Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Ro Parra Millennium Farms

Thurs Oct. 18, 2007 at 11 a.m. (ET)

Ro Parra and Richard Migliore

Former Dell senior vice president Rosendo G. "Ro" Parra came to the Bluegrass in 1999 and established Millennium Farms on sacred ground surrounded by such giants of the Thoroughbred breeding industry as Gainesway, Spendthrift, and Walmac.

Achieving almost overnight success, Millennium has figured in the breeding and development of such outstanding runners as Breeders' Cup Juvenile Champion Wilko and last year's standout 2YO King of the Roxy.

Millennium currently stands a selection of five stakes-winning stallions by leading sires from black type families, all modestly-priced to offer what Parra calls both the "value and opportunity" of a breeding venture. Even the Score, Littleexpectations, Scrimshaw, Shaniko, and Woke Up Dreamin.

Parra recently made news with the Oct. 14 announcement that recently-purchased Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) winner Student Council--who was guaranteed a spot in next Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) by virtue of his Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" victory in the mid-August Pacific Classic--will skip the Breeders' Cup and run next instead in the Nov. 24 Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I).

Join Ro Parra here this Thursday at 11, as he answers your questions and shares his views about the current state of Thoroughbred racing and breeding, or use the form below to Submit a Question.


San Gabriel, CA:
Why not run Student Council in the Breeders' Cup Classic?

Parra:
This was a very difficult decision because we felt we would be extremely competitive in the BC Classic. It was also hard because arguably the BC Classic is the most prestigious race for older horses in the world and we came so close to winning it a couple years ago with Super Frolic. He got beat 2 and half lengths after stumbling at the start.

At the end of the day, there were three business reasons that led us to choose the Japan Cup over the Classic: First, Student Council has demonstrated an affinity for heavy tracks and we have been told that the dirt track in Tokyo has similar characteristics as the one in Del Mar and Hawthorne. Second, Student Council is eligible for an $830K bonus as a result of his victory in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, making the Japan Cup worth about 2M dollars to us if we were fortunate enough to win it. Third, Student Council’s appeal as a stallion prospect would be magnified by adding a G1 international race to his resume.

Los Angeles, CA:
Is there a deal in the works to sell Student Council for stud duty in Japan? Kingmambo has been very successful in Japan, and I'm sure he would be a popular stallion there.

Parra:
No. While there has been some interest from Japanese connections in Student Council, there is no deal in the works. You are right; Kingmambo has been extremely successful in Japan. Kingmambo has also been successful in the US and in Europe. Therefore, we think Student Council appeal as a stallion prospect would be significant just about anywhere. He is a grand individual with a “top notch” pedigree.

Watertown, MN:
So how does is feel to "steal" a multiple stakes winning colt (and potential sire prospect) from Ambassador Will Farish?

Parra:
Having been in this business for 10 years and winning our first Grade 1 with Student Council, I can tell you that the feeling is almost impossible to communicate. I wish my family had taped me watching the race on TV. If they had, I would have posted the video in bloodhorse.com as the answer to your question. It was absolutely incredible!

To answer your question more specifically, I was very thankful that Will and Bill Farish decided to sell me the horse. They were extremely professional and were among the first people to congratulate me shortly after Student Council crossed the finish line. Lane’s End is a class operation and I hope that some day Millennium Farms can achieve similar success.

San Francisco, CA:
I was present at the Pacific Classic. I think that was the key race to determine the winner of the BC Classic. I believe that the gelding, Awesome Gem, is the horse to beat, as we have all been witness to the fact that some geldings become monsters as time goes by. The Goodwood confirms my opinion that this true mile and one-quarter horse will prevail over the lot of 3YOs. I expect a convincing victory. My question to you is this. The 2:07 time on the poly at Del Mar is confusing, confirmed by the fact that the Goodwood was run in 1:46 and change by the fastest closing horse (Awesome Gem) in the Pacific Classic. How do you account for the inordinately slow time @ Del Mar?

