2019 Kentucky Sires Part I: First Covers

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Lane’s End’s GI Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Accelerate tops the author’s “value podium” | Sue Finley

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Welcome to the first in our series sifting the value among Kentucky sires for 2019. It’s worth noting straightaway that we’ll take a separate a look at the regional market, once we have assessed the Bluegrass stallions. We’ll go through these according to the stage they have reached in their careers: moving on next, for instance, to those with first foals due in the new year, and winding up with those supported by an established population of runners. In each case, we’ll finish up by awarding a few medals for those we think offer you most for your buck.

New sires, of course, generally offer the worst value on the whole market, simply because most will never again command so high a fee. Even those who do manage to work their way into the elite must very often first suffer a slide before their genetic wares begin to be properly advertised on the track. Yet appalling numbers of mares are thrown at new sires every year, in the hope of stumbling across the one who gets a buzz at the sales. Sure enough, even in the event that his stock proves able to run as well as they can walk, those same mares will then be faithlessly sent to the next new kid on the block.

Value is in the eye of the beholder, I guess, so we’ll work on the quaint premise that a stallion is priced well if he has a better chance of producing a good racehorse than his market level might suggest.

Nowhere else to start a review of this intake but Justify (Scat Daddy), who finds himself in a rather curious position. Retired to Ashford at $150,000, a fee perfectly commensurate with his meteoric career, at any time over the past generation he would be a unique proposition. As it is, he isn’t even the only young Triple Crown winner on his own farm.

Someday the pair will perhaps end up dating each other’s daughters, for a little Storm Cat inbreeding, but for now the sale yields of American Pharoah (Pioneerof The Nile) confirm how the Coolmore team can put their shoulders to the wheel even for a stallion starting at such a giddy fee.

Often physical matching is fairly nuanced, but few champions of recent times have retired with such blatant potential to transfer brawn and power as well as class. Justify threw all that into Classic dirt assets, carrying his speed relentlessly, but his sire and grandsire should embolden top European breeders to back him for versatility too.

He will be beyond most pockets but Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy)–starting at the same farm on $35,000–shares a sire with Justify and sometimes appeared also to have a good portion of his talent, notably when winning the G2 UAE Derby in his dirt debut by 18 1/2 lengths.

If Mendelssohn fails, we can all give up because he has the whole package. A Keeneland sale-topper, a Breeders’ Cup winner at two, elite form on both surfaces, and the standout stallion’s pedigree of the intake: half-brother not just to a self-made sensation in Into Mischief, but also to 11-time Grade I winner Beholder.

A theory developed that he wasn’t quite seeing out the trip, but then no horse could when exposed to such a wild pace in the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup. Unfortunately a gruelling campaign seemed to have caught up with him by the time he was dropped in distance for his final start. Mendelssohn would surely have repaid perseverance if kept in training, granted more refined tactics. Conceivably he will be able to make immediate commercial sense of his starting fee. If he does happen to tread water at any stage, however, he will definitely be worth following through.

Ashford’s other rookie is Mo Town (Uncle Mo), who like Justify bears those skilled Gunther fingerprints. He looked the real deal as a juvenile, winning the GII Remsen S., and regrouped at three to show a lively turn of foot on turf in the GI Hollywood Derby. His dam was highly regarded until derailed by injury, and was out of a Grade I-placed mare, while the fifth dam is sister to none other than Raise A Native. A recent visit to Ashford confirmed him a very athletic model, and he has been given every chance at $12,500.

Another farm starting up a trio of rookies is Lane’s End–whose $20,000 fee for Accelerate (Lookin At Lucky), Justify’s only challenger as Horse of the Year, looks extraordinarily aggressive. Okay, so that is no more than his own sire can command, but that’s another story, as he too is great value. And it’s not as though Accelerate has that plain a page: brothers placed at Grade I and Grade III level, and their dam a stakes-placed half-sister to a Grade I winner. He is also inbred to a Broodmare of the Year: fifth dam Smartaire, whose son Smarten is broodmare sire of Lookin At Lucky’s sire Smart Strike.

