2012 Year In Review: Rachel, Zenyatta foals highlight breeding season

2012 Year In Review: Rachel, Zenyatta foals highlight breeding season

Thoroughbred breeding activity continued its decline in 2012, but there were plenty of happy highlights, starting with what amounted to a pair of royal births.

Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta − Horses of the Year in 2009 and 2010 − produced their first foals in early 2012, to the delight of their fans. Rachel Alexandra’s 125-pound Curlin colt was born first, on Jan. 22 at Stonestreet Farm in Lexington, Ky., though the occasion wasn’t without some worry for her fans and the mare’s self-described “Rachel-condriac” co-owner, Barbara Banke. A week after the birth, Stonestreet revealed it had sent 6-year-old Rachel Alexandra and her newborn to the Rood and Riddle equine clinic as a precautionary measure “for pain management related to the birth.” Rachel Alexandra returned home several days later without further incident. She currently is in foal and believed to be carrying a filly, to Bernardini, who sired Zenyatta’s first foal.

Zenyatta’s foal, a 130-pound colt, was born at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Ky., on March 8 in possibly the most anticipated foaling since Genuine Risk produced her first live foal in 1993 after 10 years of failed attempts. When Zenyatta’s colt finally arrived, the foaling barn was filled with balloon bouquets and floral arrangements from fans and well-wishers. She currently is in foal to Tapit; her owners, Ann and Jerry Moss, generally do not fetal-sex their mares’ foals.

Zenyatta’s and Rachel Alexandra’s foals were born into a Thoroughbred world still shrinking after the 2008 global financial crisis, and a chronic commercial oversupply of Thoroughbreds hastened a collapse in North American bloodstock prices and breeding activity. Jockey Club figures released in mid-October showed continuing but shallower declines in active breeding stock. At that point, 1,861 stallions, 3.8 percent fewer stallions than a year earlier, were reported to have covered 35,391 mares, down 3 percent.

But two key areas reversed their downward trend. In New York, where Aqueduct’s slot-machine revenue was pumping up purses and breeding awards, the stallion population grew by 18 percent and mares were up by 43.1 percent. And Florida also turned the tide: The stallion ranks grew by 8.6 percent, and the mare population grew by 6.7 percent. Cape Blanco, who stands at Ashford Stud in Versailles, led all sires with 220 mares covered in 2012.

In April, Oatsee became the most prominent mare when she was named Broodmare of the Year for 2011. A 15-year-old Unbridled mare, she was the dam of three graded winners, notably Grade 1 winners Shackleford and Lady Joanne. In 2012, Oatsee’s credentials improved further when Stephanoatsee became her fifth stakes winner, Afleeting Lady won her first graded stakes, and Shackleford, already the 2011 Preakness winner, won the Grade 1 Metropolitan and Clark Handicaps before retiring to Darby Dan Farm in Lexington.

Sire leaders

The race for 2012’s general sire title is about as close as it can get. Nearing the end of December, a mere $28,000 separated leader Speightstown from his nearest rival, Giant’s Causeway, who was just $52,000 ahead of Empire Maker in third. The freshman sire rankings also were tight, with Henrythenavigator holding a narrow lead of $54,000 over Spring At Last, who fielded just 71 juveniles, as compared to Henrythenavigator’s 112.

The margins were more decisive in the other categories. Harlan’s Holiday, sire of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby, was the top juvenile sire; Storm Cat, the broodmare sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, led the broodmare sire list; and Dynaformer, sire of course-record-setter and three-time Grade 1 winner Point of Entry, was the year’s leading turf sire.

The famously irascible and much-loved Dynaformer died in April at Three Chimneys Farm, at age 27, but by year’s end his sons were poised to open a new era at Calumet Farm under billionaire Brad M. Kelley. In May, the late Henryk de Kwiatkowski’s heirs ended weeks of excited speculation when they announced they had sold the historic “crown jewel of the Bluegrass” to a group headed by Kelley, the publicity-shy owner of Bluegrass Hall who reportedly would lease the farm from the partners. The price was $35.9 million. At 55, Kelley is one of the nation’s largest landowners, with an estimated 1.7 million acres in Texas, Florida, and New Mexico. He is also a breeder and owner whose horses include 2012 graded winner Optimizer.

