The Thoroughbred stallion market has changed drastically in many ways over the last three decades—there are no longer 40 share syndicates and strict limitations on the number of mares bred annually—but in other ways such as trying to maximize revenue, it remains the same.
Three managers of some of the most successful sires of the 1980s and '90s reflected on the past and current states of the stallion market during a panel discussion Feb. 2 as part of the Educational Symposium of the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association at Keeneland.
Ric Waldman, a consultant who managed the breeding careers of such stallions as Storm Cat and Deputy Minister, recalled the early struggles to get mares to Storm Cat, whose brilliant racing career was cut short before the horse took off and they were able to expand the number of mares to whom he was bred.
The son of Storm Bird owned by W. T. Young's Overbrook Farm entered stud for a fee of $25,000, a figure that fell to $20,000 during his second season for one of North America's most successful sires who eventually stood for $500,000 for six consecutive years.
"We really struggled with this horse his first year," Waldman said of trying to get mares to Storm Cat. "Fortunately, he had a few really good early runners, so we were able to raise him back up to $25,000."
Young, a prominent Lexington businessman who parlayed that acumen into success as a horse breeder, did not hesitate to take advantage of that early success, Waldman said.
"He (Young) did not want to see any unused semen out there. When he (Storm Cat) was breeding his fourth book of mares, Mr. Young had me call everyone who had paid a full stud fee and offer them a free season to Storm Cat. That was just a marketing ploy. It is all a function of marketing."
At the height of his stud career Storm Cat was bred to a maximum 118 mares in a season, Waldman said. "We might have bred more if our management style had been a little bit different."
Of Storm Cat's ascendance to the top of the sire list and $500,000 stud fee, Waldman said: "That pleased W.T. Young to no end. Raking in that money showed success. That had to extend his (Young's) life."
Veteran horseman John Williams recalled that when Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew retired to Leslie Combs' Spendthrift Farm with a record syndication price of $12 million, the horse was a reluctant breeder, forcing the staff to undertake some unusual measures to get him interested in mares.
In addition to a series of efforts to get Slew's interest focused, including breeding him outside the breeding shed and breeding two mares in quick succession, Williams began exercising the horse himself, resulting in a new horse.
"All he wanted was his job back," Williams said. "He felt good about himself and he got to where he started liking mares."
John T.L. Jones Jr., who ran Walmac International when prominent sire Nureyev suffered a serious right hind leg fracture, recalled the extraordinary efforts by farm personnel, including veterinarian Dr. Don Howard. Jones said the most important decision he made was to have a barn built that would isolate Nureyev from the rest of the stallion population, and that once he recovered "we bred him around the clock."