Nathan Fox is looking for the next Karen and Mickey Taylor. He has a beautiful new seven-stall stallion barn and office to show them. But will he ever find them? He is optimistic. He is also realistic.
Fox knows it is hard to convince an owner to stand a major stallion at a smaller operation. While he emphasizes he would center his entire operation around the right horse, he fully understands that owners are enticed by the larger operations and all they can offer.
Today, he said, few people want to retain ownership of a horse when he goes to stud. "They sell the horse and the farm breeds 150 mares a year for three years. They've got their money back.
"I want the next Karen and Mickey Taylor," he said of the owners of Seattle Slew. "They want you to stand their horse while they remain committed to him for another 15 years."
It was Fox's friend Rick Trontz who first told him of the availability of Dynaformer, the son of Roberto who sired Barbaro, winner of the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
"He was everything Junior Little taught me to look for," Fox said, referring to the longtime manager of Newstead Farm in Virginia. "He was from a sire-producing family and by a good sire of sires. That comes before race record and conformation."
Fox and his partner at the time, Bob Wilensky, flew to Monmouth in New Jersey to inspect Dynaformer. "The first thing that impressed me was the respect the stable had for him," Fox said. "Then I noticed his tremendous girth, shoulder, and bone. I call it front-wheel drive."
The respect was earned through toughness and determination. Dynaformer has always had a reputation for being tough. He once bit a handler's finger off and twice bit Fox in the chest. "He's not mean; he's tough," Fox explained. "He's the boss, and he wants you to know it."
Fox and Wilensky bought the horse for $750,000 and he entered stud in 1990 at their Wafare Farm near Midway, Ky., for a live-foal fee of $5,000. (Today there is no Wafare; Fox and his current partner, Richard Kaster, own Richland Hills Farm on a portion of the same property.) About 20 shares in Dynaformer were sold for $22,500 each, with a bonus season every other year.
"I needed a horse that would fit many mares because I knew I wouldn't be able to pick the mares," Fox said. "I got as much speed to him as I could. I immediately thought he would cross well with Dr. Fager, and he did (with such graded stakes-winning offspring as Critical Eye, Collect the Cash, Blumin Affair, and Rabiadella)."
Fox noted this year one of Dynaformer's top runners is graded stakes winner Purim, whose fourth dam is Aspidistra, the dam of Dr. Fager.
Dynaformer's first crop of 47 included 10 juvenile winners. Fox found the response interesting. "As great as he did, the naysayers said, 'They won't go on at three.' I thought, 'They shouldn't have won at two.' "
The third crop, typically a tough sell for any stud horse, had just 27 foals. But the stakes winners kept coming (10 in the first three crops) and the popularity followed.
For Dynaformer's fifth year, with the horse in high demand, Fox did something unthinkable. He left the stud fee at $5,000. "I did it to thank those that had supported him," he said. "I had 400 applications."
When inquiries began in earnest to buy the horse, Fox knew it was the right thing to do. Dynaformer moved to Robert Clay's Three Chimneys Farm in 1995 and stands there today for $100,000.
"I always felt he could go to another level over there next to Slew," he said. "Maybe I romanticize, but I always believed that.
"I give Robert and his crew a lot of credit," he continued. "I can't say I don't regret making the move, but I felt it was right and, more importantly, right for the horse."
Dynaformer's temperament, Fox said, is one of the things that make his runners so tough. "He's a throwback; Junior said he looks like Hail to Reason, with his high withers and short back. The common attribute of his offspring is in their biomechanics. They over-stride; they are efficient on the racetrack. Just look at Barbaro."
Indeed, just look at Barbaro...with a nod to the man who got his sire started at stud.