Racing in general seems to slow down over the winter. Oh sure, there are newly-turned 3-year-olds to watch at Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita, and other major tracks and the announcements of the Eclipse Award winners and Experimental Free Handicap. But overall, there is a letdown in excitement. This winter figures to be different largely because of Smarty Jones and phase two of his career. The popular Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner will be covering his first book of mares at Robert N. Clay's Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Ky., starting in February. Smarty Jones will be limited to 110 mares, and his $100,000 fee is the highest for an incoming stallion in 2005 and matches the top price charged for newcomers Empire Maker and Mineshaft last breeding season. Smarty Jones' level of popularity cannot be measured by his stud fee alone. It's another six-figure number that best explains it. In early August, when Three Chimneys and Smarty Jones' owners, Roy and Patricia Chapman, announced the retirement of Smarty Jones from racing, the Smarty Jones Web site recorded 103,000 hits. The day of his arrival at Three Chimneys Aug. 16, there were 70,000 hits. The following day, 79,000. "The fans just love him," said Three Chimneys communications director Margaret Layton. "The Monday after the (Oct. 30) Breeders' Cup, there were 60,000 hits. We're now getting 30,000 to 40,000 a day during the week and fewer on weekends. We've got people looking at such things as mating recommendations and a photo album, plus stories on Smarty." With a Web history like that, you can imagine how many fans will tune in to find out the name of his first mare and her pedigree and produce record. The selection of Smarty Jones' book of mares is proceeding slowly. Layton said since syndicate members are assured access, there is no urgency for them to apply for and request seasons. Even at this early stage, Smarty Jones has been booked to grade I winners Heritage of Gold, Mandy's Gold, and Serra Lake, plus the dams of grade I winners Peace Rules, Volponi, Exogenous, Tactical Cat, Bevo, I Believe in You, and Numerous Times. Not unexpectedly, Smarty Jones (Elusive Quality --I'll Get Along, by Smile) is being limited to graded stakes winners and/or graded stakes producers. North America's fifth-leading money earner of all-time, Smarty Jones exited racing with his lone loss coming in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in his final start. He won eight races, including seven stakes, and earned $7,613,155. Blessed with the necessary speed to win the Preakness by a record 111/2 lengths and stamina to come within a length of winning the demanding Belmont Stakes, the Gone West grandson will be counted upon in a big way to deliver both attributes to a pedigree. Smarty Jones is one of 41 incoming stallions boasting the status of grade I winner or millionaire and/or standing for $7,500 or more. First-year stallions obviously create plenty of excitement because of their newness, but not all breeders are attracted to them. "I'm not what you would call a fashion player," said Lexington bloodstock agent Headley Bell of Nicoma Bloodstock explaining why he doesn't promote first-year stallions aggressively. "The 80% who breed to them do so for the flip effect, meaning they sell the mare in foal to that stallion or sell the resultant foal as a weanling." Bell feels there is a wider appeal in this year's freshman group than last year's contingent. "Empire Maker and Mineshaft stood alone last year," he said. "Now, it's more broad based, horses like Medaglia d'Oro , Speightstown , Strong Hope , Chapel Royal, and Peace Rules." Speightstown, the favorite for an Eclipse Award as best sprinter after winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), has proved highly popular at $40,000 despite his freshman status. "We've had 300 requests and figure to have 400 by the time it's over," said Doug Cauthen, president of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky., where Speightstown will enter stud. "We tried to price him to get the best book of mares. We want breeders to make money because we're in it for the long haul. Some seasons will sell at auction, and I can see some going for $40,000 or $50,000 no guarantee. His initial book is 100, but if he stops his mares it might go to 125." Six-year-old Speightstown (Gone West--Silken Cat, by Storm Cat) not only captured the Sprint over a field that included last year's winner Cajun Beat, but also scored graded wins in this year's Churchill Downs (gr. II), True North Breeders' Cup (gr. II), and Alfred G. Vanderbilt (gr. II) Handicaps. His 117 Beyer Speed Figure in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga is the second-highest of the year in the sprint division. Like the folks at WinStar, officials at Tony Ryan's Castleton Lyons near Lexington thought they had priced incoming sire Toccet at just the right amount. Much to their delight, they soon found out they were wrong. "We had him at $12,500, but the demand was absolutely crazy, so we upped him to $15,000," said general manager Julian Dollar. "We held him there (at $12,500) for several days, and the people we quoted got him at that price. There has been no problem getting $15,000. "I guess everyone remembers his 2-year-old campaign when he won six of eight, including the grade I Champagne and Hollywood Futurity. It also helped that (his sire) Awesome Again had a big day on Breeders' Cup Day." Awesome Again sired Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) winner Ghostzapper and Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Wilko. Castleton Lyons bought 4-year-old Toccet, who was produced from the Cozzene mare Cozzene's Angel, for $3,350,000 at the recent Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November mixed sale. Choosing a stallion is hard enough, but with new stallions, there