Kentucky Value Sires 2020, Part V: First 3-Year-Olds


Karakontie (Jpn) | Gainesway


After surveying the four intakes since, each still safely immune from judgement on the track itself, today we finally reach the first group of stallions who have actually tested their ability to replicate the talent that first earned them–however marginally, in some cases–a place at stud.

Their first juveniles, last year, at least permitted some initial response to any erosion of their reputations, through the notoriously jittery and impressionable consensus of the yearling market. Yet there are few more instructive indices of the odds against them than the contrast between the typical averages achieved by their first and second crops of yearlings. Almost invariably, these will already have entered a decline that only some will ever reverse.

It remains far too early, of course, to reach reliable conclusions about many stallions when only their most precocious stock have tested the water. The blood we should covet most, after all, is supposed to get you through two turns on the first Saturday in May. And there have been plenty of champion freshmen, down the years, who have soon proved themselves too one-dimensional, and often too mediocre, to do that.

Yet those stallions to have made a quiet start with their first two-year-olds will often pay so savage a price at the sales that the game is effectively up already. Commercial breeders who blindly support unproven stallions show ludicrous impatience as soon as the merit (or otherwise) of their investment is in danger of exposure.

This series has repeatedly amplified the dangers to the breed of corralling the majority of mares to sires who will never again command a fee as high as their opening one. But what we haven't yet done is acknowledge our own complicity, in the media. The other day I mentioned one young stallion whose debut book, well past 200, shrank to barely 50 in his second year–yet we can hardly blame that crazy state of affairs entirely on his farm, when all bloodstock publications devote such attention to the performance of first-season sires. So I guess collective problems call for a collective widening of perspective.

One way or another, anyway, the big winner of 2019 was unmistakably CONSTITUTION (Tapit—Baffled by Distorted Humor). Yes, he was launched onto a sea of volume at WinStar, the 98 members of his first crop through the ring in 2018 having outnumbered any other member of the intake. Three-quarters of them found a home at an average $71,424, which placed him ninth in the table and represented a solid enough yield on a $25,000 cover.

His second crop, however, soared to third at $95,314. Because while the son of Tapit had the kind of numerical footprint that required success in reasonable quantity, there's no arguing with the quality that flavored his crop-high 29 individual winners–highlighted by the GI Champagne S. success of Tiz The Law, and three other graded stakes winners including the dazzling Independence Hall.

Tiz The Law confirmed himself among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby when winning the GIII Holy Bull S. last Saturday, while this weekend Independence Hall puts his own case in the GIII Sam F. Davis S. Those two, moreover, could be joined on the Classic trail this spring by Gouverneur Morris, who remains a promising work in progress after an immediate elevation in class and distance (runner-up in the GI Breeders' Futurity) following a nine-length debut success at Saratoga.

With sophomores like these in play, Constitution is plainly on his way. His books having begun to erode, in the usual way, he was actually cut from $25,000 to $15,000 for last season. But he'll now have no shortage of business at his revised fee of $40,000.

Remember he didn't run at two, so his juveniles represent a very positive foot in the door. Like his sire, he won a springtime Grade I as a sophomore; but he was also able to add the GI Donn H. (111 Beyer) at four. There's still a long road ahead before he can be anointed any kind of long-term successor to Tapit, but he could hardly have made a more promising start.

If Constitution surpassed expectations, then we shouldn't take for granted the success of the year's other dominant freshman, simply because it was no less than everyone anticipated of the first Triple Crown winner in a generation.

At an opening fee of $200,000, soon designated “private” at Ashford, AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof The Nile—Littleprincessemma by Yankee Gentleman) embarked on his second career with little margin for error. Hats off to him, then, for mustering an all-the-way Grade I sprint winner at the Breeders' Cup from his first crop. The fact that Four Wheel Drive won those laurels on the turf, moreover, was only the most vivid of many corroborations for the theory that American Pharoah–author of the most iconic dirt achievement available to the breed–has the potential to become a potent transatlantic influence.

In fact, his black-type/graded-stakes winners all came on the grass. But this partly reflects the distribution of his stock, which was immediately coveted in Europe too, and overall his 27 winners were essentially divided half-and-half between surfaces. While he was obviously an elite juvenile himself, it's exciting that American Pharoah should already have laid down such a marker even before his foals venture into the kind of dirt Classic environment in which he himself excelled.

