The Meteoric Rise of Into Mischief

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Into Mischief | Lee Thomas photo

By Chris McGrath

Let’s be honest about this. The giddy rise of Into Mischief (Harlan’s Holiday) didn’t please absolutely everyone. For one thing, he became a poster boy for the kind of aggressive incentives that won Spendthrift many friends, among breeders, while ruffling feathers at other farms. To start with, moreover, those rivals didn’t yet have his half-sister Beholder (Henny Hughes) to help explain how the daughter of a stallion who ended up in New Mexico could have produced such an undeniably potent son.

But it now feels as though even the most reluctant are prepared to give credit where it’s due. Loads of farms have quit wringing their hands over the Spendthrift deals and started offering their own versions. Into Mischief is now not just the busiest stallion in America, with 235 mares covered in 2017, but also a six-figure cover, a sire of young sires, with no fewer than 39 yearlings in Book 1 at Keeneland September. And they might well get a collective boost, shortly before the sale, when Into Mischief’s electrifying new star, Instagrand, steps up to Grade I level in the Del Mar Futurity Sept. 3. That looks very likely to prove a showdown with Roadster (Quality Road) for the right to be named the top juvenile on the West Coast.

The $1.2 million joint sale-topper Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream this spring, Instagrand treated his pursuers in the GII Best Pal S. with identical disdain to those he had dispatched in his maiden, in each case cruising 10 lengths clear with an apparent insouciance at odds with the wild speed measured by the clock.

This colt has made such an impact, so quickly, that people are already speculating about his eligibility to see out Classic distances. Hitherto, for the most part, Into Mischief’s stock has majored in single-turn dash. (Practical Joke, for instance, soon dropped back in trip after running fifth in the Kentucky Derby). But that could well change, as his mares elevate along with his fee. Instagrand is the result of a 2015 cover, still “just” $35,000 but up from $20,000 the previous year.

We’ll come to Instagrand’s own family in due course, but first we should revisit the bedrock that enabled 11-time Grade I winner Beholder–and, in the meantime, 18 1/2-length G2 UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy)–to stretch the speed of their sires into a second turn.

Mendelssohn was the $3-million Keeneland September topper in 2016, the most expensive of his crop in America. By that stage, Into Mischief and Beholder–who had cost Spendthrift’s owner B. Wayne Hughes $180,000 apiece (respectively as breezer and yearling)–had given their dam Leslie’s Lady (Tricky Creek) elite lustre.

But the Mitchell family of Clarkland Farm had famously been able to buy her for just $100,000 at her late breeder’s dispersal in 2006. Leslie’s Lady, though a stakes winner at two, had been a hard-working sprinter; and, mated with ordinary stallions, had so far produced ordinary foals. Her own sire–after starting out in Kentucky–had ended up meandering from one Californian farm to another before, earlier that same year, moving to Running Horse Farm, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Now whenever people stub their toes against a horse like this in the pedigree of an exceptional Thoroughbred–as we do all the time–they tend to move quickly on, and seek the comfort of familiar class elsewhere. But who can pretend to know truly how much, or how little, Tricky Creek is helping his grandson Into Mischief; or now, indeed, Instagrand?

Perhaps the best that could be said of Tricky Creek, at the time Leslie’s Lady changed hands, was that he was an excellent source of soundness. One study, late in his career, listed him as fifth among active national sires by percentage of starters-to-foals; and seventh by lifetime starts-per-starter. Tricky Creek himself had teak enough to win a Grade II race at two, three and four. (Beholder showed still greater mettle in winning Grade Is every year from two to six, albeit Into Mischief himself mustered only half a dozen starts).

Tricky Creek’s dam Battle Creek Girl (His Majesty) produced no fewer than 15 winners from 20 foals, six at stakes level. These included Canadian champion 2-year-old filly Wavering Girl (Wavering Monarch), dam of a Grade I winner on turf in Military (Danzig). Two of her other daughters are multiple stakes producers. And Tricky Creek’s third dam is none other than Soaring, an important daughter of Swaps who unites the pedigrees of Devil’s Bag, Rahy, Singspiel and Saint Ballado, among others.

At one stage, in fact, Battle Creek Girl’s page looked so strong that her yearling brother to Grade I winners Parade Ground and Parade Leader, all three by Kingmambo, brought $5.3 million at the 2000 Keeneland September Sale.

So there was plenty worth preserving in the sire redeemed from oblivion by Leslie’s Lady. Her own dam, meanwhile, was by Hail To Reason’s son Stop The Music, awarded the Champagne S. at the expense of a horse named Secretariat. (He dined out on this achievement until the remarkable age of 35, a Gainesway institution for three decades).

The next dam, by One For All, was a half-sister not only to GI Californian S. winner Roanoke (Pleasant Colony), but also to the third dam of champion I’ll Have Another (Flower Alley). One For All had extremely aristocratic blood, while the next dam was by the mighty Sea-Bird out of a very smart runner and producer.

So if you need to do a bit of drilling, you can certainly find seams of class to underpin the amazing achievements of Leslie’s Lady.

Some people will read plenty into the fact that she produced both Beholder and Into Mischief from grandsons of Storm Cat, and Mendelssohn from the same line. But the details of her breeding history could certainly support an interpretation less akin to painting-by-numbers. What cannot be doubted is that Into Mischief is fortifying a Storm Cat line that seemed in peril when Harlan bequeathed only 98 foals when he died.

Fortunately, one of them was the handsome Harlan’s Holiday and–while he didn’t make a great age, either, a sudden loss in Argentina at 14–he also has the likes of Shanghai Bobby and Majesticperfection going out to bat on his behalf, besides Into Mischief. (Harlan’s other principal legacy was Menifee, kingpin in Korea).

