Sapphire, the great mare who jumped to team gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games and team silver at the 2006 World Equestrian Games with McLain Ward, is living out her retirement in Walkill, N.Y., at part-owner Tom Grossman’s Blue Chip Farm. She’s reveling in getting hairy and dirty, finally.
|Sapphire in her |
Once they competed against each other, but Sapphire and Goldika, who also jumped to many victories with Ward, are now best friends. “I don’t think Sapphire had ever really been turned out with another horse, but those two are inseparable now. If they aren’t together, they scream for each other,” said Chris Sallee, who manages the warmblood breeding program at Blue Chip.
Fans might miss seeing Sapphire (Darco—Idjaz C, Hedjaz) in the ring, but in a few years, they’ll likely see not only her offspring, but also her clones competing. Sapphire clones Kara BC and Kidjaz BC are turning 3 this year and bear a remarkable resemblance to Sapphire. They were named in a “K” year for Belgian Warmbloods, so Sallee converted Sapphire’s nickname, Sara, to Kara, and Sapphire’s dam’s name, Idjaz, to Kidjaz.
Baylee McKeever holds the two Sapphire clones,
“They’re both so much like her,” said Sallee. “They’re very sensitive with their legs and their poll area. [Ward’s barn manager Erica McKeever] said Sapphire is the same way.”
In addition, two surrogate mares at Blue Chip Farms Sport Horse Incubator are carrying Sapphire embryos—one by Heartbreaker and one by Presley Boy—and are due in August.
“There are a lot of very popular and successful Heartbreaker horses out on the circuit, but the Heartbreaker-Darco cross is proven as a great one,” Sallee said. “And we chose Presley Boy because he’s always been a favorite of ours, and he’s a stallion that McLain said he’d love to sit on, so we figured we couldn’t go wrong.”
Grossman, who has owned Sapphire in partnership with Ward since 2006, owns the breeding rights for her. “McLain is very happy to let us take care of the breeding aspect and raise the youngsters and hopefully produce a couple of new champions for him,” Sallee said.
Grossman is a successful Standardbred breeder who’s branched out to warmbloods in recent years. “We’re doing it very slow and methodically because we have top mares. We’re having fun picking and choosing the stallions. It’s been fun to stay on the cutting edge of breeding, and Tom’s very much enjoying it,” Sallee said.
Grossman originally produced Sapphire’s clones with breeding in mind. At the time, “Sara” was competing at the top of her game, and retirement was on the distant horizon. “He didn’t know if he’d be able to get embryos from Sapphire because of her competition schedule,” Sallee said. They did breed one clone, Kidjaz BC, to Capone I via embryo transfer to a surrogate mare, and that foal is due in the spring.
But Kara BC and Kidjaz BC were broke as 2-year-olds, and Sallee isn’t ruling out the possibility that they might make an appearance in the show ring.
“We’re going to nurture them the same way Sapphire was nurtured,” said Sallee. “She had a few babies when she was younger. Darco [offspring] take a long time to mature. They just need time mentally and physically. We’ll put [the clones] through the jump chute this spring and sit on them again at some point. Our goal is to mimic what Sapphire did and see what happens.
“We’re trying to breed horses not just for McLain but also for the American riders. Our next step is the training process and getting them in the ring. I think the sport horse breeding in America has taken off,” Sallee continued.