New Sire Blues - By Eric Mitchell

 (Originally published in the December 11, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell
First-year sires used to be the darlings of the Thoroughbred breeding industry. The owners of graded stakes-winning colts, especially grade I winners, only needed to sit back and wait for farms to call. Now, they are the ones doing the calling.

“In the past it was a fairly passive thing,” said Jack Wolf, a principal for Starlight Racing, whose previous racehorses-turned-sires include successes Harlan’s Holiday and Purge. Farms wanted these sires because auction buyers really wanted their offspring. Without any progeny performance records to spoil the mood, the progeny of first-crop and second-crop sires had sold at a premium, in part fed by the excitement the sire himself generated on the racetrack and in part because buyers thought they were getting in early on a good thing.

Recent and lingering economic calamity, however, has since turned this segment of the stallion market upside down. Breeders and buyers want proven sires first. After that, a stallion prospect better be among the top 3% of graded stakes performers or he has a slim chance of finding a home in a breeding shed.

“It is difficult even to place a multiple grade I winner. These farms are struggling to book the horses they have now; does it make sense to take on a new one?” Wolf said. He knows all too well because he’s spent months looking for a farm to stand Take the Points, a 4-year-old son of Even the Score out of Ginger Ginger, by Fred Astaire, who won the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) and the Jamaica H. (gr. IT) in 2009.  Unfortunately, the colt has an injury that ended his racing career.
From a farm’s viewpoint most new stallions today are not worthwhile investments.

“It is a tough time to start stallions, probably the toughest I’ve ever seen,” said Nathan Fox, who started Richland Hills (then Wafare Farm) in 1998 and has started several top-notch stallions including Dynaformer and Glitterman. Fox was offered an opportunity to stand a grade I-winning son of leading sire Giant’s Causeway. The owner would pay all the expenses and give Fox half the proceeds. Fox still had to take a pass.

“You can take a grade I winner and if you stand him for $10,000-$15,000, then you have to give seasons away. I’ve been close to closing a deal on seasons and had people call me back and say, ‘Well, I got a free season from someone else.’ How do you make a business plan based on that?”

For Fox, his business plan focuses on the three young stallions—Purim, Sightseeing, and Cougar Cat—in which he has already invested a substantial amount of time and money and whose first crops of runners hit the track next year.

“Most of the work has been done, so now we wait to see if we’ll hit one out of the park,” he said.

The owners of many other farms with stallions in the middle and lower ranges are shying away from new acquisitions and building instead on what they’ve got. To be competitive, they have to be flexible and creative, with incentive and rewards programs, diversification, and tapping into regional markets all in the mix.
Ro Parra’s Millennium Farms, a relatively new operation, entered the stallion market at the lower end, acquiring young sires in the $5,000-$15,000 range. When that market became shaky, Millennium instituted a rewards program to foster loyalty to the farm and its stallions. The program works much like an airline frequent flyer or affinity program with the accrual of points for breedings and for the performance of the progeny at the sales and the racetrack. “Customers with a lot of points breed for free,” Parra said. “It works.”

Millennium also lowered its day rate from the high $20s to $24, resulting in an increase in part-time and full-time boarders. At the same time Millennium has reduced the number of its own mares from 100% to about 30% of the farm’s population. As part of its focus on boarding, Millennium recently began a consignment program, which Parra said is another way customers can save money.

“You have to be creative,” he said. “Breeders are having a difficult time making money. At the same time we also have to pay for our stallions.”

Fewer stallions are going to stud, fewer mares are being bred, and foal crops will continue to drop for several years to come.

What’s a stallion manager to do? Wait, if you can, say many owners and breeders.

“We just all need to remember this is a cyclical industry, and we were fortunate for many years to sell some horses for good money,” Wolf said.


Leave a Comment:


Jack Wolf's observation about the cyclical nature of the industry is correct.  Hopefully the current downturn will also be corrective, especially in its impact upon on-the-track racing, forcing owners to keep good stakes quality performers racing beyond a 3YO or 4YO campaign.

07 Dec 2010 12:35 PM

Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.  Hopefully we will see more quality performers remain in training and at the racetrack where they belong.  I am tired of all these 3 year old stars racing 6-8 times and retiring to stud before they have even reached maturity.

07 Dec 2010 12:53 PM

Do you think it's possible this could result in stallions staying on the racetrack longer and getting a chance to prove their soundness and durability?

07 Dec 2010 12:57 PM

run the horses!!!!people want to see them run more than one or two seassons,racetracks are empty!!!!

