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In West Virginia, an old farm bets on a new horse. In New Jersey, young stallions kindle interest. In Maryland, a newcomer with Kentucky clout muscles into the picture while the biggest names stand pat. In Pennsylvania, another Kentucky emigrant looks to rebuild. Though outpaced on numbers, Virginia adds to its roster.

If it’s January, it’s stallion season in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred industry and – even in uncertain times – the region percolates with talking points.  

Start at the dean’s office. Great Notion turned 24 on New Year’s Day after leading the region in progeny earnings ($5.8 million through mid-December), winners (75) and stakes winners (seven) in 2023. Chief earner Coastal Mission put up eight wins and $448,205. Witty gave his sire a 14th consecutive year with a Maryland Million winner. Twisted Ride won five races and placed in a Grade 3 stakes. Fille d’Esprit won her 14th and 15th races and passed $780,000 in lifetime earnings. 

At Northview Stallion Station in Maryland, the bay son of Elusive Quality takes it one day at a time.

“He’s in good shape,” said Northview’s Paul O’Loughlin in December. “He has a full book of 25 to 30 mares again, already, and that’s what we keep him at just because of his age. We want to limit that for him. As long as he keeps being able to breed mares, we’ll keep doing it. I wish he was younger; he would make my job easier – he’s a leader for me; when someone calls about him I do my best to sign up one of their other mares for one of the other stallions.”

Northview is picky about more than numbers. Maiden mares need not apply, for example.“We want them to get pregnant so we’re not taking mares with spotty breeding records, things like that,” said O’Loughlin. “It’s nothing against them, and we’re not turning away mares of any caliber, but we have to be selective. With an older stallion, you want a mare with a good history, that foals on time, all of that. It matters.”

Though O’Loughlin didn’t rule out an addition before breeding season starts, Northview’s roster sits at nine for 2024. No matter, there will be plenty of new names soon enough. The first foals of Engage and Galawi (Ire) are yearlings of 2024. 

“We’re looking all the time and have seen a few but it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another,” O’Loughlin said. “Everybody either wants to keep racing or they want too much money. You can’t blame them. It’s hard to find the right fit for the region. The mare population has gone down, that’s a battle all the time.”

On the other side of the classroom from Great Notion stands new West Virginia stallion My Prankster. The 5-year-old joins the lineup at O’Sullivan Farms off a racing career with three wins in 10 starts with trainer Todd Pletcher. The son of Into Mischief cost $600,000 as a yearling, won his debut at Saratoga in 2021 and added the Swale Stakes-G3 in 2022. In Kentucky for the Keeneland November sale, O’Sullivan’s John Funkhouser saw his new stallion at Taylor Made Farm and was sold early.

“I’ve been looking for a son of Into Mischief for the last five, six years figuring I’d have to settle for something unraced or whatever,” Funkhouser said. “I never thought I’d be able to land a sprinting graded stakes winner by Into Mischief out of a champion mare.”

My Prankster’s dam My Wandy’s Girl, a Puerto Rican champion as a 3-year-old in 2012, won 13 races at Camarero (topped by two Grade 1 stakes) in 2011 and 2012. Sent to New York trainer Mike Hushion, she won twice including Laurel Park’s Barbara Fritchie-G2 in 2014, while placing in five graded stakes. Into Mischief got Funkhouser’s attention, the female family and overall pedigree lured him in some more. My Wandy’s Girl’s sire Flower Alley is by Distorted Humor, giving My Prankster a similar cross to Kentucky stallions Practical Joke and Life Is Good (sons of Into Mischief and Distorted Humor mares) who stand for $65,000 and $85,000 respectively. Funkhouser listed his horse at $2,500 live foal, with shares available.

A winner at 6, 6 1/2 and 7 furlongs, My Prankster should suit West Virginia breeders looking for Charles Town runners.

“He never won that Grade 1 or Grade 2 that would elevate his status, but that’s why I was able to get him,” said Funkhouser. “He’s a beautifully made horse, a solid 15.3 [hands] and just going to fill out and look better and he’s well-made up front. You don’t want a small horse at Charles Town, but the big horses can’t accelerate around the turns. Smaller horses can accelerate through those turns. He’s perfectly made for Charles Town. Not too big, not too small.”

