Taking Stock: War Front Reemerges as a Dirt Sire


War Front


Last summer at Saratoga, I sat down one afternoon in the pavilion at Fasig-Tipton with Claiborne’s Walker Hancock and Bernie Sams to discuss the belated emergence of Blame (Arch), who’d stood the 2018 breeding season for only $12,500 after starting out for $35,000 in 2011. They’d stayed the course with him and were finally seeing the results they’d expected all along, and Bernie hinted then that his stud fee would rise to $30,000 this year, as it did. After Blame, the conversation wandered to War Front (Danzig), Claiborne’s flagship sire, and I mentioned in passing that he was a “premier turf horse” and “an exceptional sire of turf milers,” fully expecting they’d nod in unison and agree with me. I was surprised by their immediate and forceful responses.

“He’s not a turf horse. He’s both,” Sams barked, with a lot of expression. “The first couple of crops were dirt and turf. Nobody thought of breeding all turf to him back then.”

The Factor was dirt from his first crop, and so was Soldat,” Hancock said. “Plus, he had [Claiborne and Adele Dilschneider’s homebred] Departing on dirt from his third crop.”

The Factor, now at stud at Lane’s End, was a fast sprinter who won the Gl Malibu S. at Santa Anita; Soldat won the Gll Fountain of Youth S. at Gulfstream Park; and Departing won the Gll Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. All three, however, were also multiple surface graded winners that showcased their sire’s versatility from the beginning. The Factor was a Grade l winner on all-weather; Soldat was a Grade lll winner on turf; and Departing was a Grade ll winner on turf.

The Coolmore group figured out War Front’s quality early on when they raced his second-crop runner Declaration of War with breeder Joe Allen–also the owner and breeder of War Front–to successes in the G1 Queen Anne S. at Ascot and the G1 Juddmonte International at York, and they soon began buying his auction yearlings while patronizing the stallion with their Galileo and Sadler’s Wells mares. Those purchases and matings have yielded impressive results for them, including such stallion prospects as G1 Dewhurst S. winner War Command; triple Group 1-winning juvenile Air Force Blue, also a Dewhurst winner; and U S Navy Flag, a three-time Group 1 winner at two and three, who also won the Dewhurst. Others raced by them or associates have landed at other farms, including Hit It A Bomb, winner of the Gl Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland, who is now at Spendthrift; and Lancaster Bomber, the G1 Tattersalls Gold Cup winner at The Curragh, who stands at the National Stud in England and then on to South Africa later this year.

“A bunch of those from the first few crops were out of dirt mares, but now everyone wants to make him a turf horse because Coolmore breeds a bunch of its Galileo mares to him and takes them over to race in Europe,” Sams said. “So, what we’ve tried to do the last couple of years is breed more American dirt mares to him. The better dirt mares. He’s getting dirt horses, [like] the horse [who] won over here the other day by 10 on the dirt [War Value (from an A.P. Indy mare), who won a Saratoga maiden special weight at a mile and an eighth by 9 1/2 lengths Aug. 3, 2018].”

Of Claiborne itself, Hancock said, “We’ve been breeding some of our better dirt mares to him.”

Both insisted that because of the European and domestic success on turf, the War Fronts aren’t getting fair opportunity on dirt.

“Now, if you looked at the biggest part of his crop, not this year, not last year, but three years before, 70% were turf mares that were bred to him,” Sams said. “So you look up and if there’s 100 foals for easy math, you got 30 dirt and 70 turf. And if a guy gets one here in the States and he’s training good on the dirt and he runs him on the dirt and he doesn’t run any good, he’s not giving him a second chance on the dirt. He’s going straight to turf.”

Fortuitously for War Front, two 3-year-old sons that began their careers on turf in this country have become revelations on dirt and are the new poster boys for their sire’s dirt ability that Sams and Hancock steadfastly believed in and spoke about last summer.

