By Chris McGrath
You have to hand it to Liam's Map. Besides all his other merits, as a racehorse and now as a stallion, he has an unerring instinct for publicity.
As a freshman, in 2019, the son of Unbridled's Song mustered only two stakes winners. Nothing wrong with that, from 46 starters. Champion American Pharoah had four, from 72. But when he struck the target at all, Liam's Map made sure he hit the bull's-eye. Both those stakes scores came in Grade I races, Basin taking the Hopeful and Wicked Whisper the Frizette.
This time around, with a third wave of juveniles on the launchpad, the Lane's End stallion has again marshaled his forces for maximum impact. On the final Saturday of the Gulfstream meet, his sophomore daughter Crazy Beautiful won the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks; first-crop son Churn N Burn won the GII Pan American S.; and Basin made a fine start to his own third campaign in the Sir Shackleton S.
If those represented three prongs of an unmissable trident, moreover, the shaft of the spear had been flung nicely forward just the previous week when Colonel Liam, winner of the GI Pegasus World Cup Turf in January, had confirmed his stature in the grass division by winning the GII Muniz Memorial Classic at the Fair Grounds.
So while Constitution is perceived as the breakout sire of their intake, Liam's Map not only boasts three Grade I winners against his one, but is now level with six graded stakes winners overall. To be fair to Constitution, they have reached this tally from 16 and nine graded stakes performers respectively, representing 6.4 and 3.6% of named foals. In other words, when Liam's Map gets a good one, he certainly makes it tell.
Of course, these things tend to even themselves out. And it's still early days, or should be in a sane world. But we know the ruthless haste with which the commercial market decides the fate of young stallions. Headline horses, or their absence, make a savage difference to momentum.
Liam's Map was retired to Lane's End in 2016 alongside two horses that had shared one of the most dramatic races of modern times, when his dazzling exhibition of speed in the GI Whitney S. the previous summer set up the late pounce of Honor Code (A.P. Indy), with Tonalist (Tapit) third. It was hard to choose between the trio, each being blessed with an exemplary pedigree, physique and race record, but Honor Code opened for business at $40,000, Tonalist at $30,000 and Liam's Map at $25,000.
Honor Code's first crop included the only colt to beat Horse of the Year Authentic (Into Mischief), while Tonalist has accumulated black-type performers at a more or less identical ratio to Liam's Map. But Honor Code is now down to $20,000, and Tonalist to $12,500–while Liam's Map is $30,000. Sure enough, the gray was fully subscribed last year with 156 mares, compared with 85 for Honor Code and 122 for Tonalist.
Now, far-sighted breeders who actually want to breed runners know that the market's premature conclusions, for better or worse, create value opportunities. There's no reason at all why the other pair can't reward perseverance the way they did on the track–all three, of course, having been older in that memorable Saratoga race than are even their oldest progeny right now. Indeed, we awarded Tonalist gold on our value “podium” for this intake in our annual winter survey of Kentucky stallion options. As things stand, however, it is Liam's Map who has grabbed the headlines; and that self-fulfilling process is demonstrated right here, as we reward his Gulfstream streak with a closer look at his progress.
In this business, after all, the winds of fortune sometimes just seem to turn your way. That is certainly how things must have felt at Gulfstream for Vinnie and Teresa Viola of St. Elias Stable, who raced Liam's Map with West Point Thoroughbreds and include him among four graduates of their racetrack program they're now supporting at stud. For that same afternoon, their silks were carried to success in the GI Curlin Florida Derby by Known Agenda (Curlin), who proceeds to the GI Kentucky Derby already looking assured of a second career himself.
Last week, we spoke with the stable's bloodstock adviser John Sparkman in examining the pedigree of Known Agenda, and took the chance also to discuss the role of Liam's Map in the evolution of the St. Elias program. Because these things have a natural progression: each challenge met on the track creates a fresh one at stud; and St. Elias, respected as a model racing partner, has similarly succeeded in making deals with four different farms: sending Liam's Map to Lane's End; Vino Rosso (Curlin) to Spendthrift; Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) to WinStar; and Army Mule (Friesan Fire) to Hill 'n' Dale.
“You have an owner who really loves his horses and wants to see them succeed,” says Sparkman. “But he's also a businessman and he prefers, eventually, for it to pay for itself. And how are you going to do that? You're going to do that by having a successful stallion.”
And this objective, in turn, dovetails with the development of the St. Elias breeding program. Because the aspiration to breed quality runners, by recruiting the right mares, also allows the team to help these young sires get established. Known Agenda's dam, for instance, included both Liam's Map and Always Dreaming among her first covers.
“Building a top-class breeding program is a 10-year project,” says Sparkman. “And hopefully we're pretty much on schedule. We keep aiming for 40 broodmares, and keep going over that every year! Without getting into specifics, the numbers are changeable, shall we say. But part of the deal is having these young stallions to support.
“So basically we have a core of 30 to 40 high-quality mares, and then we have another group that we cycle through. Not bad mares, and of course nobody can necessarily predict which will turn out to be the really good ones. Some of those not in our core group right now may end up there. But the idea is to get foals by these unproven horses into the hands of as many people as you can.”