It was actually Shanghai Bobby who denied Into Mischief (himself from their sire’s first crop) an instant Grade I winner when beating Goldencents in the Champagne S., but the latter put that right in the Santa Anita Derby and then consecutive runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Goldencents had been sold for just $5,500 at Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky October Yearling Sale, a first hint of Into Mischief’s ability to punch way above his perceived weight.

How much this sire-line can contribute, as he seeks the final breakthrough as a legitimate Classic sire, remains to be seen. Into Mischief’s own career, truncated as it was, offers a limited distance template–albeit second in the GI Malibu S. at least demonstrated that he had not burned out after his Grade I success at two in the Hollywood Futurity. Physically, too, his length and balance augur well for carrying speed.

His sire Harlan’s Holiday, for his part, graduated from the Ohio circuit at two to become a dual Grade I winner at three, adding the GI Donn H. and finishing second in the Dubai World Cup at four. If his major asset was speed, also the trademark of Harlan himself, he is entitled to dredge some of the right stuff from his own family: his dam was by Affirmed, and his third dam Princessnesian–by Princequillo (hooray!)–not only won the Hollywood Gold Cup (in 1:59.80) but was also a half-sister to Seattle Slew’s grandsire Boldnesian. (And Harlan, for what it may be worth, came from a family with far more stamina than you would expect).

Certainly there is something auspiciously controlled and fluid about Instagrand’s speed. His TDN Rising Star debut for Jerry Hollendorfer at Los Alamitos was accomplished in :56 flat, but hardly in the manner of some crazed speed addict, and a sixth furlong made not the slightest difference to the way he was extending at the finish. He looks terribly natural–as you might expect of one who increased his $190,000 yearling tag, six-fold, by flashing his physical capacity to the breeze-up team working with Larry Best’s OXO Equine.

How much Instagrand’s own family can contribute, in terms of extending his progress with time and distance, remains to be seen. On the face of it, he somewhat compounds his sire’s eclectic origins. His dam Assets Of War is by Lawyer Ron (Langfuhr), tragically a still more fleeting contributor than Harlan to the Stud Book. And his third dam is a Grade II winner by–wait for it–Stutz Blackhawk.

In between, however, there is a mare by the splendid Lord At War (Arg), broodmare sire of Pioneerof the Nile. She is the GIII Arlington Heights Oaks winner Added Asset, a sister to Grade 2 winner Added Gold and half-sister to Added Time (Gilded Time)–a cherished mare for the breeders of Instagrand, at Stoneway Farm.

Purchased as a $170,000 2-year-old in training at Keeneland in 1999, Added Time bred Stoneway’s first elite scorer in 2007 GI Spinaway S. winner Irish Smoke (Smoke Glacken). When ultimately finding themselves lacking fillies from the mare, Stoneway invested back in the family at the Fasig-Tipton July Sale in 2011, picking up Assets Of War as a $165,000 yearling.

Though she won on debut, Assets Of War is said to take auspiciously after Lawyer Ron, as more of a two-turn type. It would be lovely to think a horse who set a track record in the GI Whitney H. (9f in 1:46.64) and won the GI Woodward S. by eight lengths might be permitted some kind of lasting legacy from just two seasons at stud–especially by sharing a page with Into Mischief, given that both Lawyer Ron and Into Mischief were bred by James T. Hines Jr., from whose dispersal the Mitchells bought Leslie’s Lady.

Whatever happens, by this stage everyone should be enjoying the Into Mischief adventure–and eager to find out whether he can make one last leap.

Because a rising tide floats all boats. At Stoneway, for instance, they may have missed the big payday from Instagrand, who was pinhooked through Eddie Woods. Crucially, however, they had sent Assets Of War on consecutive visits to Into Mischief–and the stars were certainly aligned when Instagrand made his debut. For it was barely half an hour earlier that his 3-year-old full-sister Aerial Assets, retained by Stoneway, had broken her maiden at Laurel. Moreover the mare has a colt by Cairo Prince, consigned by Paramount as hip 663, in the September Sale.

She has meanwhile delivered a weanling colt by Noble Mission (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) and had a cover from the flourishing Airdrie sire Creative Cause (Giant’s Causeway).

It is another son of Giant’s Causeway, Not This Time, who is latest to be granted the privilege of a date with the venerable Leslie’s Lady. For those of us giving him a big shot, among the new sires, this represents a welcome vote of confidence from the Mitchells–whose prescience has been further attested by their choice of partner in 2016. For the precious mare’s colt at the September Sale, hip 120, is by none other than Medaglia d’Oro, sire of seven Grade I winners in the year of his delivery, and three of the top five lots at Saratoga. (The other two were by American Pharoah who, sure enough, is the sire of the filly foaled this spring by Leslie’s Lady).

Above all, of course, there is the life-changing opportunity Spendthrift owner B. Wayne Hughes gave those small breeders who came aboard with Into Mischief on the ground floor. Spendthrift awarded a lifetime breeding right to anyone backing him–a $12,500 freshman who had dwindled to $7,500 by the time his first runners hit the track-for two consecutive seasons. The value of those rights, plainly, has since gone through the roof.

With a libido and fertility equating to an astonishing 1,076 mares between 2013 and 2017, Into Mischief can hardly be expected to produce horses as exciting as Instagrand as though from a conveyor belt. But so long as he can maintain sufficient quality of this kind, among all the quantity, then he is assured an even greater legacy than he achieved with his mischievous, puckishly disruptive advent on the Kentucky commercial scene.

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