VERSAILLES, Ky. - It looks like an entrance to an English country manor, with two 20-foot stone pillars, topped by sculpted eagles, flanking a black iron gate. A narrow, tree-lined road leads to three limestone barns, the stallion complex that will house Triple Crown contender American Pharoah during his second career.
Welcome to Ashford Stud, paradise for elite thoroughbreds. Black fences bracket approximately 2,000 acres of manicured land in the heart of central Kentucky's Bluegrass Country. (If you're wondering, no, the grass really isn't blue.) The place is dazzling, perhaps the finest of the region's 150 breeding farms, where four-legged creatures live better than many two-legged ones.
"The top farms there are all beautiful places and great operations," Nassau County resident Mike Repole texted Newsday. The best colts Repole has owned, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, live across from each other at Ashford. He sold the breeding rights of Overanalyze to WinStar Farm, also in Versailles (pronounced Ver-SAILS).
Not far from Ashford, mares and their foals graze and lounge in the sunshine. It will be American Pharoah's job to mate with blue-blooded females to produce multimillion-dollar babies for Ashford's Ireland-based Coolmore group, the worldwide leader in breeding and racing.
A stallion, a mare, a moment . . . and with a lot of luck, the next superstar.
If you're a racing fan, all 13 of Ashford's stallions are familiar to you. Besides Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty are four others whom Todd Pletcher trained: Verrazano, Munnings, Scat Daddy and Shanghai Bobby. Ashford's other studs are 2000 Kentucky Derby hero Fusaichi Pegasus; Giant's Causeway, Magician and Declaration of War, multiple-stakes winners for Irishman Aidan O'Brien, Coolmore's lead trainer; Majestic Warrior, bred by the Steinbrenners; 2010 Preakness champ Lookin At Lucky, like American Pharoah trained by Bob Baffert, and Tale of the Cat.
With so many six-figure purses offered for 2-year-old stakes, owners who pay big for yearlings want a quick return on their investment. Coolmore has snapped up 2-year-old champions who are likely to transmit their early brilliance. Lookin At Lucky (2009), Uncle Mo (2010), Shanghai Bobby (2012) and American Pharoah (2014) were voted the Eclipse Award at 2. So was Hansen (2011), whom Coolmore sold to Korean interests after a year. The only recent juvenile champion Ashford didn't get was Shared Belief, and for good reason: He's a gelding.
After Ahmed Zayat sold American Pharoah's breeding rights to Ashford for an undisclosed figure last week, he said it is "unlikely" the colt will race next year, which surprised nobody. There even is speculation that win or lose, the Belmont Stakes on June 6 will be his career finale.
Two Kentucky-based breeding analysts told Newsday that if American Pharoah becomes the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, he's likely to command approximately $100,000 per live foal. As one said: "That's on the high end of what the market will support for an exciting young stallion."
The Jockey Club, which administers the American Stud Book, reported that Uncle Mo was bred to 211 mares in 2012, his first season. Multiply $100,000 by 211 and that's a potential $21.1 million gross for Pharoah's first year.
Lucrative stud fees, risk of injury and prohibitively high insurance premiums make it economically unfeasible to keep a superstar in training. It's impossible to top the absurdity of a great horse who's become too valuable to race. Unfortunately, that's how the game is played once a megabucks stallion deal is done.Easy gallop. For the third consecutive morning, American Pharoah galloped 1 3/16 miles Sunday on Churchill Downs' main track. Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said, "After Bob [Baffert] gets here [Monday night], he'll probably change it."