Saturday Sires: Into Mischief

Into Mischief at Spendthrift | Sarah Andrew

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It was inevitable Into Mischief would be featured early on in our 'Saturday Sires' series, as his picture would probably be next to the phrase in the dictionary if the term appeared there. The five-time leading sire has now surpassed the remarkable threshold of 150 stakes winners with yet another graded winner this past weekend.

Maybe it's a coincidence the phrase 'Saturday afternoon horses' came in vogue around the rise of Into Mischief, but maybe it isn't. After all, he practically invented the term. More than any other horse in recent memory, he has embodied the ability to get breeders and owners those big horses over and over again.

“Brilliant and consistent are the two words I think I would use to describe Into Mischief,” said Spendthrift's general manager, Ned Toffey, by phone Tuesday. “He's brilliant in the sense that he can get you any kind of a runner, tremendously talented runners, runners at the highest level; and consistent in that even if he gets you a horse that isn't brilliant, he'll still get you a useful, hard- knocking horse. That's what sets him apart.”

The other thing that sets Into Mischief apart are his numbers. Punching at the stunning career number of 21% stakes performers to starters with his 13th crop at the races this year, he is currently leading the 2024 general sires list. That territory is nothing new for him as he's captured the leading sire title the last five years running. If Into Mischief does it again this year, he would break his three-way tie with Bull Lea and Nasrullah in the modern era. That's heady territory. And with no signs of slowing down, he's swiftly closing in on legendary eight-time leader Bold Ruler.

Toffey and the Spendthrift team don't take the success for granted.

“In this game there's always highs and lows. I think there's enough lows in this game that it makes you appreciate the highs. If we didn't, we should probably go do something else.”

Not too many weekends go by without Into Mischief adding additional highs. When Clearly Unhinged won the GIII Winning Colors S. at Churchill Downs on Memorial Day–with another of stallion's daughters, Dazzling Blue, filling out the exacta–it was widely reported she was the 150th stakes winner and 75th graded winner for the Spendthrift Farm super sire. It turns out she was actually his 151st. The honor of the 150th should have gone to Pyrenees, who won the GIII Pimlico Special S. the day before the Preakness. Leave it to Into Mischief to causally blow by that milestone and then exceed it before anyone realized.

And while Clearly Unhinged also turned out to be her sire's 74th graded winner, instead of his 75th, is there any doubt the actual 75th will follow in short order?

It wasn't always quite so crystal clear. The late B. Wayne Hughes stood his first four stallions at Spendthrift in 2008. The year before, he had purchased a 2-year-old son of Harlan's Holiday for $180,000 at OBS. The catalogue page for the colt out of Leslie's Lady was solid, but not spectacular, and she had produced two winners from her two previous foals.

Trained by Richard Mandella, Into Mischief would become the mare's first stakes winner with his GI Cashcall Futurity victory in 2007. After three more starts for Into Mischief at three–a Damascus S. win and placings in both the GI Malibu S. and GII San Vicente S.–Hughes brought him home to Spendthrift to stand his first season in 2009. Into Mischief would be the first stallion Hughes offered through the 'Share the Upside' program, an at-the-time revolutionary idea where breeders earn shares in young sires they support.

Into Mischief's fee started at $12,500 his first year, dropped to $10,000 for his second, and eventually went as low as $7,500 in 2012 for his fourth season. His first four crops yielded a grand total of 141 named foals, a far cry from today's reality for the now-established sire who stands for an advertised price of $250,000, or 20 times his introductory fee.

The year before Into Mischief's first runners, Hughes bought his half-sister by Henny Hughes at Keeneland September for the same price–$180,000–he had purchased his young sire. Also sent to Mandella, that filly would win her first Breeders' Cup in 2012, two weeks before Into Mischief would get his first stakes winner as a sire. That first stakes winner for Into Mischief would be Goldencents, who would later win two Breeders' Cups of his own, stand alongside his sire at Spendthrift, and become Into Mischief's first son to sire a GI Kentucky Derby winner when Mystik Dan won earlier this month.

TDN Stallions: Into Mischief from Thoroughbred Daily News on Vimeo.

Into Mischief's female family was just getting warmed up at the same time his first crop was two–that other Hughes colorbearer was Beholder, who would win four championships and three Breeders' Cups and is now a Grade I producer in Spendthrift's broodmare band. Another half-brother, Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), would sell for $3 million, win a Breeders' Cup of his own, and is now a Coolmore stallion. Leslie's Lady would be named Broodmare of the Year in 2016.

