By Chris McGrath
It's now or never, guys!
The deeper we go into our survey of Kentucky covering options for 2021, the fewer stallions remain standing. And those we reach today, about to launch a third crop of juveniles, have entered a decisive stage of their climb. Two or three are ascending confidently toward the next ridge; a handful are clinging tenaciously to a ledge; but many are now slithering unhappily down through the scree.
Several have already disappeared into regional or overseas programs. For now, the leading Bluegrass farms are persevering with 18 stallions from this group. It's a safe bet, however, that by this time next year, half of them will have been moved on. In each of the three preceding intakes, the same farms now retain no more than seven or eight.
In the course of this series, we've repeatedly remarked how unproven stallions are first supported and then abandoned with equal haste. But the foals conceived by these stallions this spring will have a far more legible value at the yearling sales of 2023. With a fifth crop on the track, their sires will by then have given us a legitimate sense of how their stock develop with maturity. There will be no more excuses.
The stakes, then, are now extremely steep. The rewards are potentially high, with fees generally tumbling, but the risk for the majority is clear. As such, it's no surprise that many commercial stallions should find their books virtually evaporating. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. If you launch your stallion to appeal to short-term opportunists, you can't complain when they quit the scene in the same tearing rush as they first arrived.
Unless you're talking about a two-turn horse under restrained management–with the scope to become another Blame, say–these stallions tend to require immediate momentum from their first couple of crops. There can be no stalling as the lights go green. It's extremely rare, certainly, that the more commercial types get a reprieve after the remarkable fashion, in this group, of Daredevil.
Among those drinking in the last-chance saloon, then, who deserves the funding to go back up to the bar and order one more round? Who deserves one final opportunity to secure a viable stud career in Kentucky? At a time when generous fee cuts are being made across the roster, there will surely be a bargain or two for those bold enough to take a gamble.
Naturally we start with AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile–Littleprincess-emma, by Yankee Gentlemen), who continues to do everything required by his stellar status and six-figure fee: champion freshman, now champion second-crop sire and once again well clear with his yearling averages too. But bold gambles need not be confined to the strugglers, and I do hope that someday his owners might think about giving this horse at least a year on their farm in Ireland.
The fact is that only one of American Pharoah's six graded stakes winners in 2020 came on dirt (and that was in Japan). Partly this reflects the fact that he already has quite good representation in Europe–not least through the homebred Van Gogh, among the favorites for Epsom after rounding off his first season at Ballydoyle with a four-length Group 1 success in France. American Pharoah's other elite scorer, however, is Harvey's Lil Goil, who left the main track to win the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup and then got within half a length in the Filly & Mare Turf at the Breeders' Cup. The slightly startling bottom line is that American Pharoah, by North American dirt earnings, finished behind nine other second-crop stallions with two black-type winners from 82 starters in 2020.
Ashford is offering him at $100,000 for 2020, having soon listed him as “private” after launching him at $200,000, and he's not going to lack either quality or quantity any time soon. After a Breeders' Cup winner from his first crop of juveniles, he welcomed another 153 mares last spring, following nearly 800 across his first four years. And he had two outstanding sophomores on dirt in Japan, so we're plainly talking about a versatile sire rather than any kind of strict specialist.
In this day and age, after all, it should only be an increasing asset–including in the domestic market–for a Triple Crown winner to parlay his class into different environments. (His own sire, remember, broke his maiden on turf and took a synthetic route to the Kentucky Derby where he finished second in the slop.)
A sojourn in Europe would give breeders there a thrilling opportunity. But American breeders will doubtless remain so jealous of this historic achiever that the Europeans will just have to keep shipping mares if they want competition for Galileo (Ire) and his sons. Certainly it's none of my business to tell the best in the business how to run their business. They will know the English expression, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” And American Pharoah's third crop of yearlings averaged $227,820 for 49 sold of 68 into the ring, including a couple of seven-figure sales.
