The last couple of days, the rumor had made it around various barns:
Hard Spun has been sold.
Rick Porter, owner of the Delaware Park-based runner-up at the Kentucky Derby, had heard the rumor, too, and quickly refuted it.
"I'm not selling the horse, period," Porter said yesterday. "I'm obviously going to sell his breeding rights at some point - I'm not in the stallion business. But I'll own the whole horse until he retires."
One rumor had Porter selling for $20 million, plus $5 million more if Hard Spun was to win Saturday's Preakness Stakes. That's about what Porter had heard, too.
"I got about $25 million for him yesterday," he joked.
Within the horse-racing world, there would have been no shock waves if the rumored buyer, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, had purchased Hard Spun. A representative of the sheik had inquired about buying Hard Spun after the colt's first race last year at Delaware Park.
A big Derby performance can often set things in motion. In 2005, half of the Derby runner-up, Closing Argument, was sold the day before the Preakness. That gamble did not look smart when Closing Argument finished ninth.
Porter said breeding syndicates had been inquiring about Hard Spun's breeding rights since the colt won the Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds in January.
"They just keep getting more people involved," Porter said. "The interest keeps going up. Obviously, it's gone up significantly since he ran a big race at the Derby. He's one of the last Danzigs, a long-legged Danzig. He's the whole package. Speed, a great pedigree - he can get the distance - and he's gorgeous. Last I checked, that's all the breeders are looking for."
Porter, who is from Wilmington and made his money in the car business, said he wasn't sure when a breeding agreement would be struck.
That's part of the business, he said - figuring out when Hard Spun's value is highest. Just before the Lecomte, Porter had talked about how he was taking a chance by not selling the colt then.
"It's hard to get a really good horse," Porter said in January. "Am I tempted [to sell]? I think about it. I sit down and think I better not sit down or I might get tempted. . . . One bad race in this game, if he doesn't live up to his potential, the bubble's burst. And once the bubble's burst, it's hard to get it blown up again."
As it turned out, Hard Spun, trained by Larry Jones, won five of his six races before the Derby, then really impressed at Churchill Downs, finishing second to Street Sense.
Yesterday, Porter acknowledged that big-money offers for breeding rights come with expiration dates attached. Breeders want the most valuable horses breeding.
"Unfortunately, yes - that's the part I hate," Porter said. "If you have a stallion prospect, your hands are tied as far as how long you can run him. The higher the numbers get, the more [that's true]. They have to protect their interests. Unfortunately, that's the deal with all of them."
An owner of horses since 1994, Porter has had good ones, including the 2006 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner, Round Pond, who has been retired and is scheduled to breed with a top-priced stallion, Storm Cat, next year.
A couple of days before the Derby, Porter described his overall investment in racehorses this way: "I'm not quite even yet."
"There are a lot of costs, and obviously you've got to try to get a few horses to pay for all the horses," Porter said at Churchill Downs.
Hard Spun cost $400,000 and has earned $772,500.
"The hardest thing of all is to try to get your investment back," Porter said. "I don't find it that hard to get your expenses back from the purses. The problem is trying to get your money back [from the purchase price]. You need a stallion or top broodmare."
Unless "something unusual" happens regarding Hard Spun, Porter said yesterday, "not quite even" is due for an update. Because of Hard Spun, he thought his overall investment should get to even or move into the black. Then, he said, he would look for more yearlings to buy.