan. Their import regulations forbid importation of horses with a positive titer for EVA, and a special exemption for Saint Ballado was not forthcoming.

"That was a huge break for us," Taylor said. The stalled sale for boatloads of yen allowed Taylor Made to field an offer that secured the stallion for American breeders. Needing to move quickly, they went to one of their primary clients, Aaron Jones. "Mr. Jones got the money to put up and let us do" the deal, Taylor said. And Jones still owns the majority of the stallion.

"We are very optimistic about his 2-year-old crop," which is Saint Ballado's first group of Kentucky-bred foals, and "one of the things that makes horsemen so enthusiastic for them is that he stamps his stock, and they are very correct," Taylor said.

"Saint Ballado clicked with a very different population of mares in Florida," Taylor said, "but being an outcross to Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector is a big help to him here, and Saint Ballado seems to be working with many types of mares."

The results from his first Kentucky crop convinced the Taylors and Jones that they were going to have a premier stallion, and they have backed their convictions with mares and marketing.

Jones, for instance, committed a significant number of top mares to Saint Ballado's book. Taylor said, "In the stallion's second Kentucky crop, that's when Mr. Jones upped his commitment to Saint Ballado, and Marie J., for instance, who is a really good, young Mr. Prospector mare, has a yearling by Saint Ballado."

As part of that expanding commitment, Jones bought mares for the stallion. Taylor said, "Mr. Jones bought Charm a Gendarme in foal to Unbridled's Song, and he included this mare in the good mares he sent to Saint Ballado in his second year here."

Purchased for $290,000 at the 1998 Keeneland November sale, Charm a Gendarme was a Grade 3 winner at Hollywood, and her best offspring to date, Tout Charmant, is a Grade 1 winner. Charm a Gendarme produced a filly by Unbridled's Song that has been named Charm a Song and has not started yet. Since foaling the Saint Ballado colt, Charm a Gendarme produced a chestnut filly by Forestry on March 23 and is back in foal to that stallion on a May 27 cover.

Her second foal for Jones was the Keeneland July sale topper, and he was a big, lengthy colt with the almost black coat of his sire. By passing the strict requirements of the physical appraisers at the sale, as well as the vet checks, the colt returned a massive premium. His price of $4 million is about half the sum required to purchase Saint Ballado a scant four years ago. If the stallion carries on at the level the Taylors expect, what will he be worth?