Naturally, Coolmore have backed him with quantity as well as quality, with 600 mares across his first three books. And even with a second Triple Crown winner plus Mendelssohn added to their roster last year (with an eye-watering 252 covers apiece), American Pharoah still mustered 178 mares. Let's see what his sophomores can do but so far he hasn't missed a beat, from the moment he sent his first, prized weanlings into the ring.

The first crop of PALACE MALICE (Curlin—Palace Rumor by Royal Anthem) likewise produced a Breeders' Cup winner on turf. Structor had already suggested himself to be out of the ordinary as a $160,000 Keeneland September pinhook who made $850,000 as an OBS 2-year-old, and the talk is that he will now switch over to dirt and throw his hat into the Derby ring.

Which is fair enough, given that his sire won the Belmont before dropping down to win the GI Met Mile at four, in the course of racking up eight consecutive triple-digit Beyers. Three Chimneys had clipped Palace Malice to $15,000 last spring, from an opening $20,000, after he covered 158 mares in his first book and just 65 in his third. (Remember he had an unrewarding fourth year in training, so memories of his peak were beginning to fade.) That trim to his fee evidently helped him steady the ship, as he mustered a solid fourth book of 91, and Structor has promptly filled the sails to the extent that Palace Malice is now up to $25,000.

His stats beyond Structor are admittedly matched, in percentage terms, by several others in the intake, so his story just shows how precariously these young stallions depend on an early headliner. As it is, Palace Malice did something beyond nearly all of them, with his second crop, and almost precisely maintained his yearling average (at around $75,000). Moreover his own career suggests that his stock will keep building as they mature and Palace Malice, himself a graduate of his sire's first crop, looks eligible for the growing competition among the affordable sons of Curlin.

None of this group wrote his headlines more efficiently than LIAM'S MAP (Unbridled's Song—Miss Macy Sue by Trippi), whose two stakes winners both won Grade Is: Basin, in the Hopeful, and Wicked Whisper in the Frizette.

A late developer himself, Liam's Map was making a quiet start with his early runners until taking off at Saratoga. He's a conduit for some timeless Nerud blood and his Breeders' Cup performance, like that of half-brother Not This Time, confirmed that we are dealing with a seam of genetic gold.

Lane's End have managed Liam's Map as wisely as you would expect, with no giddy ups and downs but solid three-figure books through his first four years. He responded with a highly successful sales debut, his median six times his $25,000 opening fee, much as you would expect of a horse who himself raised $800,000 as a September yearling.

Nonetheless he received a precautionary trim to $20,000: the gray always promised to be a long-term play. As it was, those two stunning injections of Grade I publicity have immediately inflated his fee to $35,000, and maintained a six-figure average (behind only American Pharoah) with his second crop of yearlings.

Early success will often prove a flash in the pan but Liam's Map has such a strong pedigree that he seems plainly capable of sustaining this start. One thing is for sure: the $20,000 tag that earned him a “gold” recommendation on the value podium last year is receding in the rear-view mirror.

His studmate HONOR CODE (A.P. Indy—Serena's Cat by Storm Cat) has experienced contrasting fortunes, trimmed from $40,000 to $30,000 after failing to decorate any of his 14 winners with black type–and duly finding the going rather tougher with his second crop at the sales, albeit still ranking fourth in the intake.

But while he lacked the precocious animals to trade numerical blows with those who had more industrial backing, he had basically maintained a full book through his fourth year after a warm reception for his first yearlings.

Like Liam's Map, his two Grade Is at the age of four lent fresh distinction to one of the noblest families around; but he was also able to show his flair at two, winning the GII Remsen S. That didn't necessarily mean he was going to land running, however, and a glossy overall package–in pedigree, physique and performance–of course remains wholly undiminished by this low-key start.

Sure enough, last Saturday Honor Code notched a first graded stakes success through Max Player, in the GIII Withers S. Max Player was making a big step forward from two starts in Parx maidens and others in the crop will doubtless keep developing along the same lines. Certainly I'd remain confident that Honor Code can still contribute to the legacy of A.P. Indy. Quite apart from the royalty in his own family (Serena's Song etc), the cross between the farm's venerable patriarch and a Storm Cat mare combines Secretariat's celebrated daughters Weekend Surprise and Terlingua. One way or another, an Honor Code filly will always retain value–whatever she does on the track. And Honor Code could yet replicate his GI Whitney S. display, when way off the early pace before running down the trailblazing Liam's Map.