That was admittedly well down on his first couple of crops, which both exceeded $400,000. But it's a very solid yield compared with most of these stallions. The market for third-crop yearlings, remember, is notoriously porous at the best of times; and this cycle, collectively, was under freakish additional pressure in the pandemic economy. To be broadsided in this fashion, precisely when most commercially vulnerable, demands an invisible asterisk for every yearling they sold in 2020.
The one who has bucked that trend most comprehensively is CONSTITUTION (Tapit–Baffled, by Distorted Humor). With his flagship Tiz the Law continuing to thrive as a sophomore, WinStar's comet advanced his third crop of yearlings to $137,351, up again from $95,314 after a big debut crop had been rather coolly received at $71,424. His fee has taken parallel steps, having been cut to $15,000 from an opening $25,000 before earning hikes to $40,000 and now $85,000. Last year, similarly, having slipped to 85 mares in his fourth season, he broke into the top five books in the nation with no fewer than 231 covers.
Besides the stellar Tiz the Law, in 2020 Constitution admittedly mustered just one other graded stakes winner in Laura's Light (scored at both Grade II and III level). But no fewer than 19 black-type performers represented nearly 14% of starters, building on the unarguable breadth of impact (eight graded stakes horses) made by his first juveniles the previous year. For what it may be worth, his sojourn in Chile has been no less productive with three youngsters winning Group 1s.
Constitution has put himself in the vanguard of those sons of Tapit contesting the eventual succession, and his own profile–unraced at two, clocked a 111 Beyer in the GI Donn at four–suggests that his stock should continue to consolidate from here. Like American Pharoah, his family has been seeded by one or two quirky names, but there are good horses close up on his page and, one way or another, everything is falling into place. He is becoming a model of what farms hope to achieve with a young commercial stallion.
This time last year, the game already appeared to be up for Constitution's former studmate DAREDEVIL (More Than Ready–Chasethewildwind, by Forty Niner). We should congratulate The Jockey Club of Turkey, in fact, for profiting from the panicky temperament of the American commercial market. Having imported a modest but presentable freshman sire, with 13 winners from 41 starters, they saw two of his first sophomores improve into Grade I winners and were immediately able to repatriate Daredevil to Lane's End to stand at $25,000.
Of course, it may yet prove that everyone has now overreacted to his triumph no less than they did in dismissing him as a $7,500 dud. In percentage terms, none of these stallions owes so much to their principal earner as does Daredevil to his extraordinary GI Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver–and we know that any sire can come up with one freaky good horse. Hence the vital importance of Shedaresthedevil beating Swiss Skydiver in their stunning GI Kentucky Oaks one-two; moreover, Daredevil's only other black-type winner of 2020 graduated from Ohio-bred company to chase home Vequist (Nyquist), albeit at a respectful distance, in the GI Spinaway S.
So Daredevil had 'only' three black-type horses. And he had 'as many as' three Grade I horses. You decide. He has been priced strictly for believers, but let's remember that he did all this from not quite half as many starters as American Pharoah. Naturally, Daredevil was another of the few to drive up his third crop of yearlings, who rallied to $42,403 for 28 sales (of 42 offered) from $14,260 for his second.
After such a wild ride to date, it'll be fascinating to see how he stabilizes from here. If Daredevil himself couldn't go on from a juvenile Grade I success, it's encouraging that he's half-brother to an older campaigner as hard-knocking as Albertus Maximus (Albert the Great). His big problem will be the looming bump in the road resulting from just 21 covers in 2019.
There will be no break in the traffic for TAPITURE (Tapit–Free Spin, by Olympio) at Darby Dan, where he significantly secured marginally his biggest book to date in his fifth year, up to 186 from 114 the previous year (after 525 covers across his first three seasons). He made the most of that footprint in 2020, with 16 black-type horses, albeit only one–Hopeful Growth in the GIII Monmouth Oaks–actually achieved graded stakes success. His principal earner was instead the $30,000 yearling Jesus' Team, who achieved a Classic podium in the GI Preakness S. and also emulated his sire as runner-up in the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
His prolific output secured Tapiture third place in the second-crop prize money table, albeit his percentages can duly be matched by a number of sires apparently struggling in his wake; and even he endured a declining yield at the yearling sales, down to $20,605 for 44 sold (from 67 into the ring) from $39,101 the previous year. (But that, as already noted, is pretty standard at the best of times–never mind in a pandemic market.)