Parra:
First, I agree with you that Awesome Gem will be very competitive in the Classic. I am a big fan of his sire (we were fortunate to breed Wilko, who was also by Awesome Again). However, Student Council beat him fair and square after both horses had very wide trips and at risk of sounding arrogant, I believe Student Council will get the best of Awesome Gem if they were to meet again. As far as the time is concerned, about the only answer I have is the track condition that day.

Richardson, Texas:
Congratulations, Ro, on your recent success with Student Council and good luck in the Japan Cup Dirt. I think you've made a very good decision to go to Japan with him - a decision that not all owners would make if they were assured of a berth in the Breeders' Cup, but you're a good businessman, and that is a good business decision. I'm a small-time owner/breeder in Texas and have been forced out of the business here due to the lack of the ability to compete with my Texas breds at auction compared to the prices brought by neighboring states' breeding programs due to their casino gambling. What do you see as the future of breeding and racing in Texas? Do you still support and race very much in Texas? Do you have any advice for us Texas owners? (I've visited KY many times and have bred mares there, too, but like staying closer to home.)

Parra:
It was a hard decision, but as I mentioned earlier, we felt it was the right business decision for us. Hopefully, Student Council will win the Japan Cup Dirt.

We are currently campaigning TX bred Stakes winner Rain on Monday as well as the stakes placed mare Light Lace. We also have a couple TX bred yearlings that we have high hopes for. We still own a 410 acre farm near my home in Austin and our weanlings are shipped there in October every year where they stay until they are shipped to Cash Asmussen in Laredo. Cash and team gets them ready for the two year old in training sales, or for their racing careers with one of our trainers.

There is no question that the current reality of the market does make it more appealing to breed in other neighboring states rather than in TX. Like you, I am hoping that over time there will be greater market acceptance for TX bred horses so that breeders have the incentive to invest in higher levels in the TX horse racing industry. We have first class tracks, passionate horsemen (and women), and weather conducive to safe year-round racing.

However, while alternate revenue sources such as casino gambling have helped tremendously, I believe we have more pressing issues to address in our industry.

Like any other business, I believe we need to put more focus on the core. Make no mistake about the fact that our industry is fueled by the amount of revenue generated at the tracks. Higher revenues as a result of larger handle ultimately will generate higher purses and higher prices for thoroughbreds. Here is some food for thought:

- Growth (How do we get more fans interested in betting in horse racing rather than in other forms of gambling)

- Mass Appeal (how do we create more interest in horse racing by the masses?) NASCAR has done it. The poker industry has done it. Even ultimate fighting has begun to drive a fan base. Why not horse racing? I was lucky to be at Keeneland on opening weekend of the fall meet. The experience was incredible. Large crowds, great weather, superb racing, enthusiastic fans, great customer service, etc. etc. etc. I thought to myself “any person that experiences this will become a fan for life”.

- In my business career, I always knew that pricing had a tremendous impact on demand generation. The experiment at Laurel with a lower take-out (while inconclusive) is a step in the right direction. While I am not in a position to tell track owners how to run their business, I think the industry needs to be more creative about finding ways to generate growth. - Don’t get me wrong. I think that lately we have taken significant steps by putting more focus on the safety of the horse (safer tracks) and by making efforts to protect the integrity of the game (better forms of drug testing). While I don’t believe we are there on the latter, there is enough dialogue and my feeling is that we need to do something more compelling sooner rather than later.

San Luis Obispo, CA:
Congratulations on your recent successes, especially with Student Council. I am so sorry about the fate of fan favorite Super Frolic. Wondering what prompted the decision to bring him back to the races.

Parra:
Probably one of the saddest days in my 10 years in horse racing. Super Frolic was a warrior that tried hard every time he raced and competed at the highest levels in the sport. We put him back in training because he did not attract enough interest as a stallion in KY. Our plan was to campaign him one more year and move him to PA.

New York, NY:
How did you pick Student Council out to purchase. Did you like him previously and check his Thorograph figs or did Thorograph find him for you?