Lane’s End clearly know what they are about, so if they feel obliged to offer such an accomplished animal at this kind of money, the only possible inference is that the priorities of commercial breeders are certifiably deranged. Accelerate’s virtues of soundness and relentless progress are precisely the kind of thing we should be replicating in the breed; and no less than you would expect browsing through his pedigree. Starting with a dam by Awesome Again, son of the fabled broodmare sire Deputy Minister, and taking in one resonant Classic sire after another on both sides: second dam a grand-daughter of Damascus, etc.

His looks were underwritten by a $380,000 yearling docket signed by one of the best judges in the business, plenty for a sire so under-rated at the sales. Let’s hope there’s nothing self-fulfilling, in that respect, about Accelerate’s fee. Even if that were to be the case, he will remain insane value for the end-user.

As such, it almost feels invidious to invite his two new studmates to justify a higher fee. But City of Light (Quality Road) shares very similar assets to those observed in Mendelssohn in also starting at $35,000. Another great physical, attested by his $710,000 KEESEP tag; and ultimately an even better track CV, his three Grade I wins crowned by a brilliant exhibition of speed in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Above all, his family brings together a superb mesh of broodmare sires: his dam is by Deputy Minister’s son Dehere, and his Grade I-winning second dam (who produced a Grade I winner by Deputy Minister) is by Somethingfabulous, half-brother to two great distaff influences in Secretariat and Sir Gaylord. In fact, their dam Somethingroyal runs a dye across the pedigree: Secretariat is broodmare sire of Dehere; while Quality Road’s sire Elusive Quality features Secretariat and Sir Ivor, a grandson of Somethingroyal, as the respective damsires of his sire and dam.

Under the third dam, incidentally, are a series of elite turf runners. Granted the interesting variegation in Quality Road’s own family tree, City Of Light should be on the radar of any European breeders with the imagination to see past his trademark local asset of carrying speed on dirt.

He’d be a personal preference over West Coast (Flatter), whose page hinges largely on the shock Breeders’ Cup success of his dam, but he will doubtless have his supporters at the same fee. Though he proved unable to win at four, you cannot “lose” more lucratively than by finishing second in both the GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational and G1 Dubai World Cup; and if beating all three Classic winners in the GI Travers S. last year is a fairly technical credit, in that nobody would sensibly propose that they all remained in the same form that day, the bottom line was that he ended up 3-year-old champion.

Mind you, if West Coast gets $35,000 and Gun Runner $70,000, then you have to say that Airdrie’s Collected (City Zip) is value at $17,500 after splitting them in the 2017 Classic. We all admire his late sire more than ever, and he collected triple-digit Beyers for fun. In a way, Collected was a victim of his own success against Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song), who soon proved to be on the wane; conversely Accelerate (Lookin At Lucky) was still on the rise when next home in the GI Pacific Classic. But Collected has the looks and, from the family of Blushing Groom, owes his first four dams to Johannesburg, Danehill, Lyphard and Alleged. He carried his speed in classic dirt fashion, but nobody could be surprised if he also ended up a major force in the burgeoning turf programme. He’s another the Euros should definitely be checking out.

The Airdrie team, who did such a good job launching Cairo Prince (Pioneerof The Nile), have also given McCraken (Ghostzapper) every chance at $10,000. It’s a fast and classy family: he’s out of a GSP half-sister to a Grade I winner, the pair out of a Grade I runner-up. The solitary graded stakes-winning juvenile by the mighty Ghostzapper, McCraken was nailed only on the line in GI Haskell Invitational S. and had that miler’s turn of foot breeders so like to see.

Of the three Classic winners down the field behind West Coast in the Travers, meanwhile, Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) gets the highest ticket from WinStar at $25,000. Everyone accepts that you now need a pretty long memory to remember the champ he looked in the Kentucky Derby. His subsequent derailment, however, should not detract from what he had achieved to that point, melting the clock in the GI Florida Derby and then carrying his speed through a brutal pace on the big day.

