By Andrew Caulfield
Judging by a list in an old edition of the American Racing Manual, taking the title of leading freshman sire has often been a stepping stone to even greater success. The list features the likes of Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer, Buckpasser, What A Pleasure, Raja Baba, Roberto, Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew, Alydar, Danzig and Fappiano. But they all took the title more than 30 years ago, when the world of Thoroughbred breeding was a simpler place. Superstardom has arguably awaited fewer of their successors, but there are still some notable names among the freshman title-holders, such as Distorted Humor, Tiznow, Street Cry, Tapit, Scat Daddy, Quality Road and Uncle Mo.
The corollary to this is that many a good stallion HASN’T landed the title, or even come close to doing so. For example, Curlin ranked no higher than ninth in 2012, whereas Ghostzapper was 21st, Indian Charlie 10th, More Than Ready sixth, Pulpit seventh and Kitten’s Joy fifth in their respective years. And don’t forget that some years are much more competitive than others, the prime example being the class of 2008, when the top five featured Tapit, Candy Ride, Medaglia d’Oro and Speightstown.
Only time will establish the strength (or weakness) of the group of newcomers who contested the 2018 title. Only three of them–Will Take Charge, Noble Mission and Verrazano–covered their first mares at fees higher than $20,000, and only three of them–Will Take Charge, Cairo Prince and Fed Biz–achieved a median higher than $60,000 with their first yearlings in 2017.
It is fair to say, then, that few people would have backed Cross Traffic to run out a comfortable winner of the 2018 title, thanks largely to the Grade I successes of his admirable daughter Jaywalk. He had ranked outside the top 10 by average and median at the yearling sales of 2017, a year when his fee had been reduced to $7,500 from its original $12,500. Now, thanks to his team of first-crop black-type winners, Cross Traffic will stand the 2019 season at $25,000, which should give him every chance of building on his early success.
The Spendthrift team must be delighted that, in addition to Cross Traffic, they also stand second-ranked Goldencents. In taking second place, Goldencents ranked one place higher than his sire Into Mischief (third behind Henrythenavigator and Spring At Last in 2012) and he, too, will be standing at career-high fee of $20,000 this year.
Third on the freshman table is Cairo Prince, who arguably made the biggest impact of any of the new stallions at the 2017 yearling sales. Although he covered his first mares at only $10,000, he achieved an average of over $150,000 and a median of $115,000, to finish second in both categories to Will Take Charge, who stood the 2015 season at $30,000.
The reaction to Cairo Prince’s sales success was to increase his fee for a second time, from the $15,000 he had cost in his second and third seasons to $25,000 in 2018, when–as usual–he covered around 148 mares. Although Cairo Prince’s second crop couldn’t match his first-crop’s sales figures, his 2018 yearlings still sold well for a comparatively inexpensive stallion, with colts achieving $450,000, $350,000, $340,000 and $300,000. He is therefore well placed for a bright 2019.
Fortunately for his admirers, Cairo Prince has made a bright enough start to maintain his fee at $25,000 in 2019. In finishing third, he went close to matching his sire Pioneerof The Nile, runner-up to Dunkirk among the freshmen of 2013, and he fared better than his grandsire Empire Maker, who was seventh in 2007. Bodemeister, another of Empire Maker’s sons, was third behind Dialed In and Union Rags in 2016, before coming up with the 2017 GI Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming.
The star of Cairo Prince’s first crop has been Cairo Cat, who has won two of his three starts, including the GIII Iroquois S. at Churchill Downs. Cairo Prince’s daughter Pakhet has also proved well above average, contesting the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf after her maiden victory at Belmont and her second in the GII Jessamine S.
Cairo Prince closed the year with another black-type winner when Giza Goddess landed Sunday’s Blue Norther S. at Santa Anita, for her second win in three starts on turf. We have also seen two of Cairo Prince’s recent maiden special weight winners earn ‘TDN Rising Star’ status– Qahira, who impressively defeated more-experienced rivals over six furlongs at Del Mar, and Mihos, who won easing up over six furlongs at Aqueduct. His total of winners now stands at 19, and the chances are that we will be seeing plenty more over the coming months.
Even allowing for the fact that Pioneerof The Nile has enjoyed success on turf with the likes of Grade I winner Midnight Storm and Grade III winners Insta Erma, Cash Control and Levante Lion, I have been a little surprised at Cairo Prince’s early success as a sire of turf runners. In addition to the stakes fillies Pakhet and Giza Goddess, he has been represented by Dark Prince (a winner at Santa Anita), Silent Surprise (a MSW winner at Keeneland), Marquee Prince (an allowance winner at Churchill Downs), Shazier (a MSW winner at Gulfstream Park) and Sexyama (a MSW at Laurel).
This potentially makes Cairo Prince of interest to Europeans, even though he comes from a sire line which has traditionally struggled in Europe, where the turf courses are frequently much softer than their American counterparts. Interestingly, several of Cairo Prince’s turf performers have won on ground described as good or yielding, and it will be interesting to see whether many Europeans are brave enough to take a chance on a stallion who is pretty much an outcross for most European mares.