By Chris McGrath
The stallions we reach today are the first actually to have given some initial clue as to their ability to replicate those assets that earned them a place at stud. True, only their most precocious stock have so far tested the water and it should be obvious that limited conclusions can be drawn from so small a sample of their work. But we know the apathy of commercial breeders about producing racehorses. So long as they maximize their value as yearlings, the rest is gravy. That's why they get behind stallions yet to expose the flimsy parapets of marketing to the unsparing fire of the racetrack.
This lot, in contrast, will have a fourth crop of juveniles on the track by the time yearlings conceived this spring come under the hammer. As we remarked in the last installment of the series, you'd like to think that would sooner be considered an advantage. But we've pondered this whole situation often enough, and will spare you another sermon. For present purposes, we must simply note how candidly the commercial market admits its fickleness. All you have to do is measure the losses registered by nearly all stallions between their first and second crop of yearlings–very often, even when their first runners have excelled.
Sometimes a stallion isn't permitted even a fleeting chance to show what his stock might do on the track. In this intake, California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) found so little sales traction with his first crop that he was exported before he had a single runner. The way he promptly collapsed in the yearling averages, from fifth with his first crop to 21st this time round, shows how artificially we glaze even so narrow a window for the making of a stallion's reputation. A lot of the time, clearly, everything depends on enough people feeling invested in propping up an unproven brand. (Nor is it just the stallion farms themselves. We in the media are as guilty as anyone, always lavishing the oxygen of publicity on “exciting” new sires).
In this particular cycle, the decline in the value of a second crop has been steepened by the intervention of a pandemic. But we shouldn't flatter ourselves that things are usually much different.
Even in so jittery a marketplace, it's nuts that Not This Time should be unique in Kentucky, in this group, in having advanced the value of his second crop. There are only two explanations for this. One is that every single other stallion must be pronounced an overnight failure. The other is that first-crop yearlings are ludicrously overvalued.
Certainly it's not hard to identify the winners and losers from these opening skirmishes. When their first crop came under the hammer, in 2019, Runhappy was second in the yearling averages and Not This Time 10th. This time round, their places were precisely transposed.
Obviously they experienced contrasting fortunes with their first runners. But we should remember that the yearling sales remain very unfocused. A lot of people crave social media buzz for sprint winners at Keeneland in April, and that may be useful at Fasig-Tipton in July. But the freshmen's championship continues to develop through the year. With so much juvenile prize money loaded into later races, often round a second turn, it ends up being a pretty valid signpost.
In the preceding intake, for instance, American Pharoah and Constitution finished first and second as freshmen, and again with their second crop. On the other hand, their class also included Daredevil, who has made his famous leap from 17th to fourth. So there will be bargains to be found, above all in a year when cuts are being made across the roster.
Because even a yearling by champion freshman NYQUIST (Uncle Mo–Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry) was worth less in 2020 than its predecessor in 2019, his average slipping from $236,318 to $165,773 (still top of the class). Okay, so his principal earner Vequist didn't bank her GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies earnings until after the yearling sales, but that does just show how weirdly the business functions.
Nyquist himself, of course, sealed Uncle Mo's freshman laurels by emulating his championship success at the same meeting. At that stage–having received the customary, consecutive fee cuts as his first crop neared the track–Uncle Mo was promptly able to triple his fee to $75,000. Now, with three sons in the top four of the freshman's table, he looks a bona fide elite stallion at $175,000.
How far will Nyquist follow in his sire's path? Well, Darley has duly hiked him to $75,000 for 2021, albeit having in his case hitherto maintained his opening fee of $40,000. He stands on a very different farm from his sire, and there was a corresponding difference in his initial footprint. Uncle Mo had no fewer than 73 juvenile starters in his debut crop, of which 28 won. With 17 winners from 45 starters, Nyquist's ratio was virtually identical. But what has set Uncle Mo apart is his ability to maintain percentages, in quality, along with all his quantity. He had seven black-type winners that first campaign, compared with two for Nyquist in 2020. Nonetheless, Nyquist made sure of a bull's-eye with both that managed to hit the stakes board, so matching his sire by immediately coming up with two elite winners. The other is Gretzky The Great, who won a Canadian Grade I on turf.
Now his sophomores must consolidate. On the track, Nyquist did so in the ultimate fashion by winning the GI Kentucky Derby–in contrast to his sire, who left his stamina unproven in a fitful campaign at three–albeit subsequently losing his way. The graded stakes quality around his second dam is largely in juvenile racing, but Nyquist is out a half-sister to the mother of a very durable type in GI Met Mile winner Sahara Sky (Pleasant Tap); and three other siblings managed 203 starts between them!
