Maryland's stallions are light in darkness

State industry's troubles not reflected in its sires, who remain region's best

Horse Racing

October 08, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Northview Stallion Station, the state's leading thoroughbred stud farm, added two stallions this year to its flourishing operation in Chesapeake City.

Maryland Stallion Station, situated next to historic Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County, is set to open in December with six stallions, including a brother to Mineshaft, 2003 Horse of the Year.

And Bonita Farm in Darlington, which produced Preakness winner Deputed Testamony, obtained Go For Gin, the only Kentucky Derby winner standing at stud in this country outside Kentucky.

Wait a minute. Isn't Maryland the state in which the horse-breeding industry is dying because of no slot machines? What's this proliferation of stallions if there's no future here?

"Things are on the up as far as the stallion situation goes," said Billy Boniface, stallion manager at Bonita and president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "A big part of that is the Maryland Million."

The 19th Maryland Million will take place tomorrow at Pimlico Race Course. Its 12 races for horses sired by Maryland stallions promote a sire roster that remains by far the strongest in the region.

The Maryland Million celebrates the state's long history of standing preeminent stallions such as Northern Dancer, Native Dancer, Discovery and, dating to the 1930s, Challenger.

The state's stallions no longer lead the nation, but they reign supreme in the region. And racing in the region, mainly because of slot machines, is thriving.

"Outside of Maryland, the purses are at an all-time high and going higher," said Richard Golden, president of Northview Stallion Station, which offers the region's top two sires, Not For Love and Two Punch.

The lack of slot machines in Maryland - and their presence at tracks in Delaware and West Virginia and their impending emergence in Pennsylvania - has severely hurt Maryland racing and that part of its breeding industry that relies on mares delivering and raising babies.

More and more breeders are moving their mares out of state. Neighboring states, especially Pennsylvania, which recently authorized up to 61,000 slot machines, offer lucrative financial incentives to race state-born horses at in-state tracks.

Such slots-subsidized incentives threaten Maryland farms at which the primary business is boarding mares. Those mares are moving to states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

But no matter where the mares live and give birth, they require a stallion to become pregnant. As long as the best stallions reside in Maryland, the mares will come here to breed.

"We're just so centrally located," said Don Litz, president of Maryland Stallion Station. "Mare owners are going to look to where the best stallions are at the best price."

Construction of the stallion station in Worthington Valley is nearly complete, and Litz said he hopes to move the six stallions there in December. Perhaps the most promising is Rock Slide, brother of Mineshaft, who stands in Kentucky for $100,000. Rock Slide's fee per breeding is $7,500.

Audrey and Allen Murray bought Louis Quatorze last year from Kentucky and stood him this year at their 133-acre Murmur Farm in Darlington. Winner of the 1996 Preakness, Louis Quatorze bred 88 mares at $6,000 apiece.

The Murrays stand five other stallions, and they're looking to buy another. In July, they bought an additional 161 acres two miles from their home farm. They plan to expand their operation.

Like other stallion owners, Allen Murray said breeders will continue sending mares to Maryland sires. In addition, Murray said, he believes that Maryland will eventually legalize slot machines and that they will rejuvenate the racing and breeding industry here. Until then, he plans to capitalize on the thriving regional market.

Said Mike Pons, business manager of Country Life Farm near Bel Air: "There's more money trickling through the whole region. Fortunately, we still have a good core of stallions here. They're the honey that attracts all the bees."

The sweetest honey resides at Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County. Not For Love and Two Punch each command a breeding fee of $25,000, double the next-highest-priced Maryland stallion, Citidancer, at Country Life Farm.

Not For Love, a 14-year-old son of the legendary Mr. Prospector and the Grade I-winning mare Dance Number, has sired horses with average earnings of $77,564 per start. Also, his offspring bring top dollar at auction.

So far this year, 27 yearlings by Not For Love have sold for $1.9 million, an average of $71,952. And six of his 2-year-olds have sold for $999,000, an average of $166,500.

Not For Love could further boost his reputation tomorrow if his son, Presidentialaffair, wins the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic. He is the heavy early favorite at odds of 4-5.

Two Punch, 21, another son of Mr. Prospector, also boasts a phenomenal sales record. His and Not For Love's success combined with the regional dynamics prompted Golden, president of Northview, to bring in two new stallions, Great Notion and Domestic Dispute.

"Northview's feeling is that our surrounding states will always have better racing programs than Maryland's," Golden said. "But in order to get into the winner's circle, you still have to breed to the best stallions. Maryland is way ahead of our neighbors in that category."

Leading Maryland stallions

Sire Stud fee Farm Avg. earnings per starter

Not For Love $25,000 Northview Stallion Station $77,564 Citidancer $12,500 Country Life Farm $76,114 Go For Gin $7,500 Bonita Farm $67,916 Two Punch $25,000 Northview Stallion Station $59,442 Waquoit $5,000 Northview Stallion Station $57,758 Eastern Echo $3,500 Maryland Stallion Station $57,590

Maryland Million

What: Twelve races for horses sired by Maryland stallions

When: Tomorrow

Where: Pimlico Race Course

First race: 12:35 p.m.

Purses: $1,125,000

Richest race: $200,000 Maryland Million Classic

Post time for Classic: 5:42 p.m.

TV: Channel 54, 4-6 p.m. (four races live, eight on tape)

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