By Lucas Marquardt
It was no surprise to see the name of the 2015 Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner American Pharoah on top of the TDN list of the 2017 sires of leading weanlings. The only sire to sell a million-dollar weanling last year, he sent two such offerings through the ring. How has his progeny developed into weanlings? Lucas Marquardt went out to visit Coolmore’s American nominations manager, Adrian Wallace, to talk about the upcoming sales season.
LM: The reception of American Pharoah’s weanlings last year; we expected a lot of money, you expected them to sell well, but you know, easily top $400,000 on average and to have two seven-figure yearlings: was that at all a surprise to you or having seen those weanlings is that something that was expected?
AW: There’s always a certain amount of trepidation when you come to any sales market, whether it’d be your first foals by a certain sire or the first yearlings. But given what he achieved himself, given his look, given the quality and the amount of mares he covered, I think we were all reasonably confident that they were going to be a highly sought after in the marketplace. He covered some of the best mares, he covered the strongest book of mares we’ve ever had here. You looked down through the list and every single time you look at it, you’re like, `oh, wow.’ He covered 48 Group 1 winners or producers. I mean it’s mind boggling. And among the others, there were no slouches either. They were the sisters of Grade I winners, the daughters of Grade I winners, Group 2, Group 3 winners. So the strength and depth in his book is something that certainly at this farm we’ve never seen before.
And you know, given the reception he had, given what he achieved as a two year old and then obviously went on and won the Grand Slam as a three year old, I think our expectations were very high coming into the November sales at both Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland. And then again with this, this year’s January sale, at Keeneland, that they were going to sell very well. And you know, you saw that with the Untouched Talent filly selling for a million dollars, and then the Caravaggio’s brothers selling for a million dollars in January. They’re highly credentialed horses and they were received by the marketplace the way they should have been.
LM: What kind of progression have you seen from them physically from their weanling years to the yearling years? And what kind of buzz are you hearing from breeders about his yearlings?
AW: The buzz is good. We’ve been touring the farms, and we’ve seen a lot of them. We’ve seen a lot of them from foal days to now as yearlings starting their prep. We’ve got a lot of them here ourselves, so we’re in constant contact with the breeders who bred to him. He’s a good-size horse himself. He’s 16.2. He’s very correct. Very good mover. He’s as good-moving a dirt horse as you’re going to find, and he’s passing that on. They’re generally very good size. They’ve got plenty of scope and strength to them. They’re generally very correct. Good movers, fairly uncomplicated horses. As Tom VanMeter said, after Pharoah won the Triple Crown, “If you want a big brown horse that can run fast, you’re looking to American Pharoah,” and I think that’s what we’re seeing in his first crop.
LM: You talked a little bit about his size. He’s a big-framed horse. He’s just a perfect classic-look horse, but he’s got some speed influences in his pedigree being out of a Yankee Gentleman mare. What kind of mares were breeders sending to him? You’ve bred quite a few, so I’m assuming you’ve seen some variety.
AW: It really was a cross-section of mares. We bred 35 mares to him in his first crop, including Maybe, who’s the dam of our own Saxon Warrior, who won the 2000 Guineas in England this year. He then bred the likes of the dam of Songbird, Ivanavinalot. He bred the dam of Acapulco, who was a champion sprinter. He bred the dam of Caravaggio, a champion two-year-old. So he got a whole cross section of mares, turf mares who were classic producers and also top two-year-old producers.
LM: He has been shuttling to Australia, so the expectation that maybe he’ll get some grass runners, particularly maybe firm ground runners. But like you’ve mentioned, he’s a terrific mover, something that the Europeans typically gravitate to. So is the expectation that his yearlings from this first crop will be popular with European buyers?
AW: You would imagine. Obviously, he never ran on the turf himself. Bob Baffert always said he was a horse, that, had he run him on the turf, he had no doubt in his mind that he would have been a superior turf runner as well. To me, he doesn’t necessarily look like your typical dirt horse. He’s a very free, easy-moving horse. On the mares he’s been getting, there’s certainly quite a lot of turf influences in them. It remains to be seen how he does with his first foals down in Australia, but you’d imagine that he should be successful on dirt on turf as well.
LM: Certain sires tend to very much stamp their youngsters, while others get very different types, but they all seem to run. Any indication at this point whether American Pharoah is really stamping them or is he getting kind of a wide variety of physical?
AW: Generally they tend to be bay; there’s not too much chrome or too much flash. He’s only got a white star himself. So they’re generally big bay, correct, good size, good scope to them, very easy movers. He’s a pretty uncomplicated horse to breed to. He’ll put size and quality into a mare that needs it, but he’s also not overly big where you’re going to be worried that you’re going to get something that’s uncommercial or probably going to take a long time to mature. We think they’ll be quite precocious horses. He was champion two-year-old himself, let’s not forgot. Sometimes we think of him as just being a Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont and Breeders’ Cup classic winner. But he also was a dual Grade I winner at two. So he was an early horse and we think he’ll pass that onto his progeny as well.
LM: What do you think that the impact of having two Triple Crown winners in American Pharoah and Justify so close together has been for the sport?
AW: It’s a rising-tide-raises-all-boats kind of thing. With Justify doing what he’s done so far, I think it has put the spotlight back on this business and this industry again. You know, Pharoah obviously broke the 38-year gap since, since the Affirmed did it in 1978, and I think having it happen again, it doesn’t really take away from Pharoah’s legacy. I think it enhances it. I think it enhances our business. I think it puts a spotlight on our business again, and certainly it bodes well for the yearling sale season coming up, which gets going with Fasig-Tipton July in a short two weeks.
I think it’s a helpful fact as well that both of these Triple Crown winners in Justify and American Pharoah are graduates of the public auction sphere. We know that American Pharoah was a high-priced buyback, but both of them were available to the public to be bought. And I think that should give buyers and agents an awful lot of confidence that these horses are being sold by their breeders. These horses are available for everybody. They’re not being kept by the likes of a Claiborne Farm or a Darley-Godolphin or Coolmore. I think that is something that should put a lot of confidence in buyers’ minds.