Kentucky Sires for 2021: First Juveniles–Part I

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Gun Runner will be represented by his first 2yos in 2021 | Three Chimneys photo

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And so we come to the group standing on the brink. The group facing the moment of truth, when their most precocious stock enters the gate and offers some initial indication as to their competence for the task for which, ostensibly at least, they were bred.

As such, this should perhaps be the moment we double down. That's what we would do, at any rate, if we had real faith in the choices we have made for our mares. If we have selected their mates well, then people will be wanting more of the same at the 2023 yearling sales–and we can hope to be rewarded for meeting increased demand with what tends to be diminished supply.

As it is, the imminent exposure of young stallions' “commercial” credentials to the unsparing examination of the racetrack instead prompts most breeders to flee in terror, sending their mares to those safely unproven rookies who have replaced them on the conveyor belt.

Their logic is perfectly coherent. The whole premise of backing an unproven new stallion is that he will not have been tested by the time you take your yearling to market. And the value of 2021 covers is bound to appear very different, one way or another, in the 2023 sales ring: these sires will by then have a third crop of juveniles on the track, and their slower-maturing, two-turn types will also have shown their hand. As I say, that should actually be an advantage…if, that is, we really believe that we might be catching a wave. But I guess very few breeders can afford the risk of trusting their own opinions to that extent.

Even at the best of times, then, you could expect farms to help this group over the imminent bump in the road. In the prevailing environment, with fee cuts being made across so many rosters, there will surely be particularly good value to be found among stallions whose abrupt loss of commercial traction is every bit as capricious as the hectic subscription of their debut books. After all, those best equipped to sire the type of Thoroughbred we should covet most–namely, one that can run a second turn on the first Saturday in May–will hardly disclose their full potential even now their first crop is being broken and trained.

Nor, as we noted of the weanling market in the previous instalment of this series, can we put too much faith in the reception of these youngsters at the sales. Yes, professional horsemen have at least had the chance to draw some inferences from living, breathing stock presented to their inspection. Moreover, they have been able to assess a much wider sample. Much as with weanling averages, however, those rare occasions when the market challenges the premium implied in stallion fees–whether for better or worse–do not tend to work out very reliably.

As with his weanlings, for instance, the most conspicuous disappointment of the 2018 yearling market, relative to his opening fee, was Constitution. From much the biggest offering of the intake, 98 yearlings, his average sale could not match those of Carpe Diem, Bayern, Tonalist and Lea, to name four whose fees have slipped even as Constitution has meanwhile soared from $25,000 to $85,000.

Admittedly, the yearling market “found” Cairo Prince the year before, elevating animals he had conceived at $10,000 to second place in the averages. But he was sandwiched between two horses whose returns slavishly obeyed the assumptions invited by their fees: Will Take Charge was top, having started out at a class-high $30,000; and Verrazano was third, having similarly started higher than almost all the rest at $22,500. Those two are respectively now down to $5,000 and Brazil.

Once again, then, let's be wary of drawing too many conclusions, whether positive or negative, from the “performance” at the yearling sales of those stallions who will launch their first runners in 2021.

Sadly, of course, the most expensive recruit of the intake is no longer with us. The tragic loss of Arrogate (Unbridled's Song) leaves GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride {Arg}–Quiet Giant by Giant's Causeway) as its outstanding prospect after starting out at Three Chimneys as Horse of the Year at $70,000.

He gets a generous clip to $50,000 to keep the door revolving. Opening books of 171 and 166 struck a balance between numerical opportunity without totally inundating the market, and he maintained numbers last spring at 156. Of 71 yearlings into the ring, he found a new home for 46 at a class-high $246,413.

That has to go down as a very solid start and, while you can't expect a horse that reached his peak at four to be siring sprint winners at Keeneland in April, nor should we forget how he came to the boil at the Fair Grounds before running third to Nyquist (Uncle Mo) in the GI Kentucky Derby. It spoke well of his substance that he was still on the go in late November, winning the GI Clark H.; and he emerged much stronger than did Arrogate from their clash in the desert the following spring, going on an unbeaten spree of five Grade Is.

The appeal to breeders, aside from his class and constitution, was that it all had such an obvious source: his dam is a Grade II-winning half-sister to another Horse of the Year in Saint Liam (Saint Ballado) with a plenty of supporting quality close up. In broader brushstrokes, his page entwines two branches of the Fappiano dynasty, both away from the Unbridled highway: obviously he extends the line through Candy Ride, but he also brings in Fappiano's son Quiet American (with his dynamic genetics) as sire of his second dam.

All told, Gun Runner looks abundantly qualified to build on whatever promise he can show in what will, after all, only be his opening skirmishes.

Candy Ride's growing stature as a sire of sires helped another of his sons emerge as the standout performer of the intake at the yearling sales. Yes, we've urged circumspection about the market's verdict, but Claiborne priced MASTERY (Candy Ride {Arg}–Steady Course by Old Trieste) very fairly at $25,000 and, being no less reliable in the conservative management of his books (139/143/138), they have given their clients a platform for a most rewarding debut at the sales.

Mastery was gold on our “value podium” last year and it feels very hard to dislodge him after he sold as many as 64 of 79 yearlings into the ring at a knockout yield of $129,421–surpassed only by Gun Runner and Arrogate–with mares commensurate with their fees.

There's no doubting the terrific natural talent exhibited by Mastery in a career that contrasted poignantly with that of the teak Gun Runner, derailed as he was in the very act of announcing himself the horse to beat in the Derby. It plainly serves his cause, commercially, that he was a seven-length Grade I winner at two, but his pedigree underpins his appeal to all breeding agendas, including any that might be disposed to retain a filly.

