The Brock Talk

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Other Big Winning Bird: Birdstone

Just over five years ago in early June, the racing world was anticipating the Belmont Stakes as the possible crowning of the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Smarty Jones had blazed through Arkansas, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and entered the Belmont stakes undefeated in 8 career starts. However, on June 5, 2004, Smarty Jones finished a heartbreaking second in the Belmont Stakes, being upset in a late charge by the 36-1 longshot Birdstone. Speculation arose that the loss was a result of jockey Stuart Elliott allowing Smarty Jones to assume the lead too early.

That day, Birdstone was the villian. But during this year's Triple Crown races, Birdstone was royal. Because the son of 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone produced both Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont Stakes victor Summer Bird from his crop of foals to race. (Or in non-breeding venacular, his oldest kids.) And just as he did as a diminutive 1,000 pound race horse, Birdstone once again emerged from the shadows to grab the spotlight. Only this time at the Kentucky breeding farms.

Because before this year's Triple Crown, before the 2009 breeding season that recently ended, the stud fee on Birdstone was a paultry $10,000. Meaning that if you wanted to breed your mare to Birdstone, it cost you $10,000 for that service. Ten thousand dollars may sound like quite a sum, but consider that the sire of Belmont runner-up Dunkirk, Unbridled Song, stands for $125,000. The sire of Belmont Stakes also-ran Mr. Hot Stuff is by Tiznow, who has a $75,000 stud fee.

But why the low fee on Birdstone. Afterall, he was a winner of the Belmont Stakes - The Test of Champions. He had won the prestigious, $500,000 Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old showing his early talent. And after the Belmont, he went on to win the grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga before retiring with a $1.5 million bankroll.

He was undoubtably penalized by his sire somewhat. Even though Grindstone was himself a Kentucky Derby winner, his days in the breeding shed have not been that productive other than Birdstone. Perhaps he was penalized by his stature. He stands just over 15.3 hands (63 inches), short by thoroughbred stallion standards, a trait he apparently passed on to Mine That Bird. Breeders like to see much larger thoroughbred stalllions that are at least 16.2 hands (66 inches) and Unbridled's Song is 17 hands even by comparison.

That genetic mark probably had an impact when his first get started going through the all important thoroughbred auctions and brought just over an average of $41,000, well below the $90,000 to $100,000 prices for yearlings at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in Lexington, Kentucky, just miles from where Birdstone currently reside at the famous Gainesway Farm.

But now Birdstone is going to demand much more for his treasured traits with Mine That Bird and Summer Bird both now classic winners. Some estimate his 2010 fee will be raised into the $40,000 range. And because high performance begets higher demand, he will have more mares to breed next year. That means his value could go from approximately $2 million to $20 million by some estimates.

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