Kentucky Value Sires 2020, Part III: First Yearlings

Mastery | Benoit


We've taken a breather in this series during the January Sale, where I shared many conversations on themes raised in its first two parts–notably the market's addiction to unproven stallions. Time after time, it was the same story. A shrug of the shoulders, a helpless spreading of the hands: “Yes, we know it's nuts. But we have to make the game pay.”

Fair enough. It's a bit like the individual who asks why he or she should make a massively inconvenient personal sacrifice, with regard to the climate crisis, when its impact on the global picture will be so infinitesimal.

And I flew to the sale, after all. Cutting out the carbon would have meant a long walk. So certainly I can't blame anyone in this precarious business for playing the bloodstock market as it is.

In both theaters, we all have to trust each other to do our bit; to render our individual stands collectively worthwhile. Somehow we need to make the breeding of runners the most commercial thing we can do. Because while it's barely an eighth of a mile from the sales pavilion, sometimes it feels as though the winner's circle at Keeneland might as well be on Mars.

There's one stallion out there–and we won't even specify the year he retired, never mind his name–who assembled well over 200 mares for his first season; and was down to 50-odd for his second. I don't know which is the more ridiculous figure. On the one hand, his racing performance and pedigree didn't remotely entitle him to a debut book so much bigger than is assembled by many sires of proven merit. On the other, for him to be written off when he hadn't offered a single weanling for sale, never mind tested his stock on the track, shows how even “three-and-out” is now a quaintly outdated formula.

And really, everybody loses: not just the stud accountants, at least on that model, but also mare owners. Because even if you happen to back the eventual champion freshman, you will typically have to compete with dozens of others when his first yearlings reach a sales catalogue.

Value, then, will mean very different things to the breed-to-race guy, who has never had it so good, and to those sucked into this commercial vortex.

Today we come to those sires entering their third season–at a time when their own careers are receding from memory, while their stock must still wait until next year for even a preliminary opportunity on the track.

The market has meanwhile been offered two intakes of fresh alternatives, all safely unproven. Nominations salesmen are duly obliged to work harder and harder just to keep stallions in the game long enough for a run of success on the track, and to reverse the decline that will often be legible in their fees.

If you are persuaded to persevere, of course, there's always the possibility that you land on one of those whose first runners will actually improve the market standing of the crop they conceive this spring. Few breeders will dare to increase their exposure. Yet they should keep in mind that this group of sires, by the 2022 September Sale, won't just have a second crop of juveniles up and running. They will also have a first crop showing its hand round two turns, and so indicating any eligibility to produce the type of horse required on the first Saturday in May.

That should favour the two most expensive stallions who set up shop in 2018, ARROGATE (Unbridled's Song-Bubbler, by Distorted Humor) and GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride {Arg}-Quiet Giant, by Giant's Causeway). The first didn't break his maiden until six days before the Belmont, and then pounced on the Triple Crown survivors in the GI Travers S. Gun Runner, third in the Travers, had been up and running to win the GII Risen Star S. and GII Louisiana Derby and then made the Kentucky Derby podium; but he unmistakably reached his peak the following year, chasing home Arrogate in Dubai before embarking on a spree of five consecutive Grade Is.

These two champions plainly represent models of the modern breed, brilliant and tough and progressive as they were. But nobody could sensibly expect them to be showing their full hand when Wesley Ward is trying out potential Royal Ascot dashers at Keeneland.

And it makes still less sense to judge any two-turn stallion–for better or worse–according to the faddish consensus of cocktail hour during their first weanling sales.

Both, in fairness, punched their weight very well, duly topping the averages at a very rewarding multiple of their fees, albeit from a pretty small sample. Yet Juddmonte have given breeders a pretty sensational incentive to stick with Arrogate, slashing his fee to $50,000 from $75,000 when every syllable you hear about his first mares and their foals has been positive.

Last year I met one of his first sons at Stone Farm. He was acquired in utero with his dam, and Arthur Hancock has known him as “Bones” since his foaling, so taken was he with the youngster's substance and bone. One in four of Arrogate's first book was either a Grade I winner or producer, and the handful of its graduates sold as weanlings/short yearlings (six, from seven offered) achieved an average of $251,666.

