Golden Gate Closure: The Breeders’ Takes

By Dan Ross

Tom Clark is the owner and manager of Rancho San Miguel, where more than 400 horses currently roam a sprawling 250-acres in California’s San Luis Obispo County. He owns and manages the farm with his wife, Nancy. They have run it since 2000.

The farm is a lynchpin of the state’s breeding industry, housing as it does such workhorses of the California breeding shed as Sir Prancealot (Ire) (Tamayuz {GB}), Danzing Candy (Twirling Candy) and Mo Forza (Uncle Mo).

But Clark harbors a grim prediction for the future of the state breeding industry if racing in Northern California is reduced to just the short summer fair meets.

“I think the foal crop could easily be halved from where we are now if there is no [sustained] racing in Northern California,” said Clark, estimating that such a precipitous drop could happen as quickly as within two years. “There would be nowhere to go with these horses,” he said.

The number of California-born foals fell from 3664 in 2005 to 1309 in 2021–a drop of some 65%. The number of mares bred in the state between 2005 and last year fell by a comparable percentage.

“Our farm breeds about one in every six mares in the state of California,” Clark said. “We had 137 foals born there this year. And when you look at where these horses end up, about half of them end up in Northern California.”

Many of Clark’s clients, he said, are from the north of the state. “Conversations I’ve had with them, most of them don’t see an opportunity to move south like The Stronach Group thinks could happen.”

Part of the reason why, said Clark, is that some prefer the ease of seeing their horses routinely train and race. In other words, Los Angeles County would be a step too far for those closer to the Oregon border. But by far the primary reason, he added, is one of economics.

“The cost of moving the horses and the day-to-day cost to maintain those cheaper style horses, the economics just don’t work,” he said. “It’s not just the day money. It’s the significant increase they’ll see in vet bills and so on. The numbers just don’t pencil out.”

At the moment, breeding plans at Rancho San Miguel remain pretty stable for next year. But in Clark’s mind, he is already sifting through the economic rubble of a state racing circuit heavily slanted to the south, leading to a devastating economic “ripple effect” across the entire state.

“We have over 50 people who live on our farm, employees and their families. Many of those have been with us for over 20 years. They’re totally dedicated to taking care of horses. And they will just have no place to go. But it’s not just our farm–there are many other farms that take just as good of care of their horses as we do,” Clark said.

“Then you’ve got to take into consideration farriers, veterinarians, feed companies, hay providers, the transportation guys,” he said. “All of them will be impacted by this massive shrinkage of the breeding business.”

The California horse racing industry is estimated to directly contribute over $4.5 billion to the state’s economy, and over 77,700 jobs.

Adding fuel to the urgency of maintaining a racing circuit in Northern California far beyond the summer fair meets, said Clark, are the glaring question marks hanging over the future of Arizona’s Turf Paradise racetrack–which typically operates a meet from November to May–along with a shrinking racing calendar in Washington State.

These are venues that have historically provided an outlet for the sorts of horses ill-suited to the conditions of California racing. With Golden Gate closing, breeders more than ever need a year-round circuit in the north, said Clark. Even if The Stronach Group (TSG)’s proposed four-day race-week at Santa Anita materializes, that still wouldn’t be enough to sustain the breed in California, he said.

Long-time owner-breeder Nick Alexander agrees. He has a broodmare band of about 35, he said, including the dam of Cal-bred Horse of the Year, Lieutenant Dan (Grazen).

“Out of that same mare, most of the horses she’s produced are Golden Gate horses,” said Alexander. “You have to have an outlet for all ranges of horses. You cannot run horses at Santa Anita that should be running for $5,000, and the trainer can’t be charging $120 day-money for them. It doesn’t compute.”

Alexander, who has raced at the Bay Area facility for roughly 40 years, lamented the track’s imminent closure for a likely exodus of talent from the state. “The people in the north are terrified, and once they’re dispersed, they’re not returning,” he said. “Once the toothpaste’s out the tube, you can’t put it back.”

More broadly, Alexander described his sense of frustration about the manner in which the closure has been handled, and a feeling that the facility so integral to the state industry has been sacrificed for purely “commercial” reasons. “They just don’t deserve to own a facility that is so important to our industry, important to fans, important to everybody,” he said. “It just breaks my heart.”

California Thoroughbred Breeding Association

“If Northern California can provide a calendar that can protect our breeders and continue to create the current demand that we have for Cal-breds, that’s what we want,” said California Thoroughbred Breeding Association (CTBA) president Doug Burge.

