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Before he added to the stallion roster at Equistar Training and Breeding in Pennsylvania, Rodney Eckenrode researched pedigrees, studied conformation, weighed his options, did some math, went to Kentucky – and then got practical.

“If we’re going to work this hard, we should have a chance to do something ourselves,” he said. “We’ve been looking to do something on our own, to start the stallion awards coming. It was hard to find one we liked and could afford.”

But Eckenrode and his wife Sharon found that blend in Brody’s Cause, who stood his first six seasons at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. The 10-year-old sire’s record includes daughter Kalypso, a Grade 1 winner from his first crop, Grade 3 juvenile winner Sittin On Go, and stakes winner Enbarr among 71 lifetime winners through Dec. 15. 

Eckenrode liked those details and others – including a big crop of 2-year-olds coming in 2023 – but might be as impressed at the horse’s attitude to life in Annville alongside 22-year-old stallion Smarty Jones.

“He’s full of class, he’s going to fit our program well,” Eckenrode said. “You turn him out, he’s great. You go to the gate to bring him, you call him, he comes to you. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s important. I love that. A good-minded horse will produce a horse that’s more trainable or better-minded too, and that matters.”

A few hours down the road at Country Life Farm in Maryland, Mike Pons also points to personality as an important part of a stallion’s make-up.

“Friesan Fire is still the dominant personality here,” Pons said about one-third of the Country Life team with Divining Rod and Mosler. “He’s turning 17, but he was the 2009 [Kentucky] Derby favorite and he knows it. My son Philip is renovating my uncle John’s old house on the farm and we were out in front of the house at 6:30 or 7 one morning and I hear this boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Friesan Fire is mad that he’s not getting out and we’re standing there talking.

“But where does the genetic strength come from? There’s a wild dynamic out there that fortunately we haven’t 100 percent figured out. Fire in the belly has to come along when you’re deep in the stretch, right?”

Right. And that’s the magic breeders are hoping to unlock as they make stallion choices in the region and beyond. They could do worse than the region’s dean of stallions, Great Notion. Now 23, he’ll breed 35 (ish) mares again this year at Maryland’s Northview Stallion Station after snatching the 2022 regional stud crown with progeny earnings of $4.4 million through Dec. 16.

“He’s a gentleman, the best horse,” said Northview’s Paul O’Loughlin. “Thirty-five is a good number for him. He might get one or two more, but it’s about his health and we’ve got to mind him, take care of him. He’s taken care of us. There could be 35 more and probably 35 more after that. He gets winners everywhere, he’s got new horses coming along all the time.”

A foal of 2000, Great Notion has at least eight years on the other nine stallions at Northview. Call him a role model.

“I’m sure they talk, there has to be some conversation in the barn,” said O’Loughlin, with the hint of a wink. “He’d have something to say to the young guys.”

And they better listen. Powered by now 7-year-old Fille d’Esprit’s $414,055 (and potentially more with a Dec. 26 stakes entry), Great Notion led the region in progeny earnings in 2022 and held the top spot by stakes winners while sitting third among sires of 2-year-olds (behind far younger stallions Blofeld and Hoppertunity) and 3-year-olds (behind Divining Rod and Uncle Lino). 

The veteran’s continued success only further emphasizes the long game played by stud farms and stallion owners. You better have patience. Mares bred in 2022 will foal in 2023. Those foals won’t run until 2025, at the earliest. New stallions get attention early, then can struggle for mares. Farms do what they can, trying to keep numbers high (the first three crops really matter) as young horses get to the sales and – finally – the racetrack. All the while, stallions compete for mares with other horses in the region and beyond.

“There’s no formula for this,” said Pons. “It depends on the horse. It’s tough.”

A Few New Names
Racing for Albaugh Family Stables and trainer Dale Romans, Brody’s Cause won twice as a juvenile in 2015 including Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity-G1 and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1. At 3, he won Keeneland’s Blue Grass-G1, finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby-G1 and sixth in the Belmont-G1 before being retired. 

The son of Giant’s Causeway joined the ranks at Spendthrift and his first foals were born in 2018. Success came with two graded winners in his first crop, and a book of 147 mares in 2021. Eckenrode pointed to pedigree and potential for helping make the purchase a reality. Brody’s Cause’s sire is out of a Rahy mare, and dam Sweet Breanna is by Sahm. 

