Value Sires For 2024, Part 4: Into The Teens

Mitole | Sarah Andrew

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Today we'll consider some of the sires standing between $10,001 and $19,999. For a long time, I called this the Lookin At Lucky zone. But don't worry, we won't be deploring his neglect yet again: he's staying in Chile, where they evidently appreciate him rather more.

Plenty of horses in this bracket have recently relinquished their brief window of commercial opportunity, and are now hanging around to discover whether they might join the very small group whose first runners generate a fresh vogue. Even with the newcomers out of the equation–we gave them a separate assessment, to open the series–we're left with three groups still untested on the track: those expecting their first foals; those who have just sold their first weanlings; and those actually about to dip a toe in the water with their first runners.

Pending that crossroads, many find themselves somewhat adrift against a bunch of older sires who have survived that test. These fit this tier either because they are losing stature or, more cheerfully, because they have carved out a viable niche as an affordable source of winners.

First the young guns. Of those who sent their first yearlings to auction this year, the ones who really nailed it, unsurprisingly, vaunted the kind of speed that pinhookers crave.

VOLATILE burned brightly in a light career, not seen again after confirming his Grade I caliber against a small but select field in the Vanderbilt. His 112 Beyer in the Aristides S. (1:07.57) was the highest of 2020 and duly secured 181 mares the following spring. Himself an $850,000 yearling, with a GI Test/GI Ballerina winner as granddam, his $125,431 average was boosted by a spectacular $1.15 million docket for a Book 1 filly at Keeneland in September. Nudged back up to $15,000 (from $12,500), Volatile has three hefty books behind him and will be the horse to beat for the freshman title next year.

But not even his median yield of 4.3 on his opening fee ($75,000/ $17,500) could match that of COMPLEXITY, whose $65,000 median (never mind his average $90,400!) multiplied his $12,500 fee by 5.2. Complexity started with some serious volume by the restrained standards of his farm, and then followed through with another three-figure book in his second season. He was clearly in the same vicinity as Volatile as a mature horse (110 Beyer in the GII Kelso) but was the more accomplished juvenile, wiring a Saratoga maiden (90 Beyer) before a decisive success in the GI Champagne S. on his second start. His half-sister ran second in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, so their unraced dam is obviously channelling the good stuff.

VEKOMA is meanwhile working the Spendthrift system with remarkable efficiency, having started out (at $20,000) with staggering volume, entertaining at least 200 mares in each of his first three seasons. This year he processed 102 of his first yearlings at $98,432, albeit was unsurprisingly stretched somewhat thinner by a median of $60,000. Though confined to eight starts across three seasons, he was class from beginning to end, posting big numbers for his Grade I double in the Carter and Met Mile. From a stallion-producing family, he's a horse I've liked all the way through and everything is in place for him to look after many (albeit probably not all!) of his (very many!) clients at $15,000.

Knicks Go | Sarah Andrew

Among those in this intake offering rather more stretch, one or two suffered horrible yearling medians relative to conception fee. But one who made a solid start off $12,500 was Bolt d'Oro's half-brother GLOBAL CAMPAIGN: 74 yearlings sold at $63,195 (median $43,500). This was a more talented animal than generally appreciated and I can see him proving himself a bargain gateway to Curlin. A closer look at his family shows that it tends to produce faster types than are associated with the seeding sires, and Global Campaign's first crop of 126 live foals may surprise a few people with their dash.

Of those who sold their first weanlings this fall, meanwhile, the one that will sort out the sheep and the goats is KNICKS GO. No questioning his talent, it was just never quite obvious where it all came from–albeit his dam maintained stakes speed through four seasons. Those who didn't require a more familiar pedigree were delighted to see a Horse of the Year introduced at just $30,000. Well, now they can get him for half that, even though he's still nearly 18 months away from the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not he can replicate his brilliance! At this money, some people will surely want to roll the dice.