Also finishing well that day, for third, was TONALIST (Tapit—Settling Mist by Pleasant Colony)–who joined the other pair at Lane's End only to have his fee halved to $15,000 after failing to match their early traction. But while he was down to 63 mares in his fourth book, their owners could well have the last laugh.

Like Palace Malice, Tonalist is a Belmont winner who later recorded Grade I success at a mile, and collected triple-digit Beyers for fun in a hard-knocking career in which he banked $3.6 million. And his bottom line measures up even to his two regal contemporaries at Lane's End, his first two dams being half-sisters respectively to the mother of Havre De Grace (Saint Liam) and to champion Plugged Nickle (Key To The Mint); while his third is Broodmare of the Year Toll Booth.

Having made his only juvenile start in November, Tonalist was never likely to produce a cavalcade of Keeneland sprint maiden winners. But he remains a legitimate option to anyone in the business of breeding a runner, and his 16 winners last term were just a foundation stone. He wrapped up the year with a first stakes winner, by nine lengths, and the same filly, Tonalist's Shape, then gave her sire a graded stakes breakthrough in the GIII Forward Gal S. last weekend. Tonalist has every right to keep flourishing after fast-buck breeders have taken their money and fled from stallions of ostensibly “commercial” allure.

Another tough son of Tapit, TAPITURE (Tapit—Free Spin by Olympio), has been in consistent demand off $7,500–assembling monster books at Darby Dan of 176, 165, 184 and 114. Having got closest to Goldencents (Into Mischief) in the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, and won graded stakes three seasons running, he did not squander his strength in numbers when launching his first crop.

His 27 winners included a couple at black-type level, and Premier Star is apparently on his way to the GI Florida Derby after beating a smart colt on debut and following up impressively in allowance company at Gulfstream a couple of weeks ago. Tapiture's pedigree looks brighter than it did a year ago, too, his brother having meanwhile won a Grade III even as his sister produced a stakes-winning juvenile.

Another who converted a huge first book into plenty of winners–26 in all–was WICKED STRONG (Hard Spun—Moyne Abbey by Charismatic), who covered no fewer than 190 mares at Spendthrift in 2016. His numbers have been very uneven since, eroding his fee from $10,000 to $6,000, but he was back up to 131 last spring after turning round a modest auction debut with some rewarding 2-year-old sales.

He has already had a pretty hectic second career, then, and suffered the standard cooling with his second crop. But he is, of course, only just getting started in terms of the reasons why a horse goes to stud. Certainly he is entitled, as a hard-knocking son of his thriving sire, to produce runners–and runners who last, too. After closing to within half a length of Honor Code in the GII Remsen at two, he landed his Grade I in the Wood Memorial (1:49.16) and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby before beating Tonalist in the GII Jim Dandy S.; and then stuck gamely to his task at four.

For plenty of commercial breeders, no doubt, he has already done his job. But if that means he may not be inundating future catalogs in quite the same way, arguably he's a value play now.

COMPETITIVE EDGE (Super Saver—Magdalena's Chase by Cape Town) has experienced a similarly bewildering start to his stud career, barely matching his first book of 160 mares in three years since. But that big first crop did what was required, mustering 27 winners to move him back up to $12,500 (had dipped to $7,500).

He had made an explosive start on the track, too–a $750,000 2-year-old who won a Saratoga maiden and then the GI Hopeful by daylight–only to derail in his second summer. His pedigree becomes quite interesting further back, and he raised four black-type winners from that debut crop. Anyhow Competitive Edge appears to be back in business for Coolmore, in fact bucking the usual negative trend by actually moving up the average of his second yearling crop ($53,468 from $48,252 for his first).

RACE DAY (Tapit—Rebalite by More Than Ready), remarkably, also mustered four stakes winners from just 16 overall, good news for those who secured him another six-figure book in his fourth season at Spendthrift. In jostling for position among sons of Tapit, he had taken the standard slide in numbers after an opening book of 155 but has now earned fresh momentum upped to $7,500. Remember he racked up some big numbers on the clock, along with three graded stakes, and is out of a half-sister to GI Kentucky Oaks winner Lite Light (Majestic Light).

LEA (First Samurai—Greenery by Galileo (Ire)), similarly, found two black-type winners from just eight overall. He's by an under-rated sire out of a mare by Europe's colossus, and showed corresponding versatility himself. In consecutive starts he was collared close home in the Woodmine Mile on turf, and then chased home Liam's Map in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He redeemed those Grade I near-misses in the Donn H. and, while he has had some topsy-turvy book sizes, is plainly in good hands off $7,500 at Claiborne.

