Twenty-four hours after talking up his new stallion Wicked Strong and the possibilities of big crops of Kentucky-sired racehorses coming along to bolster interest, Dr. Bill Solomon made a phone call.
“How about that?”
The recipient, on his way back from The Home Depot on a Saturday afternoon, laughed and replied with, “That’ll help the mare bookings.”
That was Wicked Strong’s 2-year-old son Brooklyn Strong capturing the Remsen Stakes-G2 at Aqueduct Dec. 5. The victory, achieved by a neck over Ten for Ten, put Brooklyn Strong into the conversation about this year’s top 3-year-olds and will indeed help Solomon attract mares to his Pin Oak Lane Farm in New Freedom, Pa. Wicked Strong spent five seasons at Spendthrift Farm, where he bred more than 130 mares three times. In addition to the Remsen winner, the 10-year-old stallion has sired Puerto Rican Grade 2 winner Wicked Runner and 2020 stakes winner Evil Lyn among 59 winners (through Dec. 15) this year. The son of Hard Spun is one of only three active regional stallions to produce a graded stakes winner – joining fellow Pennsylvanians Warrior’s Reward and Poseidon’s Warrior.
The newcomer heads a regional stallion roster facing an uncertain 2021 breeding season as the Thoroughbred industry adjusts to the coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying economic challenges.
Regional stallion markets depend on horses in the early days of their breeding-shed careers, but Solomon likes trying a different path. His successes have typically come with relocated Kentucky stallions – Any Given Saturday, Offlee Wild, Albert the Great, Rockport Harbor, Deposit Ticket and Corinthian to name a few. Lord Shanakill, whose stud career began in Ireland, and Wicked Strong make up the list for 2021.
“Bringing up first-year horses, that day’s over for me at least,” said Solomon in December. “In a regional state, it’s really difficult to make a young horse. You don’t get the numbers or the quality of mares you need to make it work. A horse who’s just off the edge at a big farm, just a little below what they have, works for me if I can get him.”
Solomon has worked with Overbrook, Darley, Taylor Made, Spendthrift and others in Kentucky over the years and was looking to add a stallion this year. Temple City was on his list. So was Paynter. Both stayed in Kentucky, but when Wicked Strong’s name came up Solomon was interested. The $375,000 yearling won as a 2-year-old, captured the Wood Memorial-G1 and Jim Dandy-G2, lost the Travers-G1 by a nose at 3, earned just shy of $2 million. At stud, he attracted 190 mares in his first season (2016) and 139 the next year. He ranked among the country’s top five freshmen stallions in 2019 by winners (26) and stakes horses (four). That success spurred a book of 131 mares in 2019, but Wicked Strong didn’t quite maintain that pace and lost ground in Spendthrift’s crowded stallion barn – home of Into Mischief, Malibu Moon, Omaha Beach, Vino Rosso, Bolt d’Oro, Goldencents and Mitole plus newcomer Authentic and others.
“Spendthrift has so many new horses coming in that they don’t like to keep horses who haven’t hit a home run around,” Solomon said. “That works out for people like me. He was a good racehorse, he’s sired just enough, he’ll soon be the leading sire in the region because of the books behind him and Spendthrift was great to work with.”
Spendthrift still owns Wicked Strong, who raced for Centennial Farm and trainer Jimmy Jerkens, with Pin Oak Lane leasing the bay for stud duty. Part of Spendthrift’s Share The Upside program when he entered stud, Wicked Strong comes with 50 or so owners of lifetime breeding rights and could be a popular choice for regional breeders looking to merge Kentucky promise with Pennsylvania’s owner/breeder incentives. Wicked Strong bred 54 mares in 2020, and was looking at an even smaller book this year if he stayed in Kentucky.
Call it supply, demand, competition, whatever. He would have been far down the list at his own farm. He’s a leader in the Mid-Atlantic.
“He has a lot of 2-year-olds of 2020 and half that many who will be 2 (in 2021),” said Solomon. “That’s a lot of horses coming along behind him. He’s a gorgeous horse, he’s really nice to be around. It’s hard to predict, but $3,500 for a horse like that? That’s a bargain.”
And Brooklyn Strong’s success doesn’t hurt.
“From all the talk I’ve been hearing he’s got a little buzz behind him,” said Spenthrift’s Mark Toothaker of Wicked Strong. “He ought to be a really good fit. I know there are some other young horses up there, but with a horse out there on the Derby trail that’s always a big, big help for getting mares. Our ultimate hope is he catches fire and we wind up bringing him back, but even if that doesn’t happen if he’s a great fit in Pennsylvania and can continue to get mares that’s what it’s all about.”
Pennsylvania carries on
When Northview Stallion Station announced the closure of its Pennsylvania division, the state lost two major stallions in Hoppertunity and Uncle Lino (who moved to Northview’s Maryland farm).