Liam's Map has managed to find fresh impetus at times when other stallions tend to tread water. Immediately following his debut season at stud, for instance, his brochure was boosted by half-brother Not This Time (Giant's Causeway), who won the GIII Iroquois S. by nearly nine lengths and then failed by just a neck to run down Classic Empire (Pioneerof The Nile) in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Sadly he was then injured and, instead of farther promoting their family, set up into competition at Taylor Made. But his own excellent start there has certainly done no harm to the genetic appeal of Liam's Map.
In breeding both these horses, the Albaugh Family had sought a balance between Classic two-turn influences and the John Nerud-Tartan Farms speed behind their dam Miss Macy Sue (Trippi), a Grade III winner who placed in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. What immediately leaps from the page is the blaring replication, in Miss Macy Sue's dam Yada Yada (showed little in a light career), of Ta Wee (Intentionally)–the champion sprinter who was preceded to the Hall of Fame by her half-brother Dr. Fager (Rough'n Tumble). Yada Yada was by Ta Wee's son Great Above; and her dam was out of Ta Wee's daughter by Secretariat.
That's a ticking bomb of brilliance, especially when you consider that Ta Wee only produced five named foals. And while it was largely defused by a series of forgettable partners chosen for Yada Yada, Trippi kept the family “live” through Miss Macy Sue–first on the track and now, explosively, thanks to the purposeful matings introduced by the Albaugh Family. We all know that two-turn sires combined with fast families can sometimes produce the worst of both worlds, but they have succeeded in twice achieving the speed-carrying grail.
And their choice of Unbridled's Song for Miss Macy Sue brilliantly doubled down on the key ingredient of her pedigree. For not only was Dr. Fager the damsire of his grandsire Fappiano; his sire Unbridled brought Aspidistra (Better Self), the dam of Dr. Fager and Ta Wee, right back into play as his fourth dam.
The other flavor that luminously recurs behind Liam's Map is In Reality. He's the sire of Unbridled's second dam; his son, Valid Appeal, is damsire of Trippi; and his sire Intentionally gave us Ta Wee herself. Moreover, Intentionally sired In Reality out of a champion daughter of Dr. Fager's sire Rough'n Tumble; and (Yada Yada's sire/Ta Wee's son) Great Above was by Rough'n Tumble's son Minnesota Mac.
With this kind of background, Liam's Map is entitled to sire any kind. Himself an $800,000 yearling, obviously before he had Not This Time to help the page, he carried his speed into a second turn to win the GI Woodward S. (after his Whitney heartbreak) and then dominated the GI Breeders' Cup Mile.
On the face of it, he had been a relatively late bloomer, only breaking his maiden in late September as a sophomore. “But actually he was right on top of a race as a 2-year-old, and just had a slight problem,” explains Sparkman. “He would have won first out, easy, but he had this minor issue and Todd [Pletcher] decided not to risk him. So we gave him the time off, which obviously proved well worthwhile.”
Sparkman finds it striking that Colonel Liam and now Churn N Burn have given their sire an early impact on grass.
“Liam's Map, of course, never ran on turf,” he says. “No reason to think he couldn't, but there was no reason to. And yet, at this moment, if you had to rank the top five older turf horses in America, two are by Liam's Map. It's just whatever works. Don't just look at the pedigree, look at the horse and then decide.”
One way or another, then, these are exciting times for St. Elias: a new Grade I winner on the Derby trail, and Liam's Map leading the way for a quartet of promising young stallions. Actually, make that five: Battalion Runner, another son of Unbridled's Song out of a sister to Tapizar (Tapit), runner-up in the GII Wood Memorial S. in the year Always Dreaming won the Derby, is apparently selling himself well as a physical down at Ocala Stud.
But a personal feeling is that any breeder who might retain a filly should be particularly excited by Vino Rosso, given that his sire is out of a Deputy Minister mare while his own second dam is by Touch Gold, himself by Deputy Minister out of a Buckpasser mare. In other words, distaff gold all the way through.
“All of these different farms have done a good job with what we're trying to do,” Sparkman says. “It was difficult for Always Dreaming, because of that really severe case of ulcers after he won the Derby, which took a while to catch. I think that really compromised the rest of his career. We kept him in training but he only ran a couple of times, early, and so by the time he went to stud people had forgotten how good he was. But he's getting very nice foals.
“Army Mule was a brilliant horse and he's been quite well received. In his first two crops, it was no particular problem to get mares to him. This crop, as usual, it's more difficult. So he's one we've bought a number of mares for. And now there's Vino Rosso, who's a very good-looking horse with, as you say, the Deputy Minister in him that's easy to latch onto.”
It was characteristic of Viola that he invited Monique Delk, appointed the stable's Executive Director of Racehorse Development after 10 years working with the late Jimmy Crupi, to lead in Known Agenda at Gulfstream. So there will be plenty of people wishing him well with Liam's Map, the first horse picked out for his stable by Crupi.
“Mr. Viola is a very generous and kind man, and very classy,” agrees Sparkman. “He's always very much aware of giving credit to the people who have helped. As for Liam's Map, he's in that really tough market after their first couple of years. We've been supporting him during the time when people are waiting to see, but hopefully at this point they've seen that he's a good horse.”