The thoroughbred breeding season is in full swing, but how does it work exactly? Bourbon and Barns checked in with Darren Fox, the sales manager at Darley America at Jonabell Farm in Lexington, KY, to learn more. Darley America is part of the larger Darley and Godolphin interests with operations in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Ireland and Japan. Darley’s impressive roster of stallions in Lexington includes Alpha, Animal Kingdom, Bernardini, Elusive Quality, Emcee, Frosted, Girolamo, Hard Spun, Medaglia d’Oro, Midshipman, Nyquist, Street Boss and Street Sense. Read more about these stallions at www.darleyamerica.com.
Bourbon and Barns: When does the breeding season begin and end?
Darren Fox: It begins the middle of February and usually runs through June. We will have three covering sessions per day during that time, but not every stallion covers during every session.
BB: What does the breeding process entail? Does the owner of a mare need to apply and get accepted? What is acceptance usually based on (i.e. mare's breeding, race record, progeny, siblings, etc)?
DF: Mare owners secure contracts to our stallions before they can breed, which details the stud fee and the terms of the contract. Pedigree and performance weigh heavy when selecting mares for stallions.
BB: Does the farm have its own mares that it breeds? Are those mares always bred to your stallions or are they bred to a variety of stallions? Are the progeny generally raised to race for the farm?
DF: Yes, Godolphin has its own broodmare band, which are bred to our own stallions and stallions off the farm too. All of our progeny are raised with the goal of racing in the Godolphin blue silks. We may sell a few, but for the most part we keep them to race.
BB: How does the farm acquire its stallions? Does the farm generally have a full or partial ownership of its stallions?
DF: The preferred method is to breed them ourselves like Frosted this year but sometimes we secure breeding rights to colts in training with other owners like Nyquist.
BB: Does the farm try to acquire stallions from different sire lines and different types of race specialties (sprint, turf, etc)? Or does the farm simply try to acquire the stallions it believes will perform best at stud?
DF: There are no hard and fast rules. Our roster has good variation between racing surfaces and distance aptitudes. We are always looking for that supremely talented colt that can separate himself from his peers.
BB: Your farm's stallions stand for a range of fees from $5,000 to $150,000. How are these fees set?
DF: By market forces, which are typically determined by the stallions’ performance on the race track and in the sales ring.
BB: How many mares will a stallion cover in a season? Do they ever shuttle to South America or elsewhere for additional breeding?
DF: The number of mares covered can vary from stallion to stallion depending on age, fertility, and other factors. Our stallions cover anywhere from 110 to 150 mares during the season. Some of our stallions do travel and cover the Southern Hemisphere season as well, though they will typically breed less mares there than at home.
BB: What is a typical day like for a stallion on the farm during breeding season? What about during the rest of the year?
DF: They breed at 7:30 a.m. and are turned out for some time in their paddock. They are then brought up to the barn for their afternoon breeding around 1:30 or 2:00 p.m. and, if they have an evening mare, that will usually be at 6:30 p.m.
BB: How do new stallions typically adjust to their new life when they leave the racetrack?
DF: There is an adjustment or letting down period but, for the most part, they are intelligent animals and take to the new routine right away.