Q & A with Storm Cat's Ric Waldman
Ric Waldman served as syndicate manager for the mighty Storm Cat from 1990-2008 when the two-time leading sire was pensioned from stud duty. Storm Cat died April 24 at Overbrook Farm at the age of 30.
Storm Cat had a phenomenal run as a sire with 180 stakes winners from 1,415 foals, 108 of them winning at the graded/group level, eight champions, and the earners of more than $127 million.
He was even stronger in the sales arena with 462 of his yearlings selling for more than $319 million—an average of $692,192. A phenomenal 91 of his yearlings sold for $1 million or more.
Waldman spoke with Evan Hammonds of The Blood-Horse April 25 regarding the life and times with the son of Storm Bird—Terlingua, by Secretariat.
Q: How did your association begin with W.T. Young and Storm Cat?
RW: I started doing consulting work for Mr. Young back in 1986. It was in a remote location in an office in the Corporate Center (in Lexington). A few years later when he saw that he was going to step up his yearling buying program with the idea of developing a strong stallion roster, he asked me to move my office onto Overbrook where I could retain my consulting business. At the time I was in charge of the Thoroughbred operation for Windfields Farm in addition to some other consulting work.
We had just closed down the Maryland farm (Windfields) and had moved Deputy Minister and Imperial Falcon to Kentucky. We moved The Minstrel to Overbrook at the same time when we moved Deputy Minister to Brookdale.
At the time (1990) I think Storm Cat was the only stallion there. After that, Mr. Young asked me to move my office onto the farm and it was a natural since I was managing The Minstrel and I was doing work for Overbrook anyway. We had planned to stand a very promising stallion prospect who was a top 2-year-old named Grand Canyon (Fappiano—Champagne Ginny, by L'Enjoleur). Unfortunately Grand Canyon didn't make the stallion roster. He had a bowed tendon and then developed laminitis and died in the spring of 1990.
Mr. Young, never wavering, said, 'Don't worry about that; we're going to be buying some yearlings and have some major stallions.' Little did anyone know that hidden right there in the barn in his unpopular state was Storm Cat.
How did things go early on?
I started managing Storm Cat in his third year and we sort of limped through his third and fourth year trying to get his book filled and trying to keep bad yearlings off the market and try to resurrect him the best we could. We were just trying to get seasons sold and keep him alive in case his first couple of books hit and then we would have something we could salvage.
The rest is history.
Storm Cat had eight stakes winners in his first crop. At what point did it register that you had a big stallion on your hands?
Fortunately he hit with some early success and we were able to get a few more mares that fourth season. In fact, Mr. Young, realizing that he had some unused stallion, so to speak, gave seasons to breeders who had paid full stud fees. At the end of his fourth year, we were just to try to get some more numbers on his book and carry favor with those who had supported him.
With the additional success throughout that same racing season, we were able to raise his stud fee a notch (to $35,000), but more importantly we were able get a real full book of mares in the 90-100 range in his fifth book. I still didn't know we had a real live wire, but when they continued to run and then November Snow won the Alabama (gr. I) after he bred his fifth book, then I thought we had a real serious stallion. But it wasn't until his sons started hitting at stud did I really feel we had a major stallion that could elevate us well into the six-figure stud fee.
It didn't take too many seasons to find out his sons were going to pass on the great genetic makeup of Storm Cat.
Some of that financial success at the sales and in the breeding shed came about because he came along at the right time when the market really took off again in the late 1990s.
No question about it. Storm Cat was going to be what he was regardless of market conditions or management, but the fact the market was growing and his ascension mirrored the ascension of the market magnified what he was. If we were in today's market but were at the peak of Storm Cat's popularity, I don't think his stud fee would be $500,000.
Maybe because there isn't a stallion today who has the pizzazz of Storm Cat, so maybe it would be in the $200-$250,000 range if I was allowed to speculate.
Who would rank among his greatest progeny, both on the racetrack and as sires?
My memory is not what it was. Giant's Causeway has to rank up there as far as racing and breeding. Tabasco Cat winning two legs of the Triple Crown as a racehorse was pretty special.
Then you go down the list. Look at Storm Flag Flying; Joanne Nor's filly who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) against the colts—Desert Stormer; and I think November Snow because she won the Alabama and she was from his first crop. That was major to have a progeny win of that big of a win early on.
To elevate him that high and for his international success, you have to look and see what his European horses did and they were pretty big stuff.
W.T. Young later sold some of his breeding rights to farms such as Coolmore, WinStar, Stonerside, Darley, and some others. How did that come about?
Some of the people bought multiple breeding rights. I will say we sold a total of 25 breeding rights over a two-year period and the main impetuous to do that was the cost of mortality insurance got to a level where it was prohibitive to insure him as aggressively as we had been prior to selling those breeding rights. We were able to lay off some of the risk and still kept ownership and sole management of the horse. I think all of the breeding right holders—and we said to ourselves at the time that we hope we live to regret this—did very well. I think they were able to breed 10 or more years to the horse, which amortized to a pretty cheap stud fee.
The demand for Storm Cat had to be huge. How did you go about making up a book for him at his peak?
You have to have thick skin and be prepared to offend some people when the demand is so much higher than the supply, but I did try to purely focus on the quality of the mares, the mares I thought should be on his book. But I couldn't overlook selling services to repeat breeders who had supported the horse. I wasn't necessarily going to cut them off. When you get to the level of six figures for a stallion, usually they'll come up with a decent enough mare. The other seasons were selling, I really tried to breed as many top mares as I could, which probably had something to do with his huge commercial success because they were really high-profile pedigrees that were going to the yearling sales.
They stood out in the catalogs. In spite of some of the conformation flaws that people like to criticize, his yearlings still sold very well.
Speaking of those criticisms, what were they?
The big one was the offset knees that nowadays the market has become more accepting. The market certainly became more accepting of offset knees on a Storm Cat progeny at the sales, but also if you really want to criticize and you are looking at his balance from the profile, his neck might have been a touch short for the rest of his body, but he did have some body.
Everybody wants to focus on those flaws he passed on but they ran so well with them, I'd like to look at the strengths and he really did pass on a body and, of course, the will to win, and the heart, and the energy and determination that he passed on so well.
What is the legacy Storm Cat leaves behind?
In spite of all the difficultly that Storm Cat had and the insurmountable odds he had against him, he still succeeded. Man did everything man could to keep him from being a success, but a stallion who is meant to be a success to the extent that Storm Cat was will succeed in spite of man's intervention.
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