Gary Barber’s War of Will (out of Visions of Clarity {Ire}, by Sadler’s Wells), who’s trained by Mark Casse, is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for the Gll Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Saturday off impressive wins in the Glll LeComte S. and Gll Risen Star S. at the same track. Also, Fox Hill Farm’s Omaha Beach (out of Charming, by Seeking the Gold), trained by Richard Mandella, won a division of the Gll Rebel S. at Oaklawn last Saturday over previously undefeated juvenile champion Game Winner (Candy Ride {Arg}). Omaha Beach was placed three times in maiden specials on turf at Del Mar and Santa Anita before switching to dirt, where his record is two wins from three starts. War of Will made four consecutive turf starts at Woodbine, Keeneland, and Churchill Downs and was placed twice, including a second to Fog of War (War Front) in the Gl Summer S. at Woodbine, before he found success on dirt, on which he is now undefeated in three starts.

Elite Sire…

Unlike Blame, who entered stud in 2011 after the collapse of the industry in 2008 and was tied as one of the three most expensive new horses at $35,000 along with Quality Road and Lookin At Lucky, War Front started off modestly in 2007, on the eve of the global economic meltdown, at a fee of $12,500. By 2011, with his first 3-year-olds at the races, he was up to $15,000, but the next season, after the exploits of The Factor, Soldat and others, his fee took a big hike to $60,000, and from there it’s kept rolling in big increments to $80,000 in 2013, $150,000 in 2014 and 2015, $200,000 in 2016, and $250,000 in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

War Front’s trajectory was the opposite of Blame’s: he hit right away and never looked back. With Tapit’s fee dropping to $225,000 this year from $300,000, War Front is now the most expensive sire in North America, and he’s the last top son of his illustrious sire Danzig (Northern Dancer), who also stood at Claiborne and made a career of routinely getting high-class horses on dirt and turf. War Front is a lookalike son, and with more top dirt runners expected in the pipeline, he’s looking every bit the chip off the old block in more ways than one.

War Front’s ability to sire dirt runners shouldn’t be too surprising because he was a dirt sprinter who never raced on turf, and the same could be said for his sire. His grandsire, of course, won the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S.

Pedigree authority and turf historian Frances J. Karon covers all of this in a recent post at our blog at Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, “War of Will’s sire line: Made on dirt, successful on turf,” and she details how this line transitioned to turf, which puts the case of War Front in perspective.

She wrote, “As it happens, Northern Dancer sired one of racing history’s all-time greats, Nijinsky II, in his second crop. Trained out of Ballydoyle in Ireland by Vincent O’Brien, Nijinsky won the British Triple Crown. Because of Nijinsky, O’Brien and his partners at Coolmore couldn’t get enough of Northern Dancer’s progeny, buying, and later breeding, a lot of the stallion’s stock and importing them to Europe. Hence, Northern Dancer became a sire of ‘turf horses,’ and his most successful sons followed much the same pattern, with their foals being sought after for European racing. But it must be noted that when given the opportunity, Northern Dancer’s sons were fully capable of siring good dirt horses. Take Nijinsky, for example–his 1983 crop of foals famously included two Derby winners: Ferdinand (Kentucky Derby on dirt) and Shahrastani (Epsom Derby and Irish Derby on turf).”

Nijinsky also stood at Claiborne, and his story was as equally applicable to Danzig, whose international son Danehill was a game changer in Europe and Australia.

With the recent successes of War of Will and Omaha Beach, it’s a certainty that more War Fronts will be tried on dirt, and it’s just as certain that more American buyers will now compete with the European-based stables for the stallion’s progeny at the summer and fall yearling sales. Expect some fireworks in the ring, even explosions if War of Will or Omaha Beach manages to land a Classic along the way.

And give due credit to the Claiborne brain trust (which includes Walker Hancock’s dad, Seth Hancock) that was right all along with Blame and right again with War Front’s ability to get top-quality dirt horses.

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


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