Q and A With Walker Hancock

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Walker Hancock | Horsephotos

By Sue Finley

Each year’s breeding stock sales are eagerly awaited by stallion farms looking to answer the question asked two years earlier when the top sires of that year retired to stud: how will they be received in the marketplace? This week’s sales have brought good news to a wide variety of farms standing stallions at a wide variety of fees (more from Ben Massam in tomorrow’s TDN). One such home run was hit by Claiborne Farm as they watched Lea’s first progeny, bred on a $12,500 fee, bring an average of more than 10 times that amount through Sunday’s results, and a top price of $230,000, with seven of 10 sold. The winner of the 2015 Donn H. in track-record time, Lea was second or third in five additional GI races, including the Dubai World Cup. Claiborne’s Walker Hancock admitted to having a soft spot for Lea, and took a break Monday at Keeneland to talk to the TDN‘s Sue Finley about his early success in the sales ring.

TDN: Congratulations on a big week with Lea. What were your expectations and how did you feel about what you’ve seen so far?

WH: We were hoping we’d have a big week with Lea. We did a lot of advertising for him. We kind of felt like he got lost in the shuffle this past year and we wanted to make sure the buyers and breeders hadn’t forgotten about him. We pushed him hard and I think we were rewarded for that because his prices have been very good; but not only because we pushed him, but because the individuals have been that good. We were confident about him, about what the offspring looked like, and it’s nice to know that other people see what we have seen.

TDN: He came along right about the time when you took over in your new role at the farm, and that for that reason, is it fair to say he may be particularly special to you?

WH: That is fair, and he’s also special to me because I worked with him at the track. Al Stall trained him and I worked that summer with Al when he was in the barn and I have a picture of me alongside Lea when he won his first race at Saratoga. He took us all around the globe; he ran in Canada, he ran in Dubai, and we went there to watch him, so he’s one of my favorites.

TDN: Claiborne and Adele Dilschneider bred, owned and raced Greenery (Galileo {Ire}), Lea’s dam. You bred her to First Samurai in his second season at stud. Can you remember how that mating was decided upon?

WH: You know what? That was back when I was in high school. You’d have to ask my dad; he must have seen the physical and thought they matched each other. I had no part in the mating!

TDN: It’s a very Claiborne kind of story; a mare for a longtime client bred to a young Claiborne stallion.

WH: We like to support our own stallions. It’s very important that you do so. If you don’t stand behind your own product, I don’t know how you can expect others to do the same. We always try and breed as much as we can on the farm. We bought High Savannah carrying Greenery and that ultimately resulted in Lea along with some other successful horses, so that was a great purchase. Hugo Lascelles bought her privately, I believe, in England, and she was carrying Greenery at the time. That must have been one of Galileo’s first years at stud.

TDN: How important are the relationships Claiborne has with long-term clients to establishing a stallion, and how did that play into the way you have developed Lea?

WH: Mrs. Dilschneider is one of the best clients you could ever ask for. She’s great; she’s very involved and is always game for whatever we want to do. She loves her horses and you couldn’t ask for a better client. She’s very supportive of whatever we want to do with Lea or Blame or Elate; it doesn’t matter who. We’ve had a lot of success with her and we hope that continues.

TDN: Compare the way War Front’s early career was developed with the way you’re developing Lea’s.

WH: They both started out at about the same price. I think War Front started out at $12,500 and so did Lea. The third year with War Front, we really had to beg for people to breed to him. We’re not going to have to beg as many people to breed to Lea, I don’t believe, since his weanlings have sold so well, but they’re in similar spots. They from good families with solid race records, and both were probably undervalued and underappreciated when they came to stud. We’re hoping for similar results. The foals are spectacular and we couldn’t be happier with how they’re looking so far.

TDN: Lea bred 100 mares his first season. Someone pointed out to me at the sale this week that your limiting his book provides such a value to breeders at auction. How helpful was that in establishing his sales success this week?

WH: It’s huge. If people want to buy a Lea, there’s only a limited number of them, so in the sense that supply is down, demand will be higher, so people are willing to pay a higher price since there are fewer to go around. Everyone knows that, too. Next year when they become yearlings, there won’t be very many of them. If you bought them and are trying to pinhook, there won’t be as many offered as yearlings. So if you want one, you’ve got to pay the price. In turn, that rewards the breeders that have been loyal to the horses that we stand.

TDN: His first two years, he stood for $12,500. You’ve dropped that to $7,500. Are you fielding a lot of calls for him this week?

WH: Yes, we’re confident he’ll have a full book now. Not only because of the drop in price, but because of the way they’ve sold, too. Mission accomplished there.

TDN: What is a full book for him?

WH: We’ll try to breed him to a 120, just because last year, he didn’t have the kind of numbers we were hoping for. He was a great racehorse. He always made us proud. Every time he ran, he always tried his heart out. He missed a couple close races in his last year, and if he had won one or two of those, it might have been a different story, but we always loved this horse and loved to watch him run. We’re standing behind him and looking to the future with him.

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