But for every closed gate there’s an open one. In addition to Wicked Strong, the Keystone state adds first-year stallion Rowayton. He joins the roster at Glenn and Becky Brok’s Diamond B Farm in Mohrsville, and brings pedigree as a son of leading sire Into Mischief (booked full at $225,000 at Spendthrift) plus a race record that included two Grade 1 placings behind 2-year-old champion Game Winner. Brok compared the bay 5-year-old to his sire.
“People like me who missed the opportunity to buy into Into Mischief when he was $7,500 or whatever should look at a horse like this,” Brok said. “You don’t learn from what you do right in this business. He’s a lovely horse, big shoulder, big hip, a lot of substance. He’s the real deal.”
A $320,000 yearling purchase at Saratoga, Rowayton made nine starts for Larry Best’s OXO Equine, winning his debut and placing in the Del Mar Futurity-G1 and American Pharoah Stakes-G1 as a 2-year-old in 2018. The next year, Rowayton won an allowance and finished third behind Code of Honor in the Dwyer-G3. Retired after one start this year, Rowayton settled into life in Pennsylvania.
“He’s a pretty cool horse,” said Brok, “when he got here he just went in his stall, took a couple turns, dropped his head and started eating hay.” Brok said Best will send some mares to support the stallion, and chose Pennsylvania in part because of a relationship with Brok through Brook Ledge Horse Transportation and to put Rowayton in a different region than former OXO runner Instagrand (who starts his stud career at Kentucky’s Taylor Made Farm this year).
“Larry’s buying good mares to start the horse with, you’ve got to put mares underneath stallions and he’s going to support this horse,” Brok said. “If people buy a breeding right and the horse hits, they’re set.”
Standing for $5,000, Rowayton steps into a Diamond B roster that includes Boisterous, Eastwood, Talent Search and Uptowncharlybrown. The former raced for his breeder Cynthia Phipps for four seasons, winning seven graded stakes, then sold to Gary Barber and won once more in 2014. The son of Distorted Humor stood in California for five seasons and moved to Diamond B for 2020. He covered 31 mares last year. Brok likes what he sees so far and likes the stallion’s versatility. He had sired nine turf winners in 2020 (through Dec. 15) led by Barber homebred and the Grade 1-placed California Kook.
Uptowncharlybrown continues to be a force in the state with 2020 standouts Wait for It, Midtowncharlybrown and Grade 3 winner Dixie Serenade. Talent Search holds a spot among the Pennsylvania leaders, too, even with smaller mare numbers the last few years.
Like all regional stud farms, Diamond B will depend on its state incentive program as a source of revenue and a marketing tool. Last year, Pennsylvania’s Thoroughbred program became a potential target for a reduction as Gov. Tom Wolf considered reallocating casino funds for education.
“Hopefully that doesn’t happen this year,” Brok said. “We’re hoping we can get by. It’s really sad because people had just gained confidence. Our program is the same as it’s been and that’s good for our industry. You break your maiden, you get 50 percent for breeders’ bonus. I’m the poster child of how it works. I’d be back to galloping horses and walking hots and living in a tack room without it.”
• Pennsylvania horseman Rich Miller sold his family’s Mountain Springs Arena – home to rodeos, demolition derbies, concerts, horse sales and other events – in Shartlesville and opened Mountain Springs Farm in Palmyra near Penn National Race Course. The new operation is home to stallions Tight Ten (a son of Tapit starting his stud career), Emperor Tiberius and Uncle Benny. Tight Ten won two of 14 starts for breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds, and finished second in the Saratoga Special-G2 to Call Paul. Owned by Premier Stallions, the gray 5-year-old is a grandson of Verne Winchell’s Grade 1 winner Fleet Renee.
Miller has done a little bit of everything in racing, and welcomes the chance to work with a son of leading sire Tapit.
“We’ve had a couple calls [from breeders] and we’ll take it,” he said. “It’s a long, drawn-out deal working with a stallion. It takes awhile to get one going, but he’s a nice horse. I really like his pedigree and he’s got a really good temperament. You can’t fault anything.”
Going home at Northview
Once the home of the great Northern Dancer, when Windfields Farm ruled Maryland’s (and the world’s) stallion business, Northview Stallion Station’s flagship farm gets a boost this year with Pennsylvania arrivals Uncle Lino and Hoppertunity joining six others in the historic stallion barn.
No pressure, boys, but the place housed the greatest stallion who ever lived and some not-so-bad mates in T. V. Commercial, The Minstrel, Assert (Ire), Deputy Minister and so on and then decades of more success in the form of Not For Love, Caveat, Smarten, Two Punch and the rest. The Maryland facility will get a facelift along with the new horses as projects include a new stallion barn next to the existing one, fencing and run-in sheds as Michael Golden (son of farm co-founder Richard Golden) takes an expanded role.
