By Sid Fernando
This is somewhat of a watershed year for freshman sires, with six first-crop sires within the top 10 on the list of leading sires of 2-year-olds in North America through Monday. Spendthrift stalwart Into Mischief leads the group (as he has for five of the last seven years), but the same farm's freshman Bolt d'Oro (Medaglia d'Oro) is second, Hill 'n' Dale's Good Magic (Curlin) is third, Coolmore America's Justify (Scat Daddy) is fourth, Hill 'n' Dale's Army Mule (Friesan Fire) is fifth, Three Chimneys's Sharp Azteca (Freud) is seventh, and Airdrie's Girvin (Tale of Ekati), relocated from Florida for the 2023 season, is ninth through Monday.
Also threatening to make the top 10 by year's end are Coolmore America's Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy) in 11th, Mill Ridge's Oscar Performance (Kitten's Joy) in 15th, and Lane's End's City of Light (Quality Road) in 16th.
To put this in perspective, consider that among freshman sires in 2014 only Lane's End's Quality Road (seventh) and WinStar's Super Saver (ninth) made the top 10 list; in 2015, Coolmore America's Uncle Mo (first) was the sole first-crop representative; in 2016, there was only Darby Dan's Dialed In (ninth); in 2017, the two freshmen were WinStar's Overanalyze (ninth) and Hill 'n' Dale's Violence (10th); in 2018, only Spendthrift's duo of Cross Traffic (fourth) and Goldencents (10th) made the cut; in 2019, Coolmore America's American Pharoah (second), WinStar's Constitution (fourth), and Three Chimneys's Palace Malice (eighth) made it three for the young guns; in 2020, another trio made the list, with Darley's Nyquist (third) topping Sequel/WinStar's Laoban (fifth) and Taylor Made's Not This Time (sixth).
Last year, four freshman sires made the top 10: Three Chimneys's Gun Runner (first), Coolmore America's Practical Joke (third), Lane's End's Connect (fifth), and Coolmore America's Classic Empire (10th).
The trend is obvious, isn't it? More freshman sires are flexing their way into the top 10 this year than before, and it's not like they were uniformly the recipients of the best mares. At an opening stud fee of $150,000, Triple Crown winner Justify was getting that quality of mare, but horses like Girvin, who started off for $7,500 at Ocala Stud in Florida; Sharp Azteca at $10,000; and Army Mule at $10,000 were not.
Bolt d'Oro ($25,000), Good Magic ($35,000), Mendelssohn ($35,000), Oscar Performance ($20,000) and City of Light ($35,000) were priced to compete with one another in 2019, but they were cheaper than a number of proven sires not in the top 20 to date, such as Tapit ($225,000), Speightstown ($80,000), More Than Ready ($80,000), Ghostzapper ($85,000), Candy Ride (Arg) ($80,000), Curlin ($175,000), and Quality Road ($150,000), to name a few.
The five Breeders' Cup juvenile races will play a pivotal role in deciding where these freshmen end up when all is said and done, but several have live contenders, including the three just outside the top 10.
For first-crop sire watchers, it's going to be an interesting Breeders' Cup.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Among freshmen, Good Magic, a champion 2-year-old, holds a strong pair for the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Breeders' Cup Challenge winner Blazing Sevens, who won the Gl Champagne S. at Belmont-at-Aqueduct, and Curly Jack, winner of the Glll Iroquois S. at Churchill. So far, Good Magic is the sire of 17 winners and three black-type winners–each of them at graded level. Only Justify has as many graded/group winners, but no freshman except for Good Magic has sired a Grade l winner so far.
Justify, who didn't race at two, has a contender in Verifying, who was second to Blazing Sevens in the Champagne, and he leads all freshman sires with four black-type winners. He's represented by 20 winners overall.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies
City of Light has a good chance in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with Chop Chop, who lost the Gl Darley Alcibiades S. at Keeneland by a nose. She's one of three black-type winners for City of Light from eight winners so far.
Good Magic's Gll Sorrento S. winner at Del Mar, Vegas Magic, was most recently fourth in the Gl Del Mar Debutante, but she has points and has been training forwardly.
Justify's Just Cindy, winner of the Glll Schuylerville S. at Saratoga in July, has since been defeated in both the Gl Spinaway at Saratoga and the Alcibiades, but his daughter Justique, most recently third in the Gll Chandelier S. at Santa Anita, may be a possibility for the race.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
Mendelssohn's Delight won the Gll J.P. Morgan Chase Jessamine S. at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, by five lengths with her ears pricked and looks a strong contender for the North American contingent. She's her sire's lone black-type winner from 17 winners overall.
Oscar Performance's G Laurie has points for the race as well. She was third in the Gl Natalma S. at Woodbine with a troubled trip and is one of 11 winners for Oscar Performance, who is represented by one black-type winner to date–the Grade ll-winning colt Andthewinneris.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
Andthewinneris won the Gll Bourbon S. at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, leading a one-two finish for Oscar Performance with Deer District in second. Not only that, Oscar Performance also has Lachaise, who was third in the Gll Pilgrim S. at Belmont-at-Aqueduct, with points for the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Bolt d'Oro also has a couple of contenders. His Major Dude won the aforementioned Pilgrim, a Challenge race, and Boppy O won the Glll With Anticipation S. at Saratoga. They are two of four black-type winners for Bolt d'Oro, who is represented by 19 winners.
City of Light's Battle of Normandy, second in the With Anticipation, also has points for the race, as does freshman sire Cloud Computing (Maclean's Music) with I'm Very Busy, second in the Pilgrim. Cloud Computing doesn't have a black-type winner yet, but he's represented by eight winners.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint
Sharp Azteca's undefeated Iowa-bred Tyler's Tribe has been penciled in for the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. He's never raced over turf, but he's registered some sparkling Beyer Speed Figures in dirt sprints, and his sire has been represented by some turf winners. Tyler's Tribe is one of three black-type winners for Sharp Azteca, who has 23 winners. One of them is Sharp Aza Tack, who won the Listed Tyro S. at Monmouth over five furlongs on turf by 7 1/4 lengths, and he could be a possibility for this race as well. He last worked five furlongs over Keeneland's all-weather training track in 1:00.20 Saturday.
City of Light's Gaslight Dancer, who was second by a neck in the six-furlong Glll Futurity S. at Belmont-at-Aqueduct on turf, also has points for the race.
The freshman sires competing to make this list are doing so not only against others with first crops, but also against established sires. They are also fighting to make themselves relevant for next year, because in the commercial marketplace that now exists, a poor showing this year will mean fewer mares to cover next spring. It's paramount, therefore, that they get some graded winners or a Grade l winner among their first 2-year-olds, and it's for this reason that stud farms front load their books as much as they can with more quality than most will see again unless they are successful.
One result of this is that a stallion's second, third and fourth books usually tend to yield less quality than the first, and yearling buyers, aware of this phenomenon, tend to pay more for first-crop yearlings.
Moreover, even those stallions that end up in the top 10 this year aren't necessarily guaranteed to succeed, unless their first 3-year-olds continue to win next year. Note that in 2017, Overanalyze was ninth on this list but is no longer in Kentucky, while Violence, who was 10th the same year, has continued to make a mark and is represented by Forte, the leading 2-year-old in the East this year.
Some excellent stallions have also emerged from a prominent spot as freshmen on this list over the years. In 2014, it was Quality Road; in 2015, Uncle Mo; in 2019, American Pharoah and Constitution; in 2020, Not This Time; and last year, Gun Runner.
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.