The Valor Farm on 393 acres of rolling hills in Denton County provides stallions and mares alike every conceivable comfort, except, as to be expected, cognac and cigarettes.
It is on this horse breeding farm — a place graced with the uncommon beauty of Mother Earth’s favor, not to mention a look and feel of Kentucky’s grasslands — that the thoroughbred owner places her first wager.
It is a gamble that the selected stallion and mare — chosen for speed, or distance or, perhaps both — can produce a magic code of DNA that manifests in race winnings in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on the track and then years after as a high-fee stud living out his days at a manor such as Valor Farm.
Many of the foals of Valor Farm eventually make their way to Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie as 2-year-olds. Some will be race-day entries on opening day of the track’s 20th-anniversary thoroughbred season, which begins Thursday and runs through July 30.
The first race is at 6:35 p.m.
What happens at Valor Farm is far more interesting than the science in schoolbooks and labs of biology, or anatomy and physiology.
Breeding is as much art as science. And lots of dumb luck.
Breeding — the often unseen part of the sport — is not unlike the race itself, where all sorts of dynamics are at play. A race could be affected by jockey error, the condition of the track, or a bad break out of the gate.
Five foals to the same stallion and mare could produce five different “individuals,” as they’re called in the industry.
The chances of horse breeders anywhere producing freaks of nature, such as Triple Crown winner American Pharoah or multimillion-dollar winner Aggogate, is tantamount to winning the lottery.
One of the five could amount to absolutely nothing. Another could be Congaree, a former star at Lone Star who under trainer Bob Baffert won more than $3 million on the track, including the $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap.
Congaree now works at Valor Farms, one of eight stallions called in to the breeding barn a couple of times — sometimes three — a day during breeding season, February through July. The crew will produce several hundred foals.
How long they’re here depends on how their offspring produce, though generally a stud retains quality fertility up until the age of 20 to 25, said Donny Denton, Valor Farms farm manager.
“There is no set indictor on how long they stay,” said Denton. “If they’re an old horse and still producing good offspring they’ll continue to breed.”
When that day of departure finally arrives, a new hotshot with track credentials and earnings is brought in as his replacement.
Breeding is, in the end, the horse’s value.
American Pharoah won more than $8.6 million on the track in his career. In his first year as a stud, he brought in $20 million.
Valor Farm is the legacy of Clarence and Dorothy Scharbauer of Midland, who made their mark with big winners over 40 years in the industry. Dorothy’s father, Fred Turner Jr., won the Kentucky Derby in 1959 with Tomy Lee.
The Scharbauers and their daughter, Pam, won the Derby and Preakness in 1987 with hall of famer Alysheba, who at the time became the industry’s top earner ever.
The family bought Valor Farm in 1991. After Clarence’s death in 2014, son Douglas took over management. Another son, Clarence Scharbauer III, recently stepped aside as chairman of the TCU board of trustees.
From the perspective of the human, Valor Farm is a good way to retire for a stallion. He eats well, he has plenty of room to roam and he resides in a great big barn with all the comforts of royalty to get out of the elements. A veterinarian is on call. It’s important they remain healthy.
The efficiency that science offers through artificial insemination is not an option in the thoroughbred industry. The quarter horse industry produced a fabulous, fast horse through artificial insemination, breeding up to 400 mares to a small quantity of stallions.
However, by doing that, over time they diluted the genetic diversity.
“Part of the beauty of the thoroughbred industry is the diversity of the bloodlines,” said Scott Wells, president and general manager of Lone Star Park.
The horses procreate the old-fashioned way, though in a controlled environment in a barn with padded walls and matting with a staff of three to five overseeing the process.
Typically, there are five or so breeding sessions a day, said Denton, who added that the audience doesn’t bother the actors.
On display for visitors one day last month was Too Much Bling, a 14-year-old of about 1,450 pounds who is likely to father 80 foals this season. It was difficult to tell if he understood how good he has it.
As for his value, Denton said, “I don’t know the exact number, but you couldn’t replace him. He’s a top sire in Texas.”
He’s not American Pharoah.
Very few are. The Scharbauers’ Alysheba, a world champion athlete with Triple Crown-quality bona fides and stunning features, never produced well as a stud. Still, the horse that can’t make it in Kentucky might be a star in Uruguay, South Korea, Japan or elsewhere overseas.
All ultimately hope to get to a breeding farm, that is, if they know any better.
As a retirement option for horses, Valor Farm is still far better than living off Social Security and a 401(k).
Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie
What: 2017 spring thoroughbred season
When: Thursday through July 30, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and some Thursdays
Where: Lone Star Park, 1000 Lone Star Parkway, Grand Prairie
Cost: $5 admission. Parking, except for valet, is free.
Contact: 972-263-RACE (7223), www.LoneStarPark.com