Burge added, however, that the CTBA had not yet taken a firm position on any of the matters currently facing the breeding industry from Golden Gate’s closure, and might refrain from doing so, even when the board meets later this week.

“We have constituents in the north and the south, and there are too many moving pieces right now. You have to look at the economics, see what’s best for the breeders, what’s best for the owners, what’s best for racing,” said Burge.

At the same time, Burge emphasized the pivotal role of Cal-breds to field sizes. “When I started in the mid-’90s, Cal-breds were a nice compliment to racing,” he said. “Now they’re a necessity.”

This is borne out by the data. During Santa Anita’s recently concluded six-month meet, Cal-breds made up about 37% of all individual starts, according to DRF chart data, and Cal-bred races constituted more than 20% of the overall races.

According to California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) chairman Greg Ferraro, about 35% of the foals bred in California race at Golden Gate.

“If we did anything at all to discourage or reduce the number of foals born, everyone understands it would be a major issue,” said Burge.

When asked, Burge said that he had not crunched the numbers to identify how much further the foal crop in the state could shrink before breeding becomes an unsustainable economic model.

Last month, TSG announced a planned $500,000 investment into the state breeding industry to help compensate for the closure of Golden Gate Fields.

“With these renovations and the commitment to California-bred racing, I see the opportunities for Cal-breds greatly increasing and providing more value for those horses because of it. I’m going to breed more mares to take advantage of it. This is going to benefit the entire industry in the state,” prominent California breeder Terry Lovingier is quoted as saying in a TSG press release at that time.

Lovingier is also the CTBA chairperson.

According to Burge, the CTBA board is “looking at some creative uses of the funds to support the breeders,” though he added that he was unable to publicly share any details while they’re still being ironed out.

Burge said TSG’s breeder investment is currently a “one-time” offer, though added the idea of making it a repeat investment was “under discussion.”

When asked the same question, a TSG spokesperson wrote in a statement that the company is currently meeting with all industry stakeholders “as we work to shore up and improve California racing through our consolidation of operations” in the south.

“From timing, to financial considerations, to real conversations about the state of our sport, we appreciate the California Horse Racing Board’s comments last week about open and transparent dialogue and plan to continue along that path though this transition,” the spokesperson added.

TSG representatives have repeatedly suggested that the $30 million-plus suite of investments earmarked for Santa Anita and San Luis Rey Downs are couched upon proceeds from simulcasting wagering conducted in the north being funneled to the southern racing circuit-what would appear facilitated through legislative change.

What is the CTB’s position on those potential legislative efforts? “We haven’t seen that legislation. We hear about it. We talk about it. We understand it. But we haven’t taken any position whatsoever,” responded Burge.

As a glimmer of encouragement, Burge pointed to last week’s CTBA Northern California Yearling Sale, which boasted year-over-year result increases, for an average of $9,260 and median price of $5,500. The average sales price for yearlings this year was 11.6 percent higher than last year.

“Everybody going into it thought it would be all doom and gloom,” said Burge. “And it turned out to be one of the best sales we’ve had in ten years.”

Key California breeder Adrian Gonzalez–a ubiquitous presence on the California sales scene–is a self-described “glass-half-full” kind of guy. But he admits that news of Golden Gate’s closure has knocked his confidence in the California breeding industry’s long-term future.

“This is the first time that I have felt that this is not going the way we’re used to,” said Gonzalez. He explained how the announced closure of the Bay Area facility has much wider ramifications for the industry than had been the case when the likes of Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park were shuttered.

Gonzalez’s Checkmate Farm–a 66-acre ranch in Parkfield, California–houses between 50 and 60 mares right now, about half of them for his clients, the other half his own. And Gonzalez said that breeding plans for next year remain “pretty consistent.”

But with many of his clients stemming from the north, Gonzalez said he fears for a scenario where racing in the north is restricted to just the short summer fair meets.

For one, many of Gonzalez’s clients either cannot compete on the Southern California circuit, or simply do not want to, he said.

But he also worries that TSG’s plans to expand racing at Santa Anita to a four-day race-week won’t provide enough opportunity to prevent the breeding industry contracting even further. And with shrinkage comes consolidation, he said.

“We need all of these farms [in California] supported. We just can’t consolidate down to three or farms in the state,” Gonzales said, adding that the problem is compounded by a shortage of horse owners.

“I just don’t believe that you’re going to be able to keep all of the same owners and expect them to race in a different [location down south],” he said. “While they’re still on the same circuit, they’re 300 miles away.”

Kevin Dickson is farm manager for Barton Thoroughbreds, the 200-acre family-owned breeding behemoth in California’s Santa Ynez Valley.