“I’ve always liked the Giant’s Causeways and the durability that comes with them,” he said. “I’ve been a Rahy fan too and you throw a Sahm daughter and that goes right to Mr. Prospector and it’s even more exciting pedigree-wise. When you go down there, you look for a horse with a large crop in hopes of something hitting down the road. He bred a lot of mares [in 2021] – based on the Grade 1 filly Kalypso. It also worked out well for us that Spendthrift brings three, four or five new horses in every year. They can’t keep them all.”

Eckenrode likes the response from regional breeders so far, but will wait and see before predicting a book for his horse.

“Ask me in July,” he said. “We’ll see where it goes. We have a lot of contracts going out, but we’ll see how many come back. We’ve heard from people we haven’t dealt with before, which is a good thing.”

Northview has long been the bar for area stallion farms, and even more so with the closure of its Pennsylvania division and consolidation in Maryland. Ten stallions fill two stud barns, as part of a business overhaul led by Mike Golden and Lisa Hofstetter after their father Richard Golden died in 2021. Improvements abound on the place, along with potential. 

After adding Engage and Galawi (Ire) last year, Northview brings True Valour (Ire) to the team for 2023. The 9-year-old raced for parts of five seasons for Qatar Racing, first in Ireland (where he won a Group 3) with trainer Johnny Murtagh and later in California (where he won two graded stakes) with Simon Callaghan. In July 2020, regional owner Larry Johnson spent $225,000 on the son of Kodiac (GB) at Fasig-Tipton’s July sale and sent him to trainer Graham Motion. True Valour won a Woodbine allowance, placed in a Grade 2 and finished sixth in the 2021 Al Quoz Sprint-G1 in Dubai before missing more than a year. He returned in April to win Laurel Park’s King T. Leatherbury Stakes, finish third in the Jaipur-G1 at Belmont and second by a head to Golden Pal (who will stand his first season for $30,000 at Kentucky’s Ashford Stud this year) in the Troy-G3 at Saratoga.

“He settled in well, put on a lot of condition, he looks the part,” said O’Loughlin. “He raced a lot, came back and was second, just beaten by Golden Pal. Golden Pal isn’t coming to Maryland.”

The addition gives Northview back-to-back European-style stallions, after Galawi, with turf form and pedigrees that don’t necessarily show up in the Mid-Atlantic. Galawi is by star European stallion Dubawi (Ire) out of Group 1 winner Galikova (Fr), a half-sister to international turf star Goldikova (Ire). True Valour’s sire Kodiac, by Danehill, is a leading sire of 2-year-olds (and general winners) in Europe whose son Best Solution won major races in England, Dubai, Germany and Australia. 

“They’re exciting,” said O’Loughlin. “They’re turf stallions which is a little different, or they look like turf stallions. People keep calling us up about the turf stallions and wondering if we know something about them getting an all-weather surface in Maryland or something. We don’t, but who knows? If they do, it won’t be for a few years and these guys will have horses. There is plenty of turf racing around.”

Country Life didn’t add a new stallion, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. Pons looked at Gunite in May and was encouraged by the Grade 1-winning juvenile who had yet to run in 2022. Then Gunite went out and won four stakes, including a Grade 2, and placed in a Grade 1. He’s still with Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Steve Asmussen, looking to build on a million-dollar bankroll.

“That’s the kind of horse this market needs,” said Pons. “He’d be a $10,000 horse. That’s the one that breaks the barriers between Maryland and the other states, or the region and the other states.”

West Virginia added a handful of stallions to its lineup, a pipeline for horses racing in the state. 

Graded stakes winner Mr. Monomoy, a half-brother to champion Monomoy Girl by Palace Malice, moved to Pellinor Lane Farm after standing in New York (where he bred 17 mares in 2021 and seven in 2022). Beau Ridge Farm brings in two newcomers – Candy Ride (Arg) 6-year-old Fugitive and Into Mischief 4-year-old Cancun. Fugitive won three times in the region and is a half-brother to stakes winner Far Sighted. Candy Ride’s sons at stud include Gun Runner, Vekoma, Twirling Candy and Mastery. Cancun never raced, but brings a pedigree that includes sire Into Mischief and half-sister So Perfect (a Group 3 winner in Ireland). The bay colt cost $550,000 as a weanling and sold for $15,000 as a stallion prospect at Keeneland November.

