Case Clay is president of Three Chimneys, the Midway, Ky.-Thoroughbred nursery that stands Flower Alley, a son of Distorted Humor who is the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another. For many years, 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew stood at Three Chimneys and the farm currently has Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner Big Brown and Preakness-Belmont winner Point Given on its stallion roster. It previously stood Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner Smarty Jones.
Clay, 38, the son of farm owners Robert and Blythe Clay and a graduate of DePauw University in Indiana, returned to Three Chimneys in 2004 after spending a year at the Irish National Stud in Ireland and Arrowfield Stud in Australia. Before that, he lived in Chicago for six years, working at Arlington Park, Ernst & Young and Hyatt Corp. during the daytime and performing improv at night with the likes of future Saturday Night Live cast member Seth Meyers. He spoke with the Paulick Report on the condition he would not be exposed as a Chicago Cubs fan.
What does it mean to the staff at Three Chimneys when one of your stallions, Flower Alley, sires a horse like I'll Have Another? I imagine there was a little more energy than usual on the Mondays after the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
You're right. There was great energy the Monday after the Derby and even more energy the Monday after the Preakness. The Monday after the Derby was special though, as Dynaformer died only six days before the Derby. Not to sound too cheesy, but it was as if Dynaformer tossed us a last little gift from above. Back to the energy though, you can tell just driving around the farm. We tend to be an upbeat group anyway – it's really a tight-knit team – but the Derby and then the Preakness bolstered that to a whole new level. You can see from the emailed photo of Brian Van Steenberg – who rides our stallions every morning – on Flower Alley just the other day!
The stallion business can be tough, and bookings for Flower Alley were down in 2011, his fifth breeding season, after he finished 11th on the freshman sire list the previous year. As I'll Have Another progressed from a big upset in the Robert Lewis in February, to the Santa Anita Derby win in April, and then onto the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, how has that affected his popularity and price?
You can see from his previous book sizes that he's been a solid stallion for us from Day 1 popularity-wise, but the Derby-Preakness one-two punch was a great shot in the arm. Here is the progression: He had 50 mares on his book on April 1 (six days before the Santa Anita Derby). On Derby Day, he had 75 mares. He is at 136 mares at the moment. We sold three today. With regard to pricing, since we were only at 75 mares right after the Derby, we decided not to increase his fee. After the Preakness, we were at 115 mares and the market started paying $15,000 for him. So that's where we are at the moment.
The exciting thing is that it appears he's not a one-horse wonder, which helps. He had a Grade 1 winner and two fillies in the Kentucky Oaks from his first crop last year and he's got some 3- and 4-year-olds positioned to make some major moves at the graded stakes level this summer, including Neck and Neck, Smooth as Usual, and Bouquet Booth.
Where do you think you'll be at the end of the breeding season in terms of number of mares?
Presuming you're still asking about Flower Alley. Good question. He is a good breeder and his libido is good and it's going very well. At the same time, it's all about putting the horse and his well-being first and not over-taxing him physically. I'd expect him to end the year with anywhere between where he is now (136) and 150.
What is the Three Chimneys policy on book size?
The market on book size has been a moving target since the standard book of mares was 40 back in the day. The stallion game keeps changing. In the last few years, we have crept upward with the market, but at the same time staying at 150 mares or below, depending on the horse (age, libido, etc.) and market demand. The most we have bred in the Northern Hemisphere was Sky Mesa last year at 150 mares. This year Big Brown has 140 mares. I don't want to go over that in the foreseeable future and risk over-saturating the market or doing more than the individual stallion wants.
It's not just the number of mares you want to get a stallion to, but the quality. Is that something you're expecting to see improve for Flower Alley looking ahead to 2013, especially assuming we'll see a higher stud fee? Is a higher quality book something that usually takes care of itself as stud fees increase?
Yes, since the Preakness, we have already seen the quality of mare improve. Multiple G1 winning Starrer (by Dynaformer) just booked to him last week. That being said, there are many breeders who have been very savvy with their matings to Flower Alley and they should be recognized as a whole. Also, I would guess that thanks to Eugene Melnyk, his quality has been higher than his stud fee would normally attract. Eugene bred his best mares to Flower Alley in 2010, including Indian Vale and Sealy Hill. Quality is a very important variable, but other important variables are the breeders' knowledge of their mare (what works, what might work, what hasn't worked), as well as the management of the offspring from birth to the racetrack and your shareholders in the horse himself.
Flower Alley seemed to follow a pretty traditional pattern, a popular first-year, with 114 mares bred in 2007, then down to 95 in year two, and 66 in year three, which is always a tough sell. But then he ticked upward to 99 for his fourth year, when his first crop turned two years of age in 2010. What caused that spike in popularity?
There was a tremendous buzz about his 2-year-olds coming up from Ocala that year. We welcomed the buzz!
Does the commercial yearling market play too big a role in a stallion's popularity?
In the long run, a stallion works himself out. Dynaformer's commercial appeal was low for many years, until the market began to see that they could run no matter what they looked like. I think it's about right, actually. If you look at Flower Alley specifically, his sales averages were not great last year, but he is getting runners and has a Derby and Preakness winner, so he is popular. Beauty is as beauty does. Oh and life is like a box of chocolates.
I don't know what percentage of new Kentucky sires are at the same locations five or six years after they enter stud, but it's probably a relatively low number. At what time does a farm start looking for an exit strategy if it looks like it's not going to work out?
Actually, it is the secondary market that contacts the stud farms in Kentucky. Every stallion farm in Kentucky has horses that are hot and horses that are not. It's just the way it is. Secondary markets, whether they be international or domestic, watch those stallions which are not hot at the moment very closely and approach the stallion farms. Usually about one year too early.
How does that exit strategy typically play out? Does Three Chimneys or some of its syndicate retain interest in a stallion if it leaves for a regional market, and is there any kind of recall option if he suddenly heats up?
It depends. We have done both. With Silver Charm, the owners sold the whole horse (with a clause in the contract that he comes back to Three Chimneys upon retirement). With Smarty Jones, some shareholders sold their shares while some shareholders kept their shares. Every situation is different.
If I'll Have Another were to win the Triple Crown, would it be redundant for Three Chimneys to recruit him while still standing his sire?
Not necessarily. We wanted to stand Barbaro after he won the Derby, even though we had Dynaformer. And now I'll stay vague. Ask me more and I will give you more vague.
Can you put a number on what a Triple Crown winner, specifically I'll Have Another, might be worth in the current market?
I can't put a number on what a Triple Crown winner, specifically I'll Have Another, might be worth in this market. Largely because I was five years old when Affirmed won the Triple Crown and I don't have a comparable. I would imagine there would be some sort of Triple Crown premium. I just hope the horse has another.
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