One of the half-brothers of Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who finished a close up third in Saturday's Travers Stakes at Saratoga, has moved to Maryland in preparation for entering stallion duty at Country Life Farm in Bel Air.
Freedom Child, runaway winner of the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes in New York in May, was retired from racing following the July 27 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. He is a son of the stallion Malibu Moon, from the mare Bandstand out of Deputy Minister.
Freedom Child is stabled at Merryland Farm in Hydes, but Josh and Mike Pons, who own Merryland and Country Life, plan to bring him and their other two stallions, Friesan Fire and Cal Nation, to the Bel Air farm in September, as soon as the farm's historic stallion barn undergoes some renovations, along with the farm's yearling barns and breeding shed. Friesan Fire and Cal Nation have been standing at Merryland.
The move to Maryland by a son of one of the hottest stallions in the world is perhaps the clearest signal yet that Maryland's thoroughbred breeding industry is beginning to emerge from its sustained economic downturn caused by several factors, not the least of which was the loss of business to other states where the racing and breeding industries were subsidized by casino gambling, absent from Maryland until three years ago.
"We have been looking for a son of Malibu Moon to bring to Maryland as a stallion," Mike Pons said Friday. "We felt the time was right. There's a lot more money out there [from the casinos] than there was even a year ago, and people are looking to breed their mares in Maryland again. Our partners [in Freedom Child] thought this would be a good opportunity for him to start here."
Pons said it has been their intention to continue building their stallion roster and, eventually, base it at their home farm, which was established by their grandfather, Adolphe Pons, and is marking its 80th year as a thoroughbred farm.
Malibu Moon spent the early part of his stud career at Country Life before moving to Kentucky after the success of his offspring as racehorses rocketed their father to the top of the U.S. stallion rankings. Freedom Child and the other two stallions will be moving to the same barn in Bel Air that housed Malibu Moon from 2000 to 2009, as well as the outstanding regional stallions Allen's Prospect, Carnivalay and Citidancer, who are deceased. The barn was also the one-time home of Saggy, who sired 1961 Derby and Preakness winner Carry Back.
Freedom Child raced in the silks of West Point Thoroughbreds. The stallion syndicate consists of Country Life, West Point, Spendthrift Farm of Kentucky, St. Elias Farm and Candyland Farm, Pons said. He credited B. Wayne Hughes, Spendthrift's owner, with putting the stallion deal together. Hughes and the Pons are partners in Malibu Moon.
Rebound try falls short
In May, Orb became the first Malibu Moon offspring to win a Triple Crown race, making a bold move at the top of the stretch and drawing clear to win the Derby at Churchill Downs. Though he went off as the betting favorite in the Preakness at Pimlico on May 18, Orb finished a tiring fourth to front-running Oxbow and then ran third to winner Palace Malice and Oxbow in the June 10 Belmont Stakes.
Following those lackluster performances in the final two legs of the Triple Crown, Orb spent almost two months being freshened at the Fair Hill Training Center in Cecil County. He looked fit, and his connections said he had trained well since arriving at Saratoga, but once again on Saturday he failed to show a finishing kick like he had in May at Churchill Downs, finishing behind long shots Will Take Charge and Mareno in the 114th running of America's oldest stakes race.
Will Take Charge, trained by the incomparable D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Luis Saez, got up at the wire to win by a nose over the front-running Moreno.
Orb, owned by Marylander Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stables, was well placed throughout the mile and one-quarter race and made a move along the rail at the top of the stretch, but couldn't pass Moreno. Palace Malice, a co-second choice in the betting with Orb, finished fourth. Verrazano, the betting favorite, was off the board.
The fact that another of this year's classic races for 3-year-olds produced a different winner probably won't dim Orb's prospects going forward, nor those of Malibu Moon, who remains a much sought after stallion.
Injury ends career
The Jim Dandy, which serves as the principal prep for the Travers and which was won this year by Palace Malice – with Will Take Charge second - was the last race of Freedom Child's career, as he finished ninth and last in the field. He was also 13th in the 14-horse Belmont Stakes field.
Freedom Child finished his career with two wins, a second and a third in eight starts and total earnings of $170,000. Pons said they believe the colt suffered a ligament injury in the Belmont, but has shown no signs of discomfort or difficulty walking since coming to Merryland Farm.
The Pons brothers are no strangers to taking lightly raced colts, or those with mediocre racing records, and turning them into successful high demand stallions, Malibu Moon being a case in point.
"Freedom Child is a good looking, chestnut colt, 16 hands, and we think he has what it takes to be a good stallion," Mike Pons said. "Maryland racing and breeding are undergoing a renaissance. This is Clef's third new stallion in three years, demonstrating our commitment to the anticipated resurgence in Maryland breeding and racing over the next few years."
Pons said Freedom Child will stand for a stud fee of $3,500. He said the partners in the syndicate are committed to breeding 15 to 20 of their own mares to him in his first seasons, plus Spendthrift, which hasn't stood at stallion in Maryland since 2003, has a so-called "share the upside" program where mare owners can earn lifetime breeding rights, if they support a new stallion in his early years.
"We think we will be able to get Freedom Child's book to 80 to 100 mares fairly quickly, particularly if Orb and the other Malibu Moon colts keep doing well at the track," Pons said.