Rookies rule at stallion show

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Imagining ate hay, lots and lots of hay. Bourbon Courage looked outside at the snow. If they knew their importance to Maryland’s Thoroughbred industry, they weren’t letting on.

The rookie stallions occupy the same barn at Heritage Stallions in Chesapeake City, middle stalls on opposite sides of the aisle in what used to be a tractor shed. Imagining is flanked by Street Magician and Tritap, while Bourbon Courage lives between Seville and Despite The Odds.

Sunday, Heritage hosted a few hundred guests for an open house. People came to see the horses, enjoy some crab soup, get an annual state-of-the-game speech from farm co-founder Dr. Tom Bowman, talk about football and see the new boys. They’re millionaire racehorses with deep pedigrees and bodies that at least suggest quality. Success in the breeding shed will be up to them, of course, but they will get a chance due to the relative health of Maryland’s Thoroughbred industry compared to where it was even five years ago.

“We’ve heard for the last couple years, ‘Maryland needs a better stallion. Why don’t you get a better stallion?’ ” Bowman said while showing off Imagining Sunday. “A better stallion is one that’s already proven himself and the competition for buying a proven stallion is tremendous.”

Standout Maryland stallions Not For Love (pensioned last year), Allen’s Prospect (who died in 2003) and Malibu Moon (who was moved to Kentucky in 2003 and is one of the world’s leading sires) are the yardsticks. Around the state, young stallions try to measure up.

Bourbon Courage and Imagining are the latest, following Seville, Tritap and Despite The Odds at Heritage, Golden Lad and Bandbox across the street at Northview Stallion Station, Friesan Fire, Freedom Child, Cal Nation and Super Ninety Nine at Country Life Farm, Etched at Bonita Farm and plenty of others.

Heritage’s new guys are in the conversation, and would be no matter the state.

Bourbon Courage won or placed in 16 of his 25 starts, won a Grade 2 stakes, placed in three Grade 1 stakes and earned $1,129,187. The son of Lion Heart and the Carson City mare Shine Forth garnered a reputation for guts during a run of 11 consecutive top-four finishes – all losses mind you – at six racetracks from October 2012 to April 2014. Through his dam, he’s related to royalty in Chris Evert. Named after the tennis player, the horse became a champion, a Hall of Famer and foundation broodmare. Her daughter by Secretariat, Six Crowns, produced champion Chief’s Crown and Grade 1 winner Classic Crown.

“I love the Chris Evert family line,” said Jamie LaMonica, who brokered the deal for Bourbon Courage and Imagining to come to Heritage. “And Lion Heart had been a pretty good sire under the radar. Coolmore might have wanted him back (from a 2010 sale to Turkey).”

Still, early in the process LaMonica wasn’t sure about the bay Kentucky-bred, whose information shuffled around the bloodstock agent’s desk for weeks. Finally, LaMonica went to the video.

“I watched all his races and it hit me all the sudden,” he said. “He reminded me of City Zip from a few years ago. He was really, really fast. He carried it over a mile and he took his race wherever he went.”

City Zip began his stud career in New York for $7,500 and now commands $40,000 as a fixture in the deep Lane’s End Farm stallion barn in Kentucky.

Sunday, Bourbon Courage made an immediate impression. He’s taller than you might think, with a strong shoulder. He did some of his best work sprinting, but does not look one-dimensional.

“He was super fast, super fast,” said Mike McMahon, who campaigned Bourbon Courage with Bourbon Lane Stable. “The whole question was whether we should sprint him or run him long as a 3-year-old and he did both really well. We’re excited about him as a stallion, totally on board, and will send some mares to him.”

As a racehorse, Imagining drew an audible “Wow” pretty much every time he walked into the paddock. A chestnut coat, three white socks and even a white splotch on his right side will do that, as will a powerful frame, high head and muscles like Cam Newton.

It’s pretty much the same now, though you have to look a little harder to see the muscles. Sunday, Imagining worked on licking his hay corner clean, paraded to much attention during a snow shower, came out for personal inspections afterward and dove into his feed tub with a dozen people standing in the shedrow.

He raced five seasons, winning nine times and placing seven more for earnings of $1,177,394. In 2014, he won the Grade 1 Man o’ War and missed by a head to eventual turf champion Main Sequence in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. Distance and turf were his strong suits on the racetrack, though his pedigree suggests pretty much anything – and mostly sirepower.

The son of Giant’s Causeway is out of Grade 2 winner Daydreaming, whose family is responsible for sires Girolamo, Super Saver, Bluegrass Cat, Cal Nation, Rhythm and Not For Love.

LaMonica paid credit to Imagining’s trainer Shug McGaughey and owner/breeder Phipps Stable with making Maryland a reality for the new sire.

“Bluntly, they could have gotten more money elsewhere,” said LaMonica, who hatched the idea last summer at Saratoga. “They love Maryland, they’ve had a lot of success with that family in Maryland and they listened to me.”

Daisy Phipps Pulito, said Imagining was always a special horse: “He has been a barn favorite for a long time. He is one of the best looking horses that we have bred and raced. My father liked him from Day 1. He was always very athletic looking and had a ton of presence about him.”

LaMonica called Imagining an obvious stallion prospect.

“He’s just one of those you look at and say, ‘He should be a stallion,’ ” he said. “If there’s one stallion in the family, maybe it’s an accident. When there are seven, it’s not an accident. Genetically, there’s something about this female family that makes stallions and if you’re going to bet, this horse is one to bet on.”

For more, see the Heritage Stallions website.