Kentucky Sires For 2020 Part II: First Weanlings


Accelerate | Breeders' Cup/Eclipse Sportswire

Over the coming days and weeks, we will be touched by the customary pictures of first foals tottering onto the gawky limbs that must someday propel them around the racetrack, and so determine the viability of their sires' new careers.

That's the idea, at any rate. Sadly, we know that the auctioneer's gavel will expel some of these stallions from Kentucky–and just to reiterate, we will be surveying regional sires at the end of this series–before their stock gets any meaningful opportunity to test the heritability of the talent that first earned them a place at stud.

A bleakly familiar reality, by this stage. Yet it seems as though commercial breeders are no longer backing off only as stallions are about to launch runners, but even before they undergo the preliminary judgement of the sales ring. (And, on that point, please let's not fall for one of the lowest tricks in the promoters' book: namely, covering sire averages. Those, clearly, are almost wholly contingent on the quality of those mares who happen to surface on the marketplace.)

Anecdotally, at any rate, some of the stallions under review today have already exhausted the fleeting vogue they enjoyed as newcomers last year. Nowadays, it seems, commercial breeders often need to have locked themselves into a deal for a breeding right if they are to return to a young stallion.

The big farms, of course, still know how to manage the profile of their young stallions–all the way, if things go well, to the sales ring. Even Coolmore, however, will do well to replicate the staggering books of 252 mares apiece that qualified their rookies Justify and Mendelssohn as the two busiest stallions in North America last spring.

To be fair, that does not simply reflect the market's inane addiction to unproven stallions; nor just the professional excellence of the Ashford sales team. It also acknowledges the premium they shared as potential heirs to their late sire, Scat Daddy, and the luminous recommendation of their respective track careers.

It augurs well for JUSTIFY, held at $150,000 for 2020, that his predecessor on the Triple Crown roll of honour, American Pharoah, has maintained his momentum for the same farm right through to his progeny's racetrack launch this year. Whether Justify will be able to match him by disclosing an extra dimension on turf remains to be seen. Obviously his sire has become a byword for versatility, but the power and brawn of this radiant athletic specimen would seem pretty obviously tailored to dirt racing. Either way, anybody would be glad to replicate the awesome physical attributes that carved the name of Justify more or less overnight into the pantheon of the American sport.

The harrowing fate of his half-brother, Grade III winner The Lieutenant (Street Sense), in Peru a few days ago reminds us that there are other accomplished horses on the page, their mother Stage Magic (Ghostzapper) being Grade I-placed-though confined, like Justify himself, to only half a dozen starts. And students of the Gunthers' amazing success will note that Stage Magic and her sire have grand-dams by the full brothers For The Moment and Honest Pleasure, both then playing into that mighty Classic influence Nijinsky.

Nonetheless even Justify cannot quite measure up, in terms of a stallion's pedigree, to his studmate MENDELSSOHN.

It seemed a pity, this time last year, that Mendelssohn was not given the opportunity to explore the potential that remained available to him after a sophomore campaign in which both strategy and tactics had been so unsparing. But if you do the math, 252 mares at $35,000–admittedly a specious formula, granted support from plenty of home mares–would have set a dizzy prizemoney bar had he stayed in training. So, guess what, Ashford knew what they were doing.

Regardless, I retain a hunch that he never showed his full hand on the track. As it is, he played plenty of aces (Grade I win at two; that eye-watering dirt debut in Dubai; etc) besides having those illustrious siblings Into Mischief (Harlan's Holiday) and Beholder (Henny Hughes) and his September Sale-topper's physique. The latest yearling out of Leslie's Lady through the same auction, an American Pharoah filly, soared even higher at $8.2 million. (And just remind me: who is the sire of Leslie's Lady? Here's a prompt, if you find that a Tricky question.)

It goes against the grain to suggest that Mendelssohn can represent particular “value” in a marketplace likely to be inundated with his early stock. But the fact is that few newcomers of such glittering commercial profile will hold the same appeal to end-users, as well. So if you don't get what you want, for one of his weanlings or yearlings, then you can still keep faith because the odds are he will produce runners.