True, as a yearling acquisition himself, Arrogate doesn't offer the usual deep Juddmonte family. But his first two dams were graded stakes-placed, the second by broodmare sire legend Deputy Minister; while the third is six-time Grade I winner Meadow Star (Meadowlake). One way or another, their genes clicked in fairly epoch-making fashion with Unbridled's Song. In becoming America's richest racehorse, Arrogate outpaced consecutive Horses of the Year in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic and then in Dubai; while the staggering 13 1/2-length margin of his Travers success was underwritten by one of the sport's most storied track records.

His extraordinary tour de force in the desert appeared to leave its mark, but the dulling of his flair in the closing stages of his career should be overlooked by breeders who may never again find him so accessibly priced.

As a son of Candy Ride (Arg), Gun Runner represents the same Fappiano line as Arrogate; and it must be granted that his immediate family is somewhat more supportive of his next career, as the son of a Grade II-winning half-sister to another Horse of the Year in poor Saint Liam (Saint Ballado). (Their dam, incidentally, is by Fappiano's son Quiet American.)

On the track, Gun Runner passed Arrogate on the stairs, reaching new heights as that rival began to fade; and duly engraved his own name next in the roll of honor for both the Breeders' Cup Classic and GI Pegasus World Cup. Those wins sealed the dominant air he had established in winning other Grade Is by margins as yawning as ten and seven lengths, and Three Chimneys duly assembled books matching quality and quantity for his first two seasons.

Of 14 weanlings offered, Gun Runner found new homes for all but one at a class-leader average of $275,923, headlined by the $750,000 filly who topped the bill at Fasig-Tipton November. (By the way, to clarify: all “weanling” sales stats in this review also combine short yearling prices to date.) He duly holds his $70,000 fee, which should remain especially palatable to end-users who can back his stock, once up and running, to keep on progressing.

Another son of Candy Ride, MASTERY (Candy Ride {Arg}-Steady Course, by Old Trieste), was unfortunately denied the opportunity to fulfil his potential in the same way. In a few seconds that vividly condensed the highs and lows of our sport, he confirmed himself the horse to beat in the Derby, adding a runaway win in the GII San Felipe S. to his Grade I success at two, only to break down after the line.

What made him a blatant standout, when launched at $25,000 by Claiborne, was that his precocity and brilliance are underpinned by a third dam who is a full sister to Miswaki. His dam, closely related to Pennsylvania's serial champion sire Jump Start, combines A.P. Indy (via his son Old Trieste) and Storm Cat. Both those great sires are out of famous daughters of Secretariat, in Weekend Surprise and Terlingua; while Buckpasser recurs both as sire of Mastery's fourth dam and as damsire of Weekend Surprise (who herself duplicates Secretariat's dam Somethingroyal 2×4). With so many broodmare sire titans clustered in his maternal family, fillies by Mastery will surely have a lasting value in their second careers.

His farm reliably resisted greed in assembling a first book of 139 mares, but 84 were black-type runners/producers including the dam of Monomoy Girl (Tapizar). And it all came together in the sales ring, with 21 of 25 Mastery weanlings processed at an average $157,476. Ladies and gentlemen, form an orderly line please.

The third son of Candy Ride launched in this intake is UNIFIED (Candy Ride {Arg}-Union City, by Dixie Union). All three look promising at different levels of the market, this guy standing alongside dad at Lane's End off $10,000. He's out of a sister to a Grade II winner and boasts a Storm Bird half-sister to Dehere as third dam. Unraced at two, he landed running with a 99 Beyer on debut, promptly graduating to Grade III and Grade II wins–clocking 1:47.14 in the Peter Pan S. Though ultimately confined to seven starts, he reiterated his natural speed when only beaten a neck in the GI Carter H.

That secured him 152 mares in his debut season and, though the 31 graduates offered as weanlings made a steady enough start (20 sold at $28,360), these could hardly be earlier days–and this handsome physical did muster another six-figure book last spring. He'll have some dashing flagbearers, you would think.

Mastery's superb sales debut elevated him past two Ashford rivals who had started at higher fees, though both nonetheless managed a solid yield at fourth and fifth in the table.

