At a recent horses-in-training sale at Hollywood Park, a 2-year-old sired by Torsion collapsed before he could be led to the auction ring.
Two years ago, when Torsion was brought to California from Kentucky to stand at stud, it was his business that collapsed. Hardly anybody wanted to send their mares to Torsion, who arrived here with the unfounded reputation of being damaged merchandise.
Nowadays, a breeder has to know somebody to get a booking with Torsion, who despite a bearish market might have his $10,000 stud fee tripled by next year.
"Breeders are like monkeys," says Bob Hibbert, the Houston oil driller who tried, unsuccessfully, to win the Kentucky Derby with Floating Reserve, the Joe Manzi-trained longshot, in 1985.
What Hibbert means is that it takes just one horse to make a stallion fashionable, and in Torsion's case that horse is Masterful Advocate, whom Manzi trains for David Leveton and Harry Belles.
Masterful Advocate is a heavy favorite today against only five opponents--Chart The Stars, Lookinforthebigone, Temperate Sil, Something Lucky and Flying Flags--in the 50th running of the Santa Anita Derby.
Masterful Advocate is doing for Torsion this year what Snow Chief did for Reflected Glory a year ago. Actually, Reflected Glory was much lower in breeding's caste system than Torsion. He was a 21-year-old stallion standing in the Santa Ynez Valley who had sired just a couple of major winners. His services could be obtained for $2,000.
Alas, Snow Chief's success--he was last year's Santa Anita Derby winner and later was voted champion 3-year-old colt--came too late for Reflected Glory, who because of his age was retired from stud and then, a month ago at 23, died at Rancho Jonata Farm in Buellton, Calif.
Torsion, however, is a robust 17-year-old and, if he can survive the demand, has several good stud years ahead of him.
Masterful Advocate's emergence--victories this year in the Los Feliz and San Rafael stakes at Santa Anita and in the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows--is largely responsible for 59 mares being sent to Torsion at El Rancho Murrietta this breeding season, which started in mid-February. A typical booking might be 40 mares.
This is an extraordinary comeback for a stallion who was guilty by association when an epidemic of equine viral arteritis (EVA) struck Kentucky, the citadel of international horse breeding, in the spring of 1984.
EVA, which appeared in Kentucky, California and other states in the 1950s, mimics the flu but it can be catastrophic for breeders because infected mares frequently abort their foals, sometimes as much as 100 days before the foaling date.
There were 37 Kentucky farms and more than 150 stallions that were struck by EVA three years ago, and the hardest-hit nursery was Brereton Jones' Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky. Eight Airdrie stallions were found to have the disease, including Elocutionist, the 1976 Preakness and Arkansas Derby winner who sired Demons Begone, another Kentucky Derby favorite this year.
Torsion did not contract the virus and was vaccinated against it, but the value of all the Airdrie stallions, whether inflicted or not, depreciated overnight.
That's when Barry Irwin, a California bloodstock agent, put together a syndicate to buy Torsion and bring him to the West Coast.
"The breeders back there were scared to death," Irwin said. "They were panic-stricken, so we went in there with this lowball offer and they accepted it."
Irwin won't say what his group paid for Torsion, but it is believed to be in the low six figures. In California, the horse was syndicated for $1.2 million, with 40 lifetime breeding shares being sold at $30,000 apiece.
In 1985, Torsion stood at the Lakeview Thoroughbred Farm for the same $10,000 stud fee that he's getting this year. But the Airdrie stigma prevented him from obtaining a full book of mares. It was as though he had a quarantine sign outside his stall door.
"It was aggravating," Irwin said. "The horse wouldn't have been allowed to leave Kentucky if he had the disease.
"After a while, to try to get him some bookings, we had to take ads in trade publications that said he had been vaccinated and didn't have the disease."
Last year, Torsion was moved to the Murrieta farm. He is a son of Never Bend, the 1962 2-year-old champion who finished second to Chateaugay in the 1963 Kentucky Derby.
Torsion was a sprinter who never won going longer than a mile and was retired after his 4-year-old season with only two stakes wins, one a victory over Mr. Prospector, who became a leading sire.
Masterful Advocate is the result of a Kentucky mating with Miss Satin Doll, a Grey Dawn II mare who won only 3 of 47 starts and earned $27,000. Masterful Advocate was Miss Satin Doll's second foal and her first stakes winner.
Masterful Advocate's immediate family might indicate that he would have trouble running 1 miles, the Kentucky Derby distance. But when it comes to this colt, Joe Manzi doesn't know from bloodlines.