Parra:
Our racing stable has had over 500 winners and over 40 stakes winners since the year 2000. However, we did not begin competing and winning Graded stakes races on a regular basis until we hired THOROGRAPH and Jerry Brown back in 2003. Our relationship with Jerry and Thorograph has been the biggest factor in our “change of fortunes” over the past few years. Student Council was bought on Jerry’s recommendation. Jerry had been after me for a few months to try to buy the horse. He really liked his pattern and his “sheet” figures. He liked him even more as the Pacific Classic field began to take shape. I was a big fan of the horse from the beginning because of his pedigree. Jerry’s insistence caused me to be more aggressive and ultimately, we were able to get a deal done. Both Vladimir and Steve deserve credit as well for getting the horse ready to run.

Louisville, KY:
I read in the Daily Racing Form that you've been watching Student Council for a long time, and liked him a lot. What was it that you liked about Student Council?

Parra:
I liked STUDENT COUNCIL’s “upside” because of his pedigree. When I began to look at his pedigree closely, I was stunned by its quality. His sire KINGMAMBO has arguably been (in my opinion) one of the top 5 sires in the world. He is by Mr. Prospector out of the great MIESQUE. KINGMAMBO’s son LEMON DROP KID is beginning to follow in his father’s footsteps and his stud fee was just raised to $35,000 for 2008 because of the success of his offspring at the track this year. His dam, the KRIS S. mare CLASS KRIS won or placed in 7 Graded Stakes while earning almost $600,000 dollars. His second dam, the COPELAN mare CLASSIC VALUE, won or placed in 3 graded stakes including the G1 Santa Monica Hcp., while earning almost $400,000. Finally, his first three dams and their offspring have won or placed in 39 Graded events. I am hoping that STUDENT COUNCIL’s performance in the Japan Cup will make it an even 40!

Austin, TX:
Do you still follow Dixie Meister's career, and do you know what's coming up for him in the future?

Parra:
I do. Dixie Meister was given a break and is not too far away from his first work. For those of you that don’t know, Dixie Meister is a TX bred that I campaigned and ultimately sold to Gary Tanaka. While we owned him, Dixie Meister finished second to Brass Hat in the G2 New Orleans Hcp. And was named champion 3 year old TX bred. He went on to win the Californian (G2), a race that we won with EVEN THE SCORE and performed well in Dubai. DIXIE MEISTER was sired by HOLZMEISTER who I owned in partnership with Adena Springs and Stonerside

Round Rock, TX:
I read somewhere that you were introduced to racing when you lived in South America. What was your first trip to the racetrack like and what is the racing like there?

Parra:
I grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador. My dad introduced me to racing when I was about 6 or 7. I vividly remembered going to the track on Sundays to cheer for my favorite horses. There was Mar Negro (Black Sea), Marron (Brown), Fariseo (Pharisian), Baby, and many others like the claimer Idaho Venture. I can go on and on and on. I can’t tell you much about the quality of the racing. What I can tell you that there was nothing more exciting and exhilarating for me that to spend Sundays with my dad at the races at Hipodromo Santa Cecilia.

Chicago, IL:
Mr. Parra, congratulations on all your success as a breeder and owner. I am always curious to know if people with such vast interests in the sport wager on the races. Especially given the reported connection you have with some of the premier handicapping services that help you identify horses to purchase - do you bet on the races?

Parra:
I bet from time to time, but in very small amounts. Owning race horses is a big enough gamble for me.

East Saticoy, CA:
You've had a great deal of luck using a team of trainers. Any friction among the team and have you ever split purse winnings among multiple trainers?

Parra:
No friction so far. Yes, I have split purses in the past. In more than one occasion one of the trainers actually offered to split the purses. It has worked out well to date. I should add that Barry Germany (retired) was my first trainer and someone who taught me so much about racing. Barry introduced me and encouraged me to use both Steve Asmussen and Vladimir Cerin with whom I have had long successful relationships. The same can be said for James Jackson and Dale Capuano.

MacArthur, Ohio:
Are you planning to run Student Council next year?

