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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Deceptive Stallion Ads

The bottom line on stallion ads is to drum up business, of course, but what qualities and accomplishments a given farm highlights or ignores in these ads is always of interest. What they choose to say and not say tells the tale. Norman Woolworth and David Johnston’s Stoner Creek Stud always embraced the understated approach. In 1971 ads for Meadow Skipper, they simply noted that Most Happy Fella, from his first crop, had been voted Pacer of the Year while two-year-old Albatross had won his division. Skipper stood for $5,000 at that time. Eight years later, when it was obvious that he was the King and he was standing for $30,000, they simply printed “The Ultimate Sire” over Meadow Skipper’s name. A similar approach was taken by Jefs when they stood grandson Cam Fella in New Jersey for $25,000 16 years later. “The Pacing Machine” said it all.

A more hyperbolic approach was taken by Team Finder/Guida with Niatross. In a 1987 ad the former was described in bold type as “The most prolific pacing stallion in the world today.” Prolific in this case describes numbers of 2:00 and 1:53 or faster performers from the first three crops of the great pacer. The ad goes on to state that “Niatross is the superior stallion of all time.” He was standing for $40,000. Unfortunately, like too many from that line, he started off good but fell off sharply after the first few crops. Nihilator, Semalu Damour, Pershing Square, Smartest Remark, Barberry Spur and Caressable all came early, but pretty soon the well went dry.

Barberry Spur stood at Stoner Creek for $10,000. Ouch! By 1990 Niatross was standing for $7,500 in New Jersey; four years later his fee had dropped to $5,000; five years later he was dead. The superior stallion of all time? I don’t think so. The Finder/Guida syndicate also marketed the Albatross stallion Merger as “the fastest two year old pacer in history.” True enough, but another dud.

Nihilator, who was syndicated for more than $19 million, was also hyped beyond the realm of possibility. He started out serving a large book of mares at Almahurst for $40,000 a pop and proved to be a disaster. Ted Gewertz was quoted as saying the worst mistake he ever made was breeding to Nihilator. His fee dropped to $35,000, then $25,000. He only sired five full crops before passing prematurely.

Bret Hanover was better than any pacer that preceded him. For that reason his first crop sons, none of whom were worth a damn as stallions, were marketed very aggressively. Almahurst advertised High Ideal anywhere and everywhere as the “greatest son of Bret Hanover.” At that point that wasn’t saying much and High Ideal, despite all the support, proved to be a mistake. Flying Bret was another from that first crop who was touted in the pages of every magazine but never amounted to anything. Golden Money Maker was also a failed stallion—in this case by Tar Heel—who was a darling of those selling ad space.

Green Speed, who won the 1977 Hambletonian and Yonkers Trot, was touted by Pine Hollow Stud (Finder again) as a horse “Considered by many to be the greatest trotter to ever look through a bridle.” Trainer/driver Bill Haughton is quoted as saying Green Speed was “the greatest trotter I have ever seen.” The son of Speedy Rodney was standing for $5,000, a veritable bargain for the greatest ever. He sired one good horse, the filly Duenna, who won the Hambletonian for Stanley Dancer. Not quite the greatest ever? Later on Haughton was quoted in an ad for Burgomeister as saying, “he could have been the best trotter around.” But he wasn’t and he failed as a stallion. Pine Hollow also screamed that Sonsam’s world record 1:53.2 win in the Meadowlands Pace was “the greatest performance ever.” Like his paternal brothers, he was good at the beginning but hit the wall early.

Lana Lobell’s Alan Leavitt, a novelist in his spare time,  favored long essays that emphasized his personal experience choosing stallions and matching them up with mares. In some cases a full page ad never mentioned the farm’s stallions. In one he proudly proclaimed experience to be superior to a computer program when it comes to assigning mares to stallions.  After reading five paragraphs on Icarus Lobell you thought he was talking about Meadow Skipper. Although in the case of Speedy Crown, who was a game changer, ads full of numbers did appear. Fair Winds Farm also took the long-winded approach to advertising stallions like McKinzie Almahurst.

Sometimes it’s best to avoid focusing on the stallion being advertised. A case in point is the advertising put forth on behalf of Deweycheatumnhowe. Walnut Hall had a full page ad in a recent edition of Horseman And Fair World with Master Of Law in bold print and a picture of that one winning the Centaur. Dewey, who has bounced from Kentucky to Ontario to New York, is mentioned once in the small print. Ads for track stars that are struggling as stallions, like Art Official, Shark Gesture and Mister Big, are long on racing accomplishments by the stallion and short on details about his progeny. There is a time limit on that: at some point it gets a little weird.

Breeding can be a point of emphasis. Shirley’s Beau, the best son of the Hoot Mon stallion Overcall, was advertised as one that “could be the outcross stallion needed in harness breeding.” He wasn’t. Keystone Ore was touted as the “greatest son of Bye Bye Byrd.” He did sire It’s Fritz, one of those fastest that never won anything types. Speaking of pure speed, one obscure stallion was touted as the only son of Steady Star standing in Illinois. Still one too many.

Unraced Cobra Almahurst, a $385,000 yearling, was produced by “The Magic of Meadow Skipper.” “He was meant to be a great one and everyone knew it.” All this for $1,000 in Illinois. Lime Time was marketed on the basis of his 95% conception rate. They were slow as can be, but they were a sure bet to pop out. Sundance Skipper, the sire of Carl’s Bird, was “the overnight sensation.” Not exactly. Ideal Society was “The only 2 year old to beat all multimillion dollar syndicated 2 year olds in 1981.” Say what? Lew Williams’ speedball Whata Baron did much of his best work in New Jersey and he was widely advertised when he entered the stallion ranks. He may have executed seven sub-1:55 winning miles in less than three months, but he was no sire. The Armstrong Brothers boldly stated and underlined that Armbro Omaha’s “First Crop Defies Comparison.” Even by OSS standards in the late 1970’s that was kind of strong. The son of Airliner was better on the track than he was in the shed. Good ads can give a stallion a boost, but when looked back at from a distance they may raise an eyebrow or two.

Joe FitzGerald

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