Features

  1.  

When first-year stallion Norumbega died last June from colic, Bonita Farm’s Bill Boniface considered the prospects of starting over – again – and talked himself out of it.

“This is the end,” he said of Bonita’s stallion program. The Darlington, Md., farm stood Etched, but the stallion wasn’t proving to be a commercial success and he would soon be sold to Korea. The aging Mojave Moon, pensioned and reduced to the role of teaser, would keep the stone stallion barn from being empty but Bonita had stood its last stallion.

“I was so shook up,” he said of losing Norumbega, a Stuart Janney III product with a deep pedigree and the potential of attracting quality mares. “I really meant what I said. But you can’t say these things. You know how a trainer can get mad at a jockey and say, ‘I’m never going to ride that boy again?’ Well, you know what happens. You can’t say that.”

Bonita got back on the horse, big time, for 2018 as the 75-year-old Boniface breathed new energy into that stallion barn in the form of three first-year horses – 
Grade 1 winner Dortmund, Grade 2 winner Kobe’s Back and the unraced but blue-blooded Alliance. The three newcomers are something of a sign, part of a large group of rookie stallions in the region. Breeding season starts next month, and the snowy days of early December were full of open houses, advertisements, newsletters, relocations, conversations, construction projects, mare bookings and questions about how it would all turn out.

In addition to Bonita’s three, the news includes:

• Grade 2 winner Holy Boss at Mary­land’s Anchor and Hope Farm, which will also stand former Heritage Stallions horses Imagining and Bourbon Courage.

• Grade 2 winner Blofeld at Maryland’s Murmur Farm.

• Grade 2 winner Madefromlucky at Maryland’s Northview Stallion Station.

• Grade 3 winner Divining Rod at Mary­land’s Country Life Farm.

• Uncle Mo’s half-brother Editorial, originally slated to stand with Street Magi­cian and Despite the Odds at Mary­land’s Roland Farm, will start with that experienced duo at Heritage Stallions.

As it has for the past few years, Mary­land rules the news cycle when it comes to stallions with new horses and new ventures in a variety of locations. Chesapeake City’s Heritage Stallions, a partnership of Dr. Tom Bowman, his son Dr. Brooke Bowman and Louis Merryman, split up with the October announcement that the Bow­mans would stand stallions at their Roland Farm in Chesapeake City and Merryman and wife Grace would expand Anchor and Hope in Port Deposit. Tom Bowman said in mid-December that he reached an agreement to stand Editorial, Street Magician and Despite the Odds at Heritage, about a half-mile from Roland Farm. Heritage opened in 2014.

Maryland adds at least eight new stallions, which will stress the salesmanship of the various farms involved and add fuel to the industry resurgence of the past five years. Purses, bonuses, incentives, opportunities and more have increased steadily. Stallions were always going to be the last piece of the puzzle, and remain so as Maryland searches – still – for the heirs to standout regional sires Not For Love, Allen’s Prospect, Two Punch, Polish Numbers and others. The state’s lack of sire power gets magnified in the sales ring as the offspring of unproven stallions struggle when in the catalog next to those from Kentucky.

After several years of increases, the state’s mares-bred figure decreased in 2017 to prompt a meeting of the state’s major stud farms in June. The discussion helped launch a new bonus for Maryland-sired horses – where the breeder of a state-bred, state-sired maiden winner gets an additional bonus. The extra money is designed to encourage breeders to use Maryland sires, the goal of all of the state’s stud farms.

“As you can tell by the December sale, that’s the weakest part of the market,” Mike Pons of Country Life Farm said of the prices for young horses by local stallions. “[The new bonus] is a real payback, to the breeder. That’s who we’re after. We really want to keep the regional breeders here. We want to save them the money they’d spend shipping to Kentucky. We want them to breed here, and be eligible for more lucrative bonuses than if they were just Kentucky-sired Maryland-breds. There are going to be stallions whose babies can run with the babies from the Kentucky stallions.”

As for who those stallions are, or when it happens, nobody knows. Pons hopes they stand at Country Life, which added Divining Rod to Mosler, Freedom Child, Friesan Fire and Super Ninety Nine, but is enough of a realist to know that there are no sure things. Though book size and auction prices matter, stallions prove themselves on the racetrack.

Can their sons and daughters run? That’s the ultimate question, and there are no shortcuts to the answer.