The third young gun introduced at Ashford last spring was MO TOWN, who mustered 144 mares in his debut book but gets clipped from $12,500 to $10,000 for 2020.

Here's another clue to the Gunther method, his Grade I-placed granddam having been inexpensively acquired as a weanling with another striking “echo” in her pedigree: her parents were respectively grandson and granddaughter of Raise A Native and his full-sibling My Sister Kate.

Cut from the same physical cloth as his flourishing (and far more expensive) sire Uncle Mo, he contributed to Bernardini's burgeoning reputation as a broodmare sire as a GII Remsen S. winner at two before regrouping at three for his elite score on turf in the GI Hollywood Derby. With his interesting pedigree and the versatility we might all need soon, in terms of surfaces, Mo Town looks well worth considering at his revised fee.

Another farm to have launched three sires in 2019 was Lane's End. Two of them looked especially good value and one, CITY OF LIGHT, has in fact been elevated already from $35,000 to $40,000. (A most unusual distinction, at this stage.)

Though finally admitting 146 mares, Lane's End kept his book commendably under control, having reported him as oversubscribed even before he sealed his stardom in the GI Pegasus World Cup. Unsurprising, really, because he represents the full package: a $710,000 September yearling who proved as charismatic as he was accomplished on the track, his four Grade Is underpinned by a beautiful shape to his pedigree.

In particular he looks an absolute imperative for anyone who wouldn't mind keeping a filly, his genes being saturated with outstanding broodmare influences. His dam is by Dehere, who ties together two monsters of that ilk in Deputy Minister and Secretariat; out of a Grade I-winning mare by Secretariat's half-brother Somethingfabulous. And his grandsire Elusive Quality packs that down with granddams by Secretariat and Sir Ivor (by another half-brother to Secretariat, Sir Gaylord).

City of Light obviously offers Lane's End clients rather less expensive access to the blood of his sire Quality Road, now in the stratosphere at $200,000. And by the same token, while elite European breeders need their heads examined if they aren't using Quality Road (who has some grass behind him), City of Light really should be on their radar too: his second dam is a half-sister to a top-class turf performer of his day in Cacoethes (Alydar).

Books of 168 and 167, respectively, enabled the farm's two other newcomers, West Coast and Accelerate, to hold their fees at $35,000 and $20,000 respectively. WEST COAST is out of a Breeders' Cup champion, albeit his page is otherwise decorated by success in quantity sooner than quality; and he obviously earned his stripes on the track, flowering late to claim the sophomore championship before acquitting himself well against the top older horses.

Nonetheless the son of Flatter was comprehensively out-pointed by ACCELERATE, whose $20,000 opening fee reflects absurdly on the prejudices of the market. West Coast was just one of many he dominated in a six-for-seven spree in 2018, the one exception being City of Light who, receiving three pounds, beat him a neck over nine furlongs in the GII Oaklawn H. They left the rest for dead, making for one of the better Grade IIs of recent years.

By one of the world's most under-rated stallions, Lookin At Lucky, Accelerate has a perfectly solid family: half-brother Grade I-placed; their dam a half-sister to a Grade I winner; first two dams by sons of old school broodmare influences in Deputy Minister and Damascus; inbred to a Broodmare of the Year in fifth dam Smartaire, whose son Smarten is damsire of Lookin At Lucky's father Smart Strike.

On the track, Accelerate matured into a model of precisely those virtues the breed most needs today: soundness, courage and relentless development. His build can be judged from the $380,000 paid by a renowned judge for a son of a stallion who suffers the reputation of not being a “sales sire” (which, if anything, he should receive as a compliment). Go elsewhere among this lot, if you insist, but eventually you will find that Accelerate catches up with you out on the track.