“I guess we left a void in Pennsylvania, but it had nothing to do with Pennsylvania,” said Northview’s Paul O’Loughlin. “It was about our business and trying to do our best to keep our business healthy. One farm makes more sense. Michael is enthusiastic. He wants the best farm.”
O’Loughlin said Northview was renting additional space to board mares for clients, and that the Pennsylvania staff (other than manager Tim Fazio, who took a job with Kentucky’s Forever Spring Farm) relocated to Maryland. Northview didn’t add a new stallion, but “tried hard” and will get mare traffic for young regional leaders Golden Lad and Bandbox and veteran Great Notion plus the new arrivals from over the border. Hoppertunity’s first foals are yearlings of 2021, as are Irish War Cry’s, while Madefromlucky will have his first runners this year. Uncle Lino had six winners in his first crop (through Dec. 15) in 2020.
O’Loughlin likes the change of scenery for Hoppertunity and Uncle Lino, and hopes it attracts new mares while still appealing to breeders in Pennsylvania.
“It will be like bringing in new horses for Maryland,” he said. “I think they’ll get a fresh, new lease on life. You can have a Maryland-sired Pennsylvania-bred if you want and have a foot in both camps. The horse can go to the Maryland Million races, and the Pennsylvania-bred races.”
Northview will continue to manage Great Notion’s book as the $7,500 stallion turns 21. He sired four Maryland Million winners in 2020, and led all Maryland sires by winners, stakes winners, stakes horses and earnings.
“Don’t forget him,” O’Loughlin said with a laugh. “His book is kind of full. I think we capped him off at 55 mares (in 2020) and we’ll see how he goes, but he still produces quality horses. He’s like an old pensioner. He’s been through it. He has his own routine. He looks great, he loves life, he’ll tell us how it’s going. Nothing has changed for him.”
• Maryland’s other two biggest stud farms, Country Life in Bel Air and Anchor & Hope in Port Deposit, also stood pat in terms of adding to their rosters but continued to be encouraged by the stallions they have.
Anchor & Hope’s Bourbon Courage and Imagining sent their second crops to the races in 2020, and produced stakes wins including a Maryland Million Classic score by Monday Morning Qb for Imagining. Bourbon Courage had sired 22 winners (through Dec. 15) on the year, one fewer than Golden Lad among Maryland’s second-crop crew.
“My goal was to have a nice, $7,500 to $10,000 justified stallion and stay in Maryland, and we’re still trying to do that,” said Louis Merryman of Anchor & Hope. “If we had retired them 15 to 18 years ago, they would have been set with what they’ve done but we were covering almost 2,000 mares in the state then and now we’re covering in the realm of 700. We and the other farms have brought in some good prospects for a regional program and some stack up as well or better than the second-tier stallions in Kentucky.”
Anchor & Hope decreased its stallion fees across the board (Bourbon Courage, Holy Boss, Imagining and Long River) to help demand, and have gotten a good response from appreciative clients.
“My big fear was getting on the other side of Covid and everything that’s going on with the horse market and the economy and not having any foals on the ground,” Merryman said. “I don’t think that helps anybody. We talked to everybody. We have some very loyal clients, and we wanted to help them.”
Anchor & Hope’s Holy Boss will have his first runners in 2021, which will provide some results to go along with the potential about his foals so far.
“They are big, good-looking and have a ton of personality,” Merryman said of the first crop horses he’s heard about and seen. “They have a little bit of orneriness to them and if you’ve seen him that’s natural. He’s like that. He shreds Jolly Balls, and lets you know he’s there. I like that about him.”
Country Life’s Mosler was slugging it out with Uncle Lino for the lead among the region’s freshmen sires of 2020, and led the way with eight winners and more than $400,000 earned as the year reached its final two weeks.
“Things are percolating, he’s knocking on the door to having a very good freshman year,” said Country Life’s Mike Pons. “He’s doing his part and I’d like to think he’d have done better but we lost so much turf racing at Laurel this fall. That probably held him back a little, but we’re encouraged.”
Part of a big group of regional stallions sending their first crops to the races this year, Divining Rod will have runners in 2021. A Grade 3 winner for Roy and Gretchen Jackson, the son of Tapit bred 102 mares that year so Pons expects a solid group of 2-year-old runners.
“We get more encouraged by the day, people have babies and are excited,” he said. “The Jacksons have five themselves and we’ll get to see something.”
Like some of the others, Country Life looked at new stallions but stood pat with a roster also including Friesan Fire and Super Ninety Nine.
“We looked at a few [new stallions], but didn’t think the market warranted it,” Pons said. “There are a bunch of good young stallions in the region and there wasn’t anything that made me say, ‘Wow, I’d drop everything and breed my mares to him’ so we stayed where we are.”