“Around here, you really haven’t arrived until you’ve showed up on Maryland Million Day,” said Pons. “I love that. It doesn’t matter if you’re California Chrome or whoever, you’ve got to do it the old-fashioned way. The only way to find out what’s in the genetic bank of these stallions is to get plenty of mares to them and wait and see.”

The game can take five years, sometimes more. Think about it. Maryland’s new stallions of 2018 won’t have their first runners until 2021. Those horses will be 4-year-olds of 2023.

“It’s five years in the pipeline,” Pons said of finding out about a stallion’s progeny. “It can be the most gratifying thing. It’s almost like you’re gold-mining. They’re like young kids trying to get to the major leagues. You’ve got to have all the skills and have a lot of luck. But it can happen. It will happen. There are several stallions that have been brought in to the region that have the right stuff.”

Merryman, whose career in the region includes time at Northview Stallion Station, Heritage and now his venture at Anchor and Hope, agrees with the long-term philosophy – especially after seeing the prices for Maryland-sired weanlings at the December sale.

“None of us should be buying [stallions] with the sales in mind,” said Merryman. “What our goal has to be is a quality, sound, worthwhile racehorse. That’s what we should be working toward. If you work on stuff that you believe in and believe in your stallions and believe in your mares, the racetrack sorts it out. They either run for you or they don’t. Right now, we believe feverishly in all three stallions that we have and we’ve put together a broodmare band we believe in. After that the job is getting foals on the ground and raising them really right.”

Merryman spoke while looking at a weanling half-brother to Maryland-bred champion Jazzy Idea. The son of Imagining is growing up – fast – at Anchor and Hope, hinting at what might lie ahead.

Like Pons and Merryman, Northview Stallion Station’s David Wade sees the stallion business as a long game. You don’t get there quickly. The venerable Maryland facility occupies the former Windfields Farm, home to the world’s leading sire Northern Dancer not all that long ago, and has ridden the fortunes of the industry’s peaks and valleys for years.

Northview stands Great Notion, Mary­land’s leading sire, and added Made­fromlucky to a roster that includes 2017 rookie Golden Lad, Bandbox, Buffum and Redeemed (Orientate was recently pensioned). Other than Great Notion, whose 2017 stakes winners include Crabcakes, Great Soul and Phlash Phelps, most are largely unproven while trying to fill the big shoes left by the region’s big names at Northview since its founding in 1989.

“They started here and made their careers here,” said Wade of most of the region’s top stallions. “Not For Love and Polish Numbers started out at $3,500 and proved themselves. The good stallions, as long as they can get enough mares, will shine through. Some of them are going to hit.”

Regional breeders play a big role in that, and they have a long list to peruse. As Merryman said, breeding to a new regional stallion with the sales market in mind might be a recipe for going broke. Weanlings from the first and second crops of local stallions routinely went for $2,000 or less at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s December sale with a Super Ninety Nine colt being the bright spot at $24,000.

The plan, most agree, must include breeding for the racetrack. Pick your spots on new horses and be patient.

George Adams used to work at Country Life Farm and has built his Maryland-based Housatonic Bloodstock business to include buying, selling, racing and mare management. He’ll send a client’s mare to Blofeld this year, and was still mulling over some other decisions.

“As exciting as these new stallions are, if you look at the sales of those kinds of horses they did not sell well,” said Adams. “There’s nothing wrong with them, they’re just unproven. I’d love to be able to breed more locally, but as somebody who can’t afford to breed to race yet it just doesn’t make sense. I can’t wait to have an excuse for that not to be the case.”

Adams called Dortmund “a serious horse” for Maryland, and is excited for the prospects of several others. Blofeld, a son of Quality Road who won $745,420 on the racetrack, fits his client’s mare because of some Grey Flight blood but Adams also sees a fast racehorse with loads of stallion potential. Adams thinks Divining Rod will interest breeders, and will get mare support from a variety of sources. Holy Boss’ sire Street Boss might not have the pizzazz of some of the others in the region, Adams said, but the new stallion’s speed and race record will surely attract mares. Adams also has concerns about the amount of sires coming from the A.P. Indy line, but the same could be said for Kentucky stallions.

Regionally, Andiron, Friesan Fire, Gandhi, Jump Start and Scipion are by A.P. Indy. Aldrin, Baltimore Bob, Buffum, Declan’s Warrior, Freedom Child, Friend Or Foe, Kobe’s Back, Rule by Night and Super Ninety Nine are by sons of A.P. Indy. And still more, such as Divining Rod, are by grandsons of A.P. Indy.