There was a contrasting profile to the career of ALWAYS DREAMING, who made such explosive early strides as a sophomore, but fizzled out after the winning the GI Kentucky Derby. On his day, however, he was a pretty spectacular talent, showing a controlled zest through the GI Florida Derby and then through smouldering fractions on the first Saturday in May.

Sadly he could not reward his owners for their sporting perseverance at four, but the WinStar team reliably did their work and corralled 165 mares at $25,000. Though he must now keep the home fires burning for his sire, the same farm having sold Bodemeister to Turkey, his very swift dam Above Perfection (In Excess {Ire})–who ran champion Xtra Heat to a neck in the GI Prioress S.–has also produced GI Spinaway S. winner Hot Dixie Chick (Dixie Union) and GII Demoiselle S. winner Positive Spirit (Pioneerof The Nile). There are some fairly exotic elements in the family, but it's clearly coming together most productively.

Another who would probably have been easier to market, had he not stayed on for an extra season, was COLLECTED. In his prime, as a 4-year-old, he contributed to the growing sense of loss regarding his sire City Zip, crowning a spree of triple-digit Beyers with a Grade I success in the Pacific Classic.

He got rather faint praise for that performance, runner-up Arrogate (Unbridled's Song) soon confirming that his light was fading, but there's no arguing with the way he then split Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}) and West Coast in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic. They started at $70,000 and $35,000 respectively, so Collected offered good value at $17,500 when retired to Airdrie.

He duly assembled 156 mares last spring and they will benefit from the pleasing structure of his pedigree, especially for European horsemen of adequate enterprise. His first four dams are by sires of international resonance in Johannesburg, Danehill, Lyphard and Alleged; and the fifth is also the dam of Blushing Groom, damsire of City Zip's sire Carson City.

Airdrie also gave MCCRAKEN every chance at $10,000. An unbeaten juvenile, whose GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. qualifies him as the most precocious son of Ghostzapper, he's out of a graded stakes-placed Seeking The Gold half-sister to a Grade I winner. The second dam was Grade I-placed, and fifth dam General Store is granddam of European Classic runner and producer Al Bathathri (Blushing Groom).

You'll remember the scepticism that a horse as fast as Ghostzapper could see out the Breeders' Cup Classic distance, and similar attempts to stretch out McCraken did not seem to pay off. He was prolific around a mile but rather less effective when trying his luck over farther, notably in the Kentucky Derby. Even so he was only denied his Grade I in the final stride of the Haskell, and he was certainly far too quick for a subsequent GI Belmont S. winner when breaking the track record in the GIII Sam F. Davis S. That speed, underpinned by the depth of physique associated with his sire, plus a very solid pedigree, makes him look an attractive play at the price.

TAPWRIT, McCraken's Tampa Bay victim, has joined his sire Tapit at Gainesway. Having covered 154 mares at $12,500, he holds that fee. Though unable to progress again, after his Classic day in the sun, a $1.2 million Saratoga yearling pricetag speaks of his build and his dam, Appealing Zophie (Successful Appeal), who won the GI Spinaway S. at two.

GOOD MAGIC was certainly good enough to win at least one Classic in most years, but bumped into a Triple Crown winner when second in the Derby and paid a price for tearing off the gloves in the Preakness. Once relieved of the attentions of Justify, the son of Curlin was able to add the GI Haskell S. to his juvenile championship performance at the Breeders' Cup.

He was duly able to start out at Hill 'n' Dale at $35,000, pegged there for 2020 after serving 164 partners last spring. Another seven-figure yearling, his Grade II-placed dam is among half a dozen stakes winners out of a half-sister to a Grade I winner and producer; and you have to love any young stallion with granddams by broodmare sires as illustrious as Deputy Minister and Miswaki. Really, then, not many holes here. If priced to require some sort of market reception, he looks one to follow through: he seems bound to get runners.

The same farm rolled the dice on ARMY MULE, who assembled 140 partners at $10,000. Some breed-shaping sires built their empires on similarly brief careers, and this meteor dazzled before his burnout–as an $825,000 2-year-old sale-topper who won a maiden, allowance and the GI Carter S. (114 Beyer) by an aggregate 22 lengths.