07 Dec 2010 2:36 PM
Somethingroyal the horses, do away with the drugs, and retire them sound. And how about returning to the practice of breeding for the classic racehorse?      

07 Dec 2010 4:17 PM

Imagine...WE all agree on the same thing...Run the horses longer...Can the message be any clearer?

07 Dec 2010 5:56 PM
Fuzzy Corgi

Running the horses past their 3 year old year will hopefully do a few things;

a) See if they are consistent. A lot of horses have just one good year in them. Some have a lot of good years in them. Lets see what each horse really has to offer.

b) Create a fan base and some excitement in the sport. I hate to just begin knowing a horse and the next thing I know he's off to the breeding shed.

c) Maybe a few more horses will be gelded. Do we REALLY need this many stallions? They should earn their job. Just because he has his family jewels doesn't mean he should use them. If a stallion isn't producing like he should then he needs a new career. I think the industry would be better off with a lot of really nice geldings than a bunch of average stallions.

07 Dec 2010 7:58 PM


08 Dec 2010 1:13 AM

If nobody wants a G1 winner in Kentucky, send them to Texas, Louisiana or New Mexico.

08 Dec 2010 11:03 AM

Everyone says they want to see horses run longer but when they do the owners and trainer get criticized as in the case of Brass Hat.

08 Dec 2010 2:07 PM

I'm so happy to see everyone in agreement that horses should stay on the track longer. I definitely agree its ridiculous that horses are retired with like 7 starts. What happened with Line of David this year has me asking "What the hell?" Lookin at Lucky would've done amazing next year. Race the damn horses, that's what they were bred for, is it not? I also fully agree with Fuzzy Corgi. More gelding are not going to hurt the sport; there are obviously too much supply at the moment. Having great supply than demand is a basic business no-no. Race the good ones longer, geld the ones that that can't produce. Plain and simple.

08 Dec 2010 2:15 PM
Pedigree Ann

Fuzzy Corgi, you have it in a nutshell. As AG Vanderbilt said, "If I had gelded all of the colts I ever bred, I would have made only one [or two - versions vary] mistake." For the version I remember - one mistake - the exception was Native Dancer.

Oh, and yes, there was the argument between the Calumet owner and trainer about gelding HotY Twilight Tear's 1952 colt. Owner believed it the colt had stallion potential, wanted it kept intact. Trainer said (I paraphrase) "Horse won't be worth two cents on the track unless we geld it. And the stable needs a racehorse right now more than the farm needs a stallion." Colt gelded, named Bardstown, won over half a million $, including a Widener H, in the 1950s, SW from 4 to 7.

08 Dec 2010 2:45 PM

Fuzzy Corgi.....I agree with you on the 3rd point.  Just because the horse is by Storm Cat, does not mean they are a stallion.  People think Storm Cat is a sire of sires, but the #'ers do not bear this opinion out.  Yes he has some nice sons....but he should when you look at the books of mares he got.  Unsoundness and bad minds are the traits what passsed on to his offspring.  And now his sons are passing it on to their offspring.  One of the nicest bred horses of our time (Eskendereya), by Giants Causeway, could not even make it 1/2 way thru his 3 year old year.  He should have been rested and brought back to the track.  He has not earned his right to be a stallion yet.  If he were born in Germany, after having to be retired for unsoundness, he would have been gelded so as not to pass on bad genes.  Pedigree is only 1/2 the equation.  Racing performance is the other.  If you own a new incoming stallion, he better have raced at least 2 full seasons and had no soundness problems, or forget trying to stand him for more than $10,000.00.  Perhaps Gelding more and breeding less is the answer.  There is no reason a stallion should serve 200 mares in a single season.  Maybe one time one season, but not EVERY season.

08 Dec 2010 2:50 PM

More culling should be done. I know this is tough to accept, and consistent criteria need to be set so the future superstar stallion will be spared. Keep in mind there was talk at one time of gelding Northern Dancer! Wow, what a difference that would have made in today's Thoroughbred!  While he sired, grand-sired, and great-grandsired a lot of very talented horses, there would have been some unsoundness problems, and to some degree, sterility, which pretty much takes care of itself. Don't get me wrong, Northern Dancer found a dynasty in Thoroughbred breeding. When I was in grade school, he won the Kentucky Derby. I idolized the horse. Then I turned my attention to other things in life, then much later, took a peak to see what was going on in the Thoroughbred industry and learned that my favorite race horse was a legend siring horses that captured the imagination on the racetrack, breeding shed, and sales ring.

