Dr. Gary Knapp Owner, Monticule
Breeder of Big Brown
Thursday, May 29, 2008
In 1973, Dr. Gary Knapp was inspired by the great Secretariat to buy a Kentucky farm and get involved in the Thoroughbred business. Thirty-five years later, the Minnesota native is the breeder of Big Brown. A 64-year-old entrepreneur, Knapp formerly was active in the mortgage-backed securities business.
In 1990, Knapp purchased 220 acres of property near Lexington that he developed into a Thoroughbred nursery, putting together a quality band of broodmares. Monticule's current broodmare band numbers 21. Knapp evaluates potential mares using a number of criteria, including having high EQUIX evaluations.
Founded in 1984, EQUIX is a bloodstock advisory company that assesses the athletic potential of Thoroughbreds using various measurements. After becoming a fan of its services, Knapp bought an interest in EQUIX and eventually took control of the company in 2003.
Knapp has expanded Monticule over the years to 530 acres, and he also has expanded his involvement in the Thoroughbred business. Knapp has started a couple of other ventures that are subsidiaries to EQUIX: Goose Creek Stables, which is an investment fund for participation in the Thoroughbred industry. It involves breeding, racing, and pinhooking; the other is Case the Race, which is in the business of selling handicapping data (via the Internet) to people who wager on horse racing.
In addition to Big Brown, runners bred in the Monticule name include Japanese group III winners Atago Taisho and Suteki Shinsukekun, Canadian grade III winner Prussian, and added- money winners Mykindasaint, Sharp Writer, and Vino Tinto. In 2006, Monticule sold the Danzig colt Plavius, a half-brother to Sharp Writer, for $9.2 million at the Keeneland September yearling auction.
Are Big Brown's hoof problems due to inbreeding?
Since I am not a geneticist, answering your question would be a matter of opinion and we probably need more science in the breeding of thoroughbreds and less opinions. That being said, your question is a good one and ought to be explored with scientists who can provide solid, reliable information.
Des Moines, IA:
Was there anything about Big Brown that made him stand out as a foal or yearling?
The Monticule crop of 2005 included, in addition to Big Brown, two colts from Danzig's last crop. Both of the Danzig colts were very good looking and came from families that were quite attractive. So Big Brown had to compete with those two for attention which was a formidable task. The one thing that was noticeable about Big Brown from the moment that he emerged from Mien's womb was the white spot behind his left elbow. When he was foaled it was about the size of a quarter and now I understand it to be about the size of a baseball. As a youngster, Big Brown was always a good looking guy.
Other than Big Brown, who do you think is the best horse that you have ever bred?
Of course, we are very pleased with all of the added money winners we have bred. In addition to the ones cited in this chat, we also bred Dijeer, a Group III winner in England. There are also a few other horses that come to mind when reading your question. In a couple of these cases injury or illness prevented the horse from reaching its best performance. One of these horses was a Runaway Groom colt that was the highest priced Runaway Groom colt ever sold at public auction (He was named Sabi Sand and sold for $385,000.). Unfortunately he was injured prior to his first start. Another was a Danzig filly by the name of Polish Flower, who suffered from complications of EPM and is now in our broodmare band and is producing beautiful foals. But for sheer grit, probably my favorite out of this group is Mettle, a Silver Deputy mare, who never won her races by much but she would prevail by a nose, a head, etc. Mettle is also in our broodmare band.
Can we possibly clone a champion horse?
Cloning has certainly received a lot of attention in the last few years. Since I am not a geneticist, unfortunately I really can't provide any solid information for you. It is clear, however, that under the rules of The Jockey Club, a cloned horse could not be registered as a thoroughbred. So even if we could clone a champion horse, we would never know whether the clone were able to perform as a champion.
Who will Mien be bred to in the next couple of years? Will you go to another Danzig-line sire?
Mien was bred back this year to Stormy Atlantic. That choice of a mating was a result of the process that is utilized at Monticule. First, Mien and Stormy Atlantic are physically very compatible based on the Equix analysis. Second, the hypothetical pedigree resulting from that mating includes in-breeding that has been successful with Stormy Atlantic previously. Third, that hypothetical pedigree also includes in-breeding to Rough Shod, a representative of a significant female family.
