Few operations in the Thoroughbred industry boast as illustrious and tumultuous a history as Calumet Farm — the operation behind the storied white fences that once housed a breeding program with no rival.
Given its history of producing some of the sport's all-time greats, the fact that the stallion barn has sat empty for the better part of the last eight years was a particularly sad reminder of how far the legendary farm had descended from its former unparalleled ranks.
Thus, the fact the stallion barn is going to have new occupants is a not-so-subtle sign the farm has regained some of its vigor.
On Tuesday it was announced that Cactus Ridge, sire of 13 stakes winners to date, would relocate from Vinery to stand the 2012 season at Calumet Farm for an advertised fee of $5,000. Less than 24 hours later, the historic farm announced that Grade I winner Ice Box would also be joining the roster for a fee of $7,500, making the duo the first stallions to stand at Calumet since Nicholas in 2004.
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Since the death of Henryk de Kwiatkowski — who purchased the farm at auction in 1992 when it was in bankruptcy — in March 2003, Calumet has maintained itself as an active commercial operation, breaking in upward of 100 yearlings a season and regularly offering consignments at public sales.
While not the powerhouse it was when such game-changing sires as Bull Lea and Alydar were in its midst and classic winners burst from its seams, Calumet has managed to weather the massive correction that hit the Thoroughbred breeding industry in 2008. With the overall market showing signs of recovery in 2011, officials with the farm — which is owned by a trust — felt the time was right to dip its toe back into the stallion waters it once ruled.
"I certainly hope we have found the bottom of this (correction) and it is time to build back," Bill Witman, manager of Calumet, said Wednesday. "We've been looking from the sidelines for a year or two about the prospects of getting in the business. The opportunity was afforded us and we took advantage of it."
Cactus Ridge, an 11-year-old son of Hennessy, began his career at Walmac and brings a proven track record to his new surroundings. The bay horse is the sire of Grade I winner Hot Cha Cha as well as Hollywood Hit, Canada's champion sprinter in 2010.
In Ice Box, Calumet gets a combination of performance and pedigree. The 2010 Grade I Florida Derby winner is out of the graded stakes-winning mare Spice Island.
"If it makes sense, if it makes economic sense and it's smart horsemanship then we want to look at it," Witman said.
Though it operates on a lower key now, Calumet's breeding program has had successes of late. The Calumet-bred Switch was a Grade I winner at ages 3 and 4 and most recently finished second in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint for a second straight season.
With the arrival of Cactus Ridge and Ice Box, Calumet hopes a further infusion of momentum will follow.
"When we go build a new barn or build some new paddocks or add a stallion, there is a certain vitality that goes with all that new activity," Witman said. "On the farm we are very excited and we hope the public is excited.
"Calumet is still a very vital force. We raise a lot of horses here, we break a lot of horses, we train a lot of horses. Adding stallions heightens the awareness at least to the public."