CLASSIC EMPIRE (Pioneerof the Nile-Sambuca Classica, by Cat Thief) extended the farm's collection of Eclipse Award-winning juveniles, and opened up with 185 mares at $35,000. A clip to $25,000 helped maintain a six-figure book last spring, and now he gets another businesslike trim to $20,000.

That's pretty tempting about a young stallion with every right to produce runners. From the family of Harlan's Holiday, Ride the Rails and Boldnesian, his first four dams entwine strong distaff influences: respectively by Cat Thief, Miswaki, Hoist the Flag and Princequillo. They include a second dam twice placed at Grade I level and, as third dam, a half-sister to champion Revidere.

As a sophomore Classic Empire added to his two Grade I juvenile wins in the Arkansas Derby, before running fourth and second, beaten a head, in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Classic Empire faces plenty of competition among heirs to the lamented Pioneerof the Nile–think American Pharoah, Cairo Prince, Midnight Storm–but offers a pretty comprehensive package, duly retailing at $108,925 for 27 weanlings sold (of 36 offered).

Classic Empire put PRACTICAL JOKE (Into Mischief-Halo Humor, by Distorted Humor) in his place in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile: namely, third. But his future studmate was already a dual Grade I winner and then, as a sophomore, conformed to a pattern familiar in Into Mischief's cheaper early books, managing fifth when stretched out for the Kentucky Derby before reverting to seven furlongs to win the GI Allen Jerkens S.

Practical Joke is also typical of his sire's rise in that his physical and athletic distinction upgrades a pretty ordinary immediate family. That has not prevented him herding a staggering 420 assignations in his first two seasons, though he too receives a precautionary easing in fee from $30,000 to $25,000 despite moving on 34 of 43 weanlings at $103,647. He'll surely have a helpful impact as a rookie.

Ashford's other start-up was CUPID (Tapit-Pretty 'n Smart, by Beau Genius), whose 223 mares at $12,500 in his debut book was surpassed among all American sires only by Into Mischief himself. The son of Tapit's aura of brilliance was fruitfully if somewhat fitfully sustained on the track, the GI Gold Cup at Santa Anita crowning his $1.7 million earnings. A $900,000 yearling, he's out of a graded stakes-placed producer of two Grade III winners, besides Cupid, with a curious pedigree herself (her dam by Vice Regent; sire out of a mare by his brother Viceregal). Cupid found the going tougher last year, when clipped to $10,000, but creditably processed 35 of 41 weanlings at $46,214.

Another son of Tapit, MOHAYMEN (Tapit-Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union), also made a solid start from a budget fee of $7,500. A $2.2 million yearling, whose half-sibling New Year's Day (Street Cry {Ire}) has of course achieved a startling revival in his own stud reputation this year, he was an unbeaten dual Grade II winner at two who picked up seamlessly in his Derby preps. Though he derailed after finishing fourth at Churchill, it's interesting to see Tapit's third dam mirrored by her full-brother Relaunch as grandsire of Mohaymen's granddam. Here was another whose second book dwindled, but 18 of 23 weanlings sold at $37,416 is an encouraging springboard.

The mighty sire of Cupid and Mohaymen is inbred 3×4 to Mr. Prospector and there's an auspicious echo of that in another son of Pulpit, LORD NELSON (Pulpit-African Jade, by Seeking the Gold)–who features Mr. P. 3×3, as damsire of Pulpit and grandsire of his dam.

Lord Nelson had left 180 mares at the altar when his scheduled launch was scuppered by laminitis. After a plucky recovery, he was eventually able to fill a debut book of 127 mares at $25,000, maintained those numbers last spring at 131, and now gets a seductive trim to $20,000.

Though his sales debut has been fairly steady, 12 of 18 weanlings selling at $49,583, he definitely merits perseverance–whether you're a commercial breeder, tempted by the speed he showed in racking up three consecutive Grade I sprints (broke longstanding Del Mar stakes record in the Bing Crosby S. at 1:07.65); or an end-user, hoping to recycle the toughness and class in his pedigree (venerable Argentinian family, second dam was a Grade I winner and her sister produced two others including Carina Mia (Malibu Moon)). Don't be surprised if he has had a Saratoga winner or two by the time weanlings conceived this spring come to market.