Having watched and being inspired by the late great Secretariat, if Big brown goes on to win the Belmont, where would you rank him in terms of all time greats, along Big Red?
Of course, Big Brown still needs to win the Belmont. If he were so fortunate to be able to do that, ranking him relative to the great Secretariat would probably be something best done by a disinterested party.
For us at Monticule, simply having Big Brown mentioned in the same breath as Secretariat is an incredible honor. If Big Brown won the Belmont, we probably wouldn't be that concerned about where he ranked with the great horses, just that he would be in that group would be enough.
Dr. Knapp kudos for breeding BB! My question is in mating selection. Can you put a percentage on the number of matings that produce a foal, Equix measurement wise, that you thought the mating would produce?
The Equix mating analysis report for a mare suggests the expected probability of the level of racing performance from a particular mating at 30 months and at 48 months. An internal Equix study indicates that matings resulting from those suggested by Equix produce stakes winners in the low double digit percentages. The percentages of resulting stakes winners in that study are consistent with our experience at Monticule.
I own a mare named Cousin Sue. She is by Catienus, by Storm Cat, and out of a mare by Roanoke, by Pleasant Colony. She was stakes placed twice as a two year old at Canterbury Park but as a three year old and four year old her laziness has caught up to her and she now runs in the claiming ranks. Do you have any suggestions as far as what type of stallion to breed her to? I have tried hypo-matings with horses influenced by Mr. Prospector, thinking it would give the foal more speed, but the dosage index ends up being very high.
My suggestion would be to first identify the group of stallions that are physically most compatible with your mare through the use of the Equix mare analysis. Once you have identified this group of stallions, then you should turn your attention to pedigree. Since I pursue a very "Applied Approach", my next step would be to determine which of the hypothetical pedigrees produced from mating to each of this group of stallion included in-breeding successful with that stallion previously. My last step would be to select from group showing successful in-breeding the hypothetical pedigree that included in-breeding to the best female family.
Have you been in contact with other owners and or trainers of siblings to Big Brown, and how are they doing?
Big Brown is Mien's second foal so there are only two other sibling's of racing age. Her first foal was claimed by Paul Pompa but he lost him back to the original owner in his next start, so apparently both parties liked that horse. I am told that the experience with that horse was a big part of why Big Brown was of interest to Mr. Pompa at the Keeneland sale. Mien's third foal is a Horse Chestnut filly, purchased by Tony Lacy, as agent, and is currently in training in England. She is a two year old and is expected to start later this summer or early this fall. Recently, we were very pleased to have Mr. Lacy, and the owner of that horse visit Monticule and bring up to date on that filly's progress. Mien's yearling is by Touch Gold and is entered in the Keeneland 2008 September Yearling Sale. Mien's foal is by Belong to Me.
Sugar Land, TX:
Thank you for taking our questions. As Boundary is not an option for a repeat of the breeding of that produced Big Brown, is there another stallion on your list with similar breeding? Would you consider breeding even closer to Round Table? I had the privilege of being introduced to Round Table by his groom after I went had seen Secretariat. I had no idea at the time that the unprepossessing looking Round Table was such a great, great champion. I am in awe of his record, soundness and longevity.
Unfortunately, of the group of stallions that Equix recommends to be mated to Mien, I don't recall seeing another one that would result in in-breeding to Round Table. As new stallions come to stand in Central Kentucky, if they were to physically match Mien, I sure would take a look at anything that provided that Round Table cross.
It must have been an immense thrill to see Round Table. It is always so inspiring to look at the careers of the great stallions, particularly when we note the ability of many of them to produce stakes winners at the rate of 10, 12, 14, even 20%!
Can Big Brown feet and quarter crack issues be inherited to his descendants? What is your opinion on the 2-year-old in training sales blowouts in 10 and change? Is it too much too soon?
Inheritance of specific characteristics from one generation to the next is something best addressed by geneticists and even then we have to keep in mind that what we are talking about is probabilities. And even when we talk about these probabilities, perhaps what we are talking about is genetic dispositions not certainties by any means. After all, when Big Brown enters the breeding shed, he won't be there alone.
These short spurts of speed at two year old sales are the end result of a preparation process that starts months before the event takes place. To the extent that that preparation process is successfully completed, without incident, any concerns I have about the spurt of speed are ameliorated. In fact, there seems to be ample scientific evidence that some flexing of a young horse's bones is actually a positive factor in the development of sound horses.
