Worldwide success for the stud that's a stone's throw from the auction ring
Stone Farm's Lynn Hancock with an insight into this year's offerings
It would be something of an understatement to say that the Keeneland September Yearling Sale has been kind to the team at Stone Farm.
Based just down the road from the sales ring, the operation is the brainchild of fourth generation horseman Arthur B Hancock III, who was first sent to Stone Farm by his legendary father Bull Hancock when it comprised of a mere 100 acre tract.
Now spanning 2,000 acres nearly 40 years later, Stone Farm heads to the 4,538-lot sale with a wealth of choicely-bred offerings.
Despite the rich history of the Hancock family, you do not have to delve into the archives to stumble across a Stone Farm Keeneland success story, with the Bourbon County establishment having sold the unbeaten Grade 1-winning colt Mastery for $425,000 in 2015.
Now standing alongside the likes of War Front at Claiborne Farm, he commanded a fee of $25,000 in his first season on stud duty earlier this year.
Even more recently, Stone Farm graduate Roadster, a Quality Road half-brother to last year's Manhattan Stakes winner Ascend, fetched $525,000 just 12 months ago.
The Bob Baffert-trained juvenile finished third when favourite for the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity earlier this month, and the fact that his Hall of Fame trainer expressed disappointment with that showing on just his second career start is indicative of the kind of regard in which he is held.
Despite the strong recent form, Arthur’s daughter, Lynn Hancock, explains that the Kentucky outfit have been at the forefront of this game for a considerable amount of time.
“We sold Fusaichi Pegasus as a yearling at Keeneland, what feels like way back when,” she says. “We also sold No Matter What there, who went on to be the dam of European champion Rainbow View.
“We’re lucky that we’ve got a nice group to take up this year and we’ll just cross our fingers and see what happens.”
Present in this year’s Keeneland contingent is a colt by The Factor out of Emperesse and a First Samurai filly out of Pinkie Pact, both of whom are closely related to Aidan O’Brien’s Dewhurst winner Air Force Blue. The son of War Front was bred by Stone Farm before being sold to Coolmore for $490,000 at the 2014 September Sale.
Given Air Force Blue's exploits, his relatives seem likely to attract strong interest from the influx of Europeans heading to Kentucky, and Hancock feels that the presence of international buyers at Keeneland is a good sign for consignors like Stone Farm.
“We’re always glad to see the internationals come in. We’ve also had some Australians over in the past couple of years and the Japanese back over. As a consignor it’s nice to see that we’ve still got something over here that people want.
“It seems at September there is something for everyone. You’ve got the top of the market, the lower end, middle range, you’ve got dirt horses, you’ve got turf horses. There’s something for everyone there and we’re glad to see the Europeans coming over.
“We breed mostly to sell, so typically we take pretty much everything up there and we try to have some ‘heavy hitters’ as my dad calls them.”
A tense five minutes or so awaits the operation during the second session, with two lots – a colt by Super Saver (Lot 361) and a Curlin filly (362) – due to be offered back-to-back.
“They both have the capacity to bring a little bit,” says Hancock. “We’re consigning those for our great client and friend of my dad's Virginia Payson, so we hope that goes well.
"We’ll just have to wait and see, it could be a nervous five minutes but everybody is there so we’ll see who likes them.
“The Super Saver colt is a half-brother to stakes winner Pubilius Syrus, who was Ruthenia’s first foal. She was a Graded stakes-winning racemare and is an exciting one to watch as she’s just in the early stages of her broodmare career.
“We also have the Curlin filly out of Rutherienne, who was an impressive racemare winning over $1 million on the track. She’s really nice and has done everything right. She’s a big filly and we have high hopes for her.”
There is, however, one notable absentee from the Stone Farm draft, with the War Front sister to Air Force Blue now due to be retained, as Arthur Hancock explains: “Some good friends wanted to be partners with us on her and we happily accepted their offer because we are so crazy about her.
“She will be a wonderful racing and broodmare prospect for the future.”
Nature over nurture
Lynn Hancock may not be able to foresee how the sale will unfold, but she can be certain about the quality of upbringing Stone Farm’s yearlings have enjoyed.
Nature over nurture is the winning formula adopted here and that careful, considered approach to breeding horses has certainly paid dividends over the years, with Stone Farm’s illustrious roll of honour including winners of each American Triple Crown race - the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
“We try to breed to good stallions. Like my dad says and my grandfather told him: ‘a good bull is half your herd, and a bad bull is all of it’, so we put a lot of stock into who we’re sending mares to,” Hancock explains.
“My dad’s theory is to let the horses be horses. We try to stick as close to nature as possible. We don’t put mares under lights and we try to give all of the horses as much time outside as we can.
“It’s what my sister and I call the fishtank theory: If you have a fish swimming around in a small tank, he may not grow to be as big and strong as a fish in a larger tank might.
"We think the same about our horses, which is why we have 80 to 100 acre fields – to give them plenty of space to maximise their potential, get tough and become athletes.
“As James Delahooke once said: 'let me see the graduates of the Arthur Hancock school of unarmed combat'. It more or less is just that!”
If previous form is anything to go by, expect Stone Farm to be a big fish at Keeneland next week.
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