KEEN ICE (Curlin-Medomak, by Awesome Again) remains advertised at $20,000 after welcoming 249 mares across his first two seasons at Calumet. I like this horse plenty. He's one of those who could actually suffer through undue promotion of his finest hour, beating Pharoah himself in the Travers, as nobody could sensibly take that form at face value. But he otherwise compiled a body of work that showed him to be extremely hardy, and only a notch below the best. When you throw his pedigree into the mix, you could see him excelling at stud if given a realistic chance.

True, he hasn't been undervalued (and why should he be?) so Keen Ice may need end-users to help make his name. Commercially, his weanlings made slim impact (27 offered, 15 sold at $32,366) but he's out of a mare by Deputy Minister's son Awesome Again, while Curlin's dam is herself by Deputy Minister–so Keen Ice is inbred 3×3 to one of the great distaff influences. The fourth dam is the Emory Hamilton matriarch Chic Shirine (Mr. Prospector), whose influence is about to be extended by Preservationist (Arch) at Airdrie; while there's a stairwell of Classic sires seeding the page. If I were breeding to race, I'd love a Keen Ice filly or two to add to my broodmare band someday.

At this early stage, however, he cannot match the commercial jostle of another son of Curlin, standing at the same fee. CONNECT (Curlin-Bullville Belle, by Holy Bull) packed four six-figure Beyers into just eight career starts, crowned in the GI Cigar Mile, to earn 275 mares in his first two seasons at Lane's End. He certainly has an outcross family, albeit one featuring some fairly accomplished runners and/or producers, but that did not put off the market: 27 of 34 weanlings rehoused at $62,166.

KLIMT (Quality Road-Inventive, by Dixie Union) proved a brisk commercial vehicle for Darby Dan at $10,000. He covered no fewer than 222 mares in his first season, and 187 in his second, a pretty astonishing footprint. Sure enough, no fewer than 57 weanlings were offered but 46 were sold at an average $42,041.

Commercial breeders obviously liked the blend of Quality Road class and GI Del Mar Futurity precocity, Klimt having clocked 1:21.8 in winning by 4 1/4 lengths, albeit he derailed at three. His pedigree (third dam a sister to Breeders' Cup Classic winner Concern) does entitle him to produce stock that can sustain his speed, but it will be a fast-and-early first crop who'll be expected to reward the fees paid this spring.

GORMLEY (Malibu Moon-Race to Urga, by Bernstein) ended Klimt's unbeaten run at two in the GI Frontrunner S. and added a second Grade I the following spring in the Santa Anita Derby, but disappeared after failing to land a blow in the Classics. After covering 307 mares through his first two seasons at Spendthrift, he has sold 29 of 40 weanlings at $31,227 and gets a trim from $10,000 to $7,500.

There are some interesting turf elements behind Gormley: his second dam Classic-placed in Europe, his fourth being champion grass mare Estrapade. Given that his sire Malibu Moon is out of a top-class French juvenile, there could be a dimension here untapped in Gormley's own career.

One who left no doubt as to his versatility, with triple-digit Beyers on both dirt and turf, was MIDNIGHT STORM (Pioneerof the Nile-My Tina, by Bertrando). The son of Pioneerof the Nile won Grade II prizes four years running and wired the GI Shoemaker Mile field for an overall record of ten-for-27 (earning $1.78 million), buttressed by a family of corresponding, old-school merit: his third dam was by Vertex, who was foaled in 1954 and won 17 of 25 starts.

Midnight Storm remained industrious at Taylor Made, opening with 207 mares across his first two years, meanwhile clipped from $12,500 to $10,000. His weanlings average $27,700, but ten of 11 have sold and they should benefit from the kind of teak and diversity that can be priceless to so many modern mares.

Another whose pedigree compresses the decades is AMERICAN FREEDOM (Pulpit-Gottcha Last, by Pleasant Tap), whose third dam is by Cyane. From the final crop of Pulpit, he is aptly out of Gottcha Last, herself a stakes winner and dam of a multiple graded stakes winner besides this $500,000 September yearling, who proceeded to win the GIII Iowa Derby and get closest of Arrogate's pursuers in the Travers. He went to stud with a strong commitment both from the Wests, in whose silks he raced, and his hosts at Airdrie–and that has translated into 248 mares in his first two books. So he has been given every chance at $10,000, despite a low-key weanling yield (23 of 35 sold at $26,508).

