By Chris McGrath
If his most important legacy to our community was the example of his own conduct, it was nonetheless apt that a more tangible bequest made by Rick Porter to the breed itself was measured afresh even as he left us. For while the owner of Fox Hill Farms devoted more attention to the welfare of those horses that had failed to extend their usefulness, into a breeding program, he also measured out for our benefit some precious genetic ore–none deeper than that mined by the winner of the GI Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan H. on the very eve of Porter's loss.
Silver State is the 11th domestic Grade I winner (besides three in Australia) by Hard Spun, who carried Porter's silks in a GI Kentucky Derby that truly served its purpose as a signpost to merit for breeders. Only Street Sense managed to overhaul him, with Curlin well held in third. Those two have given us seven and 14 Grade I winners, respectively, taking the 2007 podium aggregate to 32, in the process earning themselves fees of $60,000 and $175,000. In that context, $35,000 for Hard Spun–especially as one of the last direct links to his breed-shaping sire Danzig–transparently represents some of the best value around at that level of the market.
In fairness, the genetic seam that has proved so fertile was first opened up by Hard Spun's breeders, Michael Moran and Brushwood Stable. But Porter and his team certainly showcased the breadth of his talent, trainer Larry Jones developing him from the company of Pennsylvania-breds to become a key player in the Classics before dropping back to seven furlongs to win his Grade I in the King's Bishop S. Hard Spun then disclosed the kind of versatility we associate with Danzig, as a global influence, by subsequently beating Street Sense on a synthetic surface and then chasing home Curlin in that ghastly mudbath at the Monmouth Breeders' Cup.
As luck should have it, Hard Spun's sophomore campaign coincided with a conspicuous determination by Sheikh Mohammed that his Turf empire needed to upgrade its seeding by in-house stallions. A deal was duly done with Porter to include Hard Spun among a series of expensive recruits made that year for Godolphin's feeder farms around the world: in Europe, champion juvenile Teofilo (Ire) and G1 Epsom Derby winner Authorized (Ire) gave the Sheikh precious access to the blood of two titans, Galileo (Ire) and Montjeu (Ire), revealing their potency for his great rivals at Coolmore; G1 Japan Cup winner Admire Moon (Jpn) joined the Hokkaido roster; while both Street Sense and Hard Spun arrived at Jonabell Farm in Kentucky, at $75,000 and $50,000 respectively, alongside fellow rookies Any Given Saturday and Discreet Cat.
Both Street Sense and Hard Spun would soon be asked to risk their early domestic momentum with a year in Japan. That mission might not have been entertained on a purely commercial farm, but they belong to a global program and, besides, were always guaranteed swift rehabilitation in the Bluegrass by the quality of the herd on their home farm.
Nor would external clients forget Hard Spun during his absence. His first crop ultimately yielded a record 17 stakes winners, while the fourth-crop table of 2014–the year of his absence–put Hard Spun clear (whether by prizemoney, winners or graded stakes success) of no less a trio than Street Sense, English Channel and Scat Daddy. One way or another, then, he has routinely maintained books of around 150, which amounts to full subscription on a wholesome farm like this.
Sure enough, having had no 2017 U.S. juveniles/2018 sophomores, Hard Spun didn't miss a beat on his return. Indeed, the prizemoney banked by his comeback 3-year-olds in 2019 was exceeded only by those of champion Into Mischief.
Moreover he had been helped through his blank year by a useful propensity in his stock to keep thriving with maturity. That, in turn, reflects the soundness that underpinned Hard Spun's own career, which spanned 13 starts in barely a year, repeatedly giving everything he had in stretching his speed.
The chances are that Hard Spun might have reached still greater heights at four–he would surely have been an ideal type for the Met Mile himself–but his services were impatiently awaited at Jonabell. So while he can also produce a romping GII Saratoga Special winner, in Green Light Go, we often see the benefits of maturity in his stock. Silver State himself is one such case, having seamlessly regrouped since his comeback last fall, while Smooth Roller only surfaced at four before thrashing Hoppertunity and Bayern in the GI Awesome Again S. Moreover, American breeders may not be aware of the durability exhibited by some of Hard Spun's high achievers overseas, Le Romain (Aus) and Moviesta having each soaked up six campaigns in Australia and Europe, respectively.
Both also operated not just on turf but in sprints. Moviesta's biggest win, in fact, came over five furlongs on the downhill ramp at Goodwood–and he's out of an A.P. Indy mare. That versatility is the trademark of a sire who has shown a Danzig serviceability on turf (see Hard Not To Like) but has proved no less adept on dirt (see Hard Not To Love!). And his speed is very often carried through a second turn: as, for instance, by runaway GI Alabama S. winner Questing (GB), GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun To Run, or GI Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong.
A flair for dirt gives Hard Spun priceless distinction, of course, in an environment that might otherwise be wary of the strong grass flavor to Danzig's dynasty, notably through Danehill (in both Australia and Europe) and Green Desert (in Europe). But “priceless” is only a figure of speech, when he trades at a rate so much more affordable than another of Danzig's later sons, War Front, whose career fits that international/grass branding so closely.