The shape of Nyquist's family will appeal to anyone inclined to keep a filly, too. His first two dams are by noted broodmare sires in Forestry and Seeking the Gold, whose pedigrees are knotted together by a name to conjure with in Sequence. She is Forestry's fourth dam, as well as the granddam of Seeking the Gold's sire Mr. Prospector.
Nyquist is not going to lose momentum, with a fourth book in the 150s behind him, but nor can he afford to do so at his new fee. It'll be interesting to see how he goes at the 2-year-old sales, too, as he was rather a disappointment last time round. Darley is trumpeting comparisons not just to Uncle Mo, but to Danzig and Tapit, who likewise immediately found two Grade I winners, including at the Breeders' Cup. But let's not get carried away. From only 13 starters in 1984, Danzig had 11 winners, nine stakes horses and three Grade I winners, including the champion juvenile colt. Two of them made in the podium in the Derby the following May, as well, so let's just see how we go from here!
Fee hikes naturally make the value “podium” less accessible and it feels difficult to keep NOT THIS TIME (Giant's Causeway–Miss Macy Sue, by Trippi) up there after his spectacular vindication of “gold” at $12,500 a year ago. Taylor Made has hoisted him to $40,000 for 2021 after he broke the Uncle Mo-nopoly at the top of the freshmen's table, third by prize money, but clear top by winners with no fewer than 28 from just 54 starters. Matching Uncle Mo's tally, in fact, which we just noted required 73 starters.
As already remarked, Not This Time bucked the trend by improving the value of his stock between first and second crops: 47 yearlings sold, from 59 into the ring, achieved an average of $113,822–exceeded only by Nyquist, and up from $67,352 for his 63 sales of 90 offered in his first crop.
His flagbearer was the charismatic Princess Noor, the $1.35 million OBS April stunner sadly retired with a soft-tissue injury after a thrilling opening streak on the West Coast: a 'TDN Rising Star'-worthy maiden, the GI Del Mar Debutante and GII Chandelier S.
Not This Time himself was also unable to draw as a sophomore on the Classic influences pervading his pedigree, derailed after closing to a neck of champion Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile) in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile S. But you know that a horse with a page and physique like this could only have maintained his progress on the Triple Crown trail. Indeed, he must be as precocious a juvenile as served his great sire.
A brief lull in traffic should be lucrative for those who kept the faith: 159 mares took advantage of last year's reduction, following opening books of 145, 129 and 87. (Don't tell me there are people out there actually reading this stuff!) The new fee puts Not This Time under a different kind of pressure, but there can't be a young stallion out there so eligible to rise to the challenge: his Breeders' Cup-placed dam has also, of course, given us Liam's Map (Unbridled's Song); while her mother, in turn, owed both sire and grand-dam to Dr Fager's champion half-sister Ta Wee.
Bottom line is that it may feel tough to pay three times last year's fee, but at least we know that Not This Time produces runners. If you pay as much or more for any of the stallions previously appraised in this series, your priority can only be the sales ring rather than the racetrack. And Not This Time now has both of those bases covered.
The shock runner-up in the freshmen's championship, dividing Nyquist and Not This Time, was LAOBAN (Uncle Mo–Chattertown, by Speightstown), who has been drafted onto the WinStar roster at $25,000 after starting his career in New York at $7,500.
His 13 winners from 36 starters included five black-type horses, notably fairytale GI Alcibiades winner Simply Ravishing and GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. winner Keepmeinmind, who placed at the Breeders' Cup as a maiden. That was straight out of his sire's playbook. Laoban's only win, after repeatedly picking up scraps in other good races, was when appearing to steal the GII Jim Dandy on the lead at 27-1.
As such, nobody could sensibly propose that Laoban hinted at elite caliber on the track and for now it all feels a little baffling. But his second dam was a very productive juvenile in Florida-bred sprints, while her sister produced hard-knocking Grade I winner I'm A Chatterbox (Munnings). And Laoban has already had an 11-length debut winner at Aqueduct (NY-breds) since the turn of the year, so maybe he's a genuine freak. He's been priced strictly for believers, but he's the only New York stallion to sire a Grade I winner at the first attempt and partnership support at his new base will no doubt send his numbers rocketing.
In the meantime, he has a solid enough base in the Empire State, having followed a debut book of 122 with 91, 72 and 67 mares. If he keeps going, those should yield some good paydays. His first crop had sold respectably (27 of 43 at $30,537) while no fewer than 20 of 21 yearlings were processed this time round, with the news out, at $35,656.