• The region’s only son of Scat Daddy (still), Maryland sire No Never No More continues to impress Faith Leatherman, owner of Winding Creek Farm where the 6-year-old stallion stands.
“He’s the most laid-back horse,” said Leatherman. “He spent the summer in a paddock around all kinds of mares and was great about it. He’s lovely to handle, very classy to be around and he loves people to come up to him and pet him and make him the center of attention.”
And his first foals, yearlings of 2021, aren’t bad either.
“We’re really impressed with every one we’ve had,” said Leatherman, who has 14 on the farm. “They’re very smart, very strong foals. And he stamped them. He didn’t have a gray. They’re all dark bay with a little white on his head like him.”
No Never No More didn’t race, but packs a huge pedigree. His sire, who died in 2015, sired Triple Crown winner Justify, Breeders’ Cup winner Mendelssohn, Grade 1 winner Dacita (Chi) and Group 1 winners Lady Aurelia and Caravaggio among others. No Never No More is closely related to French champion and Irish stallion No Nay Never, a son of Scat Daddy and Cat’s Eye Witness, a half-sister to No Never No More’s dam Whosetheclownnow.
Owned by Irwin Olian’s Tigertail Ranch, No Never No More bred 17 mares in 2019 and Leatherman said another 30 came his way in 2020. It’s a start, especially for an unraced horse, and Leatherman hopes for even more as those foals get closer to the races.
“I love him, that’s obvious,” she said. “My gut tells me – I know, I know – we might have some runners in a couple years.”
• Stakes winner and classic-placed Joevia arrived at Sam Fieramosca’s Colonial Farms in Colts Neck, N.J., set to begin his stud career, and will get support from owners Michael and Jeff Fazio and Mike Basso. The partners are standing the son of champion Shanghai Bobby for $2,500 live foal, but if a second mare is booked at the same time, the fee for the second will be $500.
“He’s genuine,” said Fieramosca, who has been standing stallions since the 1950s. “A nice, grand-looking horse.”
A winner in each of his three seasons on the track, Joevia (a combination of Fazio family members’ names) earned $337,391 from 11 starts, won Monmouth Park’s Long Branch Stakes as a 3-year-old and also finished third in the Belmont Stakes-G1.
“He had a few injuries that stopped him,” said Michael Fazio. “Leading into the Haskell after the Belmont, he was training so good and looked so good and then we had to scratch him the day of the Haskell.”
In his final career start last summer at 4, the Monmouth Cup-G3, he bowed a tendon.
“We’re very proud of his success but disappointed at what could have been,” said Fazio. “Because of how beautiful this horse is, and strong, and his heart, I decided to invest a tremendous amount of money [in approximately 20 mares] to support him.”
Out of Peace Process (by War Front), also dam of stakes-placed Specially, Joevia descends from the graded stakes-winning Broad Brush mare Special Broad.
– Cindy Deubler
NOTES: Most stallion farms were playing wait-and-see with regard to public stallion shows, and how they fit in with pandemic rules, but all are open to private showings by appointment. Just make a phone call or send an email . . . Peace and Justice ($3,500) stayed in Pennsylvania, moving to Blackstone Farm in Pine Grove. In his first crop, the son of War Front was represented by 2020 stakes winner Like a Saltshaker . . . Warrior’s Reward continues to be near the top of the regional rankings, and led the way among active stallions with 80 winners and just shy of $3 million in 2020 earnings through Dec. 15 . . . Godstone Farm welcomed Pat On the Back to the Pennsylvania stallion ranks. The son of Congrats raced 30 times in five seasons, collected eight stakes wins and earned $1.1 million . . . No regional sire does better than Fiber Sonde when it comes to several variables, chief among them a $1,000 stud fee from West Virginia’s Beau Ridge Farm. The son of Unbridled’s Song had produced 53 winners (including a regional-best eight stakes winners) with progeny earnings of nearly $2.4 million through Dec. 15. His runners averaged more than $25,000 in earnings for the year, and more than $71,000 lifetime . . .
West Virginia’s Juba, who stands at Taylor Mountain Farm, was forcing himself into the region’s freshmen-sires conversation with five winners from 10 runners including a stakes winner and four stakes horses . . . Normandy Invasion, who stood at Pin Oak Lane in 2020, was pensioned as a stallion, gelded and relocated to the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization in Kentucky with plans to retrain him for a new career outside of racing . . . At least nine regional stallions have their first runners in 2021: Airoforce, Alliance, Blofeld, Divining Rod, Editorial, Holy Boss, Kobe’s Back, Madefromlucky and Rainbow Heir, new to Shamrock Farm in Woodbine, Md., in 2021.