Established Sires: Where's the Value?

Blame | Claiborne Farm


This is Part III of a three-part series exploring Kentucky sires that offer the best value. To read Part I, click here, and to read Part II click here.

So now we reach the guys with runs on the board. If the young guns are typically overpriced, then it stands to reason that this is often where the value lies. As we've noted, however, witless gold rushes can create their own inexorable, self-fulfilling momentum. Nonetheless this is the area to concentrate on, if you are one of those quaint old characters who mate mares with the outlandish objective of actually producing a racehorse.

One of the things that kills a sire, commercially, is anno domini. Possibly the size of modern books does cause a genuine depletion in the ageing stallion. But people pick and choose stats to suit themselves: they'll take a leap of faith with the inconsistent young sire who shows himself capable of getting the odd standout, but dismiss as an aberration an evening star for the veteran who can no longer get the voluptuous partners of his heyday. It's all opinion, all choice, but we would have had no Arrogate (Unbridled's Song) joining the ranks, and no Honor Code (A.P. Indy), had the owners of their dams not kept the faith respectively with the venerable Unbridled's Song and A.P. Indy.

On that basis there are some eminently reasonable fees around for established sires of sires like Tiznow (Cee's Tizzy) (WinStar, $50,000); More Than Ready (Southern Halo) (also WinStar, $75,000); and Giant's Causeway (Storm Cat) (Ashford, $75,000). Why are these three supposed to be heading over the hill, at 21, when 19-year-old Medaglia d'Oro (El Prado) (Darley, $250,000) –unmistakably in his pomp–has just earned a monster fee hike from $150,000?

His contemporary Candy Ride (Arg) (Ride The Rails) (Lane's End, $80,000) is likewise up to a career high after Gun Runner made him the leading active sire of 2017. So, first lesson: respect your elders.

At 15, Bernardini (A.P. Indy) (Darley, $85,000) is down from a peak of $150,000 but remains a physical paragon in his prime; while you could also argue that the same fee represents value, at that level of the market, for a sire who has really lived up to his name in Empire Maker (Unbridled) (Gainesway, $85,000) as he continues his post-Japan rebuild.

That said, it's always good to see those few young sires who bridge the divide between their start-up days, when they can do no wrong, and the ostracism that follows if their first runners can't get them over wait-and-see dips in their third or fourth books. One likely to reach six figures before long is Quality Road (Elusive Quality) (Lane's End, $70,000), whose 9.18% graded stakes horses-to-starters in 2017 was eclipsed only by War Front (Danzig).

Another who retired to stud at the same time and plainly on the move–albeit still much lower down the ranks–is Temple City (Dynaformer) (Spendthrift, $15,000). You couldn't expect a great deal of a crop of just 48 foals in 2015, but Temple City covered 199 mares that year and now seems on an inexorable roll. After that famous weekend at Del Mar in December 2016, when members of his first and second crops ($5,000 covers) both won Grade I races, the whole world sat up to the fact that his dam was a Danzig half-sister to Malibu Moon. Like that horse, and like Dynaformer himself, Temple City is threatening to go from pauper to prince. Author of a solitary stakes win, aged five, over a mile and a half on a synthetic track; wonders never cease.

You wouldn't think a horse with the profile of Kitten's Joy (El Prado) (Hill 'n' Dale, $60,000) had much need of a relaunch but his transfer to a new farm has triggered an aggressive fee cut that leaves the ball firmly in the breeders' court–especially European breeders, who can ship a mare and still save on the $100,000 they previously required. Paradoxically he may well get an upgrade in mares at the lower fee.

After that initial browse, and a necessarily random one at that, let's take a look at eight sires who wouldn't be on everyone's mind–but who possibly deserve a second look at the price:

AFLEET ALEX (Northern Afleet), Gainesway, $8,500

Seven Grade I winners, and proper ones too: in races like the Hopeful, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Travers, Florida Derby, etc. He won the Hopeful himself, of course, his fourth win on the reel, besides subsequently finishing second in the Juvenile and the Champagne. That would be enough to give most stallions a commercial lustre; never mind then going on to win two legs of the Triple Crown, by an aggregate 11 3/4 lengths, and to make the podium in the other one.

That qualified him as the Eclipse Champion 3-year-old–but was not enough, sadly, to reconcile breeders to his zany pedigree: by Northern Afleet out of a Hawkster mare, albeit she was out of a Grade I winner.