Parra:
I am not sure, but we will decide in late November. If you were to press me for how I am leaning as of today, my guess is that we will probably stand him at our MILLENNIUM FARMS in Kentucky. There has also been some interest by international parties as well as a couple farms in Kentucky, so selling him is also a possibility. I may never own another horse like STUDENT COUNCIL so for now; I am just 'enjoying the ride'.

Erin, Kentucky:
In what ways do you use technology to make breeding decisions for your bloodstock and business decisions for your farm?

Parra:
The Internet has really changed our business dramatically over the past few years. The availability of information relative to what was available 10 years ago is mind-boggling. I can confidently say that there isn’t a single major decision we make where technology isn’t involved somehow. I can also assure you that every computer we use is a Dell.

Lexington, KY:
How does a breeding farm find mares to mate with their stallions? Are mare owners looking for advice on which to mate to or do they have a particular stallion in mind already?

Parra:
There are a number of ways that those decisions are made. Items that are taking into account include physical characteristics, inbreeding patterns, outcrosses (no in-breeding) nicks (statistically proven crosses), etc. etc. In some cases, mare owners do look for advice from a number of sources including the farms and well qualified bloodstock consultants who specialize in helping mare owners. Often times, they do have a particular stallion in mind. Some breeders make their selection with the intent of selling the foal, others with the intent of racing the foal. When we bred Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Wilko, I did so strictly on Andy Stronach’s recommendation. I loved Awesome Again and Andy felt that Awesome Again was a great fit for Native Roots because there was no in-breeding in the first 5 generations.

Santa Fe, New Mexico:
What is the biggest disadvantage of sending Student Council to Japan?

Parra:
I think the biggest disadvantage is the uncertainty of how well STUDENT COUNCIL will adapt to the time zone changes and the track conditions. I have been to Japan for business reasons about a dozen times (never stayed for more than 3-4 days). I can tell you that every one of those trips was hard on my body. I can’t imagine going half way around the world, taking a few days to get acclimated and running hard for a mile and a quarter. I am sure glad I don’t have to do it!! I am, however, looking forward to spending Thanksgiving week in Tokyo with my family. It will be my first visit to Tokyo when I will actually get to be tourist and enjoy the city and the people. I can’t wait!

Louisville, KY:
You seem to have changed your focus in recent years, going from claiming fillies with residual broodmare value to pursuing higher-end, higher-reward, but higher-risk colts – with, of course, Student Council being an example. I know you rely heavily on Thorograph. Can you explain the process by which you acquire "proven" horses privately? Lastly - to gain a frame of reference - what did Student Council cost to buy and what do you estimate his value to be today?

Parra:
Yes, our strategy changed back in 2003 as I explained in an earlier question. The rationale for claiming mares was to support my young stallions. At the time, I felt I had a competitive advantage due to my technology background and used readily available data through the internet to claim mares like Native Roots (Wilko’s dam) and other producers. The secret is out today and technology is far more readily available for everyone to use.

Our focus has shifted and have cut our broodmare band in half (we now own 70 mares). At one point we had about 120 horses in training (I now have 25). I love the challenge of finding a good broodmare prospect to claim and still “scan” the Daily Racing Form as often as I can.

The process is relatively simple. I probably speak to Jerry Brown at least once a week and he sends me data on horses he thinks are good prospects. Before making a decision on any horse, I take to input from trainers (Steve Asmussen is involved in just about every decision) as well as Bobby Miller (Farm Manager) and Jay Ted Neel (Business Manager).

As far as the STUDENT COUNCIL transaction, it was private in nature so I don’t feel comfortable sharing the details. What is STUDENT COUNCIL worth today? Obviously, much more than what I paid for him and much less than if he wins the Japan Cup Dirt.

LAST UPDATED: 11:45 A.M. (ET)

Editor's Note: BloodHorse.com moderators retain editorial control over Talkin' Horses discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests; guests may decline to answer questions. Opinions expressed by guests of Talkin' Horses are those of the guest and do not represent the opinions of Blood-Horse Publications, its employees, associates, or affiliated organizations. Guests, dates, and times of Talkin' Horses discussions are subject to change.