“You have some stallions bred along the same lines, but that’s how it happens sometimes,” Adams said. “There are good, young stallion prospects here. It’s really exciting, and if I was a stallion guy, I’d be ecstatic with my prospects.”

The newcomers get the attention every year, but more veteran regional names command attention by simply producing solid performers. It’s difficult to get past Jump Start, who stands at Northview’s Pennsylvania division, when it comes to racetrack performances.

Now 19, he is the proven stallion in the region with more than $53 million in progeny earnings and major winners in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. His 58 stakes-winning sons and daughters are led by Argentine champion Idolo Porteno (Arg), Grade 1 winner Rail Trip, $2.2 million earner Prayer For Relief, Grade 2 winners Pants On Fire and Miss Behaviour and a slew of others. Jump Start stands for $10,000, tops in the region. His Northview (Maryland) compatriot, Great Notion, stands for half that but also has a reputation for consistently siring solid racehorses.

“Every time a client says they want to breed to race, I tell them they’re going to get a horse that runs if they breed to Jump Start or Great Notion,” Adams said. “It’s a different model than some of the new horses, but it works. They’re solid regional stallions.”

Class of 2018

Like hotshot freshmen on a college basketball team, the new stallions come from all over and bring a variety of skills to the court. A quick look at a few reveals a similar theme – confidence mixed with caution.

The deal for Divining Rod at Country Life came late enough that he missed the stallion directory in December’s magazine, but that did little to quell early enthusiasm. Country Life hosted an information session before the December sale at Timonium, featuring video of the horse’s races, and comments from owner Roy Jackson. The son of Tapit nearly went to Kentucky, but comes to Maryland in a partnership between Country Life, Jackson and his wife Gretchen’s Lael Stables and Kentucky’s Gainesway Farm. Divining Rod will stand for $5,000, and will get support from each of the players involved in his ownership. The Jacksons, who live in Pennsylvania, have a strong broodmare band. Gainesway, which stands Tapit, plans to send 10 mares a year for the first four years. And Country Life brings a dozen or so, several in breeding partnerships formed by the farm.

Divining Rod won five of 17 starts, and placed in nine others including a third in the 2015 Preakness Stakes-G1 behind American Pharoah and a photo-finish loss to Connect in the 2016 Cigar Mile Handicap-G1. The latter defeat, by a head, may have ensured the path of Divining Rod as a stallion.

“This horse was literally a few inches from being in Kentucky,” said Pons. “He still got the same speed figure the winner got and he’s standing for $20,000 [at Kentucky’s Lane’s End Farm]. We were fortunate in that regard.”

In addition to the power of his sire Tapit, Divining Rod brings plenty of female family. His dam Precious Kitten won six graded stakes, earned just shy of $2 million and is a half-sister to leading sire Kitten’s Joy. All that made Divining Rod, who was based with Arnaud Delacour at Maryland’s Fair Hill Training Center throughout his career, an appealing prospect. The concept improved that much more because of the connections involved.

“The mares are the key and without them you’re on the street corner all by yourself,” said Pons, “so it’s important you have folks that own him that are ready and willing to send mares.”

Between Gainesway, the Jacksons and mares Country Life controls, Divining Rod had 30 bookings before he ever set a hoof on the farm.

Like Divining Rod, Dortmund brings a national reputation. Owned by Kaleem Shah and trained by Bob Baffert (and later Art Sherman) in California, the tall chestnut won all three of his starts as a 2-year-old in 2014 – including the Los Alamitos Futurity-G1. He continued the streak as a 3-year-old with wins in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes-G3, San Felipe Stakes-G2 and Santa Anita Derby-G1. Unbeaten in six starts heading into the Kentucky Derby-G1, Dortmund settled for third behind eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. The son of Big Brown won twice more at 3, finished second to California Chrome in the 2016 Awesome Again Stakes-G1 and was retired in 2017 with eight wins and just shy of $2 million in earnings.

Boniface and Shah might seem like unlikely business partners at first glance, but there’s more to the story.

Shah’s father trained two winners of the Indian Triple Crown, but discouraged his son from pursuing a career in racing. Instead, Shah became a United States citizen, founded a technology company with major government and private-sector clients and became an owner in 1996. His top horses have included Grade 1 winners Dortmund, Bayern, Klimt, American Gal and Declassify.

Shah opted to launch Dortmund’s stud career with Bonita and will back up the decision with several incentives for mare owners including one Boniface mentioned that guarantees a yearling sale price at least equal to Dortmund’s stud fee.