BAYERN (Offlee Wild—Alittlebitearly by Thunder Gulch) remains an interesting horse. He made an impressive sales debut, managing a six-figure average off a $15,000 fee, and followed through on the track with 23 winners from 54 starters. Hopefully that will restore momentum, as he was down to just 48 mares in his fourth book and his second crop struggled at the sales (albeit while achieving an exceptional clearance rate).

His sire was always going to make things tough, commercially, Bayern having emerged too late to prevent his export to Turkey. But the bottom line is the stuff of legend, with the matriarch Courtly Dee as close up as his third dam. And the way he carried his speed on the track should make Bayern appealing to every kind of agenda: he won the GII Woody Stephens by 7 1/2 lengths in 1:20.75 before later stretching out to win the GI Breeders' Cup Classic. Unfortunately that luster faded during a disappointing campaign at four, but that set him up to be the value he is today at Hill 'n' Dale. Bayern is an awful lot of horse for the money.

CARPE DIEM (Giant's Causeway—Rebridled Dreams by Unbridled's Song) also made a solid start at the sales and duly mustered a fourth book of 130 at WinStar, building on no fewer than 439 matings to that point. His first campaign yielded 17 winners, but his farm has made a remarkably business-like response to the tougher round of sales he experienced, like so many, with second crop: he will stand this year at $15,000, down from $25,000.

Obviously a lot of breeders will have been seeking the genes that powered a six-length Grade I win on his second juvenile start, and there's no denying that there was something exciting about his raw talent. For a Giant's Causeway youngster to wire a sprint maiden field on debut at Saratoga was something else, and so was the $1.6 million he had cost that spring when topping OBS March.

Perhaps his disappearance after the Kentucky Derby encouraged misapprehensions that he would be an influence only for precocity. But the Blue Grass S. winner—his sire's only elite success on dirt—could yet give us the type of stock to excel with a bit of time and distance. (His dam, already a Grade I producer, is by Unbridled's Song.) At his new fee, and with plenty of volume to liven up his news feed, I'd say now could be a smart time to get involved.

COMMISSIONER (A.P. Indy—Flaming Heart by Touch Gold), runner-up to Tonalist in the Belmont, started out at the same farm off $7,500 and now has a graded stakes winner, Island Commish, to add to the couple of black-type juvenile winners among 17 overall last year.

The son of A.P. Indy had maintained a fourth three-figure book, and his page has meanwhile received quite an upgrade from his half-sister's son Vino Rosso (Curlin). His dam is by Touch Gold, i.e. broodmare sire gold, and his grand-dam is duplicates Rough Shod II's son Lt. Stevens 3×3. Lasting foundations, there, for anyone inclined to breed from a daughter of Commissioner.

SUMMER FRONT (War Front—Rose Of Summer by El Prado (Ire)) holds his $10,000 fee at Airdrie after putting some intriguing straws into the wind: his first graded stakes winner Fighting Seabee, for instance, then made an eye-catching switch to dirt when closing well for second in the Street Sense S. at Churchill. Ete Indien, a Gulfstream allowance winner on the dirt, then ran an excellent second in the GII Holy Bull S.; while the other day another son dominated a Fair Grounds sprint maiden switched to the main track.

So just as his sire is more versatile than generally allowed, here's another who could be parlaying his acceleration and toughness–undefeated stakes winner at two, graded stakes winner in each of the next three seasons, beaten two lengths in the GI Breeders' Cup Mile–into unexpected directions. Remember Summer Front's dam, herself responsible for another elite juvenile scorer in Laragh (Tapit), is a half-sister to a Grade I winner on dirt in Siphonic (Siphon {Brz}).

A $475,000 2-year-old, at a time when his sire was still standing at $15,000, Summer Front is making his looks tell, too: a couple of his first crop similarly made quite a splash at European breeze-up sales, even as many round the ring were scratching their heads over their catalogs.

For those actually prepared to walk the walk on turf blood, which talkers set at such a high premium nowadays, KARAKONTIE (Jpn) (Bernstein—Sun Is Up by Sunday Silence) is another interesting prospect.

Of the dozen juvenile winners in his first crop, three scored at black-type level; and one gave the trainer of a small British stable only his second Group success in a 13-year career. That's no less than you'd expect of a horse offering Kentucky breeders the very cream of the European breed.

