10/26/2006 11:00PM

Young sires' fees won't rise

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland September yearling sale presents a big test for each year's first-crop sires. With such a large auction catalog - this year consisting of a record 5,161 - the sale provides one of the best early measures of how freshman sires will be received in the marketplace, before their runners hit the track.

This year, the three top sellers among freshman sires were 2002 juvenile champion Vindication, 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, and 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft. Vindication led freshman sires at Keeneland September with 54 lots bringing an average price of $352,556, Empire Maker sired 28 yearlings that brought an average of $336,857, and Mineshaft's 32 yearlings fetched an average of $256,241.

That meant that, on average, breeders who sold these horses' progeny made a reasonable return. In 2004, the year those foals were conceived, Vindication stood for $50,000 (he's now $60,000), and Empire Maker and Mineshaft stood for $100,000, their current level. Given those results, you might expect the 2007 fees to go up for all three. But the farms that stand Vindication, Empire Maker, and Mineshaft - Hill 'n' Dale, Juddmonte, and Lane's End, respectively - are keeping the horses at 2006 prices.

"We want to stand our horses for as much money as they warrant," said Hill'n'Dale owner John Sikura. "I think elevating stud fee should be a reflection of racetrack performance, not sales performance. Ultimately, that's your challenge if you're long-term in the business."

Juddmonte manager Garrett O'Rourke agrees.

"We went in with what was perceived to be a high stud fee at the time," O'Rourke said of Empire Maker's fee, which has been $100,000 every year so far. "It's been proven to be fairly good value based on how the foals have sold since then, and also because so many other top stallions just continue to go up and up.

"We've got a loyal group of breeders that are breeding to him now, and I've never felt a horse should be increased in price solely based on his sales results. Next year he's got to prove it at the races, and we'll be happy if people who are breeding to him at the same stud fee make a lot of money in two or three years because the horse has become a success. We can always up his stud fee at that point."

Stud managers rarely used to raise a fee before a horse's foals got to the races. But in today's fashion-driven marketplace, a horse whose good-looking first foals top sales can become old news fast. That tempts stallion managers to make their money while they can, before the market turns to a newer stallion.

"It's changed dramatically," O'Rourke said of how stallion managers set their fees. "The changes have corresponded with changes in stud book sizes. Obviously, as book sizes increase, so can your income. But at the same time, you're supplying the market with a lot of horses, and the demand can drop quickly, as well.

"The tightrope we all walk is if we hype a horse too highly, it's a very slippery slope when your stallions are slow to come out of the box and aren't getting winners. You can see horses' reputations take absolute nosedives. Some have 200 mares the first year, 80 mares the next, and 40 the next. Once the reputation is tarnished, it's hard to get back to that $100,000 level."

Said Sikura: "We like to know that if you breed to our horses, you'll sell your yearling for multiples of the stud fee, and that should be true not just of the top three or four yearlings from a crop. More people breeding to your horse should make money than don't make money."

Kentucky farms announce 2007 fees

Fall is the season for stud-fee announcements, and several Bluegrass farms released their 2007 fee lists this week.

WinStar, which previously had announced it will boost Distorted Humor from $150,000 to $225,000 in 2007, will introduce its Grade 1-winning millionaire Bluegrass Cat at a fee of $50,000. Tiznow, whom WinStar stands in partnership with Taylor Made, will drop from $40,000 to $25,000 for the coming season, and all of WinStar's other residents will have the same fees they had last year.

Darby Dan will debut Breeders' Cup Classic hopeful Suave, a son of A. P. Indy, at stud in 2007 at $17,500. Three other Darby Dan sires will get reduced fees. Aldebaran drops from $40,000 to $30,000; Behrens goes from $7,500 to $5,000; and Saarland from $12,500 to $10,000. Repriced, who stood for $5,000 in 2006, will be private in 2007.

At Airdrie Stud, Indian Charlie and Include both get significant fee raises. Indian Charlie rises from $25,000 to $40,000, and Include goes from $12,500 to $25,000. Canadian Frontier will get a fee reduction, from $10,000 to $7,500, and Proud Citizen, at $17,500 this year, will go private. All others, including Forest Camp, remain the same at $25,000.

Bedding material improved in Florida

Horsemen shipping to Palm Meadows or Gulfstream Park this winter might notice some changes in the bedding there. Both facilities are operated by Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment, which also manufactures the pelleted straw-based bedding STREUfex. Horsemen there are required to use STREUfex.

Now, responding to horsemen's suggestions and concerns, Magna says it's improving the bedding. The new form "is now composed of 70 percent natural, cut straw fibers that supplement the remaining pellet-form grain straw previously used," according to Magna.

The company says it developed the new form of bedding after it conducted testing in conjunction with a horsemen's advisory board after the 2006 Gulfstream meet.

Horsemen had expressed concern that the bedding, which Magna had touted for its highly absorbent quality, gave off too much dust.

Sunday Break moving to Walmac

Grade 2 winner and 2002 Belmont Stakes third-place finisher Sunday Break will relocate from Gainesway to Walmac Farm. Both facilities are in Lexington.

Sunday Break will stand in 2007 for a $7,500 fee, the same amount he stood for this year.

The 7-year-old Forty Niner horse's first foals are yearlings this year. His 54 yearlings at auction so far averaged $33,263, led by a $500,000 colt sold at the Keeneland September yearling auction.