Dickson’s sentiments ranged from concerns about the financial realities of the sport in California to recognition that the Barton operation is perhaps better insulated than others from these economic headwinds.

“California used to be such a strong market. We’re just hanging on by a thread. And losing another track is devastating to not just breeders but all players,” said Dickson. “We can’t afford it.”

Could the Barton operation continue in its current approach if Northern California racing shrunk to just the summer fair meets? “The short answer is yes, we can. The long answer is, I don’t know,” said Dickson, emphasizing the difference in the north-south markets.

“Despite some of the rumors and things that are being said about things like blended meets down south, anybody I’ve spoken to–and that’s having just completed a sale in the northern market–the people up north, they’re not buying it,” he said.

Indeed, Dickson described a “lesser presence” at the recent CTBA Northern Sale than is typically the case. “My big buyer over the last three years was an absentee,” he said. “That hurt a little.”

At the same time, Dickson emphasized the Barton family’s ongoing commitment to the state breeding industry, including a recent addition to the stallion ranks, Shaaz (Uncle Mo), a $1.1 million 2-year-old sale purchase. “He’s a stunning individual and we’re going to put a lot of mares to him,” said Dickson.

“They are fully committed to California. And they are going to continue to feed this West Coast industry with product,” said Dickson, of the Barton family. “We’re breeding almost 200 of our own mares annually. And they’re fully committed to breeding mares, putting out babies.”

When it comes to firm commitments into the future, Clark raised concerns about TSG’s recent financial pledges. He singled out a submission by the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT) before last week’s CHRB race dates committee meeting which details the company’s multiple promises since 2005 to upgrade the Santa Anita backstretch.

“The fact is nearly 20 years ago, The Stronach Group promised a $20 million [plus] investment in the backside, and they never followed through,” said Clark. “So, what’s to make them follow-through on the promises this time?”

But Clark also concedes that the problems facing the state’s racing industry are much deeper rooted than the current tumult over Golden Gate’s closure, calling the development “just a symptom of a much bigger issue” of overall affordability.

“We’re not even keeping up with inflation,” Clark said, in reference to the state’s purse offerings outside of Del Mar. At the same time, he estimated that the cost of breeding a foal in California and getting it to the yearling sales has grown to approximately $25,000.

As the consequences from Golden Gate’s closure continue to be grappled with, Alexander stressed the importance of keeping Golden Gate open for as long as possible to provide horsemen the time needed to make seismic decisions that will impact their personal and professional futures. Indeed, at last week’s race dates committee meeting, TSG floated the idea of pushing back the closure by six months.

At the same time, Alexander urged industry stakeholders to push back against any legislation that would funnel simulcasting proceeds from north to south. Such legislation, he added, could prove a death knell to any viable year-round circuit in the north. If such legislation is passed, said Alexander, “then the politicians ought to be thrown out of office.”

Lord Prancealot Makes a Mark for Sire Sir Prancealot

Elite International Sire Sir Prancealot Achieves First North American-Bred Winner At Del Mar

DEL MAR, Calif.—Lord Prancealot, a 2-year-old colt by the prominent international stallion Sir Prancealot (Ire), etched a spot in history on July 29 as the first North American-bred winner for his sire with a dominant debut in a 10-horse maiden special weight race at Del Mar. Guided by Racing Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, the youngster powered to a front-running, 3 1/2-length victory in :58.62 for the five-furlong dirt test, emulating his sire as a winner at first asking.

Lord Prancealot was bred in California by Jeff Ganje, who campaigns the colt in partnership with Edward “Rusty” Brown. The Jeff Bonde trainee, who is the third winner from as many starters for the stakes-winning Country Reel mare Disko Dasko (Fr), is being pointed to the $125,000 I’m Smokin Stakes for state-breds on September 8 as his follow-up race.

He hails from the first North American-conceived foal crop of the elite global sire Sir Prancealot, a precocious winner of three of six turf starts as a 2-year-old in Europe, including the Group 2 Polypipe Flying Childers Stakes and an additional stakes race in 2012.

Initially retired to stallion duties in his native Ireland at 3 and utilized as a shuttle stallion to Australia for the 2017-2022 Southern Hemisphere breeding seasons, Sir Prancealot shot to immediate success as Europe’s champion first-season sire of 2016 by winners and progeny earnings, ahead of the sensational Frankel (GB). His auspicious early crops included three runners who succeeded at the highest levels of racing in the United States: 2019 American Oaks (G1) winner Lady Prancealot (Ire) and the multiple Grade 1-placed, multiple Grade 2 winners Beau Recall (Ire) and Madam Dancealot (Ire).