Roster Depth
Much of the regional lineup will look familiar to breeders and, as usual, everybody – well, maybe not everybody (see Great Notion, Smarty Jones, Fiber Sonde, etc.) – has something to prove. 

Young Maryland sires Divining Rod and Blofeld look to stretch their solid starts to third crops. They’ll have to do it with 31 and 24 foals born in 2021, respectively. Divining Rod edged clear in the second-crop sire standings for 2022 with 40 winners to 28 for Blofeld, with Anchor and Hope Farm’s Holy Boss sneaking in behind them with 21. Divining Rod’s nearly $2.7 million led the earnings list (through Dec. 18).

“He had a very good start, a couple stakes horses, he bred 65 or so mares [in 2022] and had a nice book of mares,” said Pons of Divining Rod. “I was hoping for 100, and then Blofeld took 20-some mares from him. I’m happy for the Murrays because he’s really come on with his second crop too. Divining Rod is the leading 3-year-old sire in the Mid-Atlantic so you know those horses improved from 2 to 3 which is always a litmus test. I’m excited about him.”

Murmur Farm’s Blofeld (who bred 84 mares in 2022) swept both 2-year-old races at the Maryland Million and built his 2022 progeny earnings to more than $1.8 million despite just 36 runners from 49 foals. Holy Boss topped $1.4 million in earnings with 21 winners from 42 runners. 

Like Divining Rod and Blofeld, Uncle Lino and Mosler were slugging it out among third-crop sires in 2022 with the former (at Northview) topping $3 million for the year and getting 50 winners. Mosler (at Country Life) was two back in the win category, and closing in on $2.9 million.

“He gets precocious horses,” O’Loughlin said of Uncle Lino, a son of Uncle Mo whose next crop of 2-year-olds goes 39 deep. “He covered a lot of mares [in 2022] so he’s got some good numbers coming behind him.”

Mosler did his best running on the turf, and his son Wicked Prankster won the Maryland Million Turf in 2022, but also won three times on the dirt and has picked up a variety of wins. 

“As more turf and [synthetic] opportunities come, that will be good for him because his babies like both, and they can run on the dirt too,” said Pons. “That’s why we brought him in – he looked like a horse who liked to run on turf, dirt, whatever.”

Peace and Justice, now standing at Blackstone Farm, also made noise as a third-crop sire thanks to 28 winners from 50 starters in 2022. The son of War Front has produced eight-time winner Six o’Clock Sarah and seven-time winners Like a Saltshaker and Diesel, and was third behind Uncle Lino and Mosler on the region’s third-crop sire list (horses who stood in the region in 2022) with far fewer foals. 

“He’s on his way,” said Steve Young, whose A1A Racing owns the stallion. “He’s not just a Pennsylvania sire either – he’s had winners at 14 racetracks in 10 states – and we think his numbers will continue to improve as the horses mature.”

Through Dec. 19, Peace and Justice’s last 100 starters had won 24 races – all on dirt – and he added three more Dec. 20.

Young trained Peace and Justice’s dam Strike the Sky and planned the stallion’s mating for breeder Jay Bligh. The $425,000 yearling won three of eight starts and ran a mile on the turf at Santa Anita in 1:32.36. Young bought Peace and Justice after his racing career ended and stood him in Pennsylvania at Diamond B Farm and Northview PA. When Northview closed and consolidated in Maryland, he stayed in Pennsylvania and moved to Blackstone. He bred 207 mares in his first five seasons at stud – a high of 73 in 2018.

“He was an undervalued horse who had a lot more ability than he did luck when he was running and has the potential to throw a seriously good horse,” Young said. “He hasn’t been very lucky at stud either. He’s been a few places now, but he has the genes and the looks to be a good stallion.”

Maryland’s Anchor and Hope Farm lost Imagining to colic, but watched Bourbon Courage become the region’s only sire of a 2022 graded stakes winner when Double Crown won the Kelso-G2 at Aqueduct in October. Fortheluvofbourbon piled up seven wins in 2022, five stakes, while reaching $573,120 in career earnings. Two-year-old filly Malibu Moon­shine won her first two (including a stakes) and eyed another stakes try Dec. 26. 

