War Dancer’s team rewarded for confidence

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

War Dancer meets one of his sons at Sugar Plum Farm in Saratoga Springs. Barbara Livingston photo.

By Melissa Bauer-Herzog

When $1 million earner and Grade 2 winner War Dancer was ready to retire, his owners knew there was only one place he was going – their home state of New York. Three years later, that decision paid off in spades when his first crop catapulted him to the top of New York’s freshman sire list in 2020.

“We didn’t even think twice,” said Robin Malatino, managing member of War Dancer LLC. “We own [Sugar Plum Farm] in Saratoga, we’re very tied to the community in Saratoga, we used to own Saratoga Water so there were three options for him – Saratoga or Saratoga or Saratoga. This is a journey for us, we’re brand new at [standing a stallion], we’ve never done it before and probably will never do it again so we’re kind of learning as we go and trying to do the best that we can do.”

Told that War Dancer needed to breed 100 mares a year in his first two seasons, Malatino and the rest of War Dancer LLC got to work. They created multiple unique programs to attract those numbers with the hype from his first crop as foals also helping him along. But knowing how much of a stallion’s success comes from luck and how COVID-19 delayed his runners’ debuts made his New York freshman title and his No. 14 ranking on North America’s freshman sire list even sweeter for his owners.

“You think about anything you do in life and if you put in a lot of effort, you should have a pretty good result,” Malatino said. “But in this business, you can put in a tremendous amount of effort and end up with a goose egg. It’s out of your control, because do the genes get passed on or not and you need some luck and other things. So I would say we are over the moon, he actually exceeded our expectations as a first-year sire.”

War Dancer got off to a fast start once his runners hit the track with son Step Dancer leading home a 1-2 finish for the stallion in his debut at Saratoga Race Course. The first of six winners from the stallion’s first crop, Step Dancer also won the Awad Stakes at Belmont Park. One of two stakes horses for his sire alongside the stakes placed Ms. Wicked, he also finished third in the Grade 2 Pilgram Stakes for War Dancer’s first graded stakes placing as a sire.

The road to making War Dancer into a successful stallion was full of learning curves from the start. As one of War Front’s leading earners and the stallion’s only son standing in New York, his owners thought that attracting 100 mares to him would be easy. They quickly learned that wasn’t the case in the tough New York market and a Plan B was quickly put into place and ‘Breeding With the Stars’ was born.

“Breeding With The Stars meant that if you had a stakes performer or stakes producer, that you could come to New York, breed to War Dancer, pay the stud fee and we paid shipping and board for the first year,” Malatino said. “That brought a lot of really nice mares in from other states … we just pulled them in and brought a lot of people into the New York program.

“The second year we continued Breeding With The Stars and we didn’t offer the shipping up front but we offered it as a concession off the stud fee on the back end. So we basically had 100 mares each of the first two years and that was due to this program.”

Considering breeders as part of the War Dancer family, they also created another unique offering to postpone or even cancel the stud fee if a breeder didn’t feel that the foal would ever make it to the track.

Robin Malatino and War Dancer, New York’s leading freshman sire in 2020. Barbara Livingston photo.

“For example, we had one that was contracted and I said ‘don’t pay the stud fee until you know that that contraction is going to go down,’ ” Malatino said. “That’s not what this is about, we want to breed good racehorses. So if they say ‘it’s going to be a pleasure horse or a pet,’ don’t pay the stud fee. We’re partners in this.”

Proving that he can throw juvenile winners who promise to improve with age, War Dancer has seen demand for his foals rise in the past few months. Included in that rise has been the prices paid by buyers with one of Malatino’s friends recently buying a War Dancer privately for $55,000. Malatino expects breeders and owners will be even more pleased this year with a handful of unraced 3-year-olds whose owners are giving her good reports while they approach their debuts.

While there was no doubt War Dancer would be making his home in the Empire State when he retired, Malatino would like to see more races for New York-sired runners in the New York program.

“Why that is important is that if you don’t have a strong sire pool, you’re going to cut down the breeding industry dramatically because everyone is going to have to send their horses out of state and not everyone can afford to or want to,” she said. “In my opinion, they need to offer more maiden special weight New York-sired, New York-bred races. If they do that, the New York sire program will get stronger. If the New York sire program gets stronger it would be better for the state as a revenue base.”

But no matter where they run or what races they’re in, War Dancer runners will always have a fan club behind them with Malatino trying to keep track of every foal. She admits they likely won’t stand another stallion so she’s putting full effort into making War Dancer a top sire and is excited to see what the future holds in 2021 and beyond.

Expecting his fourth crop of foals this year, War Dancer stands at Irish Hill & Dutchess Views Stallions in Stillwater for $7,500 in 2021.

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