There are guys who brag about coital conquests, and then there’s Wilt Chamberlain.
The first dominant 7-footer in NBA history and the only man ever to score 100 points in a game, Chamberlain once claimed to have slept with over 20,000 separate women in his lifetime. If this is true, he was an early — and remarkable — practitioner of safe sex, as the lifelong bachelor died without siring a single foal.
The same cannot be said of a 23-year-old standardbred stallion by the name of Bettor’s Delight. His progeny have won some half-a-billion dollars on the racecourse, making him the most lucrative — and prolific — stallion in the history of harness racing. Unlike in thoroughbred breeding, where live cover is required, the standardbred classification allows for artificial insemination, which means Bettor’s Delight achieves fruition of the loins through manual means, some 500 times a year.
“They generally can lose interest in artificial insemination if they start doing live covers, as you can imagine,” said Blue Chip Farms’ Tom Grossman, a New Yorker who’s owned Bettor’s Delight since he was a highly successful 3-year-old trotter, posting 15 wins in 26 starts and prevailing in many of the sport’s top races.
While top thoroughbreds often stand for upward of $200,000 per cover, Bettor’s Delight’s stud fee is one-tenth of that. As Grossman accurately puts it, standardbred racing is “much more of a blue-collar sport” than its thoroughbred counterpart.
“The ownership in standardbred racing is far more profitable, on average, than thoroughbred racing,” said Grossman. “Thoroughbred racing is lottery tickets. A much higher proportion of standardbred yearlings that are bought are profitable. There’s certainly a higher addressable audience for it. It’s much more of a blue-collar sport. The breed is much sturdier.
“It’s common for a standardbred to race 35 to 40 times a year, which is unheard of in thoroughbred. So it’s much easier to fill a race card and get rivalries going. Thoroughbred just has a much bigger base in the media.”
Thunder Down Under
There is a 140-mare cap on the number of partners Bettor’s Delight and his standardbred brethren can impregnate in a given North American year, so Grossman simply ships the coal-black horse — who splits his time between Canada and New Zealand — to the Southern Hemisphere once that limit’s reached to pump with impunity.
“He was really the first top stallion in the standardbred game to shuttle to Australia,” said Grossman, who noted that Bettor’s Delight “services” mares from Australia and New Zealand when he stands in the latter country. “Everyone said I was crazy. I knew from the thoroughbreds it could work. He’s bred full books in both hemispheres every year for literally the last 20 years. He’s had many books of more than 400 mares in the Southern Hemisphere alone. The last 15 years, he’s averaged 500 mares a year globally.
“He’s obviously an unbelievably fertile stallion, and even now, at age 23, he bounds off the 15-hour flight to Australia as if nothing ever happened.”
He gets it from his great-grandfather, who stood for a since unheard of fee of $40,000 per cover in the early ‘70s.
“He had a wonderful pedigree, which did fill out even more so after him,” Grossman said of Bettor’s Delight. “He was definitely the best 3-year-old his year. We would have been drawn to him anyway, but he’s also the great-grandson of Most Happy Fella, who was the most prolific stallion before him. And he stood at Blue Chip as well.”
Inbreeding and ‘mutational load’
The standardbred and thoroughbred industries have different visions for what it takes to maintain genealogical diversity.
In standardbred racing, a stallion is capped at providing his seed to 140 North American mares per year (no such limit applies in New Zealand). In thoroughbred racing, there is no mare cap, but there’s also a ban on artificial insemination.
Per a BloodHorse report, the scientific explanation for both rules is that “increases in inbreeding lead to an increase in ‘mutational load,’ which is associated with a general decrease in genetic quality and exposes the breed to undesirable traits in performance and/or production.”
But Grossman and others think it’s something more than that. After all, when The Jockey Club sought to impose a mare limit identical to the standardbred regulation, it was met with a lawsuit from some of Kentucky’s largest breeding operations and state legislation that sought to preempt a cap on coverage. Faced with a fight on multiple fronts, the Jockey Club folded with respect to this proposal.
“They would say tradition” is the reason for disallowing artificial insemination in thoroughbred racing, said Grossman. “There’s no sense to it at all.”
Taking a 360-degree view, Maryland-based bloodstock agent George Adams explained, “The logic is if there was AI in thoroughbreds, we sort of have to have a mare cap, because otherwise people would only want to use the most popular stallions and those stud farms could collect all the semen for the stallion, lower the fee so it’s accessible to more people, and the percentage of foals by the most popular stallions would be even higher than it already is. Down the road, that could be bad for the genetic diversity of the breed.”
Furthermore, Adams said the live cover requirement keeps the money where the millionaire males’ mouths are, so to speak.
“That’s primarily the big farms in Kentucky where those stallions stand,” he said. “If I didn’t have to send my mare to Kentucky to get covered by those stallions, it would be a lot easier to keep her where I wanted rather than getting her to Kentucky. I’m in Maryland. There are people who can’t afford to send their mare from Maryland to Kentucky. If there was AI, everybody could just use the three most popular stallions.
“The guys who run the Jockey Club, who would have to sign off on AI, a lot of them are from old families who’ve been in Kentucky for a long time and it suits them to require the horse population to be based in Kentucky.”
Photo: Rolf Konow/Sygma via Getty Images