Seeking a niche at a smaller farm is WILDCAT RED (D'wildcat-Racene, by Miner's Mark) at Buck Pond. He didn't go on but was dashing in his youth, a dual graded stakes winner beaten a neck by Constitution (Tapit) in the GI Florida Derby. And while his farm couldn't be expected to corral a great herd of mares, at $7,500 he offers brawn and speed with, for instance, breeze-show potential.

At the other end of the farm scale, Jonabell's 2018 newcomer ASTERN (AUS) (Medaglia d'Oro-Essaouira {Aus}, by Exceed And Excel {Aus}) majored in Aussie speed–a good example, as such, of the overall diversity of the El Prado (Ire) branch of the Sadler's Wells sire-line, compared with its principal agents in Europe.

Being a reverse shuttler, the son of Medaglia d'Oro is half a year ahead of the rest of this intake and recently sold one of his first Australian yearlings for Aus$725,000 (c$500,000). They know his worth down there, having witnessed Group 1 wins both by Astern himself and his half-sister Alizee (Aus) (Sepoy {Aus}). Third and fourth dams also scored at the highest level, and in his homeland he commands double the fee he does here (now $10,000, down from $15,000).

That reflects limited traction with his first U.S. weanlings, 13 of 20 selling at $22,000, but a couple of hundred mares through his first two Kentucky books will give him every chance to show whether his speed and cosmopolitan pedigree will work in this environment. There's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't–but I guess we know how culpably myopic breeders everywhere tend to be, about all such transferability. So while he is yet to get due recognition here, his third crop could end up riding a wave.

Another Southern Hemisphere transfusion is available through BAL A BALI (BRZ) (Put It Back-In My Side {Brz}, by Clackson {Brz}), held at $15,000 by Calumet. He barely dipped his toe into the sales ring, but 199 covers to date should allow him to test the substance of a pretty exotic career–having disclosed toughness as well as class to recover from laminitis and add two American Grade Is to the resume he imported as Horse of the Year in his homeland. He's something different, which should be at an increasing premium for the breed.

The first weanlings by SHAMAN GHOST (Ghostzapper-Getback Time, by Gilded Time), bred in California before his transfer to Adena Springs in Kentucky, likewise received marginal exposure to the sales ring. But he has covered 159 mares in his migration, and $7,500 gets you a Canadian sophomore champion who then earned his stripes on dirt, south of the border, with two Grade I wins and podiums behind Arrogate in the Pegasus and Gun Runner in the GI Clark H. Some pretty left-field names seed his family but they clearly laid a seam of class and toughness.

Another Canadian star decorates a more familiar pedigree behind MR. Z (Malibu Moon-Stormy Bear, by Storm Cat), who is out of a half-sister to the prolific turf champion Chief Bearhart (Chief's Crown). This is a very well-bred millionaire, his third dam being a half-sister to Mr Prospector, who recurs as damsire of his father Malibu Moon. Mr. Z's second book was small but his page entitles him to punch weight off $5,000 at Calumet–where exactly the same holds true of WAR CORRESPONDENT (War Front-Tempo West, by Rahy), a brother to Declaration of War out of a half-sister to Union Rags.

BIRD SONG (Unbridled's Song-Bird Town, by Cape Town) has reached a similar junction at Gainesway: a small second book at the same fee doesn't prohibit him adding to the distinction in his immediate family (out of Bird Town, Classic-winning half-sister to a Classic winner). He was an accomplished runner, if hardly in the same league as the other stallion by his sire in this group. And the beauty of this game is that Bird Song, relatively unfashionable as he is, remains perfectly entitled to produce a champion at a fraction of the cost.


Gold: Mastery, $25,000 Claiborne
Stellar sales debut completes the certainty that everything is in place

Silver: Classic Empire, $20,000 Coolmore
Consecutive trims despite strong profile, books and weanling yield

Bronze: Astern (Aus), $10,000 Jonabell
Ripples from Australia suggest his third KY crop could ride a wave

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