Have you seen (in real life) Big Brown since he was a youngster?
The closest I have been to Big Brown since he was a youngster was when we watched him win The Kentucky Derby from the The Jockey Club Suites at Churchill Downs. From what I hear, he has grown to be close to 17 hands and has a very sweet disposition.
Mr. Knapp, Congratulations on your many successes in the thoroughbred industry. My question is about your broodmare band- what are the main attributes that you look for in a mare that would make a good candidate and addition to your existing broodmare band? Thank you and I wish you continued success in the future.
When I was selecting mare, the first thing I wanted was a mare that sired by a sire on the cumulative broodmare sire list. Next, a young mare: 4, 5, 6 years old, in any case, with no production record. The ultimate criterion was the Equix analysis had to indicate that the mare was likely to be able to produce quality foals on a consistent basis.
Currently, aside from the Nureyev dam of Big Brown, who is your best producer?
This is not an easy question. Sharp Minister has produced stakes winners including a Group III winner and has produced a yearling that sold for the fifth highest price ever paid for a yearling at public auction. Autumn Moon produced a Danzig colt whom has earned more money at the race track than any other Danzig. Sabu has produced an added money winner and a colt that sold for the highest price ever paid for a Runaway Groom. So, we have several candidates, and hopefully, more to come.
Fergus Falls, MN:
Hi Gary, I'm a fellow proud Minnesotan and I think you are a masterful breeder. What was Big Brown like as a baby compared to Prussian?
Big Brown quietly went about the business of growing up to be a champion. Prussian was frequently initiating a conversation about who was going to be in charge.
How can a breeder say he or she is "improving the breed" if they continue to breed horses who were unsound in their racing careers and then linebreed to these same unsound horses? I thought inbreeding was a bad thing, seeing as more undesirable qualities than desirable qualities are concentrated in the resulting offspring.
Fortunately in the thoroughbred industry we have an empirical measure of "improving the breed", ie., which horse reaches the finish line first. In the entire process of creating an athlete capable of improving the breed, there is ample opportunity for error and accident. This, of course, starts with the mating and includes management of the mare during her pregnancy, management of the foal as it develops, breaking and training of horse for racing and management of the horse during its racing career. Errors or accidents throughout this string of events could end up being be interpreted as "unsoundness". So, I believe we need to be highly confident from an empirical standpoint that any particular approach to breeding is, in fact, contributing to our concerns about the relative soundness of thoroughbreds. In order to achieve this confidence we need well designed and carefully controlled research studies focused on this issue. I am unaware of any such studies.
Inbreeding is going to give the opportunity for both desirable and undesirable genes to express themselves. The issue is which of these genes is dominant and which are recessive. If the desirable genes are dominant, inbreeding is great. If the undesirable genes are dominant, inbreeding is a potential disaster. In the absence of solid scientific information as to which are dominant and which are recessive, an empirical approach is to observe whether particular patterns of inbreeding have resulted in successful racehorses in the past. I have found this to be a useful approach to breeding.
Hi Dr. Knapp, Eight Belles' tragic death has spurred a lot of talk about the fragility of the Thoroughbred. A lot of people are pointing fingers at breeders who seem to value only brilliant speed at a young age in their horses. So in the big picture, how much do you think breeders are responsible for the fragility of the breed? And if breeders were to begin 'reforming' Thoroughbreds and breeding for more stamina and soundness, which bloodlines would you recommend?
From the time that conception takes place, until a thoroughbred completes its racing career, there is all manner of opportunity for error and accident. The extent to which breeders of thoroughbreds can be held culpable for any of this is unknown to me. That being said, I do recall an interview with a geneticist wherein it was stated that it was unlikely that the fundamental soundness of a breed could be changed in the span of 25-30 years.
My approach to breeding is fundamentally based on empirical results and therefore I do not focus on specific bloodlines. Rather, once I have the Equix analysis, I focus on attempting to mimic the use of inbreeding patterns that previous produced successful runners. Therefore the bloodlines appearing in the product of Monticule breeding are a function identifying those stallions which are physically most compatible with our mares.
Considering the publicity given tragic breakdowns in racing these past couple of years, what are your thoughts regarding synthetic surfaces?
