“We’re in rare air,” began Bradley Weisbord, the founder of the BSW Bloodstock Agency of Lexington, Ky., and New York.
Viewpoints among six seasoned Central Kentucky bloodstock experts reached Tuesday vary somewhat, but similar thoughts abound. They include that people are good at forgetting non-winners (which could hurt), that people might not forget this time (which could help), that Maximum Security still might shore up his value in further races this year, that thoroughbred breeding churns with near-infinite variables, and that Maximum Security’s lineage doesn’t qualify as boffo anyway, even if his talent clearly does.
This past Saturday, an unbeaten Maximum Security bested 18 rivals wire-to-wire, establishing himself as an elite runner — and a wow of a story who went unclaimed even at $16,000 in December — before three Churchill Downs stewards made a disqualification widely understood within the industry. Stud-wise, he might end up a bit of a marketing puzzle — dissimilar to, say, the breezy marketing involved in the term “Kentucky Derby winner.”
“Anybody who decides to stand him [for stud],” said Charles Boden of Charles H. Boden Thoroughbreds, “is going to have that hook and that tagline that they can use to market him to say, ‘He won the Derby by a length and three-quarters.’ And whoever stands him is going to say, ‘We got robbed!’ I’m sure somebody will come up with something cute.”
Boden, who agreed with the stewards’ ruling, made an attempt: “He’s such a good value, it’s like stealing!”
Maybe it’s underway, tangentially. Suzanne Smallwood, president of the EQUIX bloodstock services agency, spotted an ad in the Thoroughbred Daily News from the Brazilian stud farm where stands New Year’s Day, Maximum Security’s sire. It congratulated the son for crossing the wire first.
Peter Bradley of Bradley Thoroughbreds noted that in the “fascinating industry that I am in, it’s like Greek and Latin to everybody outside the industry.” Still, on the breeding charts, “There isn’t an asterisk that says, ‘He was the best horse and, oh by the way, he got disqualified.’”
As to that question of how the weird variable might diminish stallion value, Boden said: “Well, sure, it does. He’s not a Derby winner. He’s a Florida Derby winner. But he’s not a Kentucky Derby winner. A Florida Derby winner, if he doesn’t do anything else, can probably stand at stud somewhere for $7,500 to $15,000, depending on pedigree. A Kentucky Derby winner at this stage of the game, where he has the ability to still become a Triple Crown winner” fetches more, even if not as much as the fees hovering in six figures, the experts say, to book dates with the recent Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018), with their prized pedigrees.
“Yeah, I do believe it’s changed,” Weisbord said. “We’re in rare air because we’ve never had a Derby winner disqualified. And quite frankly, I don’t remember in recent times in the biggest colt races, ‘stallion-making’ races, [such as] the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I’ve never heard of a disqualification of this magnitude.” He said: “He’s already established a solid level of stallion value but it can’t help, being disqualified. Now, I am not saying it’s drastically affected, but you have to say it hurts.”
He concluded: “It’s not a tremendous effect. I’d say it’s more like a 10 to 20 percent effect, and not a 50 percent effect.”
“This horse,” Boden said, “if he’s a Derby winner, a Derby win’s worth $25,000 to $50,000 [in fee] depending on the pedigree at least the first year he goes to stud. That was taken away from him — or, not taken away from him. He lost it.” Boden recommends taking a stud fee and multiplying it by 300 to ascertain a horse’s overall market value.
In general, any potential spending hysteria over buying an outright Derby winner might have come from those less familiar with the vast intricacies. Said Michael McMahon, the founder and co-owner of McMahon & Hill Bloodstock, “I think he’ll be remembered widely as an unlucky horse that spooked when he heard crowd noise and annihilated a couple of his competitors. I think the people that breed aren’t as prone to the hype of a Derby winner. I think they’re more exact than that.”
“It’d be nice to have a Derby win,” Smallwood said, “but if he continues to race well, I think his value should be fine. He’s still basically undefeated in the eyes of breeders, and his pedigree stays the same.”
“If he did the same thing as American Pharoah and Justify,” Bradley said, “he still wouldn’t be half their value because of his pedigree, but it certainly would increase.”
That pedigree, with Lil Indy as dam, has New Year’s Day, “an unheralded sire” as Bradley put it, winner of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before being retired at 2, with an accomplished stallion as grandsire, Street Cry, father of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta. While Bradley estimated that Maximum Security might have fetched between $3 million and $7 million overall with a Derby win, especially if foreign owners seeking Derby cachet got involved, he said: “In our own breeding industry, while he would have some value, it’s not like he’s a Justify either. At this point, it’s probably $500,000 to $1 million without” the Derby triumph.
Then there’s always the human capacity to forget.
“The hard part is people don’t remember, okay?” Boden said. “You could ask me who was second [in the Derby, to Justify] last year. I’ve got no idea. I was there. I can’t remember. The horses who finish second and the horses who got disqualified are forgotten. The public’s memory is brutal like that. . . . This is historic, yeah. So there is the history. We don’t have anything to go on. There’s not a disqualified Kentucky Derby winner out there that went to stud. There’s nothing comparable.”
Already, as Weisbord said, Maximum Security was no “one-hit wonder,” winning his four previous races, all at Gulfstream Park near Miami. He still can impress prospective breeders and owners and agents. Weisbord: “I believe [the disqualification] will hurt even less if he will be able to reestablish — or to continue — his form throughout the year,” perhaps winning a valued race such as the Haskell or Travers. McMahon: “That’s the kind of verification I’m talking about, and I almost think any Derby winner needs to do that.” Smallwood: “You would expect a horse as brilliant as Maximum Security, they’ll find another spot for him to showcase himself.”
“Well, you know, I still think it’s a body of work, what a horse does before and after,” said Bob McCann of McCann Bloodstock. “It’s a little early for me to make a comment about it.”
Even Derby winners vary in stud value. “His value, like all Derby winners — and I did say that — will need to be verified,” McMahon said. “Even Always Dreaming [the 2017 Derby winner] was not an easy sell, because he didn’t back it up.” Then, factor in something else, again from McMahon: “If this race was in record time and he was taken down, I think that would be different. But this wasn’t a fantastic race [a slow 2:03.93]. People are really wondering how fast he is.”
He said: “I don’t think any of the top five horses have any real claim to stallion possibilities now. Last year Justify would have been 15 lengths in front of this group.”
In this game of Greek and Latin, Smallwood said something that might go on a bloodstock office wall somewhere that might apply to Maximum Security, disqualification or no: “Everybody wants to buy a Derby horse, but they don’t necessarily want to breed one.”