For his dam is a three-parts sister to the Pennsylvania stalwart Jump Start, and their mother, in turn, is by one broodmare sire legend (Storm Cat) out of a full-sister to another in Miswaki. You couldn't ask for better seeding of the bottom line, once you get past a dam by one of A.P. Indy's less fashionable sons: Storm Cat, Mr. Prospector, Buckpasser, Princequillo, Nasrullah. With looks to match, Mastery demands fidelity even among those generally inclined to back off stallions at this precarious stage in their careers. It just feels like the force is with him.

The other stallion to break six figures with his yearling average was PRACTICAL JOKE (Into Mischief–Halo Humor by Distorted Humor), who parlayed a $30,000 opening fee at Ashford into 74 sales (of 92 offered) at $120,243.

This was another Grade I winner at two, in both the Champagne and Hopeful. He stretched out for fifth in the GI Kentucky Derby, but reiterated that Into Mischief speed was his trademark when dropping back for his sophomore Grade I in the H. Allen Jerkens S.

No less than Mastery, Practical Joke has conformed to the standard formula of his host farm with no fewer than 220 mares in his first book and 200 in his second. He maintained turnover with another 188 guests last spring, so he certainly has numbers behind him. That brings its customary risks, but these are acknowledged by consecutive cuts to $25,000 last year and $22,500 this time round.

We know that the usual rules don't apply to Into Mischief, whose promising start as a sire of sires doubtless contributed (along with his own physical allure) to the popularity of Practical Joke at the sales. But it must be acknowledged that the champion sire's alchemical powers are well demonstrated by his ability to get such a proficient racehorse from a family as plain as this one.

Practical Joke was well held in third when CLASSIC EMPIRE (Pioneerof the Nile–Sambuca Classica by Cat Thief) just denied Not This Time the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The runner-up has set high standards in their new career and Classic Empire, having joined Practical Joke at Ashford, looks pretty eligible to meet them.

He consolidated his 2-year-old championship in the GI Arkansas Derby, and was only denied the GI Preakness by the head of Cloud Computing (Maclean's Music). Unfortunately, that proved to be his final appearance, but there's a beguiling shape to his page: rather like Mastery, his dam is by one of the less glamorous sons of an iconic broodmare sire but the next three dams are by Miswaki, Hoist The Flag and Princequillo–and in this neighborhood it becomes an ancestry shared with Harlan's Holiday, Boldnesian and Ride the Rails. The second dam was Grade I-placed, so there's plenty to be working on here.

Nonetheless, Classic Empire has just taken his fourth consecutive cut, now half his opening fee at $17,500. Respite on the fee helped him maintain 122 mares last spring after an opening book of 185 had slipped to 104 in his second year. That big first crop obviously produced plenty of traffic into the ring, with 92 yearlings offered, and he rehoused 66 of them at $89,613. Like all these stallions, he's at a crossroads now, but recycling his juvenile prowess would certainly keep him in the game.

Starting alongside Practical Joke and Classic Empire at Ashford, CUPID (Tapit–Pretty 'N Smart by Beau Genius) corralled a staggering 223 mares in his debut book. No less breathtaking, however, was his giddy descent to just 53 mares the following year. I don't know which of these numbers is more absurd. There's no way he had done anything like enough to earn a book surpassed nationally only by Into Mischief himself; but nor, when his first foals were barely slithering into the straw, were there any grounds for deserting him with equal haste. What an example of the panicked, neurotic herd instincts of commercial breeders today!

Cupid steadied the ship at 75 mares last spring and, now trading at $5,000 from an opening $12,500, he's still entitled to show that those who backed him in his first year were right. His yearlings were processed efficiently enough, after all, a very healthy ratio of 68 sold from 82 offered at $46,786.

No surprise, perhaps, in one who himself made $900,000 as a yearling; and his Grade II-placed dam has produced three other stakes/graded stakes winners. After such a dazing start to his stud career, it'll be fascinating to see which way things go from here. Unraced at two, he won his Grade I around two turns at four, so he's hardly standardized to the industrial model. But I like a second dam by Vice Regent when Cupid's damsire is out of a mare by his brother Viceregal, so Cupid could yet land his dart.

Another to join growing competition for the legacy of Gainesway's champion sire is MOHAYMEN (Tapit

Justwhistledixie by Dixie Union). Shadwell clients made the most of a very generous price, realizing an average $52,506–seven times his $7,500 fee–for 31 sold of 40 offered.

This is a pretty interesting horse: an unbeaten and accomplished juvenile, including in the GII Nashua S. and GII Remsen S., he went on to Florida and won the GII Holy Bull S. and GII Fountain of Youth S. before running fourth in the Derby. Unfortunately, he lost his way thereafter, but the looks and page that qualified him as a $2.2-million yearling stand undiminished, and his half-brother New Year's Day (Street Cry {Ire}) obviously has somewhat more resonance than a couple of years ago. Their dam was a dual Grade II winner, also Grade I-placed, and Tapit doesn't tend to get too many who land running quite like Mohaymen did at two. (And the page has a nice little knot between Tapit's third dam and her brother Relaunch, whose son Honour and Glory sired Mohaymen's granddam).

With 121 mares in his first book, Mohaymen could well make his presence felt in the freshmen's table. Obviously he is not on the most commercial of farms, down to 51 mares in his second year and 59 last spring, but he definitely has potential to renew momentum from here.

This instalment of our ongoing series will be completed in tomorrow's edition. Part II includes stallions like Klimt, Unified, Connect, Keen Ice, Lord Nelson, American Freedom, Midnight Storm and Gormley, along with our latest value “podium”.

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