is one big thing breeders don't have to worry about. They don't have to factor in a sire record, depending primarily on race record, pedigree, and conformation. "New stallions carry a clean slate to the breeding shed because they have no marks against them," said Lexington bloodstock agent Tom Bozarth of Arch Bloodstock paraphrasing a time-honored saying. "But I advise people to breed young stallions to proven mares. The mare can do her job, but you need luck on your side when they are both young. If you're breeding for the market, buyers have a liking for the offspring of young stallions." Pleasantly Perfect, who will enter stud for $40,000 at William S. Farish's Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky., ranks ahead of Smarty Jones on North America's all-time leading money-earning list. Winner of two of the world's richest races, last year's Breeders' Cup Classic and this year's Emirates Airlines Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), Pleasantly Perfect is fourth on the money list, with earnings of $7,789,880. He also won this year's Pacific Classic Stakes (gr. I) and closed out his career with a third-place finish in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Pleasantly Perfect, whose key wins came at 11/4 miles, recently had his dosage adjusted when his sire, Pleasant Colony, was made an Intermediate chef-de-race. His new dosage index of 5-16-21-0-2 shouldn't discourage breeders from using him to add a good dose of stamina to a pedigree. Pleasantly Perfect is out of the Affirmed mare Regal State. Peter Pegg of Pegg Thoroughbred Consultants in Virginia said he sees a difference in the conformation of the incoming stallions compared to stallions of yesteryear. "It's interesting that the new stallions I've seen and the ones people have told me about are smaller," said Pegg, a 30-year veteran. "They probably average about 15.31/2 hands, which is about what Smarty is. Smaller horses stay sounder, but they are harder to sell. "Years ago, when racing was less commercial, it was harder to sell the progeny of young stallions. It started changing in the early 1990s, and now it's the first- and second-year stallions that are popular. It's the established middle-of-the-road ones that now suffer." Central Kentucky farm owner Nick Lotz feels the more stallions to choose from, the better. "New stallions provide more breeding nicks," said Lotz, who owns Briarbrooke Farm near Paris, Ky. "Sometimes, you can get to a son of a nice stallion at a popular price." Lotz singled out unbeaten Candy Ride as a sleeper with commercial appeal. "He hadn't raced since winning last year's Pacific Classic, and I think people have forgotten him," Lotz said about the Argentine-bred son of Ride the Rails who stands for $10,000. "He's from the popular Fappiano sire line." Five-year-old Candy Ride (Ride the Rails--Candy Girl, by Candy Stripes) stands at John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farms near Lexington.
Gone West's influence on the upper tier of the newcomers' list can hardly be overestimated. The son of Mr. Prospector not only is the sire of Speightstown and grandsire of Smarty Jones, but also the sire of Johar ($20,000 fee) and grandsire of Strong Hope ($30,000 fee). Thus, four of the eight highest-priced newcomers (those standing for $20,000 or more) descend from Gone West in male line. Four-year-old Strong Hope (Grand Slam--Shining Through, by Deputy Minister) led all the way to beat Empire Maker in last year's Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at 11/8 miles at Saratoga and also placed behind Pico Central in this year's Carter (gr. I) and Metropolitan (gr. I) Handicaps. He will stand at the Hancock family's Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky. Five-year-old Johar, who was produced from Canadian champion Windsharp (by Lear Fan), excelled on the grass. He dead-heated for first with High Chaparral in last year's John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) and won the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) in 2002. He will hold court at Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington, owned by Alice Chandler and her husband, Dr. John Chandler. Medaglia d'Oro , whose fee is $35,000, made only 17 starts in four years of racing, but was first or second in 15 of them. He was a grade I in three of those years, twice ran second in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and retired with earnings of $5,754,720. A 5-year-old son of El Prado out of the Bailjumper mare Cappucino Bay, Medaglia d'Oro will stand at Hill 'n' Dale Farms. Millionaire Lion Heart, who will begin his stallion career for $30,000, had the better of Smarty Jones at the top of the Kentucky Derby stretch. Lion Heart also had the better of Smarty Jones and every other male member of his crop in another important category. He is the sole member of the group to win a grade I stakes at two and three, capturing last year's Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) and this year's Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I). Second in the Run for the Roses, Lion Heart (Tale of the Cat --Satin Sunrise, by Mr. Leader) will stand at Ashford Stud near Versailles, Ky. The Cliff's Edge is the remaining member in the $20,000-and-over club. The millionaire son of Gulch out of the Danzig mare Zigember scored his major win in this year's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) over Lion Heart as a 3-year-old and won a pair of graded stakes last year. The Cliff's Edge will stand for $20,000 at Dr. Tom Simon's Vinery near Lexington. Although some breeders shy away from sending first-year stallions to first-year mares, there are those who proceed full stream ahead, perhaps knowing that such greats as Northern Dancer and Seattle Slew were products of similar breeding arrangements. That alone should be enough to brighten any dreary winter day.