Better the Devil We Know Now

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Daredevil | Louise Reinegal

By

He who dares, wins. For commercial breeders, however, that famous military maxim is becoming ever less practicable. Rather than hold their nerve, they rush nervously from one new stallion to the next, few daring to stick around long enough to take a yearling to market once a first crop has actually been exposed to the racetrack.

These cycles often become self-fulfilling, in that few stallions can seize so limited an opportunity in time to maintain adequate momentum. But every now and then, one comes along that, no sooner than he is discarded, promptly rebukes the entire industry for its fickleness. Few have done this quite as dramatically as Daredevil.

In his first three years at stud, the son of More Than Ready covered a total of 376 mares. As his first juveniles approached the track, however, his book plummeted from 140 in 2018 to just 21 last year–a staggering renunciation, even by the flighty standards of today's marketplace. WinStar could hardly be blamed, then, for accepting an offer from the Jockey Club of Turkey last November.

There were, after all, limited signs of precocity in his first 2-year-olds. Of 41 starters, 13 had managed to win. Only one had done so at black-type level, and only Shedaresthedevil had made a graded stakes impact, when third of six behind a runaway winner in the GII Sorrento S.

The rest is history. This year Shedaresthedevil won the GI Longines Kentucky Oaks, with another of the exile's daughters, Swiss Skydiver, a clear second. Found for just $35,000 by Kenny McPeek as Hip 2997 at Keeneland September, Swiss Skydiver had already won four graded stakes by that stage, including the GI Alabama S. When she proceeded to beat none other than Authentic (Into Mischief) in the GI Preakness S., it was barely two weeks before Lane's End announced a deal to repatriate Daredevil to the Bluegrass.

To be fair, the way he turned things round with his first sophomores illustrates one of the defining functionalities of all markets. For every loser on a deal, there is a winner. The WinStar team may not have gained full reward for their faith in the huge promise Daredevil had shown in the first two of what proved to be only five career starts, highlighted by a blistering success in the GI Champagne S. In turn, however, Daredevil has given corresponding vindication to the talent scouts of the Turkish Jockey Club.

Because while his sojourn besides the Sea of Marmara proved to be a brief one, Daredevil has returned under an arrangement whereby he remains in Turkish ownership, while managed by his host farm. Bill Farish of Lane's End is not aware of any other Kentucky stud that has worked out a similar deal with foreign interests.

“This is a very unique situation,” Farish explained. “We were all trying to figure out what it was that they wanted from a farm, to be able to bring him over here: whether it was a horse in exchange, or just dollars. It turns out that their preference was to keep the horse and stand him in North America. They were contacted by a lot of farms, and people with different ideas about how to do this, and there was a lot of back and forth before they decided this was the format they wanted. It is very unique, and pretty smart of them in my opinion. Their plan is to have the horse where he is the most commercially viable. What he can make here probably exceeds what he can make there.”

That's not to say that Lane's End will merely be boarding the stallion.

“We will take care of him, obviously, and we will manage him in every way,” Farish said. “We will be the ones booking him to mares and we are already getting a tremendous number of calls from breeders to breed to him. We will manage the whole process on their behalf.”

An important role in Daredevil's story has been played by Murat Sancal, who represents the Jockey Club of Turkey in Kentucky. He helped bring the horse to Turkey in the first place, and was also central to negotiations for his prompt return.

“I personally liked Daredevil a lot as a racehorse,” Sancal said. “Unfortunately he got hurt and his racing career finished too early. But as soon as he was retired to stud, I supported him with some of our mares and also encouraged clients to buy mares in foal to Daredevil. And when I saw his first crop of foals at the sales, I was really happy with their look and temperament. They were all really athletic individuals.”

Daredevil covered over 100 mares in Turkey, according to Sancal achieving a fertility rate of 97% and great esteem among local breeders.

“But when his daughters finished first and second in the Kentucky Oaks, beating that unbelievable filly Gamine (Into Mischief), many American farms started to call us,” he explained. “At first the Jockey Club was thinking in terms of selling him back to the U.S. But after Swiss Skydiver won the Preakness, the plan changed and our interest turned to sending Daredevil back to stand on behalf of the Jockey Club. About 11 farms approached us, and I want to thank every one of them for their interest.”

The two most impressive pitches came from Lane's End and a rival only recently back in the stallion business. In the end, the more established operation just won the tender. Sancal salutes the “huge efforts” made by Lane's End owner William S. Farish and his team.

The sales department will not run out of conversation once having reminded everyone about Daredevil's two millionaire fillies. For this is a half-brother to another Grade I winner, Albertus Maximus (Albert The Great), the pair being out of a Forty Niner half-sister to two very fast horses in Europe: G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest winner King Charlemagne (Nureyev) and his full brother Meshaheer, who was Group 1-placed as a juvenile; as well as to the dam of GI Forego S. winner Here Comes Ben (Street Cry {Ire}). Moreover the family has benefited from a fresh upgrade, Here Comes Ben being a half-brother to the dam of none other than Dayoutoftheoffice (Into Mischief), who saw off all bar Vequist (Nyquist) in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies after beating the same filly in the GI Frizette S. the previous month.

