By Andrew Caulfield
If experience teaches us anything, it is that a hard-and-fast approach to Thoroughbred breeding is going to lead to missed opportunities. Two widespread prejudices (which are arguably more prevalent in Britain and Ireland) are a dislike of late foals and a reluctance to use veteran stallions.
The wisdom of these biases has been tested by the June classics on both sides of the Atlantic. The Investec Derby fell to Anthony Van Dyck, a colt born as late as May 19. This son of the now 21-year-old Galileo is the third fairly recent late-foaled Group 1 winner for his sire, following the May 25-born Forever Together, winner of last year’s Investec Oaks, and the May 18-born Magical, winner of the British Champions Fillies & Mares S. and the Tattersalls Gold Cup. The clear message is that a late foal by the world’s best stallion is much better than no foal at all. Of course, the first three finishers in the Kentucky Derby–Maximum Security, Country House and Code of Honor– were respectively born on the 14th, the 8th and the 23rd of May.
Now we have seen the GI Belmont S. fall to Sir Winston, whose sire Awesome Again is a veteran of 25 and was therefore 21 when Sir Winston was conceived. Over in Europe, the evergreen Pivotal–still active at the age of 26–was recently represented by his second winner in five years of the G1 Prix Saint-Alary, this time with Siyarafina, a filly conceived when he was 22.
Another quirky aspect of last week’s graded stakes was that the GII New York S., acted as a reminder that some stallions are much more effective at siring high-class runners of one particular gender. For Exchange Rate, sire of the classy French import Homerique, it has been his daughters which have proved especially effective at the highest level. Of his six Northern Hemisphere GI/G1 winners, five have been fillies, the single exception being the fast English-trained colt Reckless Abandon, who proved largely infertile after his retirement to stud. The way Homerique is shaping in her new base, she looks very likely to become female Grade I winner number six. At present she is one of three fillies among her sire’s five Grade II winners.
To get back to Sir Winston and Awesome Again (whose son Ghostzapper also enjoyed GI success at Belmont via the exciting Acorn S. winner ‘TDN Rising Star’ Guarana), Sir Winston is his 14th Grade I winner from a stallion career which now stretches to 17 crops aged three or over. Disparagers of old stallions would no doubt quickly point out that none of the previous 13 GI winners was born later than 2010. I could add that as many as nine of Awesome Again’s Grade I winners were members of his first four crops, sired at fees of $50,000. This represented a magnificent performance, with the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner achieving a stunning 3.2% GI winners among the 281 named foals in these first four crops.
Anyone would have been forgiven for wondering what Awesome Again might achieve after these terrific early results forced his fee up to $125,000 and then $150,000. However, the five years spent at these lofty fees reminded us of the unpredictability of the bloodstock world. They produced 391 named foals but only three of them–Game On Dude, Oxbow and Paynter–became GI winners, which is only 0.76%. This comparatively lean spell sent Awesome Again’s fee crashing to $50,000 before it revived to $75,000.
While there has been a five-year hiatus without the emergence of any GI winners, only his 2014 crop, numbering 57, has failed to produce at least one graded winner. There were three Grade II winners in Awesome Again’s 2011 crop, a Grade III winner in the crop of 2012, and GII and GIII winners among his six black-type winners from the 70 foals in his 2013 crop. His 2015 crop showed that Triple Crown potential was still there, with Bravazo running Justify to half a length in the GI Preakness S., and now the 2016 crop has produced Sir Winston and Always Shopping, winner of the GII Gazelle S. in April.
As the saying goes, there’s life in the old dog yet and it will be interesting to see how the Adena Springs veteran fares with his next few crops–he has over 50 juveniles this year, as well as a similar number of yearlings. He covered 48 mares last year at the age of 24.
It could just be coincidence, but Awesome Again’s sire Deputy Minister had a similar record to Awesome Again. After siring a lengthy list of GI winners, including four in his 1994 crop, Deputy Minister became champion sire at the ages of 18 and 19 in 1997 and 1998. However, his nine crops foaled after 1995 enjoyed only sporadic success. Three produced a GI winner, the last two being the Sword Dancer H. winner Go Deputy and the Personal Ensign S. winner Miss Shop (conceived when he was 24).
I believe one contributory factor in the decline in Deputy Minister’s results was that he came into competition with a growing number of his own stallion sons, which were not only younger, but cheaper. Perhaps the same has happened to Awesome Again, who has been in direct competition with Ghostzapper at Adena Springs. Ghostzapper now has 10 GI winners (seven of them fillies).
There was always a good chance that Sir Winston would prove suited by the mile and a half of the Belmont S. Awesome Again won several times over a mile and a quarter and he had previously come close to siring a winner of the Belmont, when Paynter was caught in the final strides by Union Rags in 2012. There is also stamina in the bottom half of Sir Winston’s pedigree, with both his dam, the Grade III winner La Gran Bailadora, and second dam, the Grade III-placed Affirmed Dancer, being daughters of Belmont S. winners (they are respectively daughters of Afleet Alex and Affirmed). Sir Winston’s first three dams were all black-type winners, his third dam being the Canadian champion Woolloomooloo, who enjoyed stakes success at up to a mile and an eighth. That adds up to a quality background for a colt who RNA’d at only $50,000 as a yearling.