Regardless of any surface prejudices, it is rare in this day and age to retain such proximate access to such a hallowed influence on the modern breed. Danzig was 26 when he conceived Hard Spun (a mere youngster of 24 when he came up with War Front). We've often remarked on the self-fulfilling nature of commercial prejudice against older sires. With Danzig, admittedly, we're rolling back the years to an era of much smaller books, one somewhat evoked by the conservative management of War Front himself. But even today it's funny how those horses unchallenged by fashion, like Galileo, maintain into the evening of their careers a mechanical output that is duly presented as an exception to the perceived “rule”.
Be that as it may, it certainly feels special to have a stallion in his prime, at 17, who not only provides a direct tap into Danzig but also brings in names like Roberto and My Babu (Fr) as close up as his second and third dams. The only chink in Hard Spun's genetic armor was always his damsire Turkoman, a son of Alydar who won an Eclipse Award as an older horse but made little impact at stud, excepting another daughter who became dam of Horse of the Year Point Given (Thunder Gulch). Turkoman can perhaps be credited for the physical immensity of that horse–and Hard Spun is another imposing specimen, who has stamped Silver State in much the same way–but he did not recycle his acceleration consistently enough and ended up wandering round California.
Incidentally, Turkoman lived to 34 and was lovingly tended to the end. But I remember being incredulous on reading that there had been problems getting full syndicate support for his upkeep, once pensioned, with an ordinary race fan from Michigan among those who stepped up to the plate. I can just imagine what Rick Porter might have had to say about that situation.
Turkoman had started his stud career in a noble setting at Darby Dan and it was his daughter out of a Roberto half-sister to farm champion Little Current that was alertly bought by Michael Moran as a yearling for just $39,000 in 1992. Named Turkish Tryst, she won four times and made the podium on the only occasion she was tried in graded company (GII Matchmaker S.). It was her yearling son by Danzig that Porter acquired privately after he failed at $485,000 to meet what was evidently a pretty ambitious reserve (necessarily, given the cost of access even to the ageing Danzig; and quite rightly, as things would turn out) at the Keeneland September Sale of 2005.
It is not just Danzig, then, who gives old-school luster to Hard Spun. Since his granddam was a half-sister to Little Current, remember, then that meant she was out of a half-sister (by My Babu, as noted) to two other Darby Dan legends (both by Swaps) in Chateaugay and Primonetta. The former was notoriously denied the Triple Crown only by a runner-up finish in the Preakness, five days after an unscheduled crack at the Pimlico track record in his final gallop; the latter, a 17-for-25 champion on the track, produced two Grade I winners (plus one at Grade II level).
So while Turkish Tryst did not have a straightforward breeding career, she was certainly working with the right stuff. Five of her seven foals won and, though Hard Spun was much the most accomplished, her stakes-placed daughter Our Rite Of Spring (Stravinsky) has since brought the family new distinction as second dam of multiple Grade I winner Improbable (City Zip).
Hard Spun, then, really represents the full package and, given the inaccessibility of War Front, is surely a more important resource for breeders than is implied by his fee.
His one omission for now remains a proven heir to maintain that abbreviated link to Danzig. War Front already has Declaration Of War and The Factor doing well, with a number of younger sons now making their way either side of the ocean, not least a wonderful parting gift from Porter in Omaha Beach. But several of Hard Spun's best sons have been geldings, while Wicked Strong is down to just $3,500 as he seeks a reboot at a smaller farm. Spun To Run will be given every chance at Gainesway, but the opportunity is plainly there for Silver State to stake his claim.
Silver State's family, after all, introduces complementary Classic influences of its own. His dam Supreme (Empire Maker) was acquired by Stonestreet for $800,000 at Keeneland in January 2013 when carrying her first foal. She owed that valuation partly to her own merit, as a Grade II-placed stakes winner, but also to the fact that her mother was a sister to Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. Supreme's mating with Hard Spun meanwhile consolidated his trademark toughness with a second strand of that redoubtable influence, Roberto–already noted as sire of Hard Spun's granddam–being responsible for her third dam.
A $450,000 Keeneland September purchase by Winchell Thoroughbreds, Silver State (who is raced in partnership with Wills Horton Racing LLC) has been expertly brought back through the ranks by Steve Asmussen, who gained due reward with a third Met Mile in four years. That stands the trainer up to all comers since Eddie Neloy won the great race three years straight with Gun Bow, Bold Lad and Buckpasser.
The traditionalists among us love this race as a stallion showcase because that sweeping, one-turn mile permits no hiding place in the honest, big-hearted carrying of speed. That's an asset in every environment, and the key to Danzig's international success. It is also the hallmark of a stallion who, above all through the hardiness implicit in his name, covers all bases. At his intermediate fee, Hard Spun can prove a young mare; he gives you a margin to work with, at market; and he can introduce old-school class to any aspiring track program.
The fact is that Hard Spun, already fairly priced before taking his pandemic trim, has been returning the yield of an elite stallion from the moment he could again count on two consecutive domestic crops. A fine ninth in the general sires' list in 2020, he had done even better the preceding campaign, finishing behind only Into Mischief (now $225,000), Curlin ($175,000) and Tapit ($185,000). So while Rick Porter reminded us to respect all horses, regardless of their ability, it seems that sometimes we don't show quite enough even to those who do make the grade.