A Kentucky Derby and Preakness (gr. I) winner is largely shunned by American breeders and thus sold to Japanese interests that stepped up and made a fair offer to the horse's owner. If the story of I'll Have Another's sale last week struck a familiar chord, it is because 22 years ago an eerily similar scenario played out over dual classic winner and 1989 Horse of the Year Sunday Silence.
The son of Halo would go on to have a legendary stallion career in Japan, becoming that country's leading sire 13 consecutive years and now its leading broodmare sire. Yet, domestic farms in the past month showed the same lack of enthusiasm for this year's dual classic winner, I'll Have Another, pointing to the fact the son of Flower Alley was an $11,000 yearling and a $35,000 2-year-old, indicating the young horse had conformation issues. Also, you have to go back four generations in his female family to find the type of runners and producers that quicken the heart. Here again, the similarities between I'll Have Another and Sunday Silence are striking.
"As a foal he was weedy, cow-hocked, and he wouldn't walk at the sales," said Arthur Hancock III, the majority owner and breeder of Sunday Silence. "He was a cantankerous character, and the perception was that he was a freak, a fluke. Breeders said he had no family, but if you went back five generations, there was a tremendous family back there. But it was back a ways."
In 1990, after Sunday Silence was slowed by a tendon injury, Hancock, who owns Stone Farm near Paris, Ky., worked the phones non-stop trying to find breeders who would pay $250,000 for a share in the horse who had earned nearly $5 million. He had others doing similar legwork around the country. They hit a dry well.
"I knew everybody in the horse business and I called every one of them," said Hancock. "Just name anybody who bought shares and we called them. We came up with three people.
"It broke my heart to sell Sunday Silence, but as far as I'm concerned, I didn't sell him; the American breeders sold Sunday Silence. They didn't want him. (Trainer) Charlie (Whittingham), who owned 25% of him, told me early on that breeders weren't coming by to look at the horse like they normally do. I had six young children and owed millions to the bank. I had to sell him."
Paul Reddam, owner of I'll Have Another, also saw a lack of interest in his horse, even after he reeled off victories this spring in the Robert Lewis Stakes (gr. II), Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), Kentucky Derby, and Preakness. There was some sniffing around by Kentucky farms looking to pick up a buy in the bargain bin, but nothing nearly as substantial as the offer (undisclosed) from Big Red Farm's Shigeyuki Okada.
"The estimates of his value from Kentucky farms were so different from Japan that any rational human being, as much as they wanted the horse to stand in America, would have to take the Japanese deal," said Reddam. "There was a lack of interest here. It seems to me that if the goal in American racing is to win the Kentucky Derby, you should breed to horses that have enough stamina and are game enough to win the Derby, but I guess I'm in the minority."
Having completely missed the boat on Sunday Silence apparently didn't dissuade American breeding interests from turning away from I'll Have Another, however, even though dual classic winners don't grow on trees. Hancock, though, isn't completely surprised.
"Once the word gets out that a horse doesn't have good conformation; that he's considered a fluke, the value suffers," he said. "Here's the thing about a stallion, though: You never know. If a horse has that kind of ability and has heart and has some sire blood and is a good-looking horse, he's got a chance to make it. There's no reason I'll Have Another won't make a great stallion. As the old saying goes, 'You pays your money and takes your chances.' "
Zenya Yoshida, owner of Shadai Farm, had bought a 25% interest in Sunday Silence for $2.5 million when the horse was still racing. He bought the remaining 75% for $7.5 million and Sunday Silence began stallion duty at Shaddai Stallion Station in 1991. His progeny have earned well above a half billion dollars.
"When the Japanese want to buy something, they really do their homework," said Hancock. "He went there and got the best mares they had, so it all worked out well. The bottom line is nobody here was going to breed mares to him."