In 2020, he began standing at Rancho San Miguel in California, where he has attracted great attention. In addition to covering nearly 400 mares during his first four breeding seasons in the U.S., he was also represented by two West Coast yearling sale-toppers in 2022. 

“Having such an impressive debut winner at Del Mar is no surprise for me after the time I’ve spent around Sir Prancealot,” said Adrian Gonzalez of Checkmate Thoroughbreds, who manages the stallion’s U.S. syndicate. “He is all class, and the support he has been given since he first became available to U.S. mare owners has been tremendous. I am confident this is just the tip of the iceberg for Sir Prancealot’s first American crop.”

Rancho San Miguel owner Tom Clark echoed Gonzalez’s appreciation for the breeders who have supported Sir Prancealot over the past four years, many of whom have acquired quality mares with diverse bloodlines specifically to complement the globe-trotting stallion.

“We are extremely proud to offer mare owners a proven sire with impeccable conformation and credentials,” Clark said. “In fact, we are very excited to announce that, due to the tremendous commitment he has received from shareholders, we have now secured his services as a permanent member of our stallion roster. Sir Prancealot will no longer shuttle out of the country; instead, he will be available for inspection by breeders here at our farm year-round.”

By the Mr. Prospector-line stallion Tamayuz (GB) out of stakes winner Mona Em (Ire), by Catrail, Sir Prancealot has sired 13 international black-type winners and the collective earners of more than $15 million to date. The 13-year-old stallion stood for a $10,000 fee at Rancho San Miguel in 2023.

First Foal Is A Filly For California-Based Grade 1 Winner Mo Forza

San Miguel, California—Grade 1-winning millionaire Mo Forza, the highest earner by leading sire
Uncle Mo standing outside Kentucky, was represented by his firstborn foal on January 10: a filly out of
the multiple winner Californiasunshine who was foaled in California.


Owned by Alice Bamford, Californiasunshine was the first of 99 mares bred to the Rancho San Miguel
stallion in 2022. Her 2023 Mo Forza filly is the fourth offspring for the 10-year-old Lucky Pulpit mare,
whose first foal, Sweet California, was a Santa Anita Park winner at 2 last year.


“She is quite a character already, thrilling everyone with her looks,” Bamford said of the Mo Forza filly,
whom she owns with her co-breeder, Ann Eysenring. “In addition to being correct, she is a beautiful
mover and a very good reason for her mama to return to Mo Forza next year.”


Mo Forza won seven graded stakes races in Southern California from 2019 through 2021, highlighted by
the 2019 Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar. Produced by a daughter of perennial leading California sire
Unusual Heat, the 7-year-old stallion earned $1,034,460 from 15 starts overall as one of North
America’s top turf milers of his generation.


Owned by Kentucky-based industry leader Taylor Made Farm and San Diego horseman Onofrio
Pecoraro and backed by a large syndicate, Mo Forza entered stud last year as the most successful son of
champion juvenile and emerging sire-of-sires Uncle Mo on the West Coast. As such, he was strongly
supported by breeders in his inaugural season, during which he covered more mares than any other
California-based first-year stallion, and ranked second overall among all statewide stallions by number
of mares bred in 2022.


“We are so pleased and grateful for the outstanding support West Coast breeders have already shown to
Mo Forza,” said Rancho San Miguel owner Tom Clark. “But more important than sheer quantity of
breedings is the quality of resulting foals. If this first baby of his is any indication, we are just saddling
up for what will surely be an incredible ride with this classy son of Uncle Mo.”
Mo Forza stands for a $9,000 fee in 2023, with live foal guarantee.


He will be available for inspection during Rancho San Miguel’s 2023 Open House & Stallion Show on
January 21. Reservations are encouraged for this upcoming, free event at (805) 467-3847 or
info@ranchosanmiguel.net.

Rancho San Miguel To Host Open House & Stallion Show On January 21

San Miguel, California—Showcasing a robust stallion roster, a strong farm management team and a
new emphasis on sales preparation and consignment, California mainstay Rancho San Miguel invites
current and prospective Thoroughbred breeders, owners and enthusiasts to attend its 2023 Open House
& Stallion Show on Saturday, January 21. Participation is free in this casual event, which is
scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine.


Attendees will be treated to a catered lunch, with fun giveaways and a stallion season raffle included in
the activities. There will also be opportunities to take a “sneak peek” at many of the mares, yearlings and
2-year-olds who will be consigned by Rancho San Miguel to the California Thoroughbred Breeders
Association’s 2023 Winter Mixed Sale, which will be held in Pomona on January 31.
Established in 2000, Rancho San Miguel is one of California’s largest and most customer-focused
Thoroughbred farms. Its 2023 stallion roster reflects this status, with options that have been carefully
curated to present a wide variety of pedigrees, performance abilities and price ranges to West Coast
mare owners.