Under its fourth generation of the Funkhouser family, O’Sullivan was founded in 1939 and also stands Aldrin, Capo Bastone, Golden Years, Last Print and Limehouse. Bred by O’Sullivan and sold as a yearling, Golden Years continues to make his presence felt with 55 mares bred in 2023 and solid runners.

“We’d never stood a homebred before,” said Funkhouser. “We bred, raised and sold him, got him back, tried him at stud and here we are. I would have been on the fence if you asked me if he was going to make it. After I saw the babies, my opinion changed. He has some big crops coming. They’re gorgeous individuals, they’re really intelligent and they want to be racehorses.”

Like everyone in the industry, regionally or beyond, Funkhouser looks toward the future with some trepidation but also sees opportunity.

“There are powers that be that want to shade a horrible picture on our industry and it seems like we have to go against that all the time,” he said. “The people in the industry know we feed our horses before ourselves. You have to put your blinkers on, stay in your lane and do what’s right for your horses and your business. I try not to listen too much to the outside noise and I try not to let it bother how I approach my business. I got a new stallion. We won’t see his offspring race for four years. That’s a little scary, a little risky, but I think he’s a good bet, a really good bet.”

On the other side of the region, two New Jersey stud farms look for reasons to be optimistic over Invader, Max Player, Sea Wizard and Vindictive. They’re pretty much it when it comes to stallions in the Garden State, but that doesn’t mean you should look past them. Max Player won a Grade 1 and earned $1.5 million over five seasons. Owner George Hall didn’t see many offers from Kentucky farms and opted to set up his Annestes Farm in Middletown as a stallion base for the son of Honor Code and the Maryland-bred Not For Love mare Fools in Love. 

“He wasn’t a top-rated stallion by Kentucky standards, but I think he’s a very good stallion in the New Jersey market and I’ve always been supportive of New Jersey racing,” said Hall, whose racehorses have included the likes of millionaire graded stakes winners Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire in addition to Max Player. “Monmouth is our home track along with the New York tracks, and we’re very excited to try to breed him in New Jersey, create some good yearlings from New Jersey and help the program.”

Hall bought Fools in Love for $80,000 as a yearling, won five races with her and sold her in foal to Speightstown for $1 million in 2017 (the year she produced Max Player). She won twice in New Jersey. Max Player won his second start at Parx Racing in 2019, added the 2020 Withers Stakes-G3 and finished third in that year’s Travers-G1 and Belmont while starting in all three legs of the Covid-shuffled Triple Crown. His 2021 campaign included wins in the Suburban-G2 and Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1 for trainer Steve Asmussen. Hall, who oversees the Annestes Farm business (with facilities in New Jersey and Kentucky) with his brother John, hopes to get at least 20 mares to Max Player at the $5,000 live-foal fee and likes the reception so far.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and people have reacted positively to it in New Jersey,” he said. “We’ve also seen a fair amount of interest from New York breeders and we’re seeing a little bit of interest from Pennsylvania and some other states. We haven’t done a lot of advertising yet, so hopefully we can build on it and make a difference in New Jersey.”

Ten or so miles away in Colts Neck, three stallions will keep Pegasus Stud – the former Colonial Farms – flying this breeding season as established sire Sea Wizard leads rookies Invader and Vindictive. Colts Neck residents Carmine and Gail Spinella bought the farm and Sea Wizard from Sam Fieramosca, whose father John founded Colonial in 1950. New Jersey’s leading sire in 2023, Sea Wizard stands for $5,000 live foal and might be responsible for any momentum the state’s stallion business has. 

His two crops to race include 14 runners. Eight are winners, topped by stakes winner Great Navigator (third to Cody’s Wish in the Vosburgh-G2 last year). Sea Wizard bred 14 mares in 2022 and pushed that to 22 in 2023, a figure Sacco hopes to increase.

“He’s a high-quality horse,” said Rick Sacco, who oversees the Pegasus Stud venture for the Spinellas. “He had a breakout year with very small crops and he’s throwing horses with speed. He’s being very well-received.”

