Chrome's stud value at stake, too

ByDarren Rovell ESPN logo
Monday, June 2, 2014

If California Chrome becomes the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 36 years on Saturday at Belmont Park, his owners will be flush with offers to retire him immediately to begin a lucrative breeding career.

"A hundred million is the highest figure I've heard," said Penny Chenery, who owned Secretariat and sold the horse to a syndicate in 1973, the year he won the Triple Crown, for $6.08 million. asked some of the nation's top thoroughbred breeders, and none mentioned so high a price. In fact, each of them said that even with a win at the Belmont Stakes, California Chrome might be hard-pressed to generate the stallion price of each of the previous three Triple Crown winners.

Secretariat's $6 million sale price in 1973 is the equivalent of $32 million today, and the other two Triple Crown winners of the '70s -- Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978 -- sold for what would have been $43 million and $47 million, respectively.

Although California Chrome has won eight of his 12 career races, including his past six, racing record is only one-third of what makes up a horse's valuation as a stallion, said Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm. WinStar stands one of the highest-priced stallions, Distorted Humor, sire of 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, at a price of $100,000 per live foal.

Walden says looks and family history equally make up the other parts of a valuation.

"His racing record shows durability and excellence," Walden said. "He's a good-looking colt, too. But his pedigree is not great."

Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift Farms, which stands highly coveted stallion Malibu Moon at $100,000 per live foal, agrees.

California Chrome's pedigree is remarkably similar to Malibu Moon's, both having great breeding horses like A.P. Indy and Mr. Prospector in their bloodlines. The difference is that Chrome's parents -- Lucky Pulpit and Love The Chase -- are notably unremarkable.

Dumb Ass Partners, the owners of California Chrome, bought the horse's mother, Love The Chase, for $8,000, and paid a $2,500 fee to have Lucky Pulpit consummate the deal.

"Any geneticist will tell you that the mom and dad are the most important, and then there's a diminishing importance back," Toffey said. "You look at the horses in his past, and there are not a lot of weak links. But Lucky Pulpit is the weak link in the place you wouldn't want to have it."

Toffey said if California Chrome wins the Belmont, he can see the horse being worth about $30 million. If he doesn't, he could be worth less than $20 million.

Lack of success at the breeding shed for those who have won two legs of the Triple Crown has also dropped values.

Big Brown, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2008, was sold for a reported $50 million to Three Chimneys Farm before the Preakness that year. But Big Brown's offspring have been disappointments.

The horse's opening stud fee was $65,000, but without a Grade 1 stakes winner, that number went down to $35,000 by 2013 and plummeted to $10,000 this year.

Three Chimneys also bought 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, who opened with a stud fee of $100,000 before a lack of consistent high-end winners lowered his fee to $7,500.

So it's not surprising that Three Chimneys president Case Clay puts California Chrome on the lower end of the scale. Clay says a Triple Crown would make California Chrome a $13 million to $15 million stallion.

That would mean that the horse's Triple Crown run has meant little to his stallion value. The horse's owners reportedly turned down an offer of $6 million to buy 51 percent of the horse before the Kentucky Derby.

"He has won the races, but his speed figures aren't great," Clay said. "He's actually quite low. And the talk about his pedigree is accurate.

"The fact is that the Triple Crown has some cachet in the breeding world, but a lot of breeders won't care."

To realize more value, California Chrome's connections might want to consider breeding in Japan, where, Clay says, "they love the famous horses."

That's where I'll Have Another, who won the Derby and Preakness in 2012 before being scratched the day before the Belmont, went. The $10 million winning offer was about 40 percent more than what American breeders were willing to pay, Walden said.

Walden says he thinks that there's about $10 million on the line depending on whether California Chrome wins or loses Saturday.

He believes the horse is worth about $15 million now and that a win could add 50 percent to his value ($22.5 million). Finishing anything less than first could result in a 25 percent drop ($11.25 million), Walden surmised.

The economy has also dramatically changed the game.

"California Chrome will be a victim of the down stallion market," said Mike Repole, owner of Repole Stables, who sold Uncle Mo for a reported $15 million in 2011, one of the highest sales in the past four years. "If it was 10 years ago, we might be talking about $50 million. Today, I believe they'll get $15 million to $20 million."

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