Even as it is, his weanlings sold a little better than those of SILVER STATE. But it's very early days for the latter, whose pedigree in contrast elucidates all the class he manifested as a runner. A friendly clip to $15,000 should hopefully keep him in the game because this horse equipped to prove a really wholesome influence.

The subsequent intake features some truly frightening books, but I will resist dwelling on that here. Suffice to say that those playing a longer game might quite like a filly by either SPEAKER'S CORNER or MYSTIC GUIDE. Both have taken an early trim at Darley, respectively to $17,500 and $12,500, and their pedigrees shout distaff influence.

We'll have to see how many of the youngsters will endure even in this relatively modest tier, a few years from now. Nor does a flying start bring any guarantees, as UNION RAGS could caution them. The halving of his fee to $15,000 acknowledges the way he has faltered, having stood at $60,000 between 2018 and 2020. Trade for his latest yearlings made this further cut imperative, but he's still the same horse that so quickly came up with five Grade I winners. Hopefully he will find a little oxygen now that he has descended to more accessible altitudes.

Studmate DAREDEVIL has taken his second cut since returning to the U.S., now down to $15,000, but of course it's only in 2024 that we'll get to assess the first juveniles conceived after Swiss Skydiver prompted his urgent repatriation. Their sales performance demanded a mild trim in fee, but he could easily be poised for fresh momentum.

MENDELSSOHN has also taken consecutive cuts, similarly now available at $15,000. He has so far been more about quantity than quality but his supporters will hope that he can still emulate four others, standing at the same fee, who have all done admirably to create a lasting foothold in this most slippery of markets.

The first of these, DIALED IN, is something of a blue-collar hero. He maintains such high volume–corralled 175 mares last spring, his 10th at stud–that it will always be hard, with the raw materials available at this level, to make his ratios “sing”. But Defunded has once again shown the caliber within his competence as his third elite scorer. Dialed In gets his work done at a fair tariff, and will keep plugging away to leave behind many of those now starting at multiples of his fee.

Cairo Prince | Sarah Andrew

CAIRO PRINCE has also created a sustainable brand for himself through six crops, as attested by a solid book of 129 mares last spring. A set-your-clock black-type producer throughout, he's now entering the territory where he can legitimately prove a mare–and of course he gets such a nice type, the average ($54,194) and median ($40,000) of his latest yearlings duly best among this proven quartet.

MIDSHIPMAN is a true yeoman and it's typical of this business that he should have had a quieter year (by his very special standards) both on the track and in the sales ring after finally doubling his fee to $20,000 last year–due recognition for having punched above weight for so long. His lifetime stats remain ridiculous for a stallion who has largely been a four-figure cover: 47 stakes winners at 6.4 percent of named foals, nine at graded stakes level; and 101 black-type performers overall, at 13.7 percent. The trim back to $15,000 brings him back towards the reach of breeders who most appreciate just what he can do for their mares.

KANTHAROS, who has really pulled himself up by his bootstraps, had another very solid year on the track. He has made the same slip in fee, reflecting a tepid book of mares last spring and a challenging yield on yearlings conceived at $30,000. But that was an experience shared by many sires exposed to a porous middle market, and the fact is that Kantharos lurks only just outside the top 10 in the 2023 general sires' list with a dozen stakes winners, including a couple at graded level. His lifetime ratio of stakes runners–11 percent of named foals–remains outstanding for a horse whose first five books were compiled in Florida at just $5,000.

He sired two Grade I winners at that fee, and now has another millionaire in Grade II winner Bay Storm. The first of his two $30,000 books were juveniles this year, and we know how they will keep thriving. That guarantees Kantharos imminently entry into the top 20 active sires on lifetime earnings. All he needs to do is supplant… Lookin At Lucky!

VALUE PODIUM

Bronze Medal: CONNECT
Curlin–Bullville Belle (Holy Bull)
Lane's End $15,000

Connect | Sarah Andrew

Amid all this talk about stud fees being too high, credit is overdue to Lane's End for anticipating the mood in the room. From Flightline down, the farm made 11 cuts across their 2024 roster. All were meaningful, and some nearly brutal, effectively conceding that one or two stallions were drifting into trouble and needed some decisive help. Bravo! The very opposite of burying your head in the sand, and in the present environment I hope it works out both for the farm and its clients.

