`Million' gives Md. stallions a leg up

Races a proving ground for 3 `Station' sires

October 13, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Rock Slide, his gorgeous black coat glowing in the light filtering through his stall windows, happily walks to his door at the Maryland Stallion Station to socialize when visitors approach.

He and his barn mates Outflanker and Seeking Daylight (currently breeding in Argentina and scheduled to return in December) are enjoying a little extra celebrity this week as four of their offspring are to run in Maryland Million races today at Laurel Park.

Rock Slide is a son of A.P. Indy, a multiple stakes winner and a brother of Horse of the Year Mineshaft. He, like Seeking Daylight (sired by Seeking the Gold), has the makings of a fine stallion. Outflanker, a son of Danzig, already has proven himself out of state and is the second-leading sire in progeny earnings behind Not for Love in Maryland.

But at this point in Rock Slide's and Seeking Daylight's young breeding careers, no one knows what their offspring will achieve.

In a state where the breeding industry, as well as the horse racing industry, is under attack by surrounding states with bigger purses and bigger breeding rewards, an achievement such as being part of Maryland Million Day can offer a bonus: providing a mark of distinction on the resumes of a stallion and its offspring.

"This is the first window of visibility, the first opportunity for the public and the breeders with broodmares to get a peek at what level of ability the offspring of these young stallions have," said Don Litz, president of the Stallion Station.

Litz has a barn full of young stallions he hopes will turn into popular producers. By 2010, he also will have the offspring of Cherokee's Boy, Gators N Bears, Fantasticat and St. Averil eligible for Maryland Million competition.

But it's a scary game. No one knows whether the best genes will be passed on.

"This Maryland Million is the first time our young stallions can see how competitive they can be," Litz said. "They're also racing for a considerable amount of money, and a win or a good second can mean as many as 30 to 40 more [breeding] contracts."

The three stallions are among eight new sires participating in the program for the first time, joining Louis Quatorze, Disco Rico, Secret Firm, Polish Miner and Cat Country. While the Maryland Stallion Station has had two previous entries by Jazz Club, these will be the first stallions owned by the Station's first investment group to make the field.

Though Litz knows the meaning of making the Million field, he and his partners have not yet had one of their stallions sire a winner in a Million race.

Such is not the case with Martha Hopkins of Elberton Hill Farm in Darlington, who owns Cat Country. She and her late husband Frank, who was a member of the Million's original organizing committee with Million creator Jim McKay, won twice, with Aberfoyle in 1997 and Elberton in 2001, and were "a close second" twice.

All of those horses were sired by the Hopkinses' Perfecting, who recently passed away.

"It's so wonderful when you win," Martha Hopkins said. "We always go to Giovanni's Restaurant in Edgewood after the Million races, and this one time, when we won, we put the winner's cup in the middle of the table and they filled it with Maker's Mark [Kentucky bourbon] and we passed it around and drank from it.

"We're so proud of all the bowls we've won. They're all sitting right here on our dining room table."

Of the eight new sires, only five are still standing in Maryland. But every breeder whose stallions are represented on the Maryland Million card and every owner who has one of those stallions' offspring, whether entered or not, is hoping the day's results will bring more business to their stallions and more regard - read: money - for those stallions' progeny.

John Robb, who trains Nursery Stakes entries Busch the Bandit, a Seeking Daylight colt; Apple Special, sired by Outflanker; and Oaks entry Paying Off, a filly sired by Malibu Moon, all for owner Konrad Wayson, described the day as one of the most exciting of the year.

"The owner bought these three horses with the primary intention of running them in the Maryland Million races," Robb said. "It's our Preakness. When you buy one for this race and you make it into it, it is quite a big deal."

Said John Salzman, who helps his son Tim train Kosmo's Buddy, a 2-year-old sired by Outflanker, who also will run in the Nursery: "Maryland Million Day is for the little people. On Maryland Million Day, the little guy has a shot at winning because all the horses that are here are Maryland breds. You hear names you don't hear much during the rest of the year."

Salzman was the longtime owner of Kentucky-bred Xtra Heat, a horse he bought for $5,000 that went on to win an Eclipse Award and $2.7 million before he sold her for $1 million. Now, he owns two weanlings by Outflanker and a yearling by Rock Slide.

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