A Classic Sire Steadily Gathering Aclaim

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Aclaim | Amy Lanigan

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Anyone who attended the European yearling and breeding stock sales last year won't have failed to have picked up on the heightened appetite for the stock of Time Test (GB).

The exploits of his early runners had caught the imagination and backed up by the promise of more to come, demand for his yearlings and foals soared, at one point reaching a high of 400,000gns (paid by SackvilleDonald for a colt from John Foley's Ballyvolane Stud who had been pinhooked for 52,000gns as a foal).

Time Test's retirement to the National Stud in 2018 had been deservedly well received. The Newmarket stud is not in the luxurious position of being able to add commercial propositions to its roster with the same regular ease as various other big outfits and when Time Test ended last year as one of the season's most exciting first-crop sires with five stakes-performing 2-year-olds to his credit, it vindicated the stud's pursuit and acquisition of the horse from Juddmonte.

In a coup for the National Stud, Time Test had arrived at the same time as the G1 Prix de la Foret winner Aclaim (Ire). A pacy Group 1 winner by Acclamation (GB), well regarded as a sire of sires through the achievements of Dark Angel (GB) and subsequently Mehmas (Ire), and from the female family of Montjeu (Ire), Aclaim had plenty to recommend him at a first-year fee of £12,500. Under the banner of Manton Park Stallions, he also had the guaranteed backing of several powerful participants, notably his trainer Martyn Meade, breeder and co-owner Dermot Farrington and Phoenix Thoroughbreds.

Fast forward to the end of 2021 and Aclaim had sired 27 juvenile winners out of a first crop of approximately 90 foals. It was a figure that placed him behind only Cotai Glory (GB) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}) and Profitable (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) among the European first-crop sires while making him, numerically, the most successful to stand in Britain. Furthermore, the group included a quality representative in Cachet (Ire), a tough filly who had run placed in the G1 Fillies' Mile and G2 Rockfel S. for George Boughey following a winning debut at Newmarket in May, as well as the Group 2-placed Jacinda (GB) and a pair of listed-placed juveniles in Italy.

For a horse who didn't step foot on to a racecourse until Dec. 9 of his juvenile year, when the winner of a six-furlong Kempton maiden, it had to be regarded as a good start, especially in light of the strong possibility that his stock would progress.

Yet the market wasn't convinced. Many of us, I'm sure, have been guilty of writing off stallions too quickly. In the era of big books, the likelihood of a trainer or a buyer having been associated with either a moderate, unsound or difficult one by a sire runs high; by contrast, the younger stallions  coming through are exciting and new, and have yet to do any wrong.

Judgement starts early, making a quick start imperative. And once a stallion has landed into the 'uncommercial' bracket, it is far from easy for perception to be altered regardless of how the situation might have been remedied on the track.

First-crop success is, of course, always going to be key in identifying class. But there are always exceptions to the rule. For instance, how many today would have been willing to give Blushing Groom (Fr) (Red God) another chance after he failed to come up with a single group or graded stakes winner out of his first group of juveniles in 1981 despite being a French champion 2-year-old himself?

Kingmambo (Mr. Prospector) famously sired just six winners from his first crop. None scored in stakes company and a first group/graded stakes winner in Europe and North America wasn't forthcoming until the following July when Parade Ground took the GIII Lexington S.

Similarly, Arch (Kris S.) sired just four 2-year-old winners in 2002 out of his first crop, bred off $20,000. A first graded stakes winner didn't come his way until Chilly Rooster won the GIII Fort Marcy H. as a 4-year-old in April 2004, by which time Arch's fee had plummeted to $5,000. Then matters improved dramatically to the extent that Arch is today credited with 14 Grade I winners and remains highly influential, whether as the sire of Claiborne's popular resident Blame or in his role as an increasingly successful broodmare sire.

More recently, Daredevil was sold out of Kentucky by WinStar Farm to continue his career in Turkey before his first crop had turned three. He left behind 10 juvenile winners but when that first crop came to include two brilliant fillies in Swiss Skydiver and Shedaresthedevil, Daredevil was on his way back to Kentucky, this time to stand at Lane's End Farm.

It would be wrong to suggest that Aclaim had been written off by the market. But despite the presence of more than 20 winners, when it came to last year's yearling and foal sales, he had shifted into the background, certainly in comparison to Time Test and several other members of his generation. For instance, a yearling average of 20,310gns and median of 10,000gns both represented a downward trend from his debut crop, but of greater concern to his supporters would have been the foal average of 5,840gns, down from 30,680gns in 2019.

“He'd had a lot of winners,” says Farrington, who has played a key role in managing Aclaim's stud career. “He just needed a big soldier on the ground.”

And on Sunday, that 'soldier' arrived in the form of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing's Cachet, who was never headed to win the G1 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. As outlined above, Cachet's position as chief Aclaim flag-bearer is well-established, dating back to mid-May last year when she became his first winner in a Newmarket novice. Well bought by Highclere for 60,000gns from her breeder John Bourke at the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up Sale, she went on to secure multiple black-type placings during a busy campaign at two before returning in April with a breakthrough stakes win in the G3 Nell Gwyn S. ahead of the 1000 Guineas.

