The Pay Off - By Evan Hammonds

On the morning of May 20 John Sikura and his 13-year-old son, Jackson, were handicapping the Preakness Stakes (G1). “This is going to sound ridiculous, Jackson, but I’m looking at the form…this horse can win the race.”

Sikura was talking about Cloud Computing, a colt he bred from the first crop of Maclean’s Music who stands at his Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms near Lexington.

Sikura’s son agreed with his father’s assessment. “The Derby winner will be tough to beat, but if he bounces off that race and Cloud Computing moves forward, he can win.”

“It might not sound like validation when a 13-year-old says something, but he’s smarter than me,” Sikura reported two days later after Cloud Computing edged past Classic Empire to win the second leg of the Triple Crown. “I know the sheets guys and the real handicappers thought he was the horse to beat, so there was a depth of support.”

Sikura had a depth of conviction when he purchased an interest in Maclean’s Music from Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet operation following his one and only start in 2011.

“There are two horses I’ve seen run that I was just drawn to and thought I had to put something together and stand these horses,” he told us. “The first horse was Candy Ride, whom I saw run in Argentina and saw him win a group 1 there by open lengths. There was an excitement of the people around him at the time and I said, ‘Wow, this horse is different.’ The other was Maclean’s Music.

“I just saw a horse of a different caliber,” he said. “He had such great, fast action. Every time he bounced he opened up on the field. I was convinced he was a superstar racehorse.”

Although injury concluded Maclean’s Music’s racing career after that one outing, Sikura gave him every chance to be a stallion.

It wasn’t easy in 2013 as the market was still reeling from the Great Recession and the foal crop was falling, but Sikura is known as a man of great conviction. He invested in buying mares to breed to him and enlisted several mares from his stellar broodmare band in trying to make the stallion.

Sikura is the first to tell someone it’s nearly impossible to have success with a stallion in Central Kentucky that stands for less than $10,000. Maclean’s Music stood for $6,500 in his first season.

“You have to be prepared to provide a third or half of the mares yourself and have  the partners do the same,” he said. “You can twist a few arms, and get some friends that might owe you a few favors to do the same, and then there you are: at $6,500 and hoping.

“I’m not an over-the-top salesman,” he continued. “I speak what I think is the truth, and I’m not effervescent in that ‘everything’s great,’ so the people I did talk to that I respect and do lots of business with…I told them how I really felt, and I got lots of support from great horsemen like Bill Betz and Craig Bernick. We had serious people. They didn’t breed their best mare, but at least they sent mares. I hoped that over the years I had enough credibility capital that if I told someone I thought this horse was the real deal, even though we had our doubters, we’d have plenty of people support us.”

That support was well-founded as Maclean’s Music’s yearlings generated enough buzz to average $37,952 (5.8 times his initial stud fee). The sire’s highest-priced yearling was Cloud Computing. Maclean’s Music also led the freshman sire’s list by winners with 19, and now he joins a growing list of stallions to get a classic winner with his first crop.

“You have to take strong stands on horses,” Sikura said. “I have an expression I always say to myself: ‘When everybody’s in agreement, then it’s too late.’”

The bet back in 2013 has paid off just like his bet Preakness afternoon.

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