Same Goal

By Graeme Beaton -- Disconnect. That is the word that comes to mind as I watch the Keeneland yearling sale on TVG. There's this Danzig colt in the ring selling for $3.6 million. He sure does look nice.

Although, my eyes wandering onto the back pasture, I doubt he looks much better than that sturdy roan weanling with the swagger of his granddaddy, Spectacular Bid.

My reverie is broken by the arrival of the bloodstock agent who has dropped by to see if my crop of four weanlings is worth taking to the December sale at Timonium.

The agent, an honest, forthright fellow, sizes them all up and says: "That big roan colt there's a standout. The bay colt is all right too. But you're fighting the catalogue page. They're just not strong enough on breeding."

He flips through the numbers. The cost to me per weanling to run them through the sale is $1,300, so I would be $5,200 out of pocket up front. "What would they bring?" I ask, a nervous flutter in my voice. "Oh, in that sale up against a couple hundred other weanlings, about $5,000 to $10,000. The lot, I suppose," he says. "You would be better off selling them privately."

I thank him for his time and his honesty and I go back in to watch TVG and I see a colt one hand smaller and a lot less robust than my three big colts go through the ring for $150,000.

"What is going on here?" I ask myself. "My mares all have black type at least under their first dams. Our big stallion (by Spectacular Bid out of an Alydar mare) is so correct and flashy he has been bred to show mares. He won a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day and all but a couple of his dozen foals to race have won. One of them won the Lone Star Derby in Texas. Another was on the board in a maiden special weight for state-breds at Saratoga this summer. The foals are big, easy to handle, and well looked after. What am I doing wrong?"

I ask my wife, an outspoken critic of my mid-life crisis lurch into the horse business, and she is, bless her, remarkably supportive. "Well, this is what we expected, isn't it? We never thought we could sell the foals for very much. We were always going to get our money back in breeder bonuses, weren't we?"

And she reminds me of the Wisconsin dairy farmer who won a few million dollars in the lottery and the reporter asks him: "So now are you going to retire from farming?" And he says: "No, I'll keep going until I break even one year."

But I keep thinking: "What's so different about that roan colt out there and that $3.6-million colt at Keeneland? Who knows how fast they can run at this point?"

I am mucking out the stallion's yard and I am musing. My wife is right. We were never in this for the money. All this--the poop patrol, the worming, the shots, the vet bills, the sorties into the freezing cold to care for new foals, the heavy lifting of hay and feed and dodging flying feet--was never about money. It was because I wanted to watch these magnificent animals birth and blossom. Raise a Seabiscuit, maybe.

Big guy. Little guy. The sport needs us both and there will always be a top and a bottom to every market.

Then I pause on my shovel. Mischief comes to mind. "I wonder if the guys who bought that colt at Keeneland for $3.6 million would agree to a match race? My roan colt against their Danzig in September 2006. A nouveau Seabiscuit against War Admiral."

And then edging back to that disconnect between money there and money here, I think: "Yeah, and I can put up $6,000 if we lose and they can hand me $3.6 million if they run second."

I chuckle. The chance that my humble babies will one day be flashing butt to the Keeneland crowd lifts my spirits. That is why we're doing this. All of us. The $3.6-million crowd and the $5,000 scrubbers. We're all after that one horse that will show them who's best! The dream of that "Big One" keeps us going.

Graeme Beaton, an international business journalist, runs a modest breeding farm in Pennsylvania.