There are seven graded stakes winners among the farm’s eight current stallions, including three of
California’s top 10 stallions by number of mares bred in 2022: Grade 1 winner and second-year stallion
Mo Forza, commercially popular Group 2 winner and proven sire Sir Prancealot (Ire) and multiple
Group 2 winner and 2022 leading statewide second-crop sire Danzing Candy.


Also on the roster are two-time Pacific Classic (G1) winner Richard’s Kid, Grade 1 winner Tom’s
Tribute, multiple Grade 2 winner Surf Cat, Grade 3 winner Northern Causeway and new addition
Editorial, a stakes-siring half-brother to leading sire Uncle Mo who recently relocated from Maryland.
“After a few challenging years without hosting large, in-person gatherings due to the worldwide
pandemic, we are excited to renew this time-honored tradition of opening our doors for the public to
visit our farm and see our horses,” said Rancho San Miguel owner Tom Clark. “We hope California
breeders will take this opportunity to meet our outstanding farm manager, Jenny Webber, as well as our
dedicated and experienced team members, and to inspect our remarkable group of stallions in person. It
promises to be a fun and informative day for all who are able to attend.”


Reservations for the Open House & Stallion Show are encouraged by January 17. To RSVP, please
contact Rancho San Miguel at (805) 467-3847 or info@ranchosanmiguel.net.

Giver Not a Taker Becomes First Stakes Winner for Danzing Candy

Things continue to heat up for Danzing Candy as Giver Not a Taker runs downs a determined frontrunner to win the 125k I’m Smokin Stakes in his 2nd start today at Del Mar to become his sire’s first stakes winner while running the 6 furlng in a quick 1:09 3/5 for owner/breeders J. Kirk & Judy Robison, trainer Peter Miller and jockey Jose Valdivia. Watch race HERE.

This completes the hot streak that started for Danzing Candy on August 14. Since that date he has had 5 Maiden Special Race winners including 3 at Del Mar; Giver Not a Taker on 8/14, Leya’s Candy on 8/28 and Mystic Flyer on 9/4. Visit the Danzing Candy stallion page for more details.

There are 13 Danzing Candy yearlings scheduled to sell in the September 27 Fasig-Tipton California Fall Yearling Sale in Pomona, California starting at 11 a.m.

Sir Prancealot colt tops WTBOA Yearling Sale

Hip 80 2021 b.c., Sir Prancealot – Impeached, by Northern Afleet (Courtesy of Griffin Place LLC)

The first Northern American crop of Sir Prancealot (IRE) continues to make some noise as he tops his second consecutive West Coast yearling sale.

At the WTBOA Summer Yearling sale held on August 23rd at Emerald Downs, a colt out of Impeached (Hip 80, pictured above) sold by Griffin Place LLC, agent for breeders Mr. and Mrs. William T. Griffin, topped the sale when sold to PT Syndicate #1 for $80,000. This sale is the second highest priced yearling in the last 11 years sold at this sale.

There are 29 Sir Prancealot yearlings in the Fasig-Tipton Sale in Pomona next month on September 27. Will Sir Prancealot complete the West Coast Triple Crown of yearling sales toppers? Be there to find out.

Hip 80 leaving the ring after selling at 2022 WTBOA Summer Yearling Sale

Sir Prancealot colt tops Northern California Sale.

Hip 58, 2021 b.c., Sir Prancealot (IRE) – Root Bear Rag, by Union Rags

The yearling sales are upon us and, as expected, the first Northern American crop of Sir Prancealot (IRE) is making some noise.

At the CTBA Northern California Yearling sale yesterday, a colt out of Root Beer Rag (Hip 58, pictured above) sold by Checkmate Thoroughbreds, as agent for breeder Jeff Ganje, topped the sale when sold to Robert Jones for $50,000. A filly out of Frankly J’ray (Hip 9, pictured below) bred and sold by Checkmate Thoroughbreds brought the 3rd highest price when sold to Harris Farms for $40,000.

Expect more of the same at the WTBOA Sale August 23 at Emerald Downs in Washington and the Fasig-Tipton sale in Pomona next month on September 27.

Hip 9 2021 b.f., Sir Prancealot (IRE) – Frankly J’ray, by Frankel (GB)

Photos courtesy of Checkmate Thoroughbreds LLC.