In terms of natural talent, all bets are off, and apparently he has the physical presence to back it all up. He rung the same bell with the far-sighted John Sikura as Candy Ride and Maclean's Music and, if the sire sets a challenge–albeit we should remember that Friesan Fire is very well bred–then here's another with granddams by knockout broodmare sires in Dehere and Storm Bird.

His own mother, incidentally, is by Crafty Prospector: a pretty rare name, nowadays, to find so close up. She has produced winners by some mediocre partners, but something in the pedigree–second and third dam (half-sister to dual Grade I winner Our Native) are both graded stakes winners–is certainly sparking.

It was tough to know what to think, this time last year, but he looks like he'll have every chance. Certainly it's the easiest thing in the world to picture Army Mule “bullets” at the breeze-up sales in a couple of years' time.

Hill 'n' Dale launched a sire with an even shorter career in Maclean's Music, and he produced a GI Preakness S. winner from his first crop in CLOUD COMPUTING–who maintains his $7,500 tag at Spendthrift after covering no fewer than 171 mares in his first season.

I don't know how many of them were seduced by a Grade II-placed dam by A.P. Indy; and how many by a second dam by Waquoit. But they should have been! Waquoit won the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup, then at a mile and a half, by 15 lengths; and this daughter was his best runner, the hard-knocking Grade I winner Halo America, who won 15 of 40 starts and also produced Grade I/Group 1-placed Marino Marini (Storm Cat).

Beyond that, the page is seeded top to bottom by venerable influences. While Cloud Computing was able to win a Classic on his fourth start, he couldn't follow through. But he has been priced to take full account of that and perhaps we should instead focus on the fact that Mike Ryan was sufficiently bowled over to give $200,000 for a colt buried in the September Sale as Hip 1831.

BOLT D'ORO is reminiscent of McCraken, as an earlier developer than might have been expected. He's by Medaglia d'Oro out of an A.P. Indy mare, a Classic two-turn formula, but Bolt D'Oro showed terrific speed to win two Grade Is inside three starts (the second by 7 3/4 lengths). That qualified him as hot favorite for the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but he had to settle for third to Good Magic and, though awarded the GII San Felipe S. on his resumption via DQ, he then ran into Justify in the GI Santa Anita Derby and faded out in the Classics.

He had already earned a $25,000 launch at Spendthrift, where he welcomed a dazing 214 mares. In fairness, he has the pedigree to back up the commercial allure. His dam's only other runners respectively achieved Grade III success and multiple Grade II podiums, and her own mother–by strong broodmare sire Lord At War (Arg)–was a multiple graded stakes winner; moreover their line traces to the great Myrtlewood. There will be no shortage of options, if you want a Bolt D'Oro yearling in 2021, but his profile is not narrowly commercial and they should appeal across the board.

Despite securing MOR SPIRIT a whopping book of his own at 176 mares, the same farm has indulged breeders with a clip from $10,000 to $7,500. That's pretty hard to resist, after Mitole has given everyone fresh faith in their expatriate sire Eskendereya, about a horse whose spectacular performance in the stallion-making GI Met Mile makes perfect sense as the climax of a career in two cycles. Mor Spirit was a Grade I winner at two who was then stretched out for his Derby bid, regrouping after seven months off to work back up to that 6 1/4-length Met rout for a 117 Beyer. His graded stakes-placed dam is by Dixie Union out of a half-sister to the dam of Stellar Wind (Curlin), so overall I'd definitely be keeping faith.

I also like the horse who chased him home in the Met, returning from a lay-off. SHARP AZTECA unfortunately disappeared from the map when kept in training at five, but in his pomp he was tremendously tough and fast, absolutely deserving of his Grade I success, by five lengths for a 115 Beyer, in the Cigar Mile. Here's another of those to start with a monster book, Three Chimneys secured him 195 mares and he duly holds his $10,000 fee.

