By Bill Finley
When Hill 'n' Dale Farms announced that it would be standing World of Trouble (Kantharos) at stud, everything appeared straightforward. The horse was among the fastest of his generation and had won Grade I races on the turf and dirt. Considering the modest stud fee of $15,000 and the horse's credentials, Hill 'n' Dale President John Sikura had every reason to believe that the horse would be one of the more popular stallions at his farm.
Five months later, it all came crashing down. His trainer Jason Servis was indicted in March for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs on his horses. Suddenly, he became a tough sell as a stallion.
Some may claim that none of this should have been a surprise to Sikura. Long before the indictments, suspicions surrounded Servis, a trainer whose accomplishments often seemed too good to be true.
“I claim naivete,” Sikura said. “I was not aware of any suspicions. It wasn't common talk in my circles. It may have been among gamblers or rival trainers, but I was never aware of any controversy swirling around him. Now I am more attuned to the subject and pay attention to it more closely. ”
Sikura decided to be proactive. He issued an open letter to the industry in the TDN defending World of Trouble and cut his stud fee in half to $7,500. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen. This is new territory for not just World of Trouble, but a handful of other stallions that were trained by Servis or Jorge Navarro, who was also indicted for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. Were they top race horses because of their natural ability or because their trainers may have been cheating or some combination of the two?
“If you delve into his form you'll see that this horse has always been a good horse,” Sikura said. “If he was given substances he shouldn't have been given, I won't defend that, but to say that a horse can run three quarters in six and change only because off some potion, I don't think that's a realistic position. The correlation between multiple Grade I winner and a magic potion, I don't think that is fair. I don't think it's based in fact.”
World of Trouble won the GI 2019 Jaipur S. at six furlongs on the grass in 1:06.37. Two starts earlier, he won the GI Carter H. on the dirt. Those are his two most impressive wins, but Sikura is quick to point out that World of Trouble showed promise before being turned over to Servis after his second career start. For trainer Kathleen O'Connell, he broke his maiden by 14 lengths in his first start and then was second in the FTBOA Florida Sire Affirmed S.
“Trained by Kathleen O'Connell for his first two starts as a two-year-old, World of Trouble looked like a world beater, breaking his maiden first time out by 14 lengths,” Sikura wrote in his letter.
Sikura said it's too early to tell whether or not his letter and the reduction in the stud fee will mean that World of Trouble will have a decent size book this year. Last year, in his first season as a sire, he was bred to 121 mares, most of which were booked before the indictments came out.
“It's early yet,” he said. “What we've done has stirred debate, but I don't know if it will change anybody's stance. We reduced the stud fee in half, we pointed out that he was fast before he was trained by Jason Servis and that he was fast after he was trained by Jason Servis. We don't know the specific illegal drug that was given to the horse or how, if and to what measure that affected his performance. It's an issue people feel strongly about, but a lot of it is just conjecture.”
Sikura said he has received messages of support when it comes to World of Trouble, but has also been targeted by those who he calls Internet trolls, “who hate the game and are convinced there is a conspiracy and a cover up when it comes to everything.”
Hill 'n' Dale also might have felt some concern after Charlatan (Speightstown) crossed the wire first in a division of the GI Arkansas Derby, and the farm secured the breeding rights to the Bob Baffert-trained colt. It was soon revealed that Charlatan had tested positive for lidocaine in the race, which meant he lost his lone Grade I win at the time.
But Charlatan will be fine. He came back to win the GI Runhappy Malibu S. and is the likely favorite in the $20 million Saudi Cup. He figures to be a very popular sire. As for World of Trouble, his first crop will hit the racetrack in 2023. It may not be until then that the questions swirling around World of Trouble are answered.
“We made decisions that should impact interest and increase the size of his book to some degree,” Sikura said. “What happens next, only time will tell.”