That was no less than he was entitled to do, granted a page that mixes a trademark Classic sire-line with some quality speed along the bottom: he’s out of the very fast Grade I-placed Above Perfection (In Excess {Ire}), who has besides produced another Grade I winner and now a runaway winner of the GII Demoiselle S. (Nice to see Somethingfabulous in exactly the same slot as in City Of Light’s pedigree, too.)

Tapwrit (Tapit) was a $1.2 million Saratoga yearling and, having started to pay that back as a Belmont winner, gets to work alongside his sire at Gainesway at $12,500. Like the other two Classic winners, he could not go on, but he’s a fine specimen out of a Grade I-winning 2-year-old (whose Grade II winner Ride A Comet (Candy Ride {Arg}) reportedly stays in training). The farm will be giving him the best possible shot, granted how young sons of Tapit in this kind of range will only gain competition with the ongoing improvement of his books.

Spendthrift start Preakness winner Cloud Computing (Maclean’s Music) at $7,500. His Classic success (within three months of debut) stands out from the rest of his work, but he came from the first crop of a horse who notoriously disappeared after his only start and, between them, there’s clearly a lot of raw talent floating around. He looks the part, too, as yet another who started out with an outlying yearling tag. His Grade II-placed dam by A.P. Indy is out of a Grade I winner; in fact proper Classic sires are seamless through generations four and five. So while he comes with risks, he has been priced accordingly and you never know.

The farm that gambled on Cloud Computing’s sire, Hill ‘n’ Dale, launches another brilliant but troubled animal in Army Mule (Friesian Fire) at $10,000. There’s no question he had wild ability. An $825,000 2-year-old, he won a Grade I by 6 1/4 lengths on only his third start. Unfortunately it was also the final one of a career that did not last four minutes. He made hay while the sun shone, anyhow, winning by an aggregate 22 lengths in monster times, and they say he fills the eye. There have obviously been some hugely influential stallions that were similarly too-fast-to-last, albeit often with pedigrees to paper over the cracks, and there’s no shortage of traders in this game who might roll the dice on the “fast” bit.

But Hill ‘n’ Dale’s headline recruit at $35,000 is Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic (Curlin), a champion juvenile who also had an authoritative Grade I score at three. Yet another to have made his first splash in the sales ring–a seven-figure yearling–he would probably have won the Preakness as well as the Derby but for Justify, having torn off the gloves with the champ at Pimlico. Pity he’s not sticking around to exploit his rival’s retirement, but at least he showed toughness as well as class during the time he did get on the track. His Grade II-placed dam is one of half a dozen stakes winners out of a Miswaki (oh yes) half-sister to Grade I winner and producer Magical Maiden.

Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) finished third to Good Magic in the Juvenile but was previously a dual Grade I winner–a precocious achievement for a Classic-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro out of an A.P. Indy mare. His sophomore career was another that tapered off, but his status as clearly one of the best of his generation translates into a fee of $25,000 at Spendthrift. A physique that combines scope and elegance augurs well for only the second American son of his sire to have won a Grade I at two. The other is Violence, who is shaping so well–and you have to like a second dam by Lord Of War, broodmare sire of Pioneerof The Nile and Raven’s Pass.

Spendthrift also welcome Mor Spirit (Eskendereya) at $10,000, which would have sounded mighty generous the day he added the stallion-making GI Met Mile, by half the stretch for a 117 Beyer, to his Grade I win at two. Unfortunately he had a fallow 2018, so let’s hope he can remind us that we lost a potentially fertile conduit of Giant’s Causeway when his sire was exported to Japan so early in his career. His family, which also produced Stellar Wind (Curlin), gives him a nice, old-fashioned profile matched by a very fair price.

