A few weeks back as winter was already well settled in for the long haul in upstate New York, champion and dual classic winner Big Brown was the hot attraction on a day when temperatures barely cracked 15 degrees despite bright sunshine and only a light breeze.
A good-sized crowd turned out that afternoon at Dutchess Views Farm, the commercial breeding operation on the cutely named Johnnycake Hollow in Pine Plains, N.Y., conveniently nestled almost exactly halfway between Saratoga Springs and New York City. They were there for Dutchess Views’ open house, an annual exercise that farms throughout the country host to show both new and established stallions and perhaps to help break up the monotony that marks the winter months before the breeding and foaling season get into high gear.
Many in the crowd were racing fans – that much was clear eavesdropping on conversations as iPhone cameras clicked away – but just as many were breeders and players in the state’s breeding industry. They were there to see Big Brown, the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who shared his showing time with fellow Dutchess Views stallions Heavy Breathing and Marsh Side.
Big Brown, who arrived in New York on Christmas Eve after standing previously at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, stole the show.
Anya Sheckley, who owns and manages Dutchess Views with her husband Michael Lischin, joked that the new resident of the stallion barn gets more mail than she does these days.
Eric Bishop, who manages Big Brown and other stallions owned by Andy Cohen’s Sunrise Stallions, talked about his outlook for the season, book size and dared to dream about the spring.
A few weeks later and the dreams are still looking pretty good, thanks to another game performance by the Big Brown colt Dortmund in last weekend’s Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Dortmund’s victory – a re-rally in the stretch to beat Firing Line by a head for the second consecutive time – kept him undefeated in four starts and squarely among the leading contenders for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Puca, a highly regarded filly by Big Brown in training in Florida with Bill Mott for Donegal Racing, still has time to get on the path to the Kentucky Oaks.
“Mr. Cohen had a little piece of Big Brown and he’s always applied his stock-market skills to the horse racing game,” Bishop said Monday. “He’s got a feel for certain things, like stock prices. Big Brown was such a huge valuation when he started. … He just saw (Big Brown) as a stock that got depressed.
“From my end I’ve always been a believer from what I know and what I’ve seen. I believe the trend of starting these sires at a young age could possibly affect their first couple crops. Technically stallions don’t really mature until they’re 6 years old. A lot of stallions, when they start at 4 or 5, they’re a little immature. Maybe they’re not passing on everything that they should be. I don’t know, that’s just a feeling I have. So, between Big Brown starting young at 4 years old, and the depression of his valuation over the years. He started at $65,000 and then he’s hammered down to 10 in four years because Kentucky is such a competitive market. If you don’t put that star out there nobody wants to know you. It’s tough. The stallion game is so tough.”
Bishop said he’s already received about 60 contracts from breeders looking to breed to Big Brown in his first season in New York, where he’ll command a fee of $8,500. That fee is on the high end in the state, just below the likes of Freud, Congaree, Desert Party and Frost Giant.
“The reception has been real good,” Bishop said. “We’re keeping busy. We’re filling up. It’s hard to tell in New York because they’re a little later than the people in Kentucky, but the book is approaching 60 right now and I’ve got a whole bunch of contracts going out. It’s busy.
“My personal goal was to get at least 80. That’s what we were hoping for. Even when we priced him at $8,500 we felt that was a fair deal. That was our goal, to get a book of 80, and that was before Dortmund started rolling.”
The appeal of Big Brown to New York breeders is the abundance of Storm Cat and Mr. Prospector line mares in the state, which Bishop says “hits him right in his own.” Dortmund is out of a mare by Tale of the Cat, a Grade 1-winning son of Storm Cat.
The Robert B. Lewis was Dortmund’s second straight graded stakes victory, following the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity (the former Hollywood Futurity) back on Dec. 20. He defeated Firing Line in that race by a head, rallying on the outside to outlast that rival and third-place finisher Mr. Z.
Dortmund battled Firing Line while racing on the rail in the Lewis. He looked beat in midstretch before coming back in the final strides. The two were 21 ½ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Rock Shandy in a good time of 1:42.20 for 1 1/16 miles.
“I joke with everybody that when Dortmund came back that wasn’t Dortmund that was Big Brown inside of him,” Bishop said. “That was all sire.”
Dortmund is one of 13 stakes winners and three group or graded stakes winners sired by Big Brown from his first three Northern Hemisphere crops. Big Brown is currently the leading sire in New York with 2015 earnings of $363,847 through Sunday.
“We have a great relationship with Emilie (Gerlinde Fojan) from Bona Terra Stud (breeder of Dortmund) and she’s been telling us – and she doesn’t blow smoke up your you know what, she’s a good evaluator of her offspring – since July that this Dortmund was going to be a freak,” Bishop said. “She was right. Everything fell into place. We lucked out. The motivation was there to bring him to New York based on a couple of things that we felt could help Big Brown, but then at the end of the day we needed the big horse. The knock on him is that he hasn’t had the big horse. Now he’s got one.
“We’ve been lucky. Lets face it, everybody tries to take an edge in this game but at the end of the day you need to get lucky.”