He should still be in his pomp at 16 but the reality, at this stage, is that he's not going to get back off the floor like he did so memorably in the Preakness. There were only 34 believers left to send him a mare in 2017. But his fee is pretty ridiculous relative not just to his class and courage as a racehorse, but also to his proven ability–yes, unevenly, but it takes two to tango in genetics–to reproduce it.

MIZZEN MAST (Cozzene), Juddmonte, $10,000

Arrogate himself could learn a thing or two from the old hand he has joined for his new career. Yes, Mizzen Mast is now 20, but you can still set your watch by his metronomic production of stakes horses. Year after year he gets them at a percentage bordering the top 10–otherwise populated, almost invariably, by monster sires at giddy multiples of his fee.

Another ten graded stakes performers in 2017 included Grade I Ashland winner Sailor's Valentine. And how many sires standing for bigger fees will ever get two Breeders' Cup winners–never mind two the same year, as Mizzen Mast famously did in 2012? (Both, typically, went on from there: Flotilla to win a Classic back in France, and Mizdirection to retain the Turf Sprint the following year.)

After showing his Group 1 caliber in Europe, Mizzen Mast was only really getting going for Bobby Frankel when he retired–but had time to switch over from the turf, after a romp in Bien Bien S., to win the GI Malibu S. on dirt. Versatility was also the hallmark of his sire and, sure enough, Mizzen Mast has produced smart horses on all surfaces in America, Europe and Asia.

The market has long been chary of his propensity to get horses that thrive with maturity. But he has always injected class into his mares, mined from a pedigree with a ton of scarcity value: not just the sire-line–which gives Caro another way out, apart from Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie)–but a whole ecosystem of outcross blood without a single line of inbreeding in his first five generations.

It's a pedigree that takes you a very long way, very quickly: his first three dams are by Graustark (Ribot {GB}), Tom Fool (Menow) and Challenger (GB) (Swynford {GB}). Swynford! In four steps, in 2018! Hurry while stocks last, I say.

It's a line that deserves an heir, and if you aren't just breeding to stand a horse under an auctioneer's rostrum, you might yet have time to find one.

BLAME (Arch), Claiborne, $12,500

A contentious one, no doubt. Certainly it's now or never for Blame, but the farm went through much the same with his sire, who turned things round after a very slow start–eventually working his way back up to $40,000 (opened at $20,000) having at one point slumped to $5,000.

On the face of it, halving Blame's fee from $25,000 would seem an eccentric response to his Group 1 breakthrough with a European Classic winner in Senga. But something had to be done after Blame's book slumped to 48 mares last year, from 105 in 2016.

Senga, of course, will have been helped by a bedrock of Niarchos quality in her maternal family. But perhaps her example will get one or two people thinking a little more about the potential of Blame as a turf stallion. His own sire-line, of course, has an international resonance through Roberto and Kris S, respectively winner and sire of a winner in the Epsom Derby; while his dam Liable, a Seeking The Gold half-sister to Archipenko, is out of a daughter of Nijinsky and Special (who produced Nureyev and the dam of Sadler's Wells).

The Liable cross–by Seeking The Gold out of a grand-daughter of Northern Dancer–produced a champion equally proficient on turf and dirt in Dubai Millennium. Credit to the Niarchos family for showing more imagination than other European breeders (not saying a great deal these days, I fear) in introducing an ostensible dirt sire to one of their priceless families. But the irony may be that the horse famous for ending the unbeaten record of a great dirt mare in Zenyatta might end up as a turf influence anyway. Already more than half his stakes winners have come over on the vegetable patch.

It is not as though Blame is disgracing himself, even as things stand. His black type horses-to-runners in 2017 came at a highly respectable clip of 10%. In fact, his indices across the board surpass a number of much more expensive stallions. It's just that you wouldn't know it from the only one that counts to some people, his yearling average year-on-year halving from $94,592 to $45,596.

But if that is the work of the rats, that doesn't mean the ship is sinking just yet. Some day, in fact, you might find yourself looking pretty far-sighted for having sent a mare to Blame in his hour of need.

KANTHAROS (Lion Heart), Hill 'n' Dale, $15,000

Here's a sire who has really earned his stripes and he will surely be building on the foundations he laid with lesser books in Florida now. There were just 23 named foals in his second crop. Last year, his first Kentucky book comprised 155 mares.

