Md. horse farms sink or swim on stallions' genes IT ALL RIDES ON PAPA

September 28, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

At one point, Josh Pons was wondering what he was doing in the horse farm business. His family's Country Life Farm in Bel Air was striking out with its stallions. The future was uncertain.

But a half-hour on Sept. 9, 1990, helped change all that.

On that day, offspring from the first crop of a new Country Life stallion, Allen's Prospect, won both Maryland Million 2-year-old races and earned $140,000.

"Without question, that was the watershed day, not only for that horse, but also this farm," Pons said of the victories by Xray and Ameri Allen. "It meant we had launched another successful freshman stallion and set the stage for our future. From that day on, we've never looked back."

The risks involved in the racehorse business go beyond thoroughbred owners, only 10 percent of whom make a profit -- the game is also a crap-shoot for stallion owners.

If an owner selects a bad stallion that sires slow horses, it means a whole farm can go into a tailspin and perhaps never recover.

"For every Allen's Prospect," Pons said, "there are four dozen duds. I know, because before Allen's Prospect and another one of our stallions, Carnivalay, came along, I was 0-for-3 with failed horses like Lyllos, Travelling Music and Assault Landing. I was thinking, 'Maybe I'm in the wrong business.' "

Selecting the right stallion is a little like picking out a Ben McDonald and hoping he pitches well right away. Except for horse farm owners, developing a stallion is a five-year process. -- By the time a horse's offspring get to the races, farm owners -- and their clients who have bred mares and raised and trained the offspring that do not race until they are 2 years old -- are well into investments that can reach $1 million.

On Saturday, Pons and owners of three other Maryland horse farms -- Allen and Audrey Murray of Murmur Farm in Darlington, Howard Bender and Robert Leonard of Glade Valley Farm in Frederick and Lehr Jackson of Corbett Farm in Monkton -- are hoping that a first-crop offspring can boost one of their stallions with a Maryland Million victory.

The Murrays, for example, said: "We really went out on a limb back in 1990 and bought our stallion Norquestor for $600,000. At that time, the market was at rock bottom, and people thought we were foolish. But at that time, our business needed it. We had just bought a new farm, constructed a new stallion barn and needed that kind of horse to build our business around."

The Murrays sold shares in Norquestor to a variety of breeders and now are seeing his offspring get to the races. In addition to winning $554,700 at the track, the horse combines the bloodlines of famous stallions Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer.

"You do everything you can to promote the horse, get as many nice mares to him as possible, and then you hold your breath until the offspring run," Audrey Murray said.

On Saturday, two Norquestor colts, Sam's Quest and Speedquestor, will run in the Maryland Million Nursery, and a Norquestor filly, Cielo Star, is expected to start in the Maryland Million Lassie.

"A Maryland Million winner from his first crop will be a tremendous boost and could mean that we might even be able to raise his stud fee next spring," Allen Murray said.

In addition to Norquestor, other freshman stallions with their first Maryland Million runners are Citidancer from Country Life Farm, King's Nest from Glade Valley Farm and Northern Wolf from Corbett Farm.

Citidancer will have two daughters, Citisights and Citirainbow, in the Maryland Million Lassie.

"Even if Citidancer doesn't have a winner on Maryland Million Day," Pons said, "I think he is going to sire rockets. We've heard there is a filly of his in California named Urbane that hasn't run yet, but can really fly."

Paul Fairman, manager at Glade Valley, is equally bullish about King's Nest (with King's Float in the Million Nursery and Callmecutie in the Lassie), and Lehr Jackson at Corbett said that although Northern Wolf (with American Wolf in the Nursery) is off to a slow start -- he's sired one winner so far in Puerto Rico -- "his offspring are big and will be late 2-year-old or 3-year-old winners."

Whether or not any of these four stallions hits and becomes Maryland's next Two Punch, Caveat or Allen's Prospect, each of the four farms already has lined up new stallions named Compelling Sound, Deerhound, Gala Spinaway and Tank, whose first offspring could be running in the 1996, 1997 or 1998 Maryland Millions.

In the meantime, though, Pons warns that Citidancer is going to have to produce a really good runner in his first two crops to remain at Country Life Farm.

"Just siring useful horses in this game doesn't work," Pons said. "The market doesn't wait long to judge whether or not a horse is a success or a failure. There are less mares now, and their owners are pretty picky about what horses they will breed to to take their best shot.

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