Winners can afford to stray off course

May 17, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

For a thoroughbred, winning a Triple Crown race not only puts him at the top of his sport, but also usually puts him on the road to early retirement.

Rarely do such horses compete past their 3-year-old seasons.

Maryland trainer Bud Delp trained 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid, the last thoroughbred to dominate as 2-, 3- and 4-year-old Horse of the Year.

"After the Triple Crown races, most of them are too tired to run, are unsound or worth too much in the breeding shed to continue on," Delp said. "Not too many campaign after 3. I can't really recall too many."

There have been some in recent memory. Silver Charm ran at age 4 and 5 after winning the Derby and the Preakness in 1997, and Real Quiet won those same two races in 1998 before competing at age 4.

But Spectacular Bid, who was 9-for-9 at age 4, remains a rarity in the horse racing world. He had an owner wealthy enough to ignore breeding offers, absorb the cost of racing and still enjoy watching his horse perform on the racetrack.

"Bid raced as a 4-year-old because Mr. [Harry] Meyerhoff wanted to see him run," Delp said. "In that 4-year-old season, the insurance premium cost $1 million, and we knew we weren't going to make any money. But Mr. Meyerhoff enjoyed seeing his horse race."

On Saturday, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro will attempt to win the second leg of the Triple Crown. If he does and goes on to success in the Belmont Stakes, he would be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Already, Barbaro's value as a stallion "is out of the roof," said Ken Wilkens, director of stallion operations at Stonewall Farm in Versailles, Ky., pointing to his success on grass and dirt, his undefeated record and his Derby win. "Should he win again, it will be in the realm of stupid money.

"I guess there would be a limit," Wilkens said. "But it would be a dilemma for his owners. The kind of dilemma everyone dreams of in this business."

Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, have said they might like to run Barbaro in the major grass races in Europe after the Triple Crown races. Should they do that, it would be one of the most grand gestures in horse racing annals.

"These days, the horse just becomes too valuable to risk," said trainer Barclay Tagg, who trains 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, a gelding. "If Barbaro were to win the Triple Crown, he could conceivably be worth $50 million."

Tagg trains another of the Jacksons' horses, Showing Up,

"The Jacksons are very, very nice, wealthy people who are not in the sport for the almighty dollar. I wouldn't be surprised if they ran Barbaro as a 4-year-old. Can you imagine if that horse went on to win the Triple Crown, the English Derby and the Arc de Triomphe?"

With Barbaro's recognized abilities on grass, the draw of making history might be enough to inspire the Jacksons to keep Barbaro racing, but given the economics of the business today, it would be a major surprise within the industry.

In his Baltimore office Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and a man who makes his living insuring horses, got out his calculator.

"Let's say you have a horse worth $20 million," Hoffberger said. "The insurance rate, let's say is 4.5 percent, which would be a very cheap rate. That puts your insurance bill at $900,000. Say you win $3 million as a 4-year-old, and there is no guarantee you will, you have to take 20 percent off the top, with the jockey and trainer each getting 10 percent. That's $600,000. Then you have shipping and security costs, about another $100,000.

"It's an expensive operation, a valuable horse is not going to go on a bus with a dozen others. Then you want to take your family to the big races."

That could add another $10,000. Add it up and expenses for the 4-year-old season top out around $1.6 million, leaving the owner about $1.4 million, if the horse does, indeed, win $3 million.

"On the other side," Hoffberger said, "an owner is offered $20 million for his horse to go to the breeding shed. Depending on how well bred, his breeding rights could go for $50,000 to $100,000 to 80 or 100 mares. Conservatively, you're talking a $4 [million] to $10 million income for at least three years, until his foals start going to the racetrack."

Hoffberger then simplifies the question for an owner.

"You can run this horse next year and put, maybe, $2 million in your pocket and run the risk that your horse gets hurt, or you can retire him to breeding and make up to $10 million," he said. "You'd have to be very rich or love the racing game very much to risk racing the horse. And if he gets hurt and dies, it could be a $30 million mistake."

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