West By West. Sewickley. Compelling Sound. Becker and East Over Court.
The names of these horses might not be household words, but each is a new Maryland stallion prospect that represents a firm commitment by breeders in the future of the state's thoroughbred industry.
Maryland's breeding industry is spotlighted Saturday by the eighth running of the Maryland Million. It's a day that one horseman, local advertising executive David Hayden, said "means more to Maryland breeders than the Preakness."
"The Maryland Million has a local, hometown flavor, while the Preakness is national in scope. And, I think, without question, it has been instrumental in maintaining Maryland's status as the leading mid-Atlantic breeding state."
All of the 120 horses expected to run in the 12 races Saturday are offspring of Maryland stallions.
West By West is a Grade I New York winner who eventually will stand at stud in Chesapeake City at the Northview Stallion Station, part of the old Windfields Farm.
Sewickley and Compellng Sound are also graded winners going, respectively, to Bonita and Country Life Farm in Harford County. Becker, a son of leading stallion Danzig, and East Over Court, a son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, will join the stallion rosters at Murmur and Green Willow Farms.
Statistics compiled by The Jockey Club, the organization that maintains thoroughbred records, show that Maryland mirrors the nation in the decline in its annual production of thoroughbred foals, a phenomenon that started in the late 1980s, when tax law changes, coupled with poor economic conditions, made breeding and owning horses less profitable.
But there are still indications that Maryland is maintaining a vibrant breeding industry "and doing a lot better than other states in this region," Hayden said.
One only had to attend the Eastern Fall Yearling Sale at the Timonium Fairgrounds on Sunday night to see that there is still demand for Maryland horses.
For the first time in the history of the sale, five yearlings brought more than $50,000 each. The sale topper was sired by Maryland-bred (but Kentucky-based) Houston, but the next four most expensive animals were fathered by Rollicking, Citidancer, Val De L'Orne and Allen's Prospect. Those stallions, except Val De L'Orne, stand or stood in Maryland.
Completing the top dozen animals, which ranged in price from $29,500 to $40,000, were sons and daughters of Maryland stallions Two Punch, Silver Badge, Carnivalay, Lord Gaylord, Waquoit, Horatius and King's Nest.
"People sometimes knock Maryland stallions, but they are holding their own, and I think a lot of their offspring sold well because they are eligible to the Maryland Million," said J.W.Y. Martin Jr., president of the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association.
Usually, trainer Brian Mayberry, representing Californians Jan, Mace and Samantha Siegel, bought the best horses, but this year he was joined in the bidding for the highest-priced horses by Philadelphian F. Eugene Dixon, new Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, local trainer Francis Campitelli, Floridian Scott Savin and John Polek of Timonium.
Other positive signs: In addition to the Timonium sale's showing a 30 to 40 percent gross increase, a new sales company, Horsemen's Bloodstock Services, held a successful inaugural yearling sale at Laurel Race Course 10 days ago. And Sagamore Farm, once Maryland's signature horse farm, has re-opened as a breeding and training facility after being shut down for three years.
"Every year, it seems we've been looking for the market to bottom out, and it looks like it might have been last year," said Snowden Carter, a stallion syndicate manager and former MHBA executive director. "It looks like locally the industry has stabilized and might even be coming back. It seems to be something you feel more than you can actually prove by statistics. It's the electricity, for example, you felt in the air at the Laurel auction or at Timonium on Sunday night."
It could be, said Josh Pons, partner in Country Life Farm, "that horse people are sick and tired of taking a beating. I know with Compelling Sound that the market is deep enough to respond to quality. It seems that the higher you shoot, the better your chances are of being rewarded. But still, you have to change with the times and price your stock accordingly.
"This is a business where you constantly have to check your current inventory. It's one business where you can't rest on your laurels."
What: Eighth running of the Maryland Million, a 12-race card restricted to the offspring of Maryland stallions. Purses total $1 million.
Where: Laurel Race Course
Post time: 12:30 p.m.
Highlights: America's leading jockey, Kent Desormeaux, is expected to ride and will try to defend his title by seeking a repeat victory in the featured Maryland Million Classic.
Entries: The fields for the 12 races are drawn at noon tomorrow in the Ruffian Room at Laurel.