Grade 1 winner Hoppertunity retired as the richest stallion to stand in the region, and had his first runners in 2022. Eight of them won, putting him in the top 20 among freshmen sires nationally and tops on a short list in the region. Stakes winner Midnight Parade led the way.

“He was an easy sell,” said O’Loughlin. “He’s a big strong horse, and he bred 300 mares in his first three years which will help him. He has a lot to back himself up and might be able to improve too.”

Breed to sell? Or race?
It’s a relative constant at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic and other Thoroughbred auctions. Regional stallions struggle to find success in the ring. At December’s mixed sale, Kentucky sires dominated the weanling market and it’s not that different at the fall yearling sale. Regional stallions make their reputations with people who breed to race.

“Everyone has to breed their best mares to Kentucky stallions because you take such a beating at the sales,” said Pons. “Breeding to race is going to become more and more the fashion. You need those horses to get into the Maryland Million, the New York sire stakes, Pennsylvania’s big stallion series, those kinds of things. They’re trying in those states, but it’s an uphill climb.”

Sales prices are only part of the equation, and regionally-sired horses can certainly be in demand as racehorses – just check the list of claims – but that doesn’t necessarily help the stallion market.

“The programs we have in the Mid-Atlantic states really help people stay in the business,” said sales consignor Bill Reightler. “It’s huge. People get rewarded for developing horses and breeding horses. There are useful, productive sires here but just because they’re not Kentucky sires people mark them down and will only pay so much. I tell people all the time that if you land on a nice horse, come home with your A pick. You’ll feel better, even if you have to pay a little more than you thought you might have to pay going in.”

Some of the regional/Kentucky differences at the sales even out by the time horses get to be 2-year-olds – where buyers look for athletes first, pedigree second. A June sale next year could help provide more opportunities for horses by regional sires, especially those that prep in the Mid-Atlantic at farms such as Country Life’s training facility Merryland Farm.

“That’s a great idea,” said Pons. “At Merryland, we’re off the track for six weeks in January and February and I can’t get a horse ready for the May sale. Perhaps I could for the June sale. Give me another few weeks and see what we can do. Those sales can be very popular. People don’t care who the stallions are so much, they just want to see the horse. Some of the regional stallions could find a niche with that opportunity out there.”

Stallion Notes
Former Kentucky stallion Wicked Strong led the region by winners (with 81) in 2022, and held the second spot by earnings, while building on his move to Pennsylvania for the 2021 season. His first Pennsylvania-sired foals will be yearlings this year. He bred 45 mares his first season and 31 his second . . . Equistar lost Airoforce and Uncle Vinny, who were moved to Texas by owners Jeff and Stacy Jeans . . . The West Virginia market continues to do its thing – supply horses who fit the state’s racing structure. Fiber Sonde holds his earnings list lead with $2.8 million, fueled in large part by the $410,014 earned by Muad’dib. The 6-year-old’s best race of 2022 wasn’t even a win as he finished second to Art Collector in the Charles Town Classic-G2. Juba, who had 21 winners, found a spot among the state’s leaders while building on a career that started in 2017. His daughter Hessica won the Cavada on Breeders Classics night, while Juba’s Notion won the Vince Moscarelli Memorial on the same card. Another 2-year-old, No Love for Juba, won the West Virginia Futurity in November. Of his eight juvenile starters, four were stakes performers. . . Pennsylvania’s WynOaks Farm puts Weigelia, Warrior’s Reward and Uptowncharlybrown in the mix, with the former cracking the region’s top 10 with nearly $2.5 million in earnings. At age 22, he stands for a private contract and won’t breed a large book but that doesn’t stop his chances at success. Son Beren won two more stakes (though Dec. 25) in 2022 and pushed his lifetime earnings to $697,960 while another son Smooth B ran his career earnings to $714,038. “He’s been really good to us in every way,” said Barbara Wheeler of WynOaks, who calls the stallion “Wiggy” and said it’s more than a nickname. “It’s an attitude too. He still prances around, and looks the same as he did on the track.” Warrior’s Reward sired seven black-type horses in 2022 including stakes-winning Stowe Angel and graded stakes-placed 3-year-old Fluid Situation. Uptowncharlybrown’s stakes performers in 2022 include winner Oxana and four juveniles. WynOaks also has relative newcomer Command Post, whose first foals are 2-year-olds of 2023.

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