So many American stallions have been sold overseas in recent decades that at this point the practice rarely rates more than a paragraph or two in the racing press. However, when recent Kentucky Derby winners California Chrome and Animal Kingdom – earners of a combined $23 million, with victories that included the Dubai World Cup – are sold to Japanese interests in successive months, more comment seemed to be called for.
California Chrome is one of the most popular thoroughbreds of the current century. Arguably, Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra and American Pharoah are his only serious competition. The certain Hall of Famer came up short in his bid for the Triple Crown but was dominant at the sport’s highest level through his 5-year-old championship season. His resume also includes a pair of stakes wins at two and, in his lone start on grass, a Grade 1 victory in the Hollywood Derby.
In remarks announcing the sale, Duncan Taylor, president and CEO of Taylor Made Stallions, where California Chrome stood for his three U.S. seasons, said the soon-to-be expatriate “means a lot to not only the team members at Taylor Made but to the thousands of fans he has throughout the country.
“Emotionally, it is a hard thing,” Taylor continued, “because he’s taken the Taylor brothers to places we never dreamed of going. In the long run, though, we have to run the farm like a business.”
In California Chrome’s case, a business calculation was probably made that the two-time horse of the year is worth more now than he would have been once his U.S. foals begin racing next year. Chrome’s pedigree is widely considered “weak” overall, thus making it questionable whether the great-grandson of A.P. Indy would have received enough support from North American breeders and buyers to enable him to succeed at stud.
California Chrome is at least the 17th Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy-line stallion to be exported. In addition to Japan, destinations have included Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Chile and Uruguay. The average age at the time of these stallions’ sale was only 8½ years. California Chrome’s departure comes at a time when the future of the A.P. Indy male line may not be as secure as previously thought. But that’s a tale for another day.
Animal Kingdom accomplished a lot in just 12 career starts, but with better luck he might have accomplished even more. If he’d managed to make up the last length and a half on Wise Dan in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile, he would have posted Grade 1 wins on grass, dirt (Kentucky Derby) and synthetic surfaces (Dubai World Cup). If he’d had cleaner trips in the 2011 Preakness and Belmont, he might have won the Triple Crown.
With Animal Kingdom gone to Japan, the U.S. effectively loses its last link with the male line of Blushing Groom, which has accounted for nearly 100 Grade 1 victories over the past quarter-century. As a son of 2005 turf champion Leroidesanimaux, out of a mare by the great German sire Acatenango, Animal Kingdom – who has had only three Northern Hemisphere crops to race – offered the kind of genetic diversity that is fast disappearing in this country. Unfortunately, when it comes to the business of thoroughbred breeding, genetic diversity is no more of a factor than is a horse’s popularity or the fact that it has a place reserved in the Hall of Fame.
Jeff Scott writes about horse racing Friday in The Saratogian. He may be reached at email@example.com.