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Posted at 7:35 AM ET, 01/14/2011

Story pick: Looking for Mr. Stud

By Ian Shapira

I'm going to wrap up the week's story picks by highlighting a nice piece about horse sex -- and money. A front page story in today's New York Times, by the great horse writer Joe Drape, focuses on a champion broodmare named Zenyatta, and her owners' long wait for Mr. Right and a healthy payday.

Jerry and Ann Moss, of California, own Zenyatta, a retired 7-year-old racing mare who won 19 of 20 races and is now based at a Kentucky breeding farm named Lane's End Farm. There, Zenyatta and the Mosses are confronting more angst than they did at the racetrack: choosing an equally gifted stallion as Zenyatta's mate, then producing, racing -- and perhaps even selling -- the genetically valuable offspring.

I love the way Drape writes about the horse industry. You don't get the sense that, because he's a Times writer, he parachutes into the Bluegrass State every once in a while to write about Derby hats. (As a native Louisvillian, I am particularly sensitive to these matters.) Drape knows the language and rhythms of the breeding world, but he makes the jargon accessible and fun for the general interest reader. Here's his description of Zenyatta's life at Lane's End, where farm managers are merely teasing her with another stallion named Capone, who is only being allowed to get her primed for the moment when she and her eventual Mr. Right go at it.

She is also, well, frisky. Zenyatta has enjoyed her daily, though fleeting, flirtation with Capone. He ambles down the broodmare barn here about 7:30 each morning with the sole mission of getting Zenyatta and the rest of the mares revved up and continually interested in male horses. Still, they are not leaving their chances to nature. Lights in Zenyatta’s stall are left on until 10 p.m., partly to spur an amorous mood, or at least to fake spring. Mares are warm-weather lovers: their 21-day cycles of heat come more easily in spring and summer, but breeders prefer mating them in February. “She is in her stall, but we let her get nose to nose with him,” Charles Campbell, the broodmare manager, said of Capone. “She’s really interested in him, and that’s not always the case with successful racemares, especially ones as big and imposing as her.”

The Mosses could make the big stud decision on Monday, when the industry's Horse of the Year award is announced. The Mosses will pay a hefty stud fee -- perhaps in the hundreds of thousands of dollars -- to give Zenyatta the best chance of giving birth to future money-making stars. But the stud fee will be chump change compared to the potential winnings or sale of Zenyatta's foals. Drape says the Mosses are unlikely to sell the babies, but if they did, the price could be in the millions; the family paid $60,000 for the horse in 2005.

And just in case you thought only a sliver of the audience might care about a horse, remember that this is 2011, when even horses can boost their brand by penetrating the Internet through social media and self-promotion. Check out Zenyatta's online diary, and, of course, her Facebook fan page, which, as of this morning, has 58,705 followers.

By Ian Shapira  | January 14, 2011; 7:35 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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