Taking Stock: Race Records and Stallion Prospects


Sackatoga Stable's Tiz the Law (Constitution) was a Grade l winner at two, won the Grade l Florida Derby this year, and goes for the first Classic of the season as the favorite in the Gl Belmont S. on Saturday. His breeding rights have been tied up for months, and if he does nothing from here on in–highly unlikely as that is–he'll still have a place at stud at a prominent farm.

Tiz the Law's racetrack future is bright. After the Belmont, he'll likely contest the Gl Travers at Saratoga in August ahead of the Gl Kentucky Derby in September and the Gl Preakness in October, and a win in one or more of those races will only burnish his resume and take him to another level as a stallion prospect.

Classic winners who were also highest-level winners at two are the most sought-after types in the breeding shed among both owner-breeders and commercial breeders, and at this moment Tiz the Law is perhaps the only colt of his generation with a legitimate chance to attain that status.

Godolphin's Maxfield (Street Sense) was another Grade l-winning juvenile like Tiz the Law who had a chance to become a Classic winner this year, but following a comeback win in the Glll Matt Winn S. at Churchill Downs last month, he suffered a fracture in his first breeze back and it appears likely his career is over. If he's done racing, his record will stand at three wins from three starts, including a top-level win in the GI Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in his second start, and he'll probably go to stud at Darley, Godolphin's breeding arm, where his sire stands.

Nadal didn't win a Grade l race at two, but he was undefeated in his four career starts, including the GI Arkansas Derby, and was a leading contender for the Classics before he suffered a career-ending fracture in a workout, too. One of his owners, George Bolton, has said he'll go to stud next year, though where that may be hasn't been announced yet.

Fragile Horses
Victoria Keith, who's affiliated with Fox Hill Farm, tweeted on June 10: “At some point, racing may want to address the fragility of the breed. Several top 3yos out with injury, Maxfield the latest, who's had 2 bone injuries in 3 starts.”

She followed that tweet with this one: “Where are the soundness stats? In an industry full of handicapping, nick, and other data, shouldn't owners and breeders be equipped with soundness data when they make their breeding and buying decisions?”

Keith certainly raises some legitimate questions, something Fox Hill dealt with after the death of the stable's Eight Belles (Unbridled's Song) in the Kentucky Derby gallop-out. In fact, it's an issue that's been addressed since the beginnings of the sport, and you can throw a dart into any time frame since and find commentary on the issue from various angles. In the Nov. 13, 1961, issue of Sports Illustrated, for example, Whitney Tower, writing about some racetrack injuries, referenced this quote from the Chronicle of the Horse: “Far more important has been the long established practice of breeders to put to stud any animal which will transmit speed, no matter what its shortcomings in other respects. Thus, there have crept into the Thoroughbred breed various types of inherited unsoundness–crooked legs, round ankles, bad knees, shelly feet, curby hocks, soft and brittle bones.”

In 1961, there were far more owner-breeders in the sport who raced the horses they bred, but nowadays, especially in Kentucky, commercial breeders dominate the landscape, and because they frequently use first-crop sires as an investment strategy, there isn't any “soundness data” on the offspring of these horses on which to base mating or buying decisions, except for their own race records.

And race records are sometimes unreliable guides to future sire performance. Raise a Native (Native Dancer) and Northern Dancer (Nearctic) were both foaled in 1961. The latter won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and went on to a fabulous stud career that is still profound to this day. But the former, a brilliantly fast and undefeated black-type winner who made only four starts at two before bowing a tendon, has been just as influential, particularly as the sire of Mr. Prospector.

Northern Dancer sired his version of Raise a Native in Danzig, a foal of 1977 who won each of his three starts–none in stakes company–before a bum knee stopped him. Contrast him to Temperence Hill (Stop the Music), the champion 3-year-old colt of their crop in 1980 and the winner of the Belmont S. who made 31 starts. As a stallion, Temperence Hill sired sound stock, getting 83% starters to foals, but he got only 4% black-type winners to foals. Danzig, on the other hand, gave up some soundness, at 77% starters to foals, but sired better horses, with 18% black-type winners.

Nureyev (Northern Dancer), like Danzig, also made only three starts, finishing first in all of them, but he was disqualified from the G1 2000 Guineas and officially had only Group 3 credit next to his name, though he was also named a champion French miler. He, too, became a world-class sire, getting 81% starters to foals and 17% black-type winners. His name has already been peppered throughout the pedigrees of several European Classic and Group 1 winners so far this season. Claiborne stood Danzig but bred Nureyev, whose homebred dam, Special, raced only once, finishing unplaced, because she was a bleeder.

Claiborne also bred and stood Drone (Sir Gaylord), who broke down after four wins from four starts–none in stakes company. A foal of 1966, Drone sired 80% starters from foals and 9% black type winners. He's been an influential broodmare sire. More recently, Claiborne stands Mastery (Candy Ride {Arg}), a Grade I winner at two and undefeated in four starts. His career, like those of Nadal and Maxfield, was cut short by a condylar fracture. His stud services have been highly sought despite a limited career.

Not This Time
On the same day–June 10–that Maxfield's injury was announced and Keith tweeted her concerns for the “fragility of the breed,” Not This Time (Giant's Causeway), a first-crop sire who made four lifetime starts and won one Grade lll race, was represented by the session and eventual sales topper at the OBS Spring sale. Hip 1254, a filly out of Sheza Smoke Show who'd worked the fastest quarter-mile at the sale in :20 1/5, brought $1,350,000 from Gary Young. The next-highest price that day was the $800,000 that D.J. Stable paid for a Candy Ride (Arg) colt (Hip 561) who'd worked a furlong in :10 1/5.

Not This Time sustained a soft tissue injury and he never raced after two. Candy Ride, likewise, had a career-ending soft tissue injury when he was four and was plagued by foot problems throughout his career, which lasted for all of six starts–the same as Pulpit and his son Tapit. He was undefeated in three starts in Argentina and three in the U.S., and he was a Grade l winner on two continents. He's since become a premier stallion and has sired such as Horse of the Year Gun Runner, who came into his own as an older horse, and Mastery, an outstanding 2-year-old.

Not This Time, who stands at Taylor Made and entered stud for a $15,000 fee, has not put off buyers with his abbreviated race record. Aside from the sale topper, the horse was represented at OBS with lots that made $700,000 and $575,000 as well. It's also notable that WinStar's Speightster (Speightstown), a homebred who entered stud for a $10,000 fee and also has first-crop runners, had the third-highest price at OBS, a colt who sold for $1.1 million. Speightster won three of four starts, his only stakes win a Grade lll race.

Both Speightster and Not This Time are just beginning their careers and are represented by winners from limited opportunities available this year. They have a long way to go to become recognized as successful sires, but their early results have already earned them the support of horsemen in the sales ring. And they are exactly the types of horses, along with the Masterys, Nadals, and Maxfields, that Keith questions as stud prospects and that Whitney Tower's article from almost 60 years ago addressed, but it's from this pool of types with abbreviated race records that have also sprung breed-shaping horses like Raise a Native, Danzig, and Nureyev.

In short, it's difficult to predict sire success from a race record alone. And if it turns out, years from now, that Maxfield becomes a better sire than Tiz the Law or any of his other contemporaries who carve out longer careers, it shouldn't surprise anyone with a knowledge of history.

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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