My hope is that research will be done to scientifically establish the extent to which different racing surfaces provide an advantage for our industry. Of course, the advantage foremost in all of our minds is making sure horses are as safe as possible when they exhibit their exceptional athletic ability.
Congratulations on your breeding success with Mien... I'm a fan of horse racing, my involvement with the sport is primarily as a handicapper...certainly, the spectacular 3 year olds add vitality to racing...what can be done to support racing for older horses?
Thank you. Everyone at Monticule is very pleased.
I suppose financial incentives might be one way of encouraging the racing of older horses. State incentive programs typically reward successful racehorses bred in their respective states and it seems to me that these programs typically are related directly to the dollars won by a horse. If one were interested in encouraging the racing of older horses, it might be possible to allocate a little more of the rewards to older horses. While conceivably something like this may in general have some effect, when we are looking at a situation where a horse becomes worth $50 million (ie., Big Brown) other market forces are going to dominate.
You've come a long way in the Thoroughbred business since campaigning horses like Aboriginal Apex, Saratoga Social and Gredin. You certainly paid your dues. What do you think was the key to going from small-time breeder/owner of certainly productive if not standout runners like the above-mentioned to the national spotlight with Big Brown and Plavius and the like. Regards to Apex wherever he may be.
First, Apex appreciates the greetings and any attention, as he always did. He appears to be really enjoying his retirement at Monticule. All his time is spent with some retired polo ponies and, since they are all mares, that just contributes to Apex continuing to think that he is a real hotshot.
I sincerely believe that a large part of the success at Monticule can be attributed directly to Equix. The mating services of Equix put a breeder in the position of having a very good idea of the probable outcome of any mating being considered. Additionally, Equix services also provide a solid empirical basis for making decisions about acquisition of broodmares. It is difficult for me to overstate the importance of making decisions about broodmares because these mares are the foundation on which you must build your program. Equix can tell you whether a broodmare is likely to produce quality foals on a consistent basis.
Dr. Knapp, Congratulations on Big Brown! What a wonderful horse and it has been thrilling to watch him race. My question is: I am interested in getting into the thoroughbred breeding business on a small scale. What are the most important points to look for in a perspective broodmare and what would your recommendations be to a person with a conservative budget. Many thanks!
Thank you, Big Brown is a real special guy.
My recommendation would be to select a broodmare based on Equix analysis. They can tell you whether the mare can be expected to produce quality foals on a consistent basis. My experience using that analysis started well before I purchased the company and find their analysis to be the fundamentally important factor in making decisions about purchasing broodmares.
Huntington Beach, CA:
What was it about Secretariat that inspired you to get involved in racing? He was wonderful, a once in a lifetime champion.
In 1973 I moved to Lexington, Ky. to become a graduate student at the University of Kentucky. I had loved horses ever since I was a small child. That spring Secretariat was running for the Triple Crown, his picture was on the front cover of Sports Illustrated and I, as well as, it seemed like, the rest of the country was excited for him. Upon arriving in Lexington, I saw the absolutely marvelous farms and the beautiful countryside and said to myself, "I sure would like to do this someday." So I guess I would have to say that it was fascination with the beauty and the charm and the excitement that drew me back to Lexington and into the industry.
How did you pick Boundary as the sire of Big Brown? Here in Australia, normally group 1 winners are sired by other group 1 horses. An exception there would be Danzig, who probably would have won G1 if not retired early. Was it the same with Boundary with 6 wins & 2 placings from 8 starts?
Boundary was in a group of stallions which the Equix analysis reported were very compatible with Mien physically. When I studied the hypothetical pedigrees that would result from mating Mien to each of these stallions, the pedigree resulting from mating Mien with Boundary really caught my attention. All the crosses to stallions in that pedigree were also present in the principal runners produced by Boundary so it was apparent that these patterns of inbreeding had been successful in the past. Additionally, the pedigree resulting from mating Mien and Boundary produced four crosses of Selene in the seventh generation. A little research I had conducted showed that 85% of the winners of American classic races from 1914-2002 have at least one cross of a significant female family in their pedigree. So the mating was physically good, the inbreeding patterns had been successful in the past with Boundary and the crosses of Selene closed the deal.
