Ken Carson
General Manager, Valor Farm

The biggest change in standing stallions in the regional markets during the last 15 years is the difficulty of acquiring them. The demand for top quality stallions worldwide has made it hard to justify what they cost. Additionally, the shake-up in the stallion acquisition food chain in Kentucky has affected acquiring stallions at every level and every region.

 Ken Carson is the Business Manager of Valor Farm in Pilot Point , Texas . He served as a Director of Research for the Thoroughbred Record as well as Farm Pedigree & Sales Consultant for Three Chimneys Farm. He is a member of the Texas Thoroughbred Breeders Association, American Horse Council, T.O.B.A. and the Thoroughbred Club of America. Valor Farm stands the Thoroughbred Stallions Marfa, Rare Brick and Hadif and Vital Class.

A brief evolution of the changing landscape of major farms in Kentucky begins in the mid-80’s. Since the 1960’s, the three major stallion farms in Kentucky were Claiborne, Spendthrift and Gainesway. During the mid-80’s, Spendthrift and Gainesway, along with a newcomer named Ashford, underwent changes in ownership. Ashford was purchased by a group operating in Ireland named Coolmore that would revolutionize the stallion industry world-wide. Coolmore introduced the shuttling of stallions to different countries in the southern hemisphere and the expansion of the typical stallion books of mares. Shortly thereafter, several new farms, Lane’s End, Three Chimneys, and Taylor Made came on the scene and would become major players in the stallion market.

By the end of the 90’s, Coolmore could pay more than anyone else in the industry for a stallion. They were vertically integrated worldwide, enabling them to breed two books of mares to the same stallion in one year through shuttling. This enabled them to purchase any stallion on the market because no other farm could compete with their strategy. Farms at the next level were all in competition with those stallions not pursued by Coolmore. The Kentucky farms at the lowest end of the spectrum have to compete for what is left over — those stallions that used to go primarily to the regional markets.

It is especially tough for farms at lowest levels — if a stallion does too much at the racetrack, he becomes too expensive. If he doesn’t accomplish enough, he can’t attract enough mares to justify purchasing him. To compete in today’s environment, farms have to work harder to obtain stallions and be more creative with what they stand.

At Valor Farm, we keep files of young stallions at the race track, and try to make contact with the owners very early on in their careers. It is most frustrating to zero in on a candidate when he breaks his maiden, follow him for two years, only to watch him win a graded stake — thereby erasing all chances of our obtaining him. Stallions that were on our radar screen early on include Elusive Quality, Stormin Fever, Doneraile Court, Crafty Friend, Successful Appeal, Diazo and Devious Course.

The key factors by which breeders judge a potential stallion on are pedigree, conformation and race record — not necessarily in that order. We have learned through our program that in the Southwest, we have to have a good looking horse. We are in the heart of Quarter Horse country, and breeders there demand a grand looking horse. They will overlook a poor race record and pedigree if the horse is good enough looking. Another key factor is size — most breeders in our area will not breed to a small horse. Hadif is just about the only exception to that rule that I know of. If I had to prioritize the factors that we consider in each potential stallion purchase they would shake out this way — looks, sire-line, family, and last, race record. Don’t get me wrong, we would like every one of ours to be grade 1 stakes winners, but that level of performance puts them out of range for us. Also, when it is possible, national name recognition helps a great deal. We just purchased winner Wimbledon, and it is really nice when people call to book a mare and say that they have liked the horse since seeing him win the Louisiana Derby.

We do a lot of direct mail to mare owners, particularly direct e-mail, trying to attract particular mares that we feel our stallion would work well with. We have seen that when you solicit mares from people, they usually want the stud fee discounted pretty well — they feel like they are helping you make your stallion and should receive some kind of compensation for doing so.

At the recently concluded Keeneland November sale, several stallion farm representatives hand delivered pre-written letters outlining how the mare we had just purchased would work very well with their stallion. This is an effective form of aggressive marketing.

In Texas, and really all over the Southwest, the live foal ratio is terrible — somewhere around 50%. That means when you are trying to determine how much you can pay for a stallion, you have to realize that only half of the mares you breed will be earning you a stud fee. This is a sobering fact. There are a couple of things that can be done to try to raise that percentage.

The mares that we accept to our stallions are screened closely to see what their recent produce records look like — on a production basis, as well as a performance basis. We have learned over the years that the past predicts the future. We will be a little more forgiving of a mare that has not yet produced a runner, if she consistently produces foals.

Over the years we have developed a really good client base. We have eliminated those breeders that don’t take care of their mares and foals, and those that don’t pay their bills. We have developed a postcard that we send to the mare owner about a month before their mare is due to foal. We then send another about a week out reminding them that their mare is due within the next few days. This has helped us reduce the number of sickening calls that starts “…when we got back we saw the mare had foaled…”

The other interesting thing we sometimes hear from breeders is “…we watched her for about 6 or 7 nights and got sick of sitting out there.” The mare is going to foal at some point, and the odds of that get better each day that passes. Whatever foaling fee the farm that has your mare charges, it is probably the best money you will ever spend in this business.

Like every business, we have learned that an existing client is our best source of business. We help our clients any way we can. We help them mate their mares. We help some of our clients with the registration process of their foals — even those not at our farm. In the past, we have helped name foals. If we can help a client with something that we are set up to do already, we do it. In the end, the greatest stallion in the world has to have mares bred to him before he can get runners.

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