By Andrew Caulfield
When it was announced that Quality Road's fee would more than double to $150,000 this year, the son of Elusive Quality had justifiably been promoted to the major league of American stallions. Only War Front, Tapit, Medaglia d'Oro and Curlin are priced above him, and Quality Road shares the same fee as Into Mischief and Justify, so he is in exalted company.
However, in an industry increasingly prone to knee-jerk reactions, demand for his services have fluctuated quite markedly over the years. For example, his book of mares fell by around a third between his first and second seasons, from 149 mares in 2011 to 91 in 2012. After a reduction of his fee to $25,000, his book revived to 136 mares in his third year, only to fall back to 110 in 2014.
That was the year Quality Road's first crop came out with all guns blazing, with his sons Hootenanny and Blofeld respectively ranking joint-third and joint-eighth among the colts on the Experimental Free Handicap. Understandably, this earned him a book of 152 mares in 2015, with his fee restored to $35,000, but 2015 wasn't a banner year for Quality Road's progeny. They failed to win a graded stake and, as a consequence, his book fell by 40 mares in 2016, leaving him with a crop of 81 2-year-olds to race this year.
Fortunately, his early crops have done so well that they have smoothed out any further bumps in the road and the stallion is enjoying a well-deserved spell of popularity, during which his fee has gone from $35,000 to $70,000 and now to $150,000.
Needless to say, he needed to achieve something fairly extraordinary to fuel these latest increases. The bare facts are that he was represented by no fewer than 11 graded stakes winners in 2017, even though his total number of starters–207– was markedly smaller than those of some of his rivals.
He went close to equalling that feat last year, when he had 10 graded winners among his 221 starters. As many as five of them scored at the highest level, and one of them, City of Light, took the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile to follow Hootenanny (Juvenile Turf) and Caledonia Road (Juvenile Fillies) as his third Breeders' Cup winner from his first five crops of racing age. He hadn't fallen far short of a fourth Breeders' Cup winner when his champion daughter Abel Tasman narrowed Forever Unbridled's winning margin to half a length in the 2017 Distaff.
Quality Road's squad of 2018 graded winners underlined his versatility, in addition to his unusual ability. They included members of his first, third, fourth and fifth crops, with the first being represented by Spring Quality (GI Manhattan S. over a mile and a quarter on turf) and Great Stuff (GIII Toboggan S. over seven furlongs). At the other end of the age scale came Lonely Road (GIII Matron S. over six furlongs on turf) and the high-class Bellafina (three graded wins, including Grade I victories in the Del Mar Debutante over seven furlongs and the Chandelier S. over 1 1/16 miles). Bellafina showed that she has lost none of her speed or ability when she easily gave weight and a beating to four opponents in the GII Santa Ynez S. over the weekend.
Quality Road himself raced only once as a 2-year-old, for a maiden special weight win at Aqueduct, and his sire Elusive Quality was unraced at two. That hasn't stopped him siring plenty of good juveniles, with Bellafina, Abel Tasman, Caledonia Road, Hootenanny, Klimt, Blofeld, Lonely Road and Road To Victory all becoming graded winners at two.
Similarly, the fact that Quality Road was a dirt specialist hasn't stopped him siring plenty of good turf performers, as did his sire Elusive Quality and grandsires Gone West and Strawberry Road. Hootenanny, Spring Quality and Illuminant have all enjoyed Grade I success on turf, while Paved, Frank Conversation, Lonely Road and Cowboy Culture are other Graded winners on turf. Perhaps the time has come for Europeans to give him more than a cursory look, as his sire enjoyed Group 1 success in Europe with Raven's Pass, Elusive City, Elusive Kate and Certify.
An interesting aspect of Bellafina's pedigree is that she is out of a Malibu Moon mare, the stakes-placed Akron Moon. Bellafina is comfortably the best winner sired so far by Quality Road from mares by sons of A.P. Indy, but there are also Grade III-placed performers out of daughters of Congrats and Bernardini, as well as Bellafina's brother Diamond King, who has been second or third in three GIIIs at up to nine furlongs.
Bellafina ranks alongside Stellar Wind, Girvin, By The Moon and My Conquestadory as one of five Grade I winners produced by daughters of Malibu Moon. Bearing in mind that Malibu Moon spent his first four years as a stallion at a very modest fee in Maryland, he had every right to make a slowish start as a broodmare sire with his eldest daughters. All five of his Grade I winners are out of mares sired after his move to Kentucky, following his eye-catching start with his first runners in 2003.
Not For Love, the non-stakes-winning stallion responsible for Bellafina's second dam Akronism, is another well-connected horse who gave Maryland breeders access to some first-rate bloodlines. Akronism took the Maryland Million Distaff H. over seven furlongs as a 3-year-old and later took the GIII Royal North S. over six furlongs on turf and the GIII Seaway S. on all-weather.
Bellafina has almost single-handedly raised this family's profile. As recently as November 2016, Akron Moon failed to find a buyer at $47,000. Two years later, after Bellafina's two Grade I successes, she was back under the hammer. Although she again failed to sell, she was RNA'd at $2,700,000, again in foal to Quality Road.