(Originally published in the February 20, 2010 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at
the bottom of the column.)
Standard football coach-speak on national signing day is always to say recruiting starts at home. “We need to get the best players from within our own state,” is a statement you hear over and over.
In Thoroughbred breeding it is often impossible for a state outside Kentucky to attract the best runners and/or best bred horses from within its borders. Kentucky is the center of the universe for breeding in North America, but it is far from the only planet within that universe.
A year ago, in his first stakes start, Papa Clem ran second to Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) and his nine subsequent starts came in stakes, all but one graded. Though bred in Kentucky, Papa Clem is a Californian: owned and bred by a Californian; trained by a Californian; and based in Southern California, where he made seven of his 13 starts. Papa Clem went on to win the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and, in his only start this year, captured the San Fernando Stakes (gr. II).
Papa Clem ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) which, for California breeders, actually turned out to be a good thing. Had he won the classic, odds are his owner, Bo Hirsch, would have received higher offers to stand him at stud in Kentucky and perhaps been lured to the Bluegrass State.
Instead, a group of Calfiornia breeders—Pete Parrella, Tom Bachman, Madeline Auerbach, Don Valpredo, and Brian Boudreau—approached Hirsch, and it was announced in late January Papa Clem would stand at Parrella’s Legacy Ranch near Clements, Calif.
California’s breeding industry has suffered in recent years, with the closure of farms and a decline in stallions and broodmares. At the beginning of the 1990s, more than 7,000 mares a year were being bred in California, a number that dropped to about 5,600 in 2000 and in the last year for which The Jockey Club has complete numbers—2008—4,075. The number of stallions standing in California was 430 in 2000 and 278 in 2008.
To keep with the coaching analogy, California has been able to recruit a top prospect. Papa Clem is a son of leading sire Smart Strike, a son of Mr. Prospector, and is best known as the sire of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. Papa Clem’s dam is a grade I California stakes winner, Miss Houdini, by Belong to Me, and his second dam is a California grade I stakes winner, Magical Maiden, by Lord Avie.
California breeders should be enthusiastic about retaining Papa Clem, just as they have been about the success of the state’s current leading sire, Unusual Heat. It has been a while since a Golden State horse stood for $25,000 like Unusual Heat, who through Dec. 31, 2009 is the only California sire to have a lifetime Average Earnings Index of more than 2.00 (2.17).
Unusual Heat, who stands at Old English Rancho, ranked as the 29th-leading sire on the general sire list nationally last year, having occupied the 20th spot the previous year. California sire Swiss Yodeler ranked 19th in 2006, and such sires as In Excess and Bertrando have also appeared on the list in recent years.
These names, and others, remind us of California sires such as Fleet Nasrullah, Gummo, Reflected Glory, Flying Paster, Pirate’s Bounty, and Cee’s Tizzy.
Which brings us to this year’s running of the Robert Lewis Feb. 13 at Santa Anita, won by California-bred Caracortado. Though Caracortado, by Cat Dreams, will not be able to become a California sire because he is a gelding, he is the latest testament to the state’s breeding program, a grade II winner that is unbeaten in five starts.
In a state with fewer mares, fewer stallions, fewer farms, and fewer breeders, Caracortado, Papa Clem, and Unusual Heat are good news for Californians.