Four months before selling Calumet, the de Kwiatkowski Trust had announced it would revive Calumet’s long-dormant stallion barn and stand Cactus Ridge and Ice Box, the first stallions to stand there in more than a decade. After the sale, those two horses relocated, and Kelley brought in the Dynaformer stallions Americain and Lentenor, the latter a full brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, and the Yes It’s True horse Aikenite to launch Calumet’s new era.

Other notable farms also changed hands in 2012. Tom Simon put his multi-state Vinery operation on the market, selling its Florida training center to Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Farms in December. Simon and partners will retain the farm’s Australian division. In New York, Questroyal and Gus Schoenborn Jr. bought Sez Who North, once the state’s leading breeder. And Meadow Farm, Secretariat’s birthplace that became part of the Virginia State Fair, brought $5.35 million at a foreclosure auction, selling to Universal Fairs.

For stallion owners, 2012 looked much like 2011, with many opting to hold the line or trim stud fees in an effort to draw mares from a shrinking – and highly selective – pool. Book sizes and fees for the most successful and popular stallions remained high, but competition for middle-market stallions continued to be fierce. This situation and still-stringent credit requirements continued to dampen the stallion-prospect market for all but the choicest colts who combined superior pedigrees and race records. Owner Paul Reddam, who sold 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another to Japanese interests for $10 million, was surprised to receive just two offers for the colt from American farms that had valued him at between $3 million and $5 million.

Transitions

The last crop of yearlings by A.P. Indy, the 1994 Horse of the Year, went to auction in 2012, and he was among the horses pensioned from stallion duty this year. But the most shocking stallion loss came Dec. 8, when Pulpit, Claiborne Farm’s homebred flagbearer and one of A.P. Indy’s most successful stallion sons, died in his paddock at the age of 18.

Richland Hills Farm − whose owner, Nathan Fox, launched Dynaformer’s stud career − endured hard losses when its young stallions Purim and Sightseeing died after colicking. Purim, 10, was a son of Dynaformer. Sightseeing, 8, was by Pulpit, and he died the same week as his sire. Coolmore also lost a pair of valuable young sires: Montjeu, 16, died in March after developing septicemia, and Grand Slam, 17, died of heart failure the following month.

Other notable stallions who died in 2012 include Royal Academy, Theatrical, Refuse to Bend, Fortunate Prospect, Skip Trial, Aptitude, Key Contender, Lit de Justice, Kitalpha, and Deputed Testamony.

Breeding also lost such prominent mares as champion Hollywood Wildcat, dam of War Chant; 6-year-old Maram, the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner who died in September of an unidentified acute illness; 11-year-old Grade 1 winner and producer Madcap Escapade, after colicking; French and German champion Borgia, runner-up in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Turf; Grade 1 winner Trumpet’s Blare; Irish champion Ministrella; and Irish Oaks winner Colorspin, dam of Opera house, among others.

The Thoroughbred breeding community also lost many renowned breeders, including Moyglare Stud owner Walter Haefner and longtime Kentucky-based breeders Louise Humphrey, Bayne Welker Sr., and Indian Creek Farm president David C. Parrish Jr. Harold McCormick, co-owner of Rachel Alexandra, died in March, a few months after Rachel delivered her first foal, and another owner, Don Little, died after a show-jumping accident. Joe Allbritton, whose Lazy Lane Farm in Virginia campaigned 1991 champion 3-year-old Hansel, died in December. Other notables deaths in 2012 were New York farm owners James Edwards and Gus Schoenborn Sr., Maryland breeder Sondra Bender, California breeder Larry Mabee, and Kentucky farm owners Frank Justice and Eamon Cleary.


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