In the process, she became the first British Classic winner to be conceived at the National Stud since the 2002 St Leger hero Bollin Eric (GB), by far the best runner sired by Derby winner Shaamit (Ire). Val Royal (Fr) was standing at the National at the time of Cockney Rebel's success in the 2007 2000 Guineas, although that colt had been conceived at Oak Lodge Stud in Ireland. Few Classic winners are also bred off fees lower than £15,000 and in that respect Cachet joins Newmarket Guineas winners of the past 15 years such as Galileo Gold (GB) (Paco Boy {Ire}), Billesdon Brook (GB) (Champs Elysees {GB}), Sky Lantern (Ire) (Red Clubs {Ire}) and Natagora (Fr) (Divine Light {Jpn}) in addition to Cockney Rebel.

It is also worth remembering that Cachet wasn't Aclaim's only Classic runner on Sunday. With Chelsea Gardens (GB), White Lips (GB) and Woman Of Ciprea (GB) also taking part in the Italian 2000 and 1000 Guineas at Rome that afternoon, Aclaim actually had four Classic darts to throw, more than any other stallion that day.

None of the Italian runners hit the frame but the fact that they were deemed good enough to take their chance supports the view that his progeny are pleasing connections with their progression.

“He looks like a horse that should have raced properly at two but he just wasn't ready to do so himself,” says Farrington. “But once he got going, he didn't miss a beat. He sometimes throws a big horse but what we're noticing with them is that whatever size they might be, a lot of them were getting better at the end of the year and again into this year. And that's like him. He was always full of quality but he had a lot of slight, niggly stuff that kept him from racing early on. Once he started racing, he was as tough as teak and very progressive.”

Having won his only start at two, Aclaim progressed rapidly for Martyn Meade to sign off his 3-year-old campaign with victories in the Listed Dubai Duty Free Cup and G2 Challenge S. As anticipated, he went on to hold his own in Group 1 company at four, notably when successful in the G1 Prix de la Foret at Chantilly on his final start.

“I couldn't believe my luck when we were able to buy his dam Aris [for 75,000gns] as a yearling,” says Farrington of the daughter of Danroad. “She's a half-sister to [Irish 1000 Guineas winner] Again–it's a female line that I love and have a high regard for.

“I thought I might sell Aris when she got black type [when third in the Listed Flame Of Tara S. on her second start for Paddy Prendergast] and couldn't, and I tried to sell Aclaim at the yearling sales and couldn't sell him either, so it just goes to show.

“He was a top-class horse, very sound. We could have kept going with him for another season. That was tempting–we had an invite to run in Hong Kong on the table–but we had sold half of him by that stage and it made more sense to stand him.”

Cachet was bred by John Bourke of Hyde Park Stud out of Poyle Sophie, a daughter of Teofilo (Ire) who was bought for just 3,000gns while carrying the filly from the late Cecil Wiggins. However, the support of the 'home team', which has been consistent throughout, has not gone unrewarded with Phoenix Thoroughbreds and Partner listed as the breeder of the well-regarded Suwappu (GB), a debut winner at Dundalk.

Canning Downs, Farrington and Manton Park also race two-time winner Object (GB), a 65,000gns foal purchase.

Each looks capable of representing Aclaim to good effect in the coming weeks, as does Windseeker (GB), who made it two from three for Richard Hannon when scoring at Salisbury last Sunday, recent debut winners Chiellini (Ire) and Princess Karine (GB), and Orzo (GB), an impressive winner at Kempton on her sole start last winter. Each adds fuel to the idea that Aclaim's progeny are improving again at three, while the Andrew Balding-trained Orzo forms part of a notably good all-weather record that is underpinned by a 38% winners to runners strike-rate on the surface.

Nor should the James Tate-trained Royal Aclaim (Ire) be underestimated when she returns to the track, given that she had the subsequent Group 1 winner Perfect Power (Ire) (Ardad {Ire}) behind her when winning at Newcastle last May.

As for his second crop, which consists of 58 2-year-olds bred off £9,500, that is already off the mark courtesy of Royal Ascot hopeful Primrose Ridge (GB), a recent seven-length winner at Beverley. He also has 44 yearlings on the ground and covered 64 mares last year; they are respectable figures for a third- and fourth-year stallion in his price bracket and in part likely reflect the inventive ways his connections pushed to incentivise breeders, which included offering a 25% discount to the breeders of a filly foal in his third season. His fee was also dropped to £6,000 this year.

“It's about trying to get the numbers in and keep the momentum going and to do that we dropped the fee quite low to get the mares in,” says Farrington. “The breeding-right holders have also been very important to this horse. There are about 25 of them, people who went and put their money in, and they've kept going back to support him. So it's great to see them get a reward as well.”

Right now, Aclaim is up to a cumulative total of almost 45 winners, placing him behind only Cotai Glory among his contemporaries in Britain and Ireland. As it is, he is Europe's leading second-crop sire by prize-money with a total of approximately £530,000, over £200,000 ahead of his closest pursuer Churchill (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}).

“He's been inundated with mares since [last] Sunday,” says Farrington. “He's getting some good mares as well–Sahara Sky, the dam of [G1 winner] Dick Whittington was covered by him this week.

“As we all know, this game has more downs than ups. But right now we're riding the crest of a wave with him. It's unbelievable.”

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