10/15/2003 11:00PM

Three stallion farms meld into one


It looks complicated on paper, but the curious three-farm partnership that formed Metropolitan Stud earlier this year actually has streamlined operations for a trio of New York Thoroughbred breeding operations.

Questroyal Stud, Dutchess Views Farm, and Silvernails Farm are all familiar names in upstate New York's breeding industry. Questroyal and Dutchess Views, in particular, have had established stallion rosters and client bases, while the newer Silvernails had begun standing the young stallion Williamstown on one of the state's exceptional properties.

But as New York's breeding program has grown in the last five years, the owners of each farm also realized that they could operate more competitively and efficiently if they teamed up. Silvernails owners Jim and Lorna Mack leased their 300-acre farm in Pine Plains, N.Y., to Michael and Debra Lischin, who own nearby Dutchess Views. The Lischins have changed the Silvernails name to Metropolitan Stud, moved their eight stallions there to join the Macks' Williamstown, and struck an agreement with Questroyal partners Lou Salerno and Barry Ostrager that brings the Questroyal stallion roster to Metropolitan, too. With the combined property and facilities of Dutchess Views and Metropolitan Stud, the Lischins can also board about 250 mares for Questroyal, Dutchess Views's existing clients, and new clients shipping in to breed to Metropolitan Stud stallions.

"We had three separate commercial stallion farms, and each had its own breeding shed and staffs," said Michael Lischin. "We thought one way we could be more efficient was to combine those operations."

Now, there's just one larger stallion operation and one breeding shed on one farm: Metropolitan Stud. The Silvernails name has been replaced by the Metropolitan banner, but both Dutchess Views and Questroyal still exist as separate entities serving their own clients. For example, Lischin said, breeders wishing to buy a Questroyal stallion season can call either Questroyal's headquarters or Metropolitan Stud. Mare bookings will be handled through the Pine Plains telephone number that Metropolitan and Dutchess Views share.

Dutchess Views contributes Metropolitan's manpower, from the people arranging mare bookings to the stud grooms on the end of the stallions' shanks. There are 20 employees for the combined Metropolitan name. There were job losses from the merger, Lischin said, because Questroyal closed its facility in Hudson when it moved its stallion and mares to Metropolitan. And a couple of maintenance workers left the old Silvernails operation.

But there have also been some job gains, Lischin points out. Dutchess Views hired two full-time employees to help with foaling.

Stallion roster has room for growth

The core of Metropolitan Stud's operation is the stallion complex, which currently houses 15 stallions and is expected to gain several more. Metropolitan is meant to be a stallion station that offers accommodation to visiting mares, Lischin said, rather than a boarding operation that also happens to stand stallions. The stallions occupy a 30-acre parcel of the former Silvernails that is somewhat separated from the rest of the farm by a creek and a road, Lischin said.

"It's a nice spot where the stallions are on their own," he explained. "It's just for stallions."

The Metropolitan roster includes the farm's new arrival Strategic Mission, who relocated this year from Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky., and will stand for $5,000. For 2004, the stallions and their fees also include American Standard, $1,500; Captain Bodgit, $5,000; Gold Fever, $5,000; Goldminer's Gold, $2,500; Gone for Real, $2,500; Nunzio, $2,500; Ommadon, $3,000; River Keen, $5,000; Rock and Roll, $4,000; Signal Tap, $2,500; Tomorrows Cat, $7,500; Top Account, $3,000; Williamstown, $5,000; and Adios My Friend, private.

That list might grow even before the breeding season opens in February, because Metropolitan is actively seeking another stallion to stand in the $7,500 to $10,000 range.

"There is room for at least another three stallions," Lischin said. "There are also one or two stallions we might relocate from here, so the roster won't be entirely set until about January."

Metropolitan will board mares only for breeders patronizing the farm's stallions, Lischin said. Among the operation's various properties, there is room to handle about 250 mares.

"There are another 120 acres in Pine Plains for foaling," Lischin said. "Beyond the stallion facility and the foaling farm, we also have two other facilities for open mares, later-foaling mares, or mares with foals by their sides. All of the facilities are within five minutes of each other."

Lischin believes this segmented, specialized approach to housing the horses is one reason the Metropolitan Stud participants will be able to operate more efficiently. "Before, there were three different breeding sheds, three different staffs in those sheds, three different management teams running the different farms, and mares in five or more locations," he said. "It may sound complicated to explain the new arrangement now, but it was more complicated to run the old arrangement then."

It's also simplified life in some ways for the Lischins, who have been able to delegate some of their day-to-day duties.

"We have two full-time stallion managers now," Lischin said. "Before, Debra and I were involved in every single breeding. We didn't necessarily have seven or eight breedings a day; we might have one on Monday and eight on Tuesday. With this set-up, with the number of stallions we have now, we're ready to breed eight or 10 stallions every day. On that regular schedule, you can prepare for it, and that makes life easier. We have a full-time staff specifically dedicated to that purpose now."

Time will tell whether the more streamlined operation saves money for its biggest investors, the Lischins and Questroyal.

"We'll really be doing the same thing we were doing at Dutchess Views, but on a larger scale, so our expenses probably will go up somewhat," Lischin said. "But they won't go up as much as the amount saved by all of the entities in total. I would estimate that the total cost of running the stallion station would drop by at least half by combining the operations."

Optimistic about New York's future

For the Lischins, in particular, the establishment of Metropolitan Stud's stallion station represents a pinnacle of achievement. And not just their achievement, as Lischin points out.

"This came about because of a set of mutual interests," he said. He and his wife, as owner-operators, wanted more room; Questroyal wanted better facilities under the management of a hands-on team; and the Macks of Silvernails were left with a facility but no management when their farm manager, Mike Tobin, left the farm.

"It was a certain set of circumstances that allowed different people with different interests to get together," Lischin said. "But it wouldn't have worked if there wasn't also a growing business opportunity in New York, where the business is expanding.

"When we moved from Kentucky six years ago, we came with two stallions, one mare, and a riding horse," Lischin added. "Now we have a whole operation. The reason is the New York program. It's gotten bigger way faster than we would have thought, and it was lucky timing for us. People know the purses have increased and there is a real economic reason to come here. The quality of the services and the farms has gotten better."

Metropolitan Stud is counting on continued growth, and, so far, Lischin is sanguine about the New York breeding program's future, even in light of scandals at the New York Racing Association that some fear could compromise the state's chance at getting video lottery terminals.

"I don't think the purses will go down if we don't get VLT's, because they're good now without the VLT income," he added. "But it would be a negative if we didn't get them. New people have come in here since they announced the VLT's."

If the New York program continues its upward trend, Metropolitan plans to be in a good position to capitalize on the growth.

"We're going to be the largest stallion facility in New York," Lischin said. "And it's a nice physical facility. That all has to be a big plus for people looking to stand stallions in New York."