And Daredevil's second dam adds further laurels to the page, as GI Santa Maria H. winner Race The Wild Wind. As a daughter of Sunny's Halo, she also brings his sire Halo into play top and bottom: More Than Ready, of course, being by his son Southern Halo. In counterpoint we find the omnipresent Mr. Prospector with a reciprocal 4×3 footprint in Daredevil. One son, Woodman, is More Than Ready's damsire; and we've already noted that another, Forty Niner, serves the same role for Daredevil himself.

That's a pedigree of real depth and balance. It features plenty of speed, as we should expect behind a horse fleet enough to clock the fastest juvenile Beyer over a mile in over 20 years. But the way Daredevil's sophomores thrived also comes as no surprise in a sibling to Albertus Maximus, who registered his Grade I wins at ages four and five. Here perhaps we find a footprint for the hardiness we often associate with South American blood, Daredevil's third dam being by an uncommon influence in Indian Chief (Arg), a son of the important Argentinian stallion Pronto (Arg). Another son of Pronto, incidentally, sired the third dam of Candy Ride (Arg)–a nice little echo, for those hoping that Daredevil can consolidate on his fairly freakish achievements this year.

Rounding the home turn he lies behind only American Pharoah and Constitution in the second-crop prize money table, the work of only 75 starters (compared with 163 and 129 respectively for his rivals). Unsurprisingly, Daredevil is the only sire to produce individual winners of both the Oaks and Preakness at the first attempt. All this, remember, with a crop bred at an opening fee of $12,500, which had dropped to $7,500 by the time of his export. Moreover his second crop has already produced Esplanade, winner of her first three starts (including two stakes) before chasing home Vequist in the GI Spinaway S.

Lane's End is launching Daredevil back into the American market at $25,000.

“The start to his career has been pretty phenomenal and I don't think we were alone in our desire to bring him back,” Farish said. “A lot of farms were trying to get him, and we were fortunate enough to be selected by the Turkish Jockey Club to bring him back. The number of breeders requesting to breed to him is very high. It's great to see but not unexpected because I think the stud fee is very fair. His start has been so amazing, especially when you consider how limited his book was compared to other top stallions in his crop.”

Sancal is delighted by the way things have played out. “We are so happy that he is back,” he said with enthusiasm. “Daredevil has done a tremendous job with a limited number of foals, and American breeders are already showing huge interest with his book filling up quickly. I really liked when Spendthrift Farm president Mr. Eric Gustavson said in the winner's circle after Authentic won at the Breeders' Cup: 'If you want to be champion, you must beat the best.' And that's exactly what Daredevil's progeny has done: Swiss Skydiver beat the [GI] Kentucky Derby and [GI] Breeders' Cup Classic winner; and both she and Shedaresthedevil beat Gamine. Who does that leave, that his progeny didn't beat? He's coming back, and he's simply the best!”

The long-term aspiration remains for Turkey's imports to keep upgrading the local breed, and that work will be continued by Super Saver (Maria's Mon) and Bodemeister (Empire Maker), also recruited from WinStar; along with the likes of Trappe Shot (Tapit) from Claiborne; Air Vice Marshal (War Front) and Bluegrass Cat (Storm Cat) from California; and Authorized (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}) and Myboycharlie (Ire) (Danetime {Ire}) from France–all acquired in a very business-like recruitment drive by Turkish interests in 2019.

“The Turkish Jockey Club President, Mr. Serdal Adali, and his team do a great job in finding such nice prospects,” Sancal said. “They study their breeding stock very carefully, and then find stallions of this quality to support them. Because of Covid-19, racing and breeding industries all around the world have had to cut purses. Turkey is only country in Europe where, instead of cutting purses, Mr. Adali was able to increase all race purses by 25% until January, with an additional estimated 33% increase for 2021. We are still working to add new sires and mares to our breeding stock, and to keep improving.”

In these unusual circumstances, however, his owners acknowledge that Daredevil can maximize his potential back in his homeland. As such, all parties share the view that the horse is very much here to stay. It is not as though American breeders will let him fall out of favor with the same glibness as they did in 2019. But while second chances are not unknown–WinStar themselves exercised an option to retrieve Take Charge Indy from Korea, for instance–they are rare enough. Daredevil has pulled off something extremely unusual. The bigger picture remains unchanged: if a stallion is abandoned before he has really started, then very often he will have no way back.

“When you are looking at a breeding season and the horse is struggling to get 20, 30 mares, and there is some type of offer to relocate, a lot of times people are going to go ahead and sell,” Farish remarked. “If you do have a very small book to a stallion it devalues them by a great deal.

“Giving up on a horse before he has 4-year-olds make the track is dangerous because you can get it wrong. We've had plenty of stallions whose first 2-year-olds didn't exactly light it up and they came on and became champion sires. Our business has become just that, a business. People are trying to get out before the asset is valueless and that is what really drives it.”

Sancal took a sympathetic view. “The American racing industry is really tough for young sires like Daredevil,” he said. “There are so many great stallion prospects retiring from the track every year and breeders have so many options. I believe sale results affect this as well, but this is how business works here in the U.S.A. and you can't blame anyone for that. Daredevil is not the first stallion to face this-and he won't be the last, either!”

With additional reporting by Bill FInley

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