His dam preserves the legacy of poor old Saint Liam, whose sire Saint Ballado was a brother to the dam of Rahy–himself sire of Mariah's Storm, the dam of Sharp Azteca's sire Freud (and of course of his full-brother Giant's Causeway). That's just one extra knot of quality in an unbroken stairwell of Classic sires. Try this for the seeding of his third generation: Northern Dancer, Secretariat, Blushing Groom, Roberto, Halo, Quiet American, Mr Prospector and Danzig.

There is similar depth behind OSCAR PERFORMANCE, who brings turf genes and performance of a calibre as rare as they should be in growing demand these days. At $20,000, or $15,000 for multiple mares, he looks highly eligible to put Mill Ridge–once home to Diesis and Gone West–back on the map as a stallion farm.

In terms of performance, what more could you want than a 10-length Saratoga maiden winner who could win Grade Is at two, three and four, with the miler's speed to relieve Elusive Quality of a 20-year-old track record? He wrapped up as the winner of eight starts in 15 tries for $2,345,696, all without an ounce of Lasix.

And that's backed up a family tracing to champion Lady Pitt's date with broodmare sire legend Buckpasser. Both sire and dam have a very “special” grandsire, in Sadler's Wells and Nureyev, and that's just one example of the many Classic influences recurring in his pedigree. You can see the formula working in the mare's other son by Kitten's Joy, Oscar Nominated, who similarly won graded stakes three years running and was twice Grade I-placed. Oscar Performance tops the bill in his intake for the grass influences likely to become vital to this industry in the years ahead.

GOOD SAMARITAN, third to Oscar Performance in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, subsequently showed his versatility with a switch to dirt to win the GII Jim Dandy S. and failed by just half a length to land his Grade I in the Clark H. Here's another with serial seams of Classic blood, underpinned by a bottom line that becomes better the deeper you go–ultimately tracing to La Troienne, via the dam of Buckpasser among others. WinStar reliably assembled 162 mares for the son of Harlan's Holiday and his fee remains very fair at $12,500.

FREE DROP BILLY has quality much closer up, as a half-brother to Group 1 winner Hawkbill (Kitten's Joy). His second dam is a Grade I winner; his third, a multiple Grade I-placed half-sister to that wonderful influence Cozzene. A Grade I winner at two who tapered away along the Triple Crown trail, he holds a $10,000 fee at Spendthrift.

RANSOM THE MOON (Malibu Moon) assembled 118 mares for his debut season at Calumet and remains at $7,500 having shown pure dirt speed–beating Roy H (More Than Ready) in consecutive runnings of the GI Bing Crosby S.–when his breeding invited other disciplines, whether through two-turn influences or a granddam who won the GI Matriarch S.

Of those on the bottom tier at $5,000, BEE JERSEY offers a spectacular female family (fourth dam Lassie Dear) at Darby Dan. You need to take a chance on his sire, Speightstown's hard-knocking Jersey Town, but this was a pretty remarkable animal to produce from his first crop: emerging from an unorthodox overture in Dubai to pull a 109 Beyer out of his hat in the GI Met Mile. Not everyone will match the nerve and imagination of Charles Fipke, but don't be surprised if he breeds another good one from his stallion–nor, indeed, if he does so from TALE OF VERVE, whose track career gives him only marginal stud qualifications (albeit at just $2,000), but whose bottom line, if anything, is even more lustrous.

FUNTASTIC drops to $5,000 from $7,500 to encourage similar faith in the power of his genes. His shock Grade I win in the United Nations H. serves primarily to draw attention to a priceless page as a More Than Ready half-brother to Saint Liam and the dam of Gun Runner.


Gold: Accelerate, $20,000 Lane's End

Just a whole lot of racehorse for that money.

Silver: Mo Town, $10,000 Ashford

Fee clip brings him right into play

Bronze: Army Mule, $10,000 Hill 'n' Dale

Enough believers in first book to promise early traction


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