The TDN caught up with Hill ‘n’ Dale’s John Sikura to talk about one of the new additions to the farm’s stallion roster for 2019: undefeated GI Carter H. winner Army Mule (Friesan Fire).
TDN: Army Mule obviously had a short, but really brilliant career with three dominant wins from three starts.
JS: I think the horse accomplished phenomenal things in a short period of time. He went from an easy maiden winner to an easy allowance winner and the first time he ever competed in a stakes, he ran in New York, the toughest racing in America. He won by nearly seven lengths just off a track record that had stood for almost 20 years, seven-eighths in 1:20 and change, just phenomenal. He did it handily. At the top of the stretch he was six in front, and just geared down.
Todd Pletcher said he’s just a horse of phenomenal talent. I don’t think it was any surprise that he could be a very good horse. He made $825,000 as a 2-year-old. Donato [Lanni], who I respect as a great, great horseman, works for us just by coincidence. A great horseman was the underbidder. Bob Baffert loved the horse.
He was an end-of-May foal, so as a 2-year-old, he sold a day or two after his 2-year-old birthday, and people were wowed by how well he trained, how professional he was, how fast he was and what great movement the horse had. So he’s always been a very high-profile horse.
TDN: When did he come on your radar as a stallion prospect for Hill ‘n’ Dale?
JS: When we he broke his maiden, he was a ‘TDN Rising Star.’ You know, we watch the chart and you always…I wouldn’t say have skepticism, but you want to see a horse do more. Then he went on the shelf and then he came back and was as or more impressive the second time.
I talked to Vinnie Viola and I talked to Todd Pletcher, and Vinnie was so excited about his horse, as he should be, and Todd Pletcher, as many good horses as he’s had, I thought he might categorize him as a nice horse, a fast horse, but we’ll see what happens. But he was effusive in his praise and said, “This is fast as a horse can be. He has unlimited ability, he’ll go as far as you want,” and just so enthused about the future of the horse.
It’s unfortunate he chipped a knee. He trained when he wasn’t 100% off that injury, a testament to his courage and raw ability. I really believe that brilliant racehorses make brilliant sires, and anyone can talk about soundness, but all it takes is one misstep, and a horse gets injured, and they’re usually retired. That horse probably should have been retired, but he had so much courage that he fought on and he won a Grade I in very impressive fashion.
So for me soundness is not an issue whatsoever with the horse. He’s got great names in his pedigree. Our Native was a horse that bred 30 and 40 mares a year in the old days and got 72 stakes winners. He sired Ruthie’s Native, who is a champion, so I mean it’s a real pedigree. Crafty Prospector is a fantastic horse that’s replete in a lot of really good pedigrees. Storm Bird is an international horse. Friesan Fire is by A.P. Indy. His dam, Bollinger, was a champion sprinter in Australia.
I see him as a horse without limitation, and we’ve had very good luck finding these brilliant horses and standing them at stud. Maclean’s Music, Candy Ride, they had abbreviated careers. They’ve had durable, fantastic offspring and we’re excited about Army Mule. Not only are we breeding a lot of our own mares at Hill ‘n’ Dale, but St. Elias is breeding their own mares and Vinnie was nice enough to let me go and buy mares in November and January privately that we think complement the horse. So far, we bought eight or nine good stakes-winning mares for the horse. We’ll breed 20 mares ourselves. [Vinnie]’ll do nearly the same and we have good outside support, so we expect a book of 100 strong.
TDN: Why should commercial breeders consider Army Mule?
JS: I think Army Mule has all the requirements a breeder looks for. He had precocity, he had speed, was a great race horse and was well received at public auction, making $825,000 as a 2-year-old. Everybody’s looking for a multiple of return on their stud fee. He’s a $10,000 horse and if he reproduces himself, I think it’s very likely that he’ll have hundred-thousand-dollar plus yearlings in his first crop. That’s not only a great commercial return, but I think he’s got a great chance to be a really important sire. If any commercial breeder would wonder why should I breed to Army Mule, the answer is the way he’s been accepted, the way he sold as a 2-year-old, and if they look like him, I think there’ll be a real buzz about the horse.
TDN: And being an $825,000 two-year-old, like you said, he’s obviously a good-looking horse, but can you tell us about his conformation?
JS: He is a really beautifully balanced horse, a great mover. Everything is in the right place. He’s correct, he has bone. He’s got a pretty head and eye, and is just a lovely horse to look at. I think it’s very hard for horses who emerge from the two-year-old sales. They have to get ready early, they have to go fast, and he shows not only the precocity, but anyone that might question his durability, look what it took for a horse that was born at the end of May to sell in a May 2-year-old sale.
So I think that he overcame all the hurdles. He won in the highest of company. He was never even let run. He won his first three starts by nearly 25 lengths, including a Grade I in New York, so he was a horse of immense ability. All the right names are in his pedigree and we’re very excited. Horses that are brilliant, even horses that have abbreviated careers, those are breed-shaping horses. Look at a horse like Danzig. Not every horse has to start 14 or 18 times. It’s always nice if you have a top-class horse, particularly for the owner to keep a good horse in training. It’s so hard to find, but the fact that he showed his ability, he won at the highest level of class, I think that really says a lot about the horse.