Much the same holds true of the horse who followed him home (off a post-Dubai lay-off) in the Met, Sharp Azteca (Freud). He, too, ended up basically writing off 2018, no reflection on his superb consistency through a relentless schedule of demanding races beforehand. With Giant’s Causeway sadly gone, and his brother Freud now 20, Sharp Azteca has a future to play for at Three Chimneys off $10,000; quite apart from keeping alive the legacy of Saint Liam through his dam. A dasher in looks and deeds, he crowned his resume with a five-length win in the GI Cigar Mile (115 Beyer) and a deep family is seeded top-to-bottom by Classic influences.

This year’s Met Mile winner Bee Jersey (Jersey Town) arrives at Darby Dan very competitively priced at $5,000. He was given an unconventional grounding in Dubai but blossomed at four as one of the fastest milers around, wiring the Met field for a 109 Beyer. While some may hesitate with his sire now standing for $3,000 in California–and let’s at least give him credit for coming up with a horse this fast from his first crop–Bee Jersey is from one of the very best families in the book, with pervasive Classic seeding. He has the looks too, so you really couldn’t rule out a rags-to-riches story here.

Another Charles Fipke homebred bringing an immaculate bottom line to Kentucky is Tale of Verve (Tale Of Ekati), tracing directly to the Claiborne mare Continue, whose daughters produced Forty Niner and Swale. And right close up are the Grade I “Z” team of Zoftig (Cozzene), Zaftig (Gone West) and Zo Impressive (Hard Spun). Fipke has his own way of doing things–witness promoting this horse from maiden to Classic company to chase home American Pharoah (Pioneerof The Nile) in the Preakness–but every purist has to appreciate the depth of blood underpinning these two horses. You can tap into Tale Of Verve’s for just $2,000 at C.F. Farms.

Free Drop Billy (Union Rags) starts alongside Mor Spirit at Spendthrift at the same fee, $10,000. A Grade I winner at two, he’s out of a terrific mare in Trensa (Giant’s Causeway) from the family of the splendid Cozzene. In fact there’s a fair bit of turf in this horse’s background. His subsequent disappearance suggests that there may have been other issues behind his disappointing experiment on grass at Saratoga, so it might yet be that Free Drop Billy can become a versatile influence.

Speaking of which, nice to see Mill Ridge again standing a top-class horse of transatlantic appeal in Oscar Performance (Kitten’s Joy) at $20,000. He’s a four-time Grade I winner, across ages two to four, with zero Lasix. Kitten’s Joy famously earned his stripes with limited mares but the one who produced Oscar Performance traces back to the influential Lady Pitt; and her previous tryst with Kitten’s Joy produced the dual Grade I-placed Oscar Nominated.

Good Samaritan (Harlan’s Holiday), third to Oscar Performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, looks reasonably priced by WinStar at $12,500. He made a successful switch to dirt to win the GII Jim Dandy, failed by just half a length to crack a Grade I in the Clark H., and his family gets better the farther you go back. He showed up time and again, through his first career, and you suspect he’s gonna get busy again as he embarks on his second.

Funtastic (More Than Ready) landed his Grade I shock on turf in the United Nations S. and, if he rather stole that race from the front, then $7,500 at Three Chimneys will get you some priceless genes: he’s a half-brother to Saint Liam and to the dam of Gun Runner.

In terms of track career, Ransom the Moon (Malibu Moon) is a completely different proposition starting off the same fee at Calumet: a dirt sprinter, who beat champion Roy H (More Than Ready) in consecutive runnings of the GI Bing Crosby S. But that was hardly the kind of metier he was born for, with plenty of Classic blood through the page and evidently a physique to match. His second dam is a Grade I winner so overall he looks an interesting genetic lucky dip.

CHRIS MCGRATH’S VALUE PODIUM:

Gold: Accelerate $20,000, Lane’s End

Silver: Collected $17,500, Airdrie; Sharp Azteca $10,000, Three Chimneys

Bronze: Bee Jersey $5,000, Darby Dan; City Of Light $35,000, Lane’s End; Mor Spirit $10,000, Spendthrift

 

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