Under the Spinellas and Sacco (manager for Red Oak Stable and the Good Chance Farm training center in Florida), the 120-acre Colonial has been rebooted into Pegasus with updates to the barns, paddocks, roads and other facilities slated to continue into 2024. Sea Wizard’s burgeoning career was part of the equation, but he’ll have company from the first-year stallions. 

A son of War Front, Invader cost $500,000 as a yearling and won three races (on synthetic at Turfway Park) topped by the John Battaglia Memorial, for trainer Wesley Ward. Out of Group 3 winner Say (Ire), a daughter of Galileo (Ire), Invader is a full-brother to Grade 1 winner Fog of War (who stands in New York) and overseas stakes winner Naval Intelligence. 

“New Jersey has a really good restricted turf program now and we were looking for a grass stallion to fit that,” Sacco said. “The New Jersey program is very lucrative and we think he’s a good choice.”

Vindictive, a son of Uncle Mo, won half of his eight starts with Pletcher and was beaten a head when second in the 2022 Pimlico Special-G3. Off for a year after that, he won a Belmont Park allowance in May 2023 in what turned out to be his final start.

“Todd said he was right on the cusp of becoming a really good horse,” Sacco said. “He was very fast, a big, powerful, high-quality horse that didn’t win a stakes but was graded-stakes placed. That’s why we got him and why he’s standing in New Jersey.”

The 6-year-old bay packs a punch on his female side as a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Distaff-G1 winner and $3 million earner Stopchargingmaria. 

Sacco steered Red Oak racehorses King for a Day (like Vindictive a son of Uncle Mo) and Mind Control (a $2 million earner who won several graded stakes) to New York stallion deals, and put that experience to use at Pegasus even if the formula isn’t quite the same.

“I know farms, that’s what I know,” he said. “I got my feet wet in the stallion business with those two in New York and it has gone well. This is a little different. It’s a picturesque, boutique farm that is a stallion operation. We’ll have stallions, mares, weanlings and yearlings here, that’s it. Sea Wizard will get us a lot of attention and the other two fit for New Jersey. We’re ready to work hard and bring some really high-end bloodstock to the state of New Jersey.”

Sacco said Pegasus will experiment with free van rides to the farm, and back, for mares.

Pennsylvania’s Pin Oak Lane Farm adds a new stallion in 2017 Preakness-G1 winner Cloud Computing. The son of Maclean’s Music had 180 foals in his first two crops, coming up with 55 winners and three stakes winners (through Dec. 19). The numbers put him a close second behind Warrior’s Reward by progeny earnings ($2.7 million) among Pennsylvania stallions. Pin Oak Lane, which also stands Wicked Strong and Lord Shanakill, wasn’t necessarily in the market for a newcomer – until Spendthrift Farm’s Mark Toothaker called.

“I said I’d think about it,” said Dr. Bill Solomon, Pin Oak Lane’s owner and a leading breeder in Pennsylvania for decades. “I thought about it. He’s all right. He’s by a $40,000 horse, out of a good mare. I look at how many mares they bred, how many foals are still out racing and when they tell me they have 110 or 115 yearlings that gets me to prick my ears up a little bit.”

Solomon’s ears ought to be forward. Cloud Computing bred 113 mares in 2021, resulting in 69 live foals who will be 2-year-olds this year. In 2022, the dark bay bred 166 mares to put another 104 live foals into the pipeline. They’ll be 2-year-olds next year. Last year, the mares dropped to 47 but that’s still fairly strong by regional stallions. Solomon will aim for 40 mares this year, while hoping for some success on the racetrack to prove Cloud Computing’s value to Mid-Atlantic breeders.

“He’s a good-looking horse, a lot of size to him, and he had some speed too,” said Solomon. “Wicked Strong is a little more of a distance horse so it’s a good mix and I’m very fond of Lord Shanakill but he won’t breed many mares.”

Like Cloud Computing, new Maryland stallion Cupid launched his career in Kentucky – standing six seasons at Ashford Stud – before moving to Atlanta Hall Farm in Monkton. The Voss family’s historic farm gets its first stallion. Gary Murray, whose wife Elizabeth is the daughter of the late Hall of Fame trainer Tom Voss and Maryland owner/breeder Mimi Voss, gets a new challenge after working with stallions in Kentucky, Chile and Ireland. 