But no one was warming up quite like Into Mischief. He's been unstoppable since that first stakes winner a dozen years ago, adding seven U.S. and Canadian champions, a GI Kentucky Oaks winner, and six individual Breeders' Cup winners. He became the first sire in the 150-year history of the Kentucky Derby to have back-to-back winners. No fewer than 21 of his 74 graded winners have been at Grade I level; he got his first international Group 1 winner earlier this year in no less than the Dubai World Cup. He's had 44 'TDN Rising Stars' to date; 11 of his stakes winners have set track or course records. As his books have continued to improve, has he even reached the peak of his powers yet? What is there left to say about Into Mischief, other than to marvel at his prowess and wonder what heights he will yet reach?

At 19 now, he remains in good health.

“He's bred a full book of mares this year,” said Toffey. “His libido and fertility is still right there with the very best stallions here at the farm. It is very, very rare that he is ever more than a one-jump horse when a mare comes into the shed. He's really very remarkable. If every stallion handled himself the way Into Mischief does, the job would be easy.”

Toffey said Into Mischief bred right around 200 mares this season and handles the number with ease. When asked how the farm decides which mares to accept for such a premier stallion, he indicated a trust in the breeders and the market.

“There are certainly mares we turn away, but most people understand what type of mare they need to send to him. Right now there's a number of very solid stallions that are upper range, in the six-figure range. That spreads it out. The way the market tends to be, there's not as many breeders with mares that warrant that type of a stud fee.”

When asked if there is any type of mare the farm tries to avoid matching with the leading sire, Toffey said with a laugh: “Haven't found them yet!”

Is there a type of mare that suits Into Mischief best?

“He's just over 16 hands, certainly not a short stallion, but not a tall stallion either,” said Toffey. “There's a natural tendency when a stallion is less expensive for people to send smaller, more quick mares. As a horse improves and the fee goes up, people breed classier, two-turn types of mares. That has worked well for him. For example, Juddmonte has a lot of Empire Maker mares and has patronized him very well. Physically and mentally, those types of mares are really compatible with him. At the same time, Speightstown and Distorted Humor mares really work on paper and those mares aren't necessarily thought of as particularly stretchy, leggy types.

 

Clearly Unhinged, adding to her sire's graded stakes winners Monday | Renee Torbit/Coady Media

“I think that over time what we've seen is that he's just a very good sire and there's an awful lot of stuff that works with him.”

A glance at the broodmare sires of Into Mischief's stakes winners bears this out. A wide range of damsire lines are represented, with Empire Maker specifically having seven (five graded, including two Grade Is). Speightstown also has seven (four graded, two Grade Is); Distorted Humor has nine (three graded, two Grade Is). Tapit, Indian Charlie, Unbridled's Song, Galileo (Ire)–they're all there, as are less prominent broodmare sires ranging from Vicar to Gilded Time to Tiz Wonderful and Kafwain. Somehow they all work.

“Into Mischief tends to stamp them all. He's so consistent, but he also gets all types,” said Toffey.

“His sons standing here are a good microcosm of what we get from Into Mischief. Goldencents is more compact, a shorter type of horse. Authentic is 16.2 and more greyhound than bulldog. Maximus Mischief is a combination of them both: a big, powerful horse with a massive amount of leg. He stands over a lot of ground.”

Spendthrift has also been quick to see the potential for Into Mischief's own daughters as producers.

“A number of years ago, we made pretty substantial investment in our broodmare band. Our primary selection was performance, conformation, race record. A lot of those mares are going to Into Mischief. Their fillies have stayed in the program and will race and the majority of those will stay on as broodmares. We've got a number of his daughters that are 2-year-olds right now and we will have more in the future.

“I think he is already establishing himself as a broodmare sire,” said Toffey. “White Abarrio was by a stallion that we don't stand any more [Race Day], out of a mare that was relatively nondescript except that she was by Into Mischief. I think he'll continue to do more.”

It's early days for Into Mischief's daughters as producers, but in addition to White Abarrio, who won last year's GI Breeders' Cup Classic, as well as the 2023 GI Whitney S. and 2022 GI Florida Derby, he has another 15 black-type winners. His other four graded winners as broodmare sire include last month's GI Madison S. winner Alva Starr (Lord Nelson) and this spring's GIII Lecomte S. winner and Derby 11th Track Phantom (Quality Road).

Whether in the position of sire or broodmare sire, Into Mischief seems to get “the speedy type, the classic type. He has the type of formula that breeders have liked for a long time,” said Toffey. “They can go long, short, grass, synthetic. He really can do it all.”

To top it all off, four sons currently join him among the top 100 North American sires of 2024, including Goldencents and Practical Joke in the top 10. What more can Into Mischief possibly do?

“There's always something more, but I think it's fair to say he's demonstrating that he's a sire of sires,” said Toffey. “He certainly hasn't produced a son quite of his caliber yet; we'd love to see some of those emerge. You'd love to see him get something at or close to what he is, but horses like him don't come around that often.

“There's always more that a horse can do, but he has been truly a remarkable horse.”

Remarkable, indeed. Into Mischief is the very definition of a Saturday afternoon sire.

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