Keystone Kops and karma

With a little luck on your side, procrastination can pay off.

by Trey Nosrac

Owning a broodmare is my favorite part of harness racing. Each foal that enters the world is a story. Following each story is fascinating. My pal and I are bit players, but each day, for each horse, from choosing a sire until the hammer falls at an auction, is an intriguing adventure. Like any adventure, there are good times and not-so-good times.

We try to plan carefully in our breeding exploits, but you know the adage about the best-laid plans of mice and men. A dozen of our carefully planned yearling sales went astray. On the other hand, our best-selling yearling and best racehorses were flukes. For us, every step in raising a yearling is somewhere between the Keystone Kops and karma.

Our current story is reaching a critical point: a foal’s birth. So far, before this creature has breathed fresh air, karma has played a significant role in this story. Once again, these are real harness horses with actual events, but names are not listed to protect the innocent.

About a year ago, in April 2022, our mare gave birth to her second baby, a filly that joined our non-paying band. So here we stood, a broodmare, a yearling romping in the field and another baby nursing. The birth always signals the need to dive in deeper and breed our mare to another stallion, escalating the madness.

At that time, everything in our little breeding world was unknown except for monthly bills, stud fees, registration fees, X-rays and the occasional vet bill. Still, no money was incoming, while the outgoing money remained steady. And more money would be flying out the door with sales prep, videos, staking, cataloging and various bills for the fall sale.

The math gets fuzzy, but because we overlapped with another broodmare, we were up to five horses of various ages lounging around the farm. We had delusions of adequacy and good fortune, but nothing is assured. Here is a tip for anyone considering getting into the breeding game: events can snowball and get out of hand amazingly quickly. You visit the farm, look around and wonder what happened. You suddenly have a herd of horses and years without a dollar of income from a sale in sight.

At this point in our tale from last year, deciding on the next stallion for our broodmare, I must assume responsibility for the events. I am a card-carrying member of the Oscar Wilde school of procrastination. Wilde once said, “I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.”

I wait until just before the mare foals to sign up for a stallion for the same reason I rarely RSVP to parties: you never know what might arise. My postponement of responsibility irritates my horse partner, but for me, early planning takes away spontaneity.

We had not booked a trotting stallion for the breeding of our broodmare. We had discussed several potential stallions at length, but the ink had yet to meet the contract. Some stallions fill their book. Our top two candidates were among those listed: Book full and closed. I call this karma. My pal calls my procrastination stupid.

Never fear. There was an intriguing new stallion with a whiff of “Swedishness” at a secluded farm in our state. I had never heard this stallion’s name, nor was I familiar with his racetrack achievements until I stumbled across a notification in this publication. I emailed for a booking, but nothing happened. What happened for those few days is a bit of a mystery, perhaps a communication error on my part. However, after a few unsuccessful attempts at contacting my Swedish sleeper stallion, the clock was ticking and we still did not have a stallion lined up. We were now down to our fourth stallion candidate, a stallion that stood just down the road.

The down-the-road stallion was always one of our fallback positions. This neighboring stallion had not received many mares during years one and two, so we would not be shut out. Plus, the guy who ran the farm was a friend. We booked this sire and our broodmare became pregnant with baby number three. Honestly, this third breeding was a bit of a letdown. Broodmare owners were not knocking down the door for this stallion during his first two seasons and although he looked outstanding to us, we figured this stallion would have limited commercial value. He had the earmarks of producing a homebred for racing.

But here is where karma paid a visit.

For some reason, or reasons, that we still do not comprehend, when the first crop of this stallion went to market in the fall, his small crop sold crazy well. Buyers kept bidding, he had the sales topper and his average yearling price led the sale. His popularity amazed us. His small second small crop goes to market this fall. His third small crop, which we will belong to, sells the following year. His fourth crop will be significant: he raised his fee and filled his book before Thanksgiving. How often does a stallion have his booking explode in his fourth season?

The story of our next foal, scheduled to emerge from the womb in a few weeks, is just beginning. Due to the sire leaping onto centerstage from nowheresville, this foal could be in an excellent position if all goes well. But, of course, many things can happen between those first teetering steps in the straw and the banging hammer at an auction.

After the foaling, our insanity continues as we face the annual game of stallion selection. Currently, we have at least ten options with different prices and state eligibilities.

Breaking news: I mentioned how and why I procrastinate a few paragraphs ago. Guess what? Another possible sire announced today, a late entry onto our menu of 2023 trotting stallions. Although I never heard of him until this morning, he goes on our list.

The next few weeks will be a lot of fun. We will make our lists, plead our cases and study glossy stallion advertisements searching for our next stallion choice. Looking years down the road and predicting what will strike the fancy of yearling customers is an exciting challenge. Our selection process will be a blast, but I can’t help thinking that putting a dozen stallion names in a hat, reaching into that hat and letting karma take over might be the best way for the Keystone Kops to roll.