09 Dec 2010 7:50 AM

I say geld more and breed less. There are far too many unsound horses passing on their genes. Too many colts retiring early to breed. Should be breeding to race not breeding to breed. Breeding hundreds of mares a year is also ridiculous. As is retiring sons early to breed when the sire is proven and still fertile.

09 Dec 2010 12:30 PM
Lisa g

I agree with run the horses, they love it, it is in their blood.  I  fall in love, and then they are gone to a farm.  I am like, what happened??????????

09 Dec 2010 1:53 PM

Very interesting article. And it further supports the decisions some owners have taken to leaving their top horses on the track. Gio Ponti being one such example.

09 Dec 2010 8:13 PM

Most here, I think, have missed the message(s) of this article. It certainly wasn't a call to arms to keep colts in training ( and/or to geld them). To those who believe less colts/more geldings and/or less retired colts (and, therefore, more runners)=less foal production, think again. That schematic has little or nothing to do with numbers of registered foals. Those who understand the thoroughbred racehorse breeding business know this, those who don't shouldn't articulate an opinion. If culling is what you're after, look to the broodmares, not the stallions. And lastly, to all you supposed horse lovers- keeping horses in training longer may serve your selfish needs, but it does no favor to the horse. By now (particularly in view of more recent misadventures), all should see that we (trainers, owners, jockeys,vets, stewards, etc.) are woefully illequipped to properly insure the racehorses' safety. The less they run, the less likely to come in harm's way. Trust me, they'd rather graze in a field with their buddies than be cooped up in a stall 23 or more hrs/day, and occasionally run full tilt in a risk of injury or life spectacle.    

09 Dec 2010 10:46 PM
Sunny Farm

This article just brought back to me many confusing feelings and some angry feelings.

Sure everyone geld YOUR stallions-as long as - It is not MY stallion.This is what you all say.

The economy has hurt many people but it is the breeders who have to lower thier prices-the Jockey Club does not offer to lower IT'S fees, feed and care does not lower thier prices, vets sure don't !!!.....Breeders Cup DID lower thier foal nomination fees and it not only helped "We' smaller breeders (And larger breeders as well, I'm sure ), it also helped the Breeders Cup in return.

You all say you want STAMINA and strong genetics but you keep breeding to the ''hottest new'' sires instead of looking at older sires especially at "Regional farms"

My stallion raced EIGHT years, 69 starts, has old valuable bloodlines closer than A.P.Indys & is 100% free of NORTHERN DANCER but since we are "Just a regional farm ' we get very little help or consideration. Oh, My stallion did win seven black type stakes in the poor economy of the nineties ($404,707), including the OBS / Fla. Even with his small crops from past owners , he did sire 10 winners out of 11., not his fault the past owners didn't promote him OR that he raced so long instead of being a breeding stallion.

If he were put to over a hundred mares a year , I am sure we would come up with more good ones as well as any top farm. Colts that maybe SHOULD be kept stallions.

TRY to get any bigger sale to even LOOK at my foals to consider for anything in front of book four. no way will they do that.I was told "Hot commercial sire ONLY". I was told my stallion is a HAS BEEN. Also mentioned was "OH, I see, your a REGIONAL farm "

This "Hot commercial sire'' line has only hurt the Thoroughbred breed & entire industy. Racing a few times and breaking down is NOT a great thing to brag about, but no big sale  will even LOOK at what my small farm (Or other small farms )is producing. WHY ??? Get into a select sale ? Are you kidding me ?

The so called expert bloodstock agents are just interested in one thing & that is commission-if you don't have "The name'' to go with it, they won't look at your foals either. (This one  "big" agent finally sighed and agreed to look at my foals. When he finally DID look-he was impressed but by then I was too mad to care anymore & realized my foals -that I am so proud of -would bring about $2.00 at the sale.)No doubt will have been pin-hooked and they make all the money while the small breeders get $2.00

When will the sales lower THIER % rate to help the breeders ???

I decided last year to heck with it, stopped breeding and sold all but two mares. I have decided to stop breeding Throughbreds and race the homebreds I have raised, myself, even though I enjoy being  a broodmare /foal person. I think I have just as good a chance to train & race them myself as to let a so called top-trainer break them down or enter a starting gate when they are ill. The Thoroughbred industry had got to be the most un-welcoming breed I have ever been involved in. I have been involved in quite a few other breeds over this 40-some-odd years, so this truly is not 'sour grapes' on my part. I am starting to understand why this industry is hurting so badly. Few work together for the better-ment of all. There is a private and special club and if that's not you, your out.

