By Ben Massam
Ask any veteran horseman or horsewoman in Maryland and they will tell you all about the ebb and flow of the local Thoroughbred industry in recent years. Following years of decline at the hands of a seemingly ambivalent state government, Maryland hit rock bottom in 2012 with an all-time low foal crop of 369. But in recent years, as renewed commitment from the state prompted a steady influx of funding from casinos and a corresponding rise in breeders' incentives and purses, the Old Line State's breeding industry has seen steady growth by nearly all metrics.
If the growth of Maryland's stallion market is any indication, the period of relative prosperity will continue for years to come. With Maryland welcoming eight new stallions in 2018–the most of any state outside of Kentucky–Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association (MHBA), said farms are busy lining up mares to support their new additions.
“The buzz about Maryland has given people more of a reason to look at the state for stallions,” Goodall said. “I'm sure all of the stallion farms are feeling the squeeze to bring in good mares. Thankfully, there are some sales that just happened and the stallion owners took advantage of that.”
Goodall noted that Maryland's competition with other states in the region, such as Pennsylvania and Virginia, is healthy and drives more interest from breeders to the Mid-Atlantic region as a whole.
No name arriving to Maryland in 2018 is more well-known on the national stage than Dortmund (Big Brown). The hulking chestnut carried an undefeated record from six races into the 2015 GI Kentucky Derby and gave a good account of himself, finishing third behind stablemate and eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile). A two-time Grade I winner, Dortmund will stand for $7,500 at the Boniface Family's Bonita Farm in the new year.
“He's a really exciting horse and he's being well-received,” said Bonita Farm general manager J. William Boniface. “He's a big horse, 16-3 when I measured him. He was a racehorse–he has so much class about him. He kind of possesses the ground he stands on…He's a smart horse and he adapted right away. I think he ought to fit very well here, and I'm excited about having him.”
Dortmund is one of three new stallions Bonita Farm will welcome in 2018, joining Alliance (Harlan's Holiday; $4,000)–an unraced half-brother to champion racemare and recent $8-million seller Tepin (Bernstein)–and the late-running Kobe's Back (Flatter; $3,000) a four-time graded stakes winner.
“Kobe's Back is a small breeder, breeds-to-race kind of horse because he was a sprinter on the dirt, and that's where 70% of races are run,” Boniface said. “He should get a chance, too. Mr. Searing [of C R K Stable, which campaigned Kobe's Back on the racetrack] is supporting him–he bought two expensive mares at [Keeneland November] for him.”
In addition to emphasizing the benefits of rising maiden special weight purses and increased bonuses available to breeders and owners, Boniface cited the improvements made by The Stronach Group to Laurel Park in an effort to eventually bring the Breeders' Cup to the Baltimore and Washington markets as a driving force behind the revival of Maryland racing.
“Our new breeders' incentives have triggered some of the new stallions coming here,” said Boniface, who was candid in stressing the importance of casino revenue to the racing industry. “If you look at it pound-for-pound with the number of foals competing for the prizes, we've got one of the best programs in the country, I think…There's a lot of optimism in the air. I've been standing studs in Maryland for 50 years now, so I've seen some lean times and some good times. But I think we're headed towards better times.”
Consistent with the rising tide of the industry in Maryland, a new stallion venture has emerged at Louis and Grace Merryman's Anchor and Hope Farm in Port Deposit. The Merrymans, who were previously partners in Heritage Stallions' Imagining (Giant's Causeway) and Bourbon Courage (Lion Heart)–whose first foals arrived this year–will move the pair to stand at Anchor and Hope in 2018. They will be joined on the stallion roster by Grade II-winner Holy Boss (Street Boss; $4,000), who retired from racing earlier this year. Dr. Tom Bowman and Dr. Brooke Bowman, who formed the other half of the Heritage syndicate, will continue their operation with the addition of Editorial (War Front; $3,500), a half-brother to Uncle Mo who will stand for the Bowmans in partnership with Climax Stallions LLC.
“We've seen a boom to the Maryland industry that is exciting, and the growth is happening at a steady rate,” Merryman told the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association earlier this fall. “After countless discussions, it was decided separating into two entities would best serve our clients. There was no viable option for expansion. All of our resources are now devoted to Anchor & Hope as a full service operation. We look forward to continuing to work with the Bowmans to promote Maryland breeding and racing.”
Among the other newcomers to Maryland in 2018 are a pair of stallions available for $5,000 in MGSW Madefromlucky (Lookin at Lucky), who will stand at Northview Stallion Station, and GSW & GISP Divining Rod (Tapit), who goes to Country Life Farm.
“This horse has the speed, pedigree–and attitude–to make a terrific sire,” Country Life co-owner Mike Pons told the TDN when asked about Divining Rod. “He's 16.1 hands and beautifully balanced. And his dam, Precious Kitten, is the best racemare to have a son of Tapit at stud. She's the kind who can produce a leading sire.”
Three-time graded stakes winner Blofeld (Quality Road), meanwhile, will stand for $4,000 in his first year at Murmur Farm.
The influx of new faces in the stallion market, according to Goodall, can largely be attributed to a favorable political climate and open communication between horsemen and legislators.
“The state is investing in business in our industry,” Goodall noted. “They understand when we tell them here's the barometer. We said we would increase the number of foals born, the number of mares bred and the number of stallions. We didn't give them specific percentages, because we couldn't. It takes a couple years to get stallions to return to Maryland, even with our incentives…It's an exciting time and we're looking forward to it.”