One stallion who can certainly benefit is Connect, restored from $25,000 to his 2021 fee of $15,000 after the crop conceived that year returned a tepid median (albeit a perfectly acceptable $45,774 average) at the yearling sales. He'd also suffered a real slump in his book last spring, down to 45 from 172 in 2022! But we're accustomed to seeing horses treated like this, once they have served their commercial purpose, and should sooner marvel at the impression he must have made with his first crop to get such a big book (up from 93 in 2021) in his fifth year at stud.

Sure enough, only Gun Runner and Practical Joke banked more prizemoney as freshmen in 2021, and only Gun Runner had more winners. Unfortunately Connect did not then consolidate especially well, but he has made a timely return to form this year with eight stakes winners, three at graded level, plus a GI Kentucky Oaks third in The Alys Look. Moreover, his first-crop flagship, the juvenile Grade I winner Rattle N Roll, failed by just half a length to add another elite score in the GI Stephen Foster S. That horse was a $55,000 weanling but has now banked $1.7 million across three seasons.

Connect's pedigree is not without its challenges but he's another to bring Curlin within range and had real prowess as a racehorse, a blip in the Travers his only defeat in seven starts (four triple-digit Beyers) up the grades after debut. He outkicked none other than Gun Runner in the GII Pennsylvania Derby and, while he won't be doing that again any time soon, he's actually siring winners at a higher percentage of named foals.

With that bumper crop of weanlings in the pipeline, and now a lenient fee, this looks a good time to re-Connect.

Silver Medal: KARAKONTIE (Jpn)
Bernstein–Sun Is Up (Jpn) (Sunday Silence)
Gainesway $15,000

Karakontie | Sarah Andrew

How pleasing to see this undervalued stallion moving his book back up last year, up to 86 from 48. Perhaps his hour has come at last, now that the minority prepared to breed to a quality turf sire in the Bluegrass have been deprived of English Channel and Kitten's Joy.

If you're enlightened enough to see the growing need for turf quality in the U.S., then you might also recognize that you don't always have to fly first class to Tattersalls. With a fifth crop on the track, Karakontie has still only had 174 starters, but seven have won graded stakes. For the second year running, moreover, he had an elite scorer in She Feels Pretty, winner of the GI Natalma S. before failing by barely half a length to overcome a wide trip in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Karakontie's premier earner Princess Grace meanwhile continued to thrive in Australia, missing Group 1 scores by a neck and half a length.

Even after a hike from $10,000, Karakontie is an awful lot of horse for this fee. He converted some of the most regal blood in the book–his third dam is Miesque herself–into a turn of foot that won him a Group 1 at two and then a mile Classic, before doing all he could to endear the American market in the GI Breeders' Cup Mile. Don't forget that he restores Sunday Silence to the Bluegrass through his dam, herself out of a half-sister to Kingmambo. His international pedigree and participation alike are a measure of our debt to the program that produced him.

The American market has not really grasped its privilege, with this horse, but the elevation in his fee tells you everything you need to know: he's being used by people who want to breed a runner, whether in their own silks or to boost a mare. Actually, Karakontie is perfectly capable of a home run at the sales, including the $525,000 filly at Keeneland in September whose buyers will have been delighted to see her full-sister (who herself made $280,000 the previous year) win the Tepin S. last month. His lesser specimens may struggle commercially, until the environment improves, but that won't trouble those eccentrics who calculate value according to the odds of ending up with a runner.

Gold Medal: MITOLE
Eskendereya–Indian Miss (Indian Charlie)
Spendthrift $15,000

How naïve of me to imagine that all those commercial breeders who flocked to the new sires in 2020 wanted nothing more than to land on the champion freshman of 2023. Because Mitole, as he closes in on those laurels, finds himself the only one of the four Spendthrift sires dominating this table to remain on