The Arabian Breeders World Cup's Dark Horse
by melissa arseniuk
A winner at last year’s Breeders Cup
His name is Mariachi, but people may soon be calling him The Comeback Kid. Following a 15-month hiatus that included his big move to Las Vegas, the six-year-old stallion returns to the ring this month in his adopted hometown. The stakes are high and the competition will be tough, but Mariachi’s new owner, Sannene Garehime, says the odds are in their favor.
The site of his comeback: the South Point Arena & Equestrian Center, where on April 19 to 22 top breeders from all over the world will descend on Las Vegas for the sixth annual Arabian Breeders World Cup, one of the very top competitions for these magnificent animals. (Says Las Vegas Arabian Horse Association president Don Triolo, “It’s absolutely breathtaking to see.”) “The halter trainer, Gary McDonald, thinks Mariachi’s chances are outstanding,” Garehime says of the trainer in charge of posing and presentation. “Gary showed Mariachi as a two-year-old champion. He wouldn’t want to show him anymore if he didn’t think he could win.”
Winning at the spectator-friendly Breeders Cup, hosted by the nonprofit Arabian Horse Breeders Alliance, could increase a stallion’s value and influence bloodlines for generations to come. Mariachi will step into the spotlight as the very first Arabian stallion from Las Vegas to be shown at the prestigious event, and Garehime believes Mariachi has history on his side. “He won the first four shows he was ever in,” Garehime says. “Winning is in his blood. He was sired by Marwan Al Shaqab, a threetime world champion stallion that right now holds the record as the leading sire of champions five years in a row at the World Arabian Horse Championships.”
Two years after Mariachi captured a title in his very first show, his brothers and sisters won four championships, a reserve championship, and 33 Top 10 titles. Those winning genes are no coincidence: Arabian horse breeding is something of an exact science. All of Mariachi’s reproductive “work” is done at Desert Pines Equine, but not the old-fashioned way. Instead, breeding is done through artificial insemination, involving some strategic collecting. Garehime is hopeful that Mariachi will continue the bloodline’s history of breeding winners. “He is just this year starting to breed mares,” she says. “He’s very excited about it.” Before a mare is artificially inseminated, the owner pays a stud fee, which varies widely depending on the pedigree of the father. “Stud fees average $5,000, but can be much more for a champion stallion,” says Janel Brookshire, owner of Hidden Valley Arabians, north of Las Vegas.
Hidden Valley is home to a mare named HV Aliah Bint Sinan, whom Brookshire considers her superstar. “Aliah is everything we could hope for in a show-and breeding-quality filly,” she says of the prized mare that had her first foal this year. “The birth went very well; it was textbook. She bonded immediately with the baby, and she’s been a very good mom.”
Brookshire was so pleased with Aliah’s first filly, HV Sada Amirah, that she chose to keep her—even though Egyptian Arabians of that caliber can sell for $30,000 or more. (Aliah is on equine maternity leave and will not be showing at the Breeders Cup this year.) She says the breed is part of an Arabian aristocracy that has been carefully cultivated for generations. “There’s a big history to it,” Brookshire says. “The Bedouins who bred these horses were fanatical about their bloodlines, which have been kept pure. All their lines can be traced to desert-bred horses.”
Indeed, all Arabians date back to the days of King Solomon, when men searched the desert for the best horses they could find to create the ultimate equine. “All hot-blooded horses, as we know them, are a derivative of the Arabian horse,” says legendary singer Wayne Newton, Las Vegas’s most famous Arabian enthusiast. “It is the oldest breed.”
Newton considers the annual Breeders Cup a must-see event—but he might be slightly biased. The Arabian Horse Breeders Alliance gave him its Lifetime Achievement award when the Breeders Cup first came to Las Vegas in 2007. (The Arabian Professional & Amateur Horseman’s Association also named him its 1996 Breeder of the Year.) “We are in our seventh generation of WN-bred horses,” Newton says, referring to his initials. “We have produced to date over 96 world and national champions.”
