California's thoroughbred breeding business could use some new stallions considering its star performers are nearing or have passed 20 years old, which makes today's $300,000 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park so important.
A potential stallion of the future, Grazen, is a late-developing 3-year-old son of the 18-year-old stalwart stallion Benchmark, and the Grade II Swaps at 1 1/8 miles on the Cushion Track is an ideal test to see what kind of ability Grazen might have for owner-breeder Nick Alexander and trainer Mike Mitchell.
"He'll have to do a lot more before he ends with the right to be a stallion," Alexander said.
The Swaps offers the toughest test yet for Grazen, who has won three consecutive races, including the Grade III Affirmed Handicap on June 20 at 1 1/16 miles. Jockey Rafael Bejarano has the mount.
Mitchell, known more for his successful older horses, thinks Grazen is the best 3-year-old he has trained. Mitchell has patiently brought along Grazen, whose dam, Hazen, was a claiming horse purchased by Alexander. "The mare could run all day," Mitchell said.
Alexander has been associated with Mitchell for some 30 years. He has been a successful automobile salesman who bought a ranch in Santa Ynez and started a breeding operation. Grazen is his first stakes winner, and the fact he bred the horse makes it even more exciting.
"It's very special," Alexander said. "Breeding teaches patience and humility. The horses still don't pay their way. We still have to sell a lot of cars."
A win by Grazen in the Swaps could provide a boost for California-based breeders looking for the next generation of stallions. Top sires Unusual Heat and In Excess are 19 and 22, respectively, and Benchmark is no young stud any longer.
Grazen is the second foal out of Hazen, with more on the way. There's a 2-year-old by Unusual Heat, a full sister yearling and a Tribal Rule foal. Hazen also is in foal to Heatseeker.
As for the talent of the up-and-coming horses, Alexander said, "You always have hope."
Grazen will face seven rivals, including Advice, the 13th-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby who's trained by Todd Pletcher and finished first in the Grade II Lexington at Keeneland in April, and New York-based Conservative, the second-place finisher to Advice at Keeneland.
This is the final weekend of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting before thoroughbred racing moves to Del Mar on Wednesday. Sunday's final stakes race is the $150,000 Sunset Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.