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Kentucky Derby entrant California Chrome gets a bath after a morning workout at Churchill Downs Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Luhm: Breeding horses like California Chrome an inexact science

First Published May 03 2014 09:12 pm • Last Updated May 03 2014 09:12 pm

Two years ago, Utah thoroughbred owner-breeder Perry Bruno was seeking a mate for two mares.

Bruno called Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif., and inquired about the services of a stallion named Lucky Pulpit, whose stud fee at the time was $2,500.

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"I was trying to find a good opportunity and a good deal," Bruno recalled this past week.

It was his lucky day.

Since Lucky Pulpit had not been an overwhelming success in the breeding shed and demand for him as a sire was only lukewarm, the farm manager offered the equivalent of a two-for-one special.

Lucky Pulpit would service both of Bruno’s mares for a total of $3,000.

He seriously considered the offer but eventually passed.

Instead, Bruno bred his mares to a stallion named Dontsellmeshort for $500 apiece.

His reasoning was logical.

Dontsellmeshort earned over $400,000 on the race track — twice as much as Lucky Pulpit. A full brother (named Brother Derek) was the betting favorite in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, finishing in a dead heat for fourth place.

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Another factor? Lucky Pulpit’s history as a stallion.

At the end of 2013, he had sired 99 racing-age horses. Three had become stakes winners.

"I just thought Dontsellmeshort would be a better choice for the money involved," Bruno said. "Don’t get me wrong. Lucky Pulpit is a nice horse, but Dontsellmeshort is bred a lot better."

Bruno paused.

"I’d love to have a couple of Lucky Pulpit yearlings right now, though," he said.

In hindsight, the sentiment is understandable.

That’s because Lucky Pulpit is now known as the sire of California Chrome, who won Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

Accordingly, the value of father and son has skyrocketed. One buyer reportedly offered $3.1 million for Lucky Pulpit. Another offered $6 million for a 51-percent share of California Chrome.

If Bruno had used Lucky Pulpit as a sire, he would already be positioned to make big money on the deal because of California Chrome’s success.

Bruno isn’t crucifying himself for the decision, however.

Like everyone involved in racing, he learned long ago that making choices and living with the results are part of the business.

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