“We’re up and running and we have contracts back,” said Murray. “We have 40 to 50 mares verbally on board and I feel good about that. I want to get 100 mares. That’s going to be a push in any regional market, maybe a bit lofty, but you have to have a target. He’s capable, he’s getting good success on the track with all types of horses.”

Cupid’s 2023 runners had earned $3.63 million (through Dec. 16), second behind Great Notion on the Maryland list. Grade 1 winner Carson’s Run and Grade 3 winner Duke of Love led the way, rare graded winners by regional stallions.

Nobody made a bigger impact on the region’s recent stallion scene than Murmur Farm’s Blofeld, who built success on small books of mares over his first four seasons. The squads included 42 winners (from 54 runners and 73 foals) in his first three crops through Dec. 16. The success translated to far more business the last two seasons, with 86 mares bred in 2022 and 97 in 2023. Murmur’s Audrey Murray expects her one-horse stallion barn to be busy again this year thanks to 2023 Maryland Million Lassie winner Miss Harriett, Louisiana-bred stakes winner Alpine Mist and a host of others.

“Business is great,” she said. “He has earned it. I’m already booking a lot of mares this year. I couldn’t get people to breed to him at the beginning. It was a lot of hard work. Now he kind of sells himself. It takes a long time. You have to wait in the stallion business. It’s very hard when you start a stallion because it takes so long to get horses to the races, but now look at him.”

Stallion Notes

Like Northview, Maryland’s Country Life Farm did not add a new stallion for 2024, but Divining Rod and Mosler continue to build on solid early careers. Excluding new arrival Cupid, Divining Rod led Blofeld by about $90,000 in the region’s third-crop race. The son of Tapit had sired 41 winners from 76 starters through Dec. 16, headed by dual stakes winner Precious Avary. Mosler started his stud career one year ahead of Divining Rod and was seventh on Maryland’s overall list (excluding Cupid) at just shy of $2 million in progeny earnings . . . Maryland’s Anchor and Hope Farm also stood pat, with Bourbon Courage, Holy Boss and Long River filling out the roster . . . Pennsylvania’s Blackstone Farm continued to consolidate into a stallion base as the home of Uptowncharlybrown, Peace and Justice, Eastwood and newcomer Warrant. The son of Constitution won the 2021 Oklahoma Derby-G3 and was beaten a head in the 2022 Santa Anita Handicap-G1 for trainer Brad Cox. The millionaire is a half-brother to Ms Locust Point, who won the 2018 Barbara Fritchie-G2 at Laurel Park . . . Also in Pennsylvania, WynOaks Farm boasted the state’s top two stallions – outside of newcomer Cloud Computing – in Warrior’s Reward and Weigelia. Warrior’s Reward led the way with $2.8 million in progeny earnings and 64 winners. Weigelia was less than $200,000 behind in third . . . True Valour (Ire) moved from Maryland, where he bred 22 mares in 2023 (his first season), to Virginia’s Legacy Farm . . . Beverly Park (a son of Munnings and the Langfuhr mare Madeira Park) led North America with 15 wins in 2022 and was slated to stand for a private fee at Mountain Springs Farm in Pennsylvania. Second at Fair Grounds in December, Beverly Park had won 29 of 63 starts for earnings of $643,905 through Dec. 16 . . . Pennsylvania’s Bonner Hill Farms planned to stand Buy Land and See for his first season. The Pennsylvania-bred son of Cairo Prince and the Maria’s Mon mare Twiggles won six stakes and earned $578,390 for owner/breeder Joe Imbesi . . . New York-bred Somelikeithotbrown joins the Pennsylvania’s sire ranks at Cabin Creek Gettysburg. The son of Big Brown won 10 races and earned $1.7 million while competing primarily on the turf. He won the Bernard Baruch-G2, Dinner Party-G2 and WinStar Mint Million-G3 . . . The West Virginia stallion race came down to the end of the year with Fiber Sonde, Windsor Castle and Juba within $48,870 by progeny earnings (through Dec. 19). Juba, who stands at Casey’s Legacy, got there with just 101 foals (compared to 333 for Fiber Sonde and 441 for the late Windsor Castle). The son of Tapit’s four crops to race included 49 winners from 70 starters. 

 

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