At Newton’s famous Casa de Shenandoah, he has overseen the breeding of hundreds of horses; each of his signature foals has a “WN” in its registered name. “Many of the breeders today like to put their initials onto a horse’s name so they can have credit for breeding the horse,” Garehime says. (Mariachi’s full name is Mariachi FA, which stands for Fiscus Arabians, the equine outfit that oversaw his breeding.) Newton’s most famous stud, a Polish import named Aramus Arabian, was a three-time national champion. He sired another stallion named WN GloryOfJoy, who went on to win a national championship of his own before he sired Triolo’s current pride and joy, a mare named DT GloryBea. “People don’t realize that a lot of these top horses are from right here in Las Vegas,” Triolo says. “We have some quality, quality animals here.”
Newton currently has 54 horses at his Pecos Road ranch, which is scheduled to open as a tourist attraction later this year. The lavish, 52-acre property boasts such amenities as an equine swimming pool for exercising the horses with minimal stress to their legs. The ranch also houses a stateof- the-art Arabian-breeding operation. “We average four to six foals a year, and I personally foal each mare in one of our foaling stalls,” Newton says. Casa de Shenandoah’s breeding program uses both natural and artificial insemination, as well as embryo transfers that allow horses to produce foals through a surrogate.
The practice isn’t exclusive to Arabians, but it gets results. “We’ve been doing that for 20-some years; it’s extremely successful and safer for the horses, too,” says Paula Gaughan, who breeds, raises, and trains cutting horses for sport at her ranch on the north end of town. Jokingly, she adds, “These mares can be just like a woman. You know, ‘No thank you!’”
Surrogate foaling allows a champion mare to further her bloodline without missing any competitions. “If she’s the age to be shown, she can still show,” Gaughan says. And in the world of high-stakes horses, missing a year—or falling out of practice—is rarely an option.
Gaughan has been one of the most instrumental players in bringing more top-tier equine events to Las Vegas—thanks to her vision for the South Point Arena & Equestrian Center. The complex, a longtime dream of hers, finally became a reality when she and her husband, gaming executive Michael Gaughan, opened the center in 2006 for shows and competitions. In a very Vegas twist, it is the first venue in the US to feature stall facilities, competition space, hotel rooms, and catering services under one roof. With 1,200 climate-controlled stalls, two arenas (one outside and one indoors), and all-inclusive services onsite, it is widely regarded as the premier horse-show venue in America.
“Nobody has what we have,” Gaughan says. “You can throw on your jammies at 5 am, go feed your horses, then go back to your room, order room service, and turn on the TV to watch what’s happening in the arena.” Nowhere else on the circuit do owners, riders, trainers, and grooms get such first-class treatment. Bellboys meet guests in the barns to help unload horse equipment and accessories. They also transport the guests’ personal luggage, so their bags are waiting for them at check-in.
The center also hosts rodeos and other equine events throughout the year. “Team roping, hunter jumper, cutting, halter, anything!” Gaughan says. “In December, during National Finals Rodeo, we have roping that, this past year, had 2,000 horses.” For that event, prize money was a draw as well. “It paid out $4.7 million,” she says.
With just about 200 horses competing, the Arabian Breeders World Cup does not compare when it comes to prize money—the highestpaying categories, the Arabian Horse Breeders Alliance two-yearold and yearling futurity classes, expect to pay out about $61,000 each. But this show is not about the cash. “It’s the prestige,” Mariachi’s owner Garehime says. “The money is pretty insignificant. You’ll see horses there that have been brought in from other countries. This is such a prestigious show.”
Indeed, although there are more Arabian horses in the United States than all other countries combined, last year’s show saw horses from 14 countries on five continents. Hence, Mariachi isn’t really competing for the honorarium; he’s competing for honor and international esteem. Fillies, colts, stallions, and mares competing at the Breeders Cup are judged in six categories: Arabian type, head, neck and shoulder, body and topline, feet and legs, and movement. Garehime expects Mariachi to be one of 20 studs in Saturday’s qualifying event.
Like all stars, Mariachi has a signature quirk that’s key to his training: While most horses are content with carrots, apples, and oats, Mariachi has a fierce sweet tooth. “He does not like apples,” Garehime says. “He’s got a very sensitive palate. He loves peppermints. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen: He will do absolutely anything you want for a peppermint candy.” Not that he needs to be bribed. “He loves to work,” Garehime says. “He’s just a natural.”
photography by christina rousseau photography (Mariachi); jeff gale (gaughans); gregory goode (aliah); patrick wilen (newton); courtesy of arabian breeders world cup (last year)