As the breeder of Big Brown, Dr. Gary Knapp has a lot for which to be thankful. The winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Big Brown helped raise the profile of Knapp's Kentucky-based commercial breeding operation, Monticule Farm, with his exciting racetrack performances.
Knapp, who owns EQUIX, a bloodstock advisory company, and uses its data in making breeding plans for his broodmares, recently discussed Big Brown's new career as a stallion at Three Chimneys Farm and provided an update on the colt's family.
The Blood-Horse: What are some of your thoughts as Big Brown begins a new phase of his life as a stallion?
"I was really pleased to hear how people reacted to Big Brown when they went to see him at the open house out at Three Chimneys. What the people at Three Chimneys said was that he really was selling himself. The people who came there to look at him apparently had questions in their minds, and then when they saw him close up and they saw his demeanor, they said, ‘Wow!' They came away much more favorably impressed than they ever thought they were going to be, and that made me feel good. I was very happy about that."
What types of mares would you breed to Big Brown?
"I haven't seen any of the (EQUIX) measurement data yet. Once I've seen the data, then I can talk about that. But assuming a mare is a good fit to Big Brown (physically), then what I would do, if I were breeding to him, is look for a pedigree that mimics the successful crosses that Boundary (the sire of Big Brown) had in his principal runners. I would see what the inbreeding patterns were in his principal runners, and that's what I would try to duplicate.
When there is a pattern in the principal runners of a stallion that regularly shows up --- whether it's inbreeding to Mr. Prospector or inbreeding to Northern Dancer -- it shows there are some traits in the stallion that are represented in the inbreeding pattern that are desirable traits.
"When you see something that shows certain inbreeding patterns that consistently produce good runners, then why don't you want to stamp those traits? This is where I disagree with people who say we should get away from inbreeding and we should all outcross. If you've got a desirable trait, why wouldn't you want to stamp that trait? That's what we are trying to do as breeders - at least that's why I'm trying to do."
Some people have raised concerns about Big Brown's feet. Does the issue about his feet bother you as a breeder?
"When you get a foal, there are two parents. There's the sire, and there's the dam. It seems to me -- just straight out of the box -- you're only taking a 50% chance that the undesirable trait is going to show up. And then, of course, geneticists would want to talk to you about what's recessive and what's dominant. I don't know that there's any indication that that particular trait is dominant. It may be, and if it is, then that (breeding to a stallion with bad feet) would not be a good idea.
"But, you're dealing with two here. You're dealing with the mare, and you're dealing with the stallion, and each of them is going to be contributing genes, so it didn't bother me in the first place, and I don't think it would bother the second time around. The one thing that you can say about Big Brown is that he's an exceptionally well-balanced horse -- extraordinarily well-balanced. I was -- as many other people were --disappointed to see that he wasn't going to run beyond his 3-year-old year.
"I was particularly disappointed - in fact more disappointed than a lot of people - because our EQUIX data indicated he was going to be biomechanically more efficient as a 4-year-old and would be at his most efficient level as a 4-year-old. I was going ‘Wow, I can't wait until this guy runs as a 4-year-old,' and then, as they started talking about not running him, I was going, ‘Oh no, that's too bad.'
Could you discuss how you make your breeding plans for your mares in a little more detail?
The EQUIX measurements "are where I start from, and that will give me a whole list of stallions that physically fit my mares. Some of my mares are more well-blended with lots of stallions, and some of my mares are less well-blended with lots of stallions. But, invariably, I end up with a list of five to 10 to 15 -- maybe even 20 -- different stallions that physically fit a mare, and once I have that group of stallions, then I start looking for those inbreeding patterns that we already spoke about. Then, once I have those inbreeding patterns, I say to myself, ‘OK, which hypothetical pattern is going to produce inbreeding to significant female families.
"We decided to breed Mien (the dam of Big Brown) to Henrythenavigator this year. It's an absolutely beautiful physical fit. It ends up with inbreeding 4 (X 5) X 3 to Northern Dancer and that pattern has been highly successful with Kingmambo (the sire of Henrythenavigator). Then, when you look for female families, when you breed Mien to Henrythenavigator, you end up with inbreeding to Special and you end up with inbreeding to Rough Shod II. I just thought, ‘Wow! Those are nice mares.' That's the thought process I go through."
Any other thoughts about Big Brown?
"I hope we can do it more than once, and I hope I end up with one of those stallions myself."
When will you stand a stallion at Monticule?
"Probably in the next year or so. We're tentatively thinking about 2010. I don't know that we'll get there for 2010, but it will be in either 2010 or 2011, or something like that. We'll put our theories to more and more tests."
Where is Big Brown's half-sister (by Touch Gold) that you bought back at the Keeneland September yearling sale for $200,000?
"She's in Ocala in training with someone who Christophe Clement uses for that purprose. I haven't spoken to the people who are handling her since she's been there, but I expect I'll go see her in the next month or so."
Will Clement train her when she goes to the racetrack?
At the time she was offered as a yearling, she was on the small side. Do you expect her to get bigger?
"I expect that she will. Her half-sister by Horse Chestnut (My Chestnut Girl) was quite small as a yearling, and then she grew substantially."