Dr. Knapp, I recently read that you do not consider the race record of any broodmare prospect when deciding whether the broodmare will produce commercially appealing offspring. Is my understanding accurate? If so, do you consider the bio-mechanical measurements of any given broodmare prospect in the same way as you do for racing prospects? Many thanks in advance!
Yes, it is true that the race record of the mare was not an issue with me. That being said, since I did focus on mares sired by sires on the cumulative broodmare sire list, typically there would be good racing performance close up in the family.
Equix offers an analyis of the racing potential of horses as young as 14 months old, preferably they should be at least 16 months old. This is used in evaluation of Monticule's yearlings so that we know the expected potential of horses we are selling. Also offered by Equix is an analysis which projects the likelihood that a mare will be able to produce quality foals on a consistent basis. Monticule uses this report in the evaluation of fillies that are consigned to the sales and was used in the evaluation of mares being considered for purchase.
So, the short answer to your question is that Monticule uses biometric analysis in the evaluation of both broodmares and yearlings, as well as, two-year-olds, but the reports in each case are different reports.
Dr. Knapp Thank you for your time. Does EQUIX take into consideration breeding lines with a history of injury problems?
The Equix analysis is a biometric analysis and that analysis, per se, does not take into consideration the issue you raised. However, the personnel at Equix are excellent horse people with vast experience in the industry and therefore their discussion of any given report with a client generally includes information relevant to the subject of your question.
Big Brown's sire is Boundary. Boundary couldn't get a mile and a quarter to save his life, and yet Big Brown got it so easily. Does this tell you that breeding doesn't mean anything anymore? What are your thoughts?
Absolutely not. But want does come out of this circumstance is the advantage of using biometrics prior to making pedigree decisions. The Equix Optimatch report indicated that the mating of Mien and Boundary was likely to produce a racehorse with a high probability of performing well in stakes company and the Equix report issued after his yearling evaluation stated that Big Brown would perform best up to 10 furlongs. Forgive me, but I am not close enough to the process of preparing those reports to know if reports ever entertain the notion of a horse racing at 12 furlongs. Notwithstanding, any projections based on a yearling evaluation, I guess we will probably see how Big Brown does at 12 furlongs on June 7.
You came to the thoroughbred industry with a background in analytical statistics. There are so many numbers thrown around when it comes to breeding and racing. I'm college educated and have taken a basic statistics course, but still to someone without extensive knowledge about what the numbers actually mean this can sometimes be confusing. Please comment.
One of the aspects of data reported in our industry that causes me some concern is the inappropriate use of certain descriptive statistics. Frequently industry data is reported using an arithmetic mean to summarize data in circumstances where that statistic can be highly misleading. In other circumstances industry data is reported in gross numbers when actually a summary statistic would convey the true nature of the data. As well as making it difficult for persons new to the industry to understand what is going on in the industry, it also tends encourage certain behaviors in the industry which are sometimes widely questioned. That being said, the thoroughbred industry is a terrific industry to be a part of. It is an opportunity for full expression of entrepreneurial enthusiasm by essentially providing a free market for ideas put into practice.
Panama City, Panama:
In retrospect to his talent, why do yo think Big Brown sold for only $60K?
Big Brown, being the second foal out of a mare who had one win in two starts and whose sire was Boundary, was presented to the market with substantial constraints on his evaluation. But he was, and is, a real good looking guy. He presented himself well at the sale, both in terms of deportment and how he looked when he moved around the showing areas. So, as you know, he sold for $60,000, which was a quite high price for a Boundary colt in the market where he sold. I haven't gone back to check, but it wouldn't surprise me if that was the highest price paid for a yearling sired by Boundary in 2006.
I have been hooked on horses and racing since I was 5 when my dad took me to Pimlico for the first time. I have claimed horses with friends and had some good experiences and some bad ones. I think I'd be interested in getting involved with the breeding side as well as the racing side of the business, but I don't know where to start. Do you have any recommendations? I just don't want to lose my shirt. If I get involved with breeding should I also plan to get involved with selling?