The son of Lion Heart was a blisteringly fast juvenile, unbeaten in three starts at an aggregate 28.5 lengths, taking the Grade III Bashford Manor S. by 9 1/2 and the GII Saratoga Special by 7 1/4, only to be brought to a stop by injury. He has been getting black-type performers off $5,000 covers–topped by Golden Shaheen runner-up X Y Jet and G2 winner Bucchero–at a rate to embarrass much bigger names. In fact, the 2016 percentage that earned his transfer was 17.53% of runners. That was exceeded only by…War Front and Uncle Mo!

There is obvious scope for breeders to cash in on his Kentucky upgrade over the next couple of sales cycles. Out of a mare who was literally given away, Kantharos is threatening to pull off a real rags-to-riches rise. One astute friend has even suggested to me that he could become the American equivalent of Dark Angel (Ire) in Europe. Heady stuff.

FIRST SAMURAI (Giant's Causeway), Claiborne, $15,000

Everybody loved Lea, at the price anyway, but his sire's story is instructive of the fickleness of the marketplace.

First Samurai, star of the first Ashford crop sired by Giant's Causeway, has been on a rollercoaster through his own stud career. Having started out at $40,000–as befitted a brilliant dual Grade I winner at two, his dam by a top broodmare sire in Dixieland Band out of a daughter of Fappiano–he paid for an insipid first crop with just 45 mares in 2011 and was down to 24 in 2012.

In the nick of time, he mustered ten stakes winners that year, including GI Del Mar Debutante winner Executiveprivilege, and Lea making his initial Grade III breakthrough. Executiveprivilege had been picked up, in the middle of her sire's slump, as a $23,000 Keeneland September yearling–only to realize a sale-topping $650,000 when allowed to strut her stuff under tack at OBS the following April.

Encouraged by a trim to $10,000 for 2013, breeders rallied and his book leaped to 119. The revival continued that year, with nine stakes winners headed by GI A.G. Vanderbilt H. winner Justin Phillip.

Despite First Samurai's own precocity, his stock has tended to thrive with maturity: Lea only bloomed with a track-record success in the GI Donn H. at five, and then proceeded the following year to five podiums in six Grade I starts on dirt and grass, showing all the versatility of First Samurai's own sire.

As such, there is plenty of scope for First Samurai to consolidate his plucky recovery over the next year or two. The fruit of his turnaround crop were 3-year-olds in 2017, including Miss Sky Warrior and Sharp Samurai, who collected five Grade II wins between them, and these will be followed through by foals resulting from books of 116, 99, 108 and 98.

In other words, he is right back on an even keel. His 2017 yearlings, moreover, averaged $118,016. In a sector of the market where talk and hope often count for more, he's paying his way on sheer merit.

LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike), Ashford, $17,500

The fact that Lookin At Lucky has yet to produce a Grade I winner is a transparent anomaly, yet his book shrank from 126 to 76 last year. That is keeping his price down conveniently for those breeders who can see that his underlying results are impressive for a stallion in that kind of bracket.

He's now down to half the fee he earned with consecutive Eclipse championships at two and three (only the fifth male to achieve this after Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid) and as a five-time Grade I scorer–yet the half-dozen Grade I placers he has produced in four crops now include, as a twist of the knife that surely promises redress down the line, a Kentucky Derby runner-up in Lookin At Lee.

Money Multiplier has been second in four Grade Is, and Lookin At Lucky's ratio of black-type performers to total starters puts him in the top ten in each of the last two years. Two in three of his lifetime Northern Hemisphere starters are winners, while his Chilean progeny have been excelling, too.

Lookin At Lucky was a more precocious horse than Curlin, and indeed topped the general sires' list by number of juvenile winners as a freshman. But he shares a similar ability to get horses that progress with maturity–a hallmark of Smart Strike, himself never that heavy a hitter at the sales–so he will have a good chance of riding out what deserves to prove a temporary bump in the medium term.

The one thing he hasn't really been is lucky. But that's surely going to change sooner or later and, in the meantime, you're sure lookin' at value.

