Upstart Off to a Good Start in an Odd Year

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Upstart | Sarah Andrew

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The sales ring can be a formidable place for any first-crop sire. Add in a global pandemic, with side effects of low sales attendance and a free-falling stock market, and a positive outcome for the stallion might seem futile.

But this year, the first crop of Airdrie Stud’s Upstart must not have gotten the message. They were the hot commodities at the OBS March Sale, the only 2-year-old sale to finish before the sales season was forced to grind to a halt. Six Upstart 2-year-olds brought the hammer down during the two-day sale, averaging $260,833 and soundly placing their sire as the leading first-crop stallion by sales average, and the only one to break past a $200,000 average.

Airdrie Stud’s Director of Bloodstock Services Bret Jones said that while they had hoped for positive results, they were blown away by the sale’s outcome. “We were optimistic going into the sale because the reports from Florida had been extremely encouraging,” he said. “We’d had several 2-year-old guys book mares to Upstart this year, and one group even bought a share in him a few weeks before the sale. So that all boded extremely promising, but this exceeded all conceivable expectations.”

A son of Flatter (A.P. Indy), Upstart was purchased for $130,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s 2013 edition of the New York-bred sale by Ralph Evans. Trained by the late Rick Violette Jr., the colt shone from the start, breaking his maiden on debut by over five lengths before going on to win a stakes race at Saratoga and then placing second in the GI Champagne S. At three, he soundly claimed the GII Holy Bull S. and then was taken down to second in a controversial GII Fountain of Youth S. He retired as a millionaire at four with two graded stakes wins, finishing in the money in six Grade Is.

Upon Upstart’s retirement, Evans retained a piece of the stallion and still remains his biggest cheerleader.

“I called Mr. Evans after the first day of the March sale,” said Jones. “There were so many reasons for him to not be in a good mood with everything that was going on in the world, but he was as giddy as anyone I had every spoken with over the phone. He was just over-the-top excited about how the Upstarts were performing.”

Jones continued, “It’s been one of those incredible relationships, getting to know Mr. Evans. I don’t care who you ask about him, they’re going to tell you he’s special. It makes Upstart all the more exciting to get to work with Mr. Evans and have as much fun as we’re having.”

If Mr. Evans was excited after the first day of the sale, he must have been ecstatic with the second day’s results. After breezing a quarter in :21 flat at the under-tack Show, an Upstart colt out of the Bernstein mare Blue Beryl topped the second session when he sold for $600,000 to Mike Ryan.

Jones said that their team had been tracking the colt since he was a foal. “We saw him in a paddock at Suzi Shoemaker’s farm when he was a few weeks old, but then as a yearling he was a pretty mind-blowing individual,” said Jones. “He was a man among boys at the September sale, the type that you notice from the other side of the barn and want to go see who you’re looking at.”

The colt sold for $220,000 to Woodford Thoroughbreds in September.

Ryan said that he was initially struck by the colt at the breeze show. “His breeze was phenomenal,” he said. “The term gallop out is overused, but I had him at three furlongs in :32 1/5, a half-mile in :46 flat, and five furlongs in a 1:00 4/5. I know on the synthetic it’s a little easier to do that, but it takes a pretty good horse to sustain that, and his stride was as long as your dining room table.”

The breeze was backed by Ryan’s seal of approval later at the barn. “He was a no-brainer to me,” Ryan said. “He had a lot of scope and was a big, handsome horse. He reminded me a lot of Structor (Palace Malice), from the standpoint of his size, frame, profile, and quality. I wasn’t surprised when he brought what he brought. He sold himself.”

Ryan purchased a second Upstart 2-year-old for $280,000, a colt out of Ridingwiththedevil (Candy Ride {Arg}), who breezed a quarter in :20.4/5.

“This colt had lovely shape and quality,” Ryan said. “He had a very powerful breeze, an easy mover and naturally athletic. I hope to see both of these colts running at Saratoga. They both should stretch; they have natural pace and speed.”

“When Mike Ryan buys two from the first crop, that’s as strong as an endorsement a stallion could ever have,” Jones said. “No one has a better eye than Mike Ryan, so for him to be as complimentary of not only the two he bought, but of the Upstarts as a whole, it’s extremely encouraging.”

Ryan remarked that he was immediately impressed by the Upstarts at the breeze show. “I was sitting in the stands watching the breeze show live and they were all very good, efficient movers. They seemed pretty effortless. I made a mental note that there were too many of these moving well. They’re easy to like: consistent quality, style, presence, lovely demeanors, and an easy way about them. He caught me by surprise, and the market responded with fantastic returns.”

Jones confirmed that the buzz around the Upstarts began at the breeze show for many other buyers. “Everybody remarked about what a solid group of horses he was represented by. And then the good news was that when people got back to the barns and looked at them, they found nice physicals. This stallion has always thrown an athletic, good bodied horse.”

“Upstart is a beautiful individual,” said Jones. “He’s by Flatter, who’s been a fabulous stallion, but Upstart is a more racy, athletic-looking type than what can sometimes come with that sire line. If you follow the evidence, his progeny mature well. They sold well as weanlings and yearlings, and then they absolutely broke out as 2-year-olds once they got to the track.”

Despite the high that the Upstart team may be riding on from March, they have a long road ahead with an uncertain sales season and limited 2-year-old racing action for the foreseeable future.

“The good news is that it wasn’t just the March horses getting touted,” said Jones. “Cary Frommer in particular was effusive in her praise about a filly she still has. Airdrie kept three to race, and they’re doing everything you could ask of them, and they’re doing it well.”

Airdrie Stud sold a filly out of Visavis (Indian Charlie) last July for $125,000 to Let’s Go Stables, and trainer Todd Pletcher reported that she is looking to start soon.

Jones said, “We talked with Todd Pletcher a few days ago, and he’s planning to run her at Gulfstream in early May.”

“If we continue with this momentum, it would certainly give us an opportunity to build on what this horse has already established for himself,” said Jones. “We’ve seen great demand for him since the 2-year-old sales, but we’ve got the potential to see even more once they get to the starting gate.”

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