Changing over to being a trainer and racing is the only way I can see that I will survive. If my horses succeed, maybe then someone will take a look at my stallion, but by then he may have passed on from old age.

The term "You have to break in'' to the Thoroughbred industry is too true, there are very few invitations.

If you look at all ZENYATTA has done, it is easy to prove that when you do invite and act friendly,great things happen for the good of all. See you at the races. I'll be the one with grey hair and wearing a grain sack, but I think you'll like my horses when we do finally get there.I promise they will last for more than a couple of races & look beautiful as well.Small farm or not they have very nice conformation.

For anyone in this industry who has ever been kind, I sure take notice and I thank-you.

As for the others, I think your getting just what you deserve. A lot of people feel the way I feel, but they won't even test the water, and quit before they ever enter.May be why racing is failing to thrive.

10 Dec 2010 12:06 AM

Finally, the breeding industry is getting smart......quality instead of quantity. Now maybe the next step will be to race these so called good colts a little longer and really see who is the best. Some of the best stallions over the years didn't do well at the races until later and some of them got better and better and some of them were not as good as thought when they got older. Now they retire them early, cash in on them while there hot and then find out they're not much. Now maybe we can get back to breeding the correct way.......pedigree to pedigree...not breeding to whose hot.  

10 Dec 2010 6:22 AM

I've been a fan or involved in some aspect of the industry for nearly 30 years. I've watched some good horses come and go and I've watched with utter amazement as many of my favorite races either get dropped, distances reduced, and now can't even find television coverage. I've been rather disheartened lately and probably for good reason. The sport never promotes the good ones (my dad had never heard of Zenyatta until the 60 minutes story), retires the bad apples (unsound, by high profile runners), and then whisks others off to stud for no reason other than greed.

Since the inception of the BC, I've watched the Jockey Club Gold Cup reduced to 10f, the CCA Oaks to 9f, Suburban H to 9f, Gulfsream Park H to 8f, Woodward to 9f, etc. To be honest my FAVORITE BC race is the Marathon.  And I've lost interest in most other races because 7f to 9f races are BORING. That's all anyone breeds for. We aren't likely to see a Triple Crown winner any time soon because the horses of today are so babied, they remind me of show horses. They aren't trained the same, they aren't bred the same, and they surely can't stay around.

And What's WITH the medication stuff? Horses of long ago didn't need anything, so why the heck do they need it now? You can't tell me the horses are THAT bad off from the start. Medication ruins horses in the long run and weakens them. It's a ridiculous aspect of our game.

Thank God Germany is so strict on their bloodlines, it's about the only country that still cares about integrity of the sport and soundness and durability of its horses.

For all those whiners about changing the Triple Crown format and such to "adjust" to our weak TB of today, I guarantee this, we are already a laughing stock across the globe, why belittle our horses even further? BRING BACK THE DISTANCE and HANDICAP RACES!! I miss those!

If the Triple Crown format ever changes, I'll be out of the sport altogether. I can't support something that doesn't care about integrity and then changes to benefit those who should be improving the breed, not destroying it.

12 Dec 2010 11:36 AM

nice post!  seems to me what's lacking for our breeding farms in recruiting new owners is a clear pathway from the breeding shed to the race track.  Would a prospective breeder be more inclined to spend cash if the breeding farm had a sound economically feasible owner plan for care of the foal and scientific training to the race track.  Everybody is starting to understand--with the inbreeding we have--that it hardly matters what KY stallion you breed to.  It's the training and subsequent care that produces the stakes winners.  Time, possibly, for the breeders to put this into their economic plans.  The jig is up probably for ridiculous stud fees, and time to make the $$$ the old fashion way. Can only benefit the sport.

12 Dec 2010 1:46 PM

What does this tell you???

Snow Fairy "finest 3 yr. old filly in the world" sold at auction for $2467.

12 Dec 2010 4:32 PM

Sunny Farm, I would be VERY

interested in hearing more about your stallion.  As I breed to race, I have no interest in "hot" sale sires.  I am primarily interested in soundness, longevity and an overall consistency on the track.  Please contact me at

16 Dec 2010 8:34 AM
Pedigree Shelly

     Yes , things look kind of confusing for breeders looking at first year stallions ! Just breezing through The Stallion Register , there are some stallions that should not be there ! I realize that not everyone can breed to an AP Indy or Dynaformer or even one of their sons ! I just believe that alot of thought and research should be used in planning to breed your mare ! There are too many unwanted horses and not enough people to adopt ! Times are tough !I'm just trying to say ,use discretion when choosing a stallion !

04 Jan 2011 7:34 PM

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