“It just all came together,” said Boniface of the stallion deal. “I’d been negotiating with him, and he’d been up here with his son so I knew him and been working on Dortmund for some time. The new status of Maryland racing and breeding was a big factor.”

Then Boniface went to California and saw the horse up close. In a phone call to his wife Joan, he gushed about the prospects of bringing a new stallion to the farm.

“He’s the best looking big horse I’ve seen since [1970s legend] Forego,” Boni­face said. “He possesses the ground he stands on, a living sculpture of what a Thoroughbred should look like. He’s the most exciting new stallion I’ve seen come in here in the last decade or two really.”

Nobody talks up a horse better than Bill Boniface, but he’s got a point. Dortmund will make you stop and look. On a late-morning visit in December, the now 6-year-old stood like he was made of bronze and stared off in the distance at something only he saw. Stud groom Sam Hopkins never let go of the shank, but Dortmund might not have noticed.

“He’s a hell of a horse,” Boniface said. “Got a good mind. He’s good to work with. Does everything you want.”

Dortmund wasn’t sure what to think of the snow that blanketed Bonita early in the season.

“I don’t think he’d ever seen snow,” said Boniface with a laugh. “He was out in the paddock when it started one day, put his head straight up at the sky like, ‘What is that?’ Then he got to running around and dancing at it.”

By the second storm, the frozen stuff was no longer a novelty and the California boy was growing a rich winter coat.

Dortmund wasn’t the only West Coaster getting used to winter in Maryland at Bonita as Alliance and Kobe’s Back took up spots in the stallion barn, once the home of Preakness winner Deputed Testamony.

A son of Harlan’s Holiday, Alliance never raced but his half-sister (multiple champion and $4.4 million earner Tepin) and half-brother (multiple Grade 2 winner Vyjack) have that covered. The dark bay, owned by Larry Karp’s Barlar LLC, boasts a deep regional female family including Maryland-bred dam Life Happened from Green Willow Farms and her predecessors, Round It Off, Capp It Off and Turn Capp from Oliver Goldsmith. Karp was involved in stallions at Northview in Pennsylvania, and will support Alliance with mares.

A gray son of Flatter, Kobe’s Back earned more than $1 million while based in California with John Sadler and Peter Eurton. The Kentucky-bred competed in nothing but stakes, including a maiden-breaker over California Chrome and others. Kobe’s Back raced through age 6 in 2017 and, like the others at Bonita, will get mare support from his owner (Lee Searing of CRK Stable). Boniface said Searing bought two mares at Keeneland November and planned to buy two more at Keeneland January. All will be sent to Bonita to foal and be bred back to Kobe’s Back.

“He believes in the horse,” said Boni­face. “He’s a neat looking horse, lot of personality. He got beat a neck in a Grade 1 [the 2015 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes] and was a pretty good racehorse. He fits the bill for a guy breeding to race.”

Northview’s already deep Maryland lineup got a boost from Madefromlucky, who won the 2015 West Virginia Derby-G2 among others for trainer Todd Pletcher. The son of Lookin At Lucky won six races and earned more than $1.3 million. His dam Home From Oz is a full sister to Tapit and the female family includes other stallions Rubiano, Glitterman and Relaunch.

“He’s a cool horse and we thought he had a really good resume for Maryland,” said Wade. “It’s difficult getting horses from sire’s families. When you look at his, there are several there. He’s a nice horse to introduce to Maryland.”

Across Cecil County from Northview, work continues at Anchor and Hope. Merryman’s grandfather John, a noted Thoroughbred breeder himself, purchased the property in 1965 and used it as a base for a cattle operation. Horses came later, with Merryman’s parents Edwin and Sass. The birthplace of Maryland-bred champion Jazzy Idea, Anchor and Hope foaled some 45 mares in 2017 (while Louis Merryman also worked at Heritage in Chesapeake City) and may approach twice that this year.

Third-year stallions Imagining and Bourbon Courage made the move from Heritage and will be joined by newcomer Holy Boss. The Grade 2-winning sprinter reportedly bred 95 mares in Argentina last year and has “at least 60” booked ahead of his 2018 season in Maryland, Merryman said. As a racehorse, Holy Boss won the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga plus the Chick Lang at Pimlico and two other stakes. The son of Street Boss also placed in two Grade 1 stakes (the King’s Bishop at 3 and the Vanderbilt at 4) while finishing behind champion Runhappy and multiple Grade 1 winner A. P. Indian among others.

Like Divining Rod, Holy Boss isn’t that far off standing in Kentucky.

