Over the Moon

Thursday, October 15, 2009

American Graded Stakes Standings
Through 10/15/09 
What does a former longtime editor of Blood-Horse magazine have to do with one of the leading sires of American Graded Stakes winners of 2009?

Plenty, if you ask Josh Pons, who helps run his family’s Country Life Farm in Maryland, where top sire Malibu Moon got his start at stud in the year 2000 for a modest fee of just $3,000 live foal.

This is not about yours truly, who served as Blood-Horse editor in chief from 1992-2007, but Kent Hollingsworth, who held that post (as well as publisher) with great distinction for nearly a quarter century, from 1963-86. Hollingsworth was a mentor to Pons, a former two-time Eclipse Award-winning writer for the weekly magazine (and to many others who respected Hollingsworth for his insights, intellect, sense of humor and courage). When Hollingsworth died in 1999, Pons traveled from Maryland to Kentucky to attend a memorial service at the Kentucky Horse Park.

While in Lexington for the July 1 memorial, Pons ran into horseman John Stuart, who told him about an A.P. Indy colt that suffered a career-ending slab fracture of the knee after an impressive Hollywood Park 2-year-old maiden victory for owner B. Wayne Hughes and trainer Mel Stute. Pons was looking for a stallion to add to the Country Life roster and thought, “Hey, I’m halfway to California, maybe I can find a cheap flight and go take a look at the horse.”

It meant Pons would have to miss the annual Fourth of July celebration at the farm, but he followed his instincts, got that cheap flight, and struck a deal with Hughes to buy a half-interest in Malibu Moon and bring him to Maryland. He admits there wasn’t a lot of competition to stand the horse at stud.

To this day, even after Malibu Moon was moved to Kentucky, standing first at the late Dr. Tony Ryan’s Castleton Lyons Farm and now at Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm, that deal is paying dividends to Country Life, which retains a 25% share in the horse. In a strange kind of way, Hollingsworth gets more than a little credit.

“That such an important person in my life made this kind of a beneficial impact—even from the grave—is really kind of amazing,” Pons said of Hollingsworth. Pons said he stops by a small marker memorializing Hollingsworth at the Kentucky Horse Park when he is in Lexington.

Despite having only that one win from two starts, Malibu Moon was well received by breeders in the Midatlantic region, getting over 100 mares his first year for a stud fee of $3,000 live foal. “He was such a handsome horse that he really stood out,” said Pons. From his first crop of 62 foals came 44 winners, 13 of them as 2-year-olds, and seven stakes winners, including multiple American Graded Stakes winner Perfect Moon. At the end of 2003, he was moved to Castleton Lyons, which bought half of Country Life’s half interest. “It was a little bit like a game of poker,” said Pons, “but Mr. Hughes said 25% of the horse would be worth more in Kentucky than 50% in Maryland.” Malibu Moon’s fee went up to $10,000 for 2004, and then to $40,000 in 2005 after Declan’s Moon (from his second crop) won an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male of 2004. He stood four years at Castleton Lyons, then moved to Spendthrift before the 2008 breeding season. He stood for $40,000 in 2009.

“Country Life did a great job getting him rolling, and Castleton did a tremendous job while they had him,” said Ken Wilkins, who joined the Spendthrift team as stallion director in October 2007. Wilkins said the book was closed for Malibu Moon after he was bred to 152 mares in 2008 and, with overall demand down, 136 mares in 2009. Hughes, who owns about 120 mares, bred 11 to Malibu Moon himself this year.

“The last four years he’s been A.P. Indy’s leading son of stakes winners,” Wilkins of Malibu Moon. “The next hurdle for him is to be a sire of sires. With better mares coming, it’s a matter of time for that to happen.”

Malibu Moon has sired six American Graded Stakes winners of 2009, the same as Giant’s Causeway, Dixie Union, Pulpit and Candy Ride. Only his sire, A.P. Indy, has more, with eight. Malibu Moon’s six AGS winners are Grade 1 winners Funny Moon (out of an Easy Goer Mare), winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks, and Devil May Care (Red Ransom mare), winner of the Frizette; Grade 2 winner Luna Vega (Rock Royalty mare), winner of the Molly Pitcher Handicap; and Grade 3 winners Ah Day (Thirty Eight Paces mare), winner of the Toboggan Handicap, Sweet August Moon (Royal Academy mare), winner of the Las Flores Stakes, and Sara Louise (Mt. Livermore mare), winner of the Victory Ride Stakes.

Mr. Prospector’s 17-year-old daughter Macoumba, a stakes winner in France who produced Malibu Moon, is currently in foal to Distorted Humor and has a yearling by Dynaformer.

In some respects, Malibu Moon winning even one race was something of a longshot. As a foal, he was stepped on by his dam and suffered a cracked pastern. According to Pons, Hughes was told the horse would probably never race, though he recovered from that injury and blossomed in training for Stute, showing unusual precocity for a son of A.P. Indy. “Not many A.P. Indys win in May,” Pons said.
It’s a longshot for any horse that wins just one race to have the opportunity to succeed at stud, but Malibu Moon has overcome the odds. The credit for that success can be spread around, to farms in Maryland and Kentucky, and to an editor that Josh Pons will never forget.
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