The third son of Uncle Mo to assist his habit of making a flying start-as runner, sire and now sire of sires–was already at WinStar. Indeed, OUTWORK (Uncle Mo–Nonna Mia, by Empire Maker) had carried his sire's standard as the first winner of his first crop, over 4.5 furlongs at Keeneland in April. That proved to be Outwork's only juvenile start and he disappeared for good after the Derby, but only after stretching out to win the GI Wood Memorial.
That looked a porous race for the level and a better guide to his merit is the way he had made Destin (Giant's Causeway) work for the GII Tampa Bay Derby. But his eligibility for stud was underpinned by his dam, a Grade I-placed three-parts sister to a flourishing young stallion in Cairo Prince (Pioneerof The Nile).
Sure enough, Outwork has started very well with 19 winners from 48 starters including two at stakes level. (One of these, Outadore, then ran third in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf). As such, he is a good example of the nonsensical behavior of purchasers. His first crop of yearlings averaged $84,234 (for 66 sold of a bumper 88 offering). While managing fourth in the freshmen's table, however, he saw his second crop halved in value for a yield of $39,987, albeit for a good ratio of 41 sales from 50.
While again making allowances for its depressed condition this year, that's a fairly dismal commentary on the infidelity of the commercial market. Auspiciously, however, the word was out sufficiently last winter for his book to soar back to 160, having opened with 168, 137 and 102, so it looks as though his true reward can be a sustainable stud career. He duly holds his fee at $15,000.
Darley hosted both the most expensive stallions in this intake. But whereas Nyquist has been hiked from $40,000 to $75,000, FROSTED (Tapit–Fast Cookie by Deputy Minister) has taken consecutive cuts from $50,000, to $40,000 last year and now to $25,000.
Doubtless that partly reflects the deep freeze in the wider economy, which in turn contributed to a relatively trying time at the sales for Frosted's second crop. His first yearlings had certainly worked that big opening fee very efficiently, 67 sales (of 94 offered) realizing $223,365, but this time around–between the pandemic and the infantile attention span of the market–he sank to $67,371 for 52 sales (74 into the ring).
In the meantime, however, his 2-year-olds had actually sold at a parallel rate and in a far higher ratio than those of his flourishing studmate Nyquist. And that endorsement of his stock's athleticism was followed by a perfectly respectable start on the track, fifth in the prize money table with 16 scorers from 58 starters headed by GII Golden Rod S. winner and 'TDN Rising Star' Travel Column. It was as a 4-year-old, after all, that Frosted posted his signature 123 Beyer explosion in the GI Met Mile–albeit he had come to hand early enough to win the Wood Memorial on his way to a supporting role in two legs of the Triple Crown won by American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile), while arguably often stretching beyond his optimal distance.
Expect his first sophomores to give Frosted new momentum. Already since the turn of the year he has had a third graded stakes player, and he has that solid genetic bedrock too: his dam is a Grade II-winning half-sister by broodmare sire icon Deputy Minister to the same farm's under-rated sire Midshipman (Unbridled's Song). There will be no breaks in the action, as he received 157 guests last spring after opening books of 156, 152 and 144. The bottom line is that Frosted is no less eligible to excel now than when he started, but you can get to him at half the fee.
The most conspicuous hit in this intake has been taken by RUNHAPPY (Super Saver–Bella Jolie by Broken Vow), down to $10,000 from $25,000 at Claiborne. His has been a bewildering tale, to this point. He made a sensational sales debut, finding a new home for as many as 59 of the 68 yearlings into the ring from his first crop at a fantastic yield of $227,000. He also had a $475,000 2-year-old in a tricky market at OBS March. But then things went uncomfortably quiet.
He did eventually muster nine juvenile winners from 40 starters, albeit without a single stakes placing. The vendors of 66 members of Runhappy's second crop, who must have been congratulating themselves on their foresight last winter, were duly dismayed to sell 45 at just $35,760.
Hardly what was bargained for, given that Runhappy's forte was pure speed–as measured by a stakes record in the GI King's Bishop and a track record in the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint. Admittedly there is limited depth to his family, but maybe patience will be rewarded. Though Runhappy was an eight-length debut winner at two, that wasn't until Dec. 28. We should also remember how freakish his speed appeared, in the son of a Derby winner who was himself out of an A.P. Indy mare, so perhaps Runhappy's stock will only really begin to smile as sophomores.
Certainly breeders have been given every incentive to keep the faith, at the new fee. And we wish the horse well, in principle, because his brilliant sales debut surely owed something to the restraint governing his opening books (all four in the 120s) and so reminded everyone that there's nothing remotely “commercial” about the industrial numbers thrown at new sires elsewhere.
The concluding part of this instalment in our series will appear in Tuesday's edition, featuring the likes of, among others, Upstart, Speightster, Air Force Blue, Exaggerator, Tourist, Flintshire and Brody's Cause, along with our “value podium.”