By Robert D. Fierro
Yes, the French have a word–or a couple of expressions–for it and Hollywood has gotten into the act. And while these days there are fewer of us who know the precise definition of plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose (“the more things change, the more they remain the same”) or even of deja vu (“a feeling of having experienced the present situation”), it seems everyone knows that when Groundhog Day is brought up, more people think of Bill Murray's 1993 “same stuff, different day” movie.
That realization smacked your correspondent upside the head when we came up with a concept for this essay that proved false on its face–i.e., that tracing the Leading Sires lists at the end of the 2000's and 2010's (i.e., 2009 and 2019) would provide much fodder for a column which could be titled “The Decade That Changed Everything.”
As your children and grandchildren would say, “Not!”
What spurred our inquiry was the wide variety of stallions whose first crops raced from 2010 through this year which have shot up various statistical listings in what appears to have been a shifting of influence of sires and sire lines. There are about three dozen of them that moved from promising Freshmen Sires to current Leading Sires, and a cursory glance at them indicated, at least for a moment or two, that the breed might have been in the process of shifting once again reflecting either function or pedigree criteria.
We looked at the top 25 on the Leading Sires lists from 2009 through today because even though there are a few weeks left in 2019, that time frame is from one end of the decade to another and even though we completed this study before the Breeders' Cup, we feel things are not going to change much among the 25 Leading Sires between now and Dec. 31.
We have examined phenotypical and biomechanical shifts over the decades in previous columns and were somewhat convinced by anecdotal evidence that something might be going on once again in that respect. The strongest clue was that as of now, the leading general and 2-year-old sire in earnings to date, Into Mischief, was not only one of the three dozen or so “newbies” we've referred to, but also his first sons to emerge at stud, Goldencents and Can the Man, are currently among the 10 leading second-crop sires based in Kentucky.
Further buttressing this clue is that Into Mischief snuck up on the charts in the middle of the decade just as his immensely popular and successful sire, Harlan's Holiday, started to decline on the charts following his untimely demise in 2013. Even though another son of Harlan's Holiday, Shanghai Bobby, had a promising start, he is now in Japan, so Into Mischief took care of the pedigree angle. However, even though he passes on exceptional speed and wide-ranging versatility in his offspring, Into Mischief is a tough bird to categorize phenotypically or biomechanically but who seems to have the capability to sire racehorses that are mainstream, a rare ability.
Further examination of the 2009 sire list, however, revealed that we were distinctly on the wrong track in our suspicions. As it turns out, when we looked at the top 10 sires of that year, there were only four that have either not landed in the top 25 of 2019 nor have sons or grandsons on that list–Distorted Humor (#2), Tiznow (#3), Northern Afleet (#7) and Dynaformer (#9).
The other six–Giant's Causeway (#1), Smart Strike (#3), A.P. Indy (#5), Street Cry (Ire) (#6), Medaglia d'Oro (#8) and Tale of the Cat (#10) are either still in the top 25 or have sons and/or grandsons there, some with several. Giant's Causeway and Medaglia d'Oro are still in the top 10. The most prolific is Smart Strike, whose sons Curlin, English Channel and Lookin At Lucky are not only three completely different phenotypical and biomechanical individuals, but also have carved out specific spheres of influence in terms of progeny aptitudes. Street Cry's Street Sense is just off the current top 10, Tale of the Cat's grandson Kantharos is just inside the top 25. As for A.P. Indy, his son Malibu Moon is there in the top 25 both years, but, of course, his grandson Tapit, who was 28th in 2009 (while his sire Pulpit was 21st), is now in second place.
Perhaps the most interesting development in the top 25 comparisons is that in 2009 Medaglia d'Oro was in eighth place and his sire El Prado (Ire) was 27th. This year the latter has dropped away because of his age, but Medaglia d'Oro is still in the top 10 along with another son of El Prado–Kitten's Joy–who has had one heck of a decade. That El Prado was a son of Sadler's Wells should emphasize how exceptional that son of Northern Dancer has been because, after all, he also sired the extraordinary Galileo (Ire), whose son Noble Mission (GB), currently ranked among the top sophomore sires, is basically his only marquee-level son in North America.
What we have found most fascinating, however, is that when one scrolls down to the next 25 on the 2019 list, how some of the 2009 top 25 have emerged as far more influential than most observers would have predicted a decade ago and how they are positioned for the next decade. Heading the list, of course, would be A.P. Indy, whose line includes not only Tapit (and his sons Tapizar and freshmen Constitution, Tapiture and Tonalist) and Malibu Moon, but also Majestic Warrior, Bernardini (and his son Stay Thirsty), Congrats (and his brother Flatter), Take Charge Indy, Sky Mesa and Mineshaft (and his son Dialed In).
Empire Maker and Elusive Quality were ranked 17th and 18th in 2009 and while the latter is no longer in the top 50, his son Quality Road has shot up the charts to third this year while his sire Gone West is strongly represented by #7 Speightstown and his son Munnings. Empire Maker, on the other hand, remains in the hunt and is also represented by Pioneerof the Nile and his freshman son American Pharoah, with several other scions ready to move up soon. Interestingly, Empire Maker's sire-line mate, Unbridled's Song, who was considered a disappointment as a sire of sires by 2009 where he was ranked 12th, is now poised to carry on strongly with his sons Cross Traffic and Liam's Map near the top of their crops and his son Arrogate ready to unleash his first weanlings.
An eyebrow-rising move on the charts has come from the Danzig line. With only Langfuhr and French-based Anabaa in the top 50 in 2009, he is now represented by his eighth-ranked rejuvenated son Hard Spun as well as War Front, who is right there with his sons The Factor and Declaration of War on the list and several others poised to climb.
What we can look forward to in the next decade are more representatives from three stallions that have begun to establish themselves as sires of sires: deceased Scat Daddy, current #9 Candy Ride (Arg) and that guy Uncle Mo.
In the end we conclude that like the residents of any small town or village anywhere in the world, the Thoroughbred population defines itself by tribes and families whose functions within those entities might be diversified. But we must remember this, as time goes by plus c'est la meme chose.