His third dam is Miesque, for goodness sake, and he inherited the class to win a juvenile Group 1 and a Classic in France before notching the top turf Beyer of the year in the GI Breeders' Cup Mile. Unfortunately it did not pay to keep Karakontie in training, which possibly contributed to his lack of early traction at Gainesway; but his fourth book of 69 actually represented an improvement on his second and third, perhaps a response to a fee trim from $15,000 to just $10,000.

For a top-class miler from the family of Kingmambo to trade at that kind of money is a pretty damning commentary, if hardly a surprising one, on current prejudices in Kentucky. I'd wager short odds that he'll sire top-class runners, but that seems a pretty marginal priority for commercial breeders just now.

Kitten's Joy knows all about that, of course. And the turf Titan surfaces as a half-brother to the second dam of FAST ANNA (Medaglia d'Oro—Dreaming Of Anna by Rahy), whose own sire has become a hallmark of the versatility of the El Prado (Ire) line.

Fast Anna is himself a good example of that diversity, having majored in dirt speed. Though unraced as a juvenile, he showed blistering pace in his first two races and was only collared late in the GI King's Bishop. That turned out to be the highlight, but his mother is champion juvenile Dreaming Of Anna (Rahy) and of his 11 first-crop winners, three scored at black-type level. That helped his second crop of yearlings hold up better than most, year on year, and justly elevated him to $10,000 from $7,500 at Three Chimneys.

MR SPEAKER (Pulpit—Salute by Unbridled) had a tough break to overcome after being stranded in Chile, and his book at Lane's End last spring was unsurprisingly modest as a result. But he's clawing back lost ground with Three Technique, who ran such a promising race in the Smarty Jones S. the other day. Out of a Grade II-placed daughter of Personal Ensign, Mr Speaker won a Grade I on turf but his pedigree entitles him to summon up real dirt class at $10,000.

SKY KINGDOM (Empire Maker—Sky Beam by Kingmambo) made a quiet start with four winners but one of them included a conspicuous talent in Wrecking Crew, an $875,000 2-year-old with two Grade I podiums to his name. Though Sky Kingdom himself couldn't convert his genes to success beyond Grade III level, his dam is out of a Classic-placed sister to A.P. Indy and, following the loss of his sire, he can contribute to the legacy off $5,000 at Darby Dan.

Another flying the flag for a lamented sire is PALACE (City Zip—Receivership by End Sweep). As winner of two Grade I sprints at Saratoga, the Vanderbilt in 1:08.56 and the Forego in 1:21.95, he appealed as very fairly priced by Spendthrift at $6,000 and duly made a lively start with his first crop. A $570,000 Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic 2-year-old filly showed the way, and she became one of by 17 winners from just 40 starters (and is meanwhile Grade II-placed).

Palace has a good shape to the numbers behind him, a fourth book of 120 last year being the biggest since his first, and a record of 30 starts across four seasons suggests that his stock will keep thriving. All in all, with a trim to $5,000, he looks a highly feasible commercial option at the bottom rung of his farm's roster.

Besides being one of several in this intake with some aristocratic genes, JACK MILTON (War Front—Preserver by Forty Niner) at Crestwood $6,500 also offers access to an accomplished racing record. He was the hardy author of graded stakes success on turf at three, four and five, when a first and second at Grade I level proved him to be better than ever; and flash numbers at a mile, combined with an aristocratic Claiborne family, represents a breeder's grail. Eight winners represented a perfectly solid start, relative to his relatively modest opening book.

Buck Pond can similarly hope for more from CONVEYANCE (Indian Charlie—Emptythetill by Holy Bull), responsible for five winners from just 19 starters. The gray likewise has a pretty storied bottom line–tracing all the way back, in fact, to Alcibiades–and showed that he had been born with an engine when winning his first four starts, three at graded stakes level. He has limited numbers behind him but one of them is a fee of $3,500.

WE MISS ARTIE (Artie Schiller—Athena's Gift by Fusaichi Pegasus), who also has a small footprint, managed three winners from just ten starters, one promptly adding a stakes podium. The son of Artie Schiller is the latest wager on the El Prado (Ire) line for Ramsey Farms, and retails a juvenile Grade I success at $5,000.

Chris McGrath's Value Podium

Gold: Karakontie, $10,000 Gainesway
Someday elite turf quality will get more than lip service

Silver: Bayern, $15,000 Hill 'n' Dale
Something for all agendas: fast on the track, timeless on the page

Bronze: Tonalist, $15,000 Lane's End
A sleeper, entitled to generate an overdue vogue on the track

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