By Bill Oppenheim
Curlin retired at the end of 2008 with record earnings for a North American-trained horse of $10,501,800. California Chrome broke his record last year, and retired after the GI Pegasus with new record earnings of $14,752,650. After winning the Pegasus, ‘TDN Rising Star’ Arrogate now has earnings of $11,084,600; if he wins the G1 Dubai World Cup, for which he’s odds-on, with fellow Americans Gun Runner and Neolithic to beat, he’ll become the new record-holder with over $17 million, and if he should go on to win the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic as well, he’d retire the earner of over $20 million. Of course, it all sounds so simple when it trips off your tongue, and we all know the many pitfalls between imagining it and it actually happening, but if he stays healthy, gets a clean run and wins two more races it could actually happen.
If Arrogate does break California Chrome’s record in two weeks time, he will also propel his sire, Unbridled’s Song, into what surely would be an insurmountable lead on the 2017 North American General Sire List, and halt Tapit’s run of three consecutive sire championships; that would be $13 million in earnings by the end of March for one horse alone. Already Unbridled’s Song has a $4.3-million margin over Ghostzapper (click here). Empire Maker, now back in Kentucky at Gainesway, is currently third, with Gainesway’s headline sire Tapit fourth, although Tapit is the leading NA/EU sire with eight 2017 Black-Type winners (BTW), and is also the leader by Graded SW, with four.
Unbridled’s Song, who stood his entire career at Taylor Made, and whose 17th and final crop are 3-year-olds this year, has always been a very high-class sire, though not always a terribly consistent one from one crop to another. This isn’t so unusual; in four of his first 10 crops, Unbridled’s Song sired over 11% A Runners from named foals, yet in another four he was under 7%. We can look at the overall totals for leading sires on the TDN Cumulative General Sire List (click here), for example this list has the top 100 North American sires by career progeny earnings, and we can also look at the top 100 European sires (click here). Each NA/EU sire crop will have on average three or four stallions who become top sires; from the 1998 NA/EU sire crop (that’s first foals 1998; they stood their first seasons in 1997), the top three were Smart Strike and Unbridled’s Song in North America, and Pivotal in Europe. The small accompanying table shows career totals, extracted from the TDN Cumulative General Sire List. As you can see, from 17 crops of 3-year-olds, Smart Strike has had 117 BTW, which is 7.73% of his 1,514 named foals of racing age (this total does include 2-year-olds of 2017); Unbridled’s Song has 105 BTW (6.95% of 1,510 foals); Pivotal has 129 BTW, (8.27% of named foals.)
Of the three, Smart Strike is the one who has emerged as the best sires of sires so far, with Curlin, English Channel, Lookin At Lucky, and California phenom Square Eddie representing him. Pivotal’s best son is the Haras de Bonneval’s Siyouni, while Unbridled’s Song’s best son to date is arguably Darley’s Midshipman, though he is standing for just $8,500 this year (a big bargain). Note we say ‘to date’, however; Will Take Charge (first yearlings 2017) and Liam’s Map (first foals 2017) went to stud with arguably considerably better credentials than his earlier sons, and there are others like Graydar and Cross Traffic also yet to have runners–not to mention Arrogate. Where Unbridled’s Song has excelled is as a broodmare sire: through the end of 2016, he was the damsire of 97 ‘unique’ (counted once) A Runners, whereas Smart Strike had 63 A Runners, and Pivotal (who made a slow start as a broodmare sire, no doubt a result of his starting £5,000 stud fee) had 52 A Runners. Both Smart Strike and Pivotal are also considered very good broodmare sires, but Unbridled’s Song is a real star broodmare sire.
Ghostzapper, who, it’s easy to forget, is a half-brother to City Zip, was bred by Adena Springs and raced by Stronach Stables, and was trained by the incomparable Bobby Frankel. He won nine of his 11 starts, including the GI Vosburgh (Beyer 116) over older horses as a 3-year-old; went four-for-four as a 4-year-old and was named Horse of the Year in 2004, when he ran Beyers of 128 in the GIII Iselin and 124 in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic. He won his only start at five, the GI Met Mile (Beyer 122), and went to stud in 2006 for a $200,000 stud fee. By 2010 he was down to $30,000, and his 2012 and 2013 crops were sired off a $20,000 stud fee; Shaman Ghost is from his 2012 crop. But all is about to be forgiven and forgotten: Shaman Ghost, for one, has already won $2.2 million this year, having run second in the $12-million GI Pegasus and won last Saturday’s GI Santa Anita H. Potentially even more exciting, though, is the unbeaten GI Kentucky Derby co-favorite and ‘TDN Rising Star’ McCraken, who is from Ghostzapper’s eighth crop, sired at a $40,000 stud fee. Bred and owned by Whitham Thoroughbreds and trained by dual Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger’s long-time understudy, Ian Wilkes, McCracken went three-for-three last year as a 2-year-old, including the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. He came back with a good win in Tampa Bay’s GIII Sam F. Davis a month ago, but as has been well-documented, had to miss last Saturday’s GII Tampa Bay Derby. But he’sback on the work tab, and the Sam F. Davis form was franked in spades as the 2-3-4 that day came back to run 1-2-3 on Saturday, headed of course by the impressive $1.2-million Saratoga yearling Tapwrit (Tapit). With the unfortunate injury to ‘TDN Rising Star’ Mastery (Candy Ride) after his win in the GII San Felipe, McCracken, along with GII Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera, from Dialed In’s first crop, heads the Derby reckoning. Ghostzapper has another GSW 3-year-old, Iliad, who won the GIII San Vicente at Santa Anita before running second to Mastery in the GII San Felipe last Saturday.
We mustn’t feel too despondent on Tapit’s behalf. He has been champion sire the last three years, and probably one horse will have to win $15 million this year to stop him from winning it again. We mentioned Tapwrit, who was a convincing winner of the GII Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday. He is one of eight BTW for Tapit already this year, and, very interestingly, six of the eight are 3-year-olds, from his ninth crop. Take a look at the TDN list of Leading Sires of 3-year-olds (click here). Tapit has 14 three-year-old winners this year, of which six are BTW (four GSW), and eight are Black-Type Horses, and has 3-year-old earnings of $1.22 million. His four 3-year-old GSW include dual 2017 Grade II winner and ‘Rising Star’ Unique Bella; the aforementioned GII Tampa Bay Derby winner, Tapwrit; and, the previous weekend, two 3-year-old Grade III winners on the grass at Gulfstream Park, the colt and fellow ‘Rising Star’ Ticonderoga and the filly Dream Dancing. Second on the list of North American sires of 3-year-olds this year is Spendthrift’s Into Mischief, North America’s Leading Sire of 2-Year-Olds in 2016. From an amazing 71 3-year-old starters already this year, he has sired 19 winners and the earners of over $1.15 million, including the unbeaten GIII Southwest S. winner One Liner (trained, like Tapwrit, by Pletcher), and the GII Fountain of Youth second, Practical Joke.