Investing in thoroughbreds shares some common characteristics with most any kind of investing. One important rule of thumb is diversification. Most successful investors have their portfolio diversified in some way. Another rule of thumb is if you are not an expert in the field which you wish to invest, get some expert advice. Typically, in financial investing, this is the manager of a mutual fund or whatever type investment being participated in. It is certainly best, if this advice is objectively based as opposed to perhaps, someone's hunch or feeling. Also, part of decision making process for successful investors is to do good due diligence, ie., taking a look at the track record of the party whose advice you will be relying on. A company with I own, Equix, is offering a vehicle for investing in the thoroughbred and they would be pleased to provide information about their fund. You might find this information useful for comparison purposes as you go about evaluating alternative opportunities in the thoroughbred industry.
Do Miasma and Mien look much alike and what are their personalities? Can you post online for us any foal photos of Big Brown, please!
Miasma is a bit larger and more robust than Mien however this could simply be a matter of the different stages they are in in their breeding careers. A common characteristic they share is that they are both very protective of their foals. In fact, of the two I would say that Mien is perhaps a little more so. On more than one occasion when I have been observing Mien in a pasture, if suddenly she realizes that her foal is not quite near her, she will quickly move closer to it. What a mom!
Seoul, South Korea:
Hi. First, congratulations on your feat as a breeder of Big Brown, Derby and Preakness winner. I have an impression from Big Brown when I first saw his performance and conformation; he looks like Damascus. I looked over his pedigree, Damascus' inbreeding was not prominent, and the Northern Dancer cross is a very routine CROSS. I mean, does Big Brown's ability come from Damascus gene ? Could you tell me your opinion about it?
Please forgive for not answering your question directly but my analysis in choosing that mating was from a very applied perspective. In other words, I was interested in replicating the type of inbreeding that appeared in Boundary's successful runners in the past. So, I really didn't have any information about the specific influence of Damascus, Round Table or Northern Dancer but I did know that these crosses appeared in Boundary's principal runners. Now that we are all so lucky to be able to be entertained by Big Brown, we know that these crosses appear in the best runner Boundary ever sired.
New Carlisle, OH:
In your opinion who is the most underrated stallion standing in the U.S.?
Boy, it would be tough for me to answer that one. But, I am guessing Equix could probably come up with some candidates because there are probably some stallions out there that physically fit with large numbers of mares very well and are not "commercially desirable". When a stallion physically fits well with a large number of mares it gives the breeder a great deal of opportunity to create really nice pedigrees.
Hi, Gary, thanks for the time. Regarding Mien, can you please tell us a little about her personality -- how is she to handle, how she relates to people and other horses -- including her foals? About the Nureyev heart theory, what do you make of that?
Mien is inquisitive and highly protective of her foals. She easy to be around and, with the media attention she has been getting, has become comfortable with photographers.
Heart theories are all very interesting and sometimes instructive. Equix did an internal study which indicated that biometrics are very useful as an indicator of future race performance, that the Equix heart analysis is very useful as an indicator of future race performance but the best indicator of future race performance was a model that incorporated both biometric and heart data. These results seem to make pretty good sense to me. In other words, if a horse is bio mechanically efficient but has a less than optimal heart, it probably won't do a great deal of impressive running. Likewise, if a horse is bio mechanically inefficient but has a very impressive heart, it is probably not going to be able to accomplish much as a racehorse. The combination of excellent bio mechanics and a terrific heart is probably the best recipe for success in racing.
Since you are a successful commercial breeder, I was wondering about your feeding program at Monticule. In today's market place size of foals, correctness and x-rays are so important to future salability. What are your views on broodmare and weanling nutrition?
The feeding program at Monticule has been developed, and refined, by our farm manager, who is Dominique Tijou. Mr. Tijou developed a custom feed mixture which he uses, along with the hay that he personally selects. All of this is used in conjunction with the fine pastures maintained and developed under his care.
Was there ever a consideration about keeping Big Brown, as you did with Prussian?
Well, yes. Over the winter when Big Brown was being prepared for the Keeneland Two Year Old Sale by Mr. Eddie Woods of Ocala, Florida, occasionally I would re-read the Equix yearling report on Big Brown. That report indicated that he was expected to have a high probability of being competitive in stakes races beginning at age 30 months and continuing throughout his race career. It also indicated he would likely be able to perform competitively at 10 furlongs. So I did try to buy him back at the Keeneland sale but stopped bidding at $150,000 and Mr. Paul Pompa purchased him. As things turned out, he obviously ended up in very good hands.
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