MUNNINGS (Speightstown), Ashford, $25,000

There is no getting away from the sense that Munnings is pressing against the ceiling of his market, having turned round some terrific numbers from the modest materials available to him as a $12,500 and $10,000 start-up. He is, for instance, currently showing 159 winners from 212 lifetime starters, including 25 at black-type level. These now include a second Grade I winner in El Deal, who blazed eight lengths clear in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. at Saratoga last summer.

Munnings was a loud early advert for Speightstown, graduating from his first crop as a $1.7-million “bullet” 2-year-old after being pinhooked for $150,000 as a yearling. He proceeded to win on debut at Saratoga before twice making the frame as a juvenile at Grade I level.

His sire brings together two massive influences out of mares by Secretariat, in Gone West and Storm Cat, and Munnings's own third dam Lady Winborne is also by Secretariat. Lady Winborne, producer of two Group 1 winners (including Munnings's granddam La Gueriere) and herself a half-sister to Allez France, in turn traces directly to La Troienne.

From this classy base Munnings moulded a very balanced, dynamic physique, with a good head and outlook. His commercial profile is uneven but if he continues to attract the classier mares his results merit, Munnings could yet summon this deep blood to break into two-turn territory. His 2018 2-year-olds were bred from a book of 196, up from 94 the previous year, and it's a safe bet that he is heading to new heights on the track, too.

STREET SENSE (Street Cry {Ire}), Darley, $35,000

Here's a horse at a crossroads. Things were not looking too pretty when the first ever to pull off the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby double was dispatched to Japan in 2013, having registered modest returns from his first two crops and dwindled from $75,000 to $40,000.

Typically, however, it turned out that he had left behind a series of progressive young horses of elite calibre and he was promptly repatriated. Without a domestic crop of juveniles to represent him in 2016, however, he had to tread water somewhat on his return.

As such, the emergence of McKinzie as his first male Grade I winner in the Northern Hemisphere could hardly be better timed. For one thing, he stifles all the talk about not getting colts. Yes, his five previous elite scorers in the US had all been females; and yes, Street Sense's sire, Street Cry, is feted for two Amazonian runners in Zenyatta and Winx; while Street Sense is already making an impression as a broodmare sire, not least with one of Europe's top juveniles of 2017 in Roaring Lion (Kitten's Joy).

But two of his three Group 1 winners in the Southern Hemisphere are male and it may prove that the second half of Street Sense's U.S. career will see him reinvent himself in many other ways, too. That was certainly the view of some big spenders in 2017, notably in matching the Fasig-Tipton November high for a $1 million weanling and in shattering the Arqana breeze-up record at €1.4 million–the latter representing one of the all-time pinhooks as a $15,000 Keeneland September yearling.

One way or another, he is back up and running: besides having McKinzie on the Triple Crown trail, he also counted wide-margin Grade II winner Avery Island among his comeback kids. There are not many stallions standing at this kind of ticket with pretensions to sharing the altitudes he has reached, on and off the track.

As it happens–and as a final footnote–one of few who might bear comparison not only chased home Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby but also stands alongside him at Jonabell after sharing a stint in Japan. Hard Spun (Danzig) (Darley, $40,000) is also having to start over, then, but he provides a precious conduit to his sire and has earned every cent of his fee.

And that's a test, however subjective, valid at every level of the market. Still many a slip twixt cup and lip, of course. So wherever you send your mare, here's to a healthy foaling–and to whatever ration of good luck remains available after that.


And the Judges Say….


One sire I'm partial to is Palace Malice (Curlin) (Three Chimneys, $20,000)–arguably, at one point, the best in training of his generation in North America; his value right now is very reasonable. Kitten's Joy (El Prado) (Hill 'n' Dale, $60,000) at his new fee is an amazing bargain. There are stallions who are probably about equal who are easily double that. So for somebody looking for a broad appeal, I think he offers incredible value; it places him in the market to a point where it allows breeders to make money. So much, these days, reacts to a sale that's just happened–rather than giving people some help who are going to be selling in two years' time, not today.

Lea (First Samurai) (Claiborne, $7,500) is a very interesting sire at that level of the market. That fee gives people a lot of opportunity. Strong Mandate (Tiznow) (Three Chimneys, $10,000) has rewarded lot of people this year and last. And Violence (Medaglia d'Oro) (Hill 'n' Dale, $25,000; now $35,000)–I know he's bounced up very quickly but he was getting some amazing looking yearlings and weanlings over the last couple of years, so the fact he's done so well as a 2-year-old sire is not a shock.


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