“Holy Boss is a really legitimate stallion prospect, he just happened to run into really good horses like A. P. Indian and Runhappy,” Merryman said. “The pieces to your first-year stallion prospects are there: conformation, pedigree and talent however you want to measure talent. If a horse really fits the bill for every one of those, somebody’s taking them to Kentucky.”

Merryman “got addicted to” Holy Boss after watching him finish third in the 2016 True North Stakes-G2 at Belmont Park. Breaking from the inside post, he bobbled leaving the gate, had to wait behind horses until the stretch, rallied along the fence and lost by a length as Joking roared past on the outside to win in 1:08.04. Merryman loved the horse’s guts, as well as his speed, and put together a syndicate to buy Holy Boss from Jerry Durant last spring. He raced twice for Merryman with trainer Steve Asmussen, then started getting ready for a stud career.

“He’s going to get off to a good start,” said Merryman. “We’re getting calls earlier in the year than we have and there are people calling about that horse already.”

Construction was still in progress in December, but Holy Boss and company will cover mares in a new breeding shed and live in a new stallion barn. Plans also call for new broodmare and foaling stalls in a refurbished cattle barn and loads of new fencing. The construction wears on Merryman – how could it not? – but he’ll take investing in a project that belongs to him over one that doesn’t. Last year’s schedule included all the work at home, plus Heritage, plus all the miles of driving back and forth across Cecil County.

“We’re not ready yet, but we’ll be ready in time,” he said of the work to be done in December. “We foaled 45 last year without a renovated barn and while Grace worked at [Pennsylvania farm] Walnut Green and I was at Heritage.”

Marketing Editorial

Sean Feld is certain Editorial brings enough pedigree to promote when the son of War Front stands his first season in Maryland this year. The trick might be hustling a sufficient number of mares to breed to the half-brother to leading sire Uncle Mo.

Therein lies the challenge for many new and established stallions in the state and the region at large. Feld long felt Maryland would be a good place to start a stallion with the pedigree and potential of Editorial, and obviously others thought the same.

“We had been wanting to send a stallion to Maryland for a while and unfortunately for us we weren’t the only ones thinking that,” said Feld, who runs the Climax Stallions operation which stand Editorial. “There’s like eight new ones this year. It’s going to be really, really tough competition. We’ve had our eye on Maryland for a while. Good breeders live in Maryland and that area. We decided to go to Maryland before they announced the new incentives . . . but having those incentives helps us even more.”

Editorial, bred and raced by Coolmore and trained by Todd Pletcher, broke his maiden in his second start going two turns on the grass at Gulfstream Park last winter. He retired early with a knee issue.

Editorial was originally announced to stand alongside Street Magician and Despite the Odds, who stand for R. Larry Johnson’s Legacy Stallions, at the Bowman family’s Roland Farm. Dr. Tom Bowman was going to stand the stallions at Roland after not being able to reach an agreement last fall to stand them at Heritage Stallions. The longtime veterinarian subsequently reached a deal in December.

The pairing of the team behind Edi­torial, a now 4-year-old out of the Arch mare Playa Maya, and the Bowmans came about because of a relationship between Tom Bowman and Feld’s father Bob (who worked for Sagamore Farm).

Editorial is the first stallion Climax will stand in Maryland. The operation previously stood Bullet Train, a three-quarter-brother to European Horse of the Year Frankel, in Kentucky before moving him to Ireland; and stood Grade 1 winner Haynesfield in California before accepting what Sean Feld said was “an almost ridiculous offer” to sell him to stand in the Middle East.

Despite the competition for other newcomers and a finite number of local mares to draw from, Feld is excited to start Editorial in Maryland.

“With Uncle Mo being white-hot it’s nice to have a brother and he’s by War Front, who isn’t as hot as Uncle Mo but definitely a hot one,” he said. “He’s got all the parts. He’s 100 percent sound right now, and a good-looking horse. He’s probably a tad bigger than most War Fronts, he’s correct, good attitude.

“Number 1 for him is pedigree and Number 2 he showed ability. It would be different if he ran a few times and ran up the track, that would be hard, but he ran a really good second first time out and then second time out he closed about 2 or 3 lengths within the last 50 yards to get up. He had a really good turn of foot. Then his looks. I like to think we’ve done a good job with all of our stallions to make sure they’re above average physicals. The way the market is if you have a below average physical when you come to market nobody will even want you. Looks mean quite a bit in the market right now.”

More Great Stories

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3