By Andrew Caulfield
When the TDN recently published a list of the most prolific sires of nominees for the 2017 Triple Crown, the top four were Tapit (with 19), Into Mischief (16), Uncle Mo (15) and Union Rags (14). Incidentally, Tapit and Into Mischief also topped the table of stallions with the most qualifiers for the 2016 Experimental Free Handicap (with eight and seven respectively).
Last weekend’s 3-year-old action also went some way towards underlining the quality of some of these stallions’ 2014 crops. The GII Las Virgenes S. saw Tapit’s exciting daughter Unique Bella trounce the Uncle Mo filly Mopotism; in the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. Uncle Mo’s son Royal Mo led throughout for a decisive success; and in the GII Forward Gal S., Tequilita bettered Tapit’s Grade I winner Pretty City Dancer to become the third graded stakes-winning filly from the first crop of Union Rags.
One noteworthy aspect of Uncle Mo’s tally of 15 Triple Crown nominees–all males–is that they come from a second crop numbering 96 foals–less than two-thirds the size of its spectacular predecessor.
Numbers also need factoring into the story of ‘TDN Rising Star’ Irish War Cry, the unbeaten Curlin colt who smoothly upset the GII Lambholm South Holy Bull S. In doing so, he accounted for Gunnevera (117 on the Experimental) and the out-of-sorts Classic Empire (who topped the Experimental on 126).
One of the cliches in British soccer is to describe it as a game of two halves, and this phrase could equally be applied to Curlin’s stallion career. Of course, he is currently riding high, with his fee of $150,000 placing him among the top half-dozen sires in Kentucky. The way his fee has soared over the last three years reflects the growing success of his progeny. After a solid 2014 performance which saw him finish 11th on the general sires’ list, Curlin backed it up with sixth place in 2015 and an excellent second place behind Tapit last year.
However, the first half of his stallion career had seen Curlin’s popularity go in the opposite direction. Having started out at $75,000 on the strength of his accomplishments, which included the Horse of the Year title, his fee soon slid down to $40,000. Then, when Curlin finished a disappointing ninth among 2012’s first-crop sires, his fee was reduced to $25,000 for 2013. The emergence of Palace Malice from his first crop came a bit too late to help Curlin in 2013, with his first stakes success–in the GI Belmont S.–coming on June 8. The Jockey Club credits him with covering only 54 mares at this comparatively low fee, with 39 producing live foals in 2014. Happily, Palace Malace’s efforts in 2013 and early 2014 were hard to overlook and, with Curlin’s fee pegged at $25,000, the son of Smart Strike was much, much busier in 2014, with 152 mares producing more than 110 foals.
Consequently Curlin’s 2014 crop potentially represented the low point of his career, with his smallest crop sired at his joint-lowest fee. In practice, though, this gloomy forecast is proving well wide of the mark. With fewer than 40 named foals this crop has produced four qualifiers for the Experimental Free H. and six Triple Crown nominees.
The Experimental qualifiers are headed by the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Valadorna, who ranked second to Champagne Room with a figure of 121. The better of the two colts was the Swynford S. winner Undulated, on 111. Irish War Cry and Valadorna are the most proven of Curlin’s Triple Crown nominees.
There was a great deal to like about Irish War Cry’s performance in the Holy Bull S.–a race whose last six winners included Mohaymen (who went on to win the GII Fountain of Youth and finish fourth in the GI Kentucky Derby), Upstart (who finished second in the Fountain of Youth and the GI Florida Derby), Itsmyluckyday (runner-up in the Florida Derby and the GI Preakness) and Dialed In (winner of the Florida Derby).
So what might the future hold for Irish War Cry? It is far from impossible that he might develop into another Exaggerator, Palace Malice or Keen Ice for the Hill ‘n’ Dale resident. All three of these major winners stayed a mile and a quarter, as, of course, did Curlin, a winner of the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup, GI Breeders’ Cup Classic and G1 Dubai World Cup.
An initial look at Irish War Cry’s pedigree raises a few doubts about whether he will possess as much stamina. For a start, he is out of Irish Sovereign, a successful dirt sprinter whose sire, the royally-bred Polish Numbers, gained all four of his wins around six furlongs. However, Polish Numbers was a son of Numbered Account, a champion filly who produced Private Account and Dancer Number, both Grade I winners over a mile and a quarter.
Irish War Cry’s second dam, Irish Genius, was another who did her winning over sprint distances. However, her sire, the ultra-tough Beau Genius, won the Arlington Challenge Cup over a mile and a quarter as a 5-year-old, when Beau Genius collected a remarkable nine stakes victories from 14 starts. A note of caution is sounded by the fact that Beau Genius had previously done all his winning at up to 1 1/16 miles, with six of his wins as a 5-year-old coming at around seven furlongs. His name also cropped up last year as the broodmare sire of Cupid, a triple Grade II winner over a mile and an eighth.
All is not lost, though. Irish War Cry’s third dam Irish Trip had a European pedigree with no shortage of stamina. Her sire Saint Crespin III rounded off his career with victory in the 1959 G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe before siring some high-class mile-and-a-half fillies. Irish Trip’s broodmare sire, Tambourine II, was a Princequillo colt who won the G1 Irish Derby, and Irish War Cry’s fifth dam, Nectandra, was a half-sister to Psidium, a shock winner of the G1 Epsom Derby. With the likes of Northern Dancer, Buckpasser and Swaps also to be found in the bottom half of Irish War Cry’s pedigree, the son of Curlin has reasonable prospects of staying further, provided he continues to settle on the lead as well as he did in the Holy Bull. Remember that he had been much harder to rate in the early stages of the Marylander S. Hopefully he is learning with experience, and the fact that he has a May birthdate suggests he will continue to progress.
Footnote: I have been interested by the recent discussion, fuelled by Bill Finley, about the concept of stallions returning to the racetrack (click here). The pedigree of one of the weekend’s graded winners, Favorable Outcome, reminded me of another example, as his second dam is a daughter of Shananie.
Shananie, who apparently stood only 15 hands, covered his first mares as a 5-year-old in 1984 and this son of In Reality was returned to the track to win the J. O. Tobin H. in October 1984. In 1985, when he became the father of four named foals, Shananie again covered some mares, siring 11 named foals, before returning to the track once again, this time to win the Engine One S. at Belmont Park on Oct. 5.
There is a difference, though, between covering a handful of mares, as Shananie did, and covering the numbers expected of a popular modern stallion. Last year no fewer than 65 Kentucky stallions were bred to 120 mares or more, with 36 covering upwards of 140 mares. Four–Uncle Mo, Into Mischief, American Pharoah and Kitten’s Joy–covered more than 200, with Uncle Mo coping with 253.
To manage this sort of workload, which can involve multiple coverings per day, stallions have traditionally been allowed to bulk up prior to the breeding season. California Chrome won’t have much time to bulk up, or let down, following his Pegasus World Cup appearance, so perhaps he would have less weight to lose before returning to the track. I wonder whether the Taylor Made team are having to use different management techniques with California Chrome to enable him to cope with the demands of his stallion duties, while at the same time having an eye on a relatively speedy return to training.