In the round, he has done enough actually to advance his fee to $10,000 from $7,500, a rare distinction for a stallion at this stage of his career. His damsire introduces a backwater of the Nasrullah line but, judging from serial graded stakes performance or production by siblings, something is functioning consistently well. And, relative to many commercial sires, his key advantage is that his precocious returns could yet be consolidated by maturing stock: he won graded stakes at two, three and four.
That should also prove true of LIAM'S MAP (Unbridled's Song–Miss Macy Sue, by Trippi), who was a late starter on the track but clocked 114 Beyers for both his Grade Is at four, and arguably surpassed even those performances when run down by Honor Code in a Whitney for the ages.
The first three home in that epic all ended up at Lane's End and, while I retain no less faith in the other two, it is Liam's Map who seems to have caught a following wind to this point. He first prospered from a very useful opportunism: the two stakes winners in his first crop of juveniles did the job properly, both scoring at Grade I level. Now Liam's Map has followed through with a solid fifth in the second-crop table, with seven stakes winners at essentially the same clip as American Pharoah and Constitution. If eking a second Grade I win out of Basin was candidly a bonus, the easy winner being later disqualified, then the GII Pat Day Mile success of Rushie was a validly fresh string to their sire's bow.
By the prudent standards of his farm, 156 mares in his fifth book–despite a hike from $20,000 to $35,000–represented a return to full subscription after Liam's Map had eased slightly, in familiar fashion, to 114 the previous year. A trim back to $30,000 will doubtless help to maintain momentum, and overall he appears to be in good shape. His third crop of yearlings averaged $80,435 for 39 sold of 54, holding up their value very well (second crop $118,801) relative to most in this intake.
That can be no surprise in one who himself cost $800,000 as a yearling, and whose pedigree has only grown more aristocratic with the flying start made at stud by half-brother Not This Time (Giant's Causeway). A family like theirs, combined with six triple-digit Beyers in eight starts, meant that Liam's Map always seemed destined to make the grade. And he could not be in better hands to stay on course now.
Somehow things don't seem to have fallen quite so obligingly for HONOR CODE (A.P. Indy–Serena's Cat, by Storm Cat) on the same roster, but I believe he remains well qualified to succeed in the long term. He was unlucky that fate restricted his flagship Honor A. P. to a single performance that did justice of his true merit, in the GI Santa Anita Derby. Moreover, the odds against Honor Code are potentially now compounded by the arrival of his physically stunning son as a rival in the same stallion shed–and a rival, moreover, priced as the outstanding value of Kentucky's entire new intake.
Honor Code's quiet start with his first juveniles left him chasing the pace somewhat, and he was cut to $30,000 from an opening $40,000 to receive 85 mares last spring, following four basically full books of around 150. Half a dozen stakes horses in 2020 represented a steady gain, Honor A. P. finding his best support from the GIII Withers success/GI Travers podium of Max Player, and another cut (to $20,000) should help to maintain his appeal to more patient breeders. He certainly throws a seductive foal and $50,068 for 51 (of 73) yearlings sold from his third crop was a familiar kind of slip–for this vulnerable group, in this market–from $75,494.
He should certainly retain his appeal to anyone who might be disposed to retain a filly. The maternal line is obviously regal, while the cross between sire and damsire combines twin bulwarks of Secretariat's broodmare prowess. With plenty of maturing talent on stream, Honor Code could yet replicate his Whitney performance, when taking off from the rear and running down the trail-blazing Liam's Map. But there's no denying this looks an important year for him.
The second half of this instalment in our ongoing series will appear [in tomorrow's edition], among others featuring the likes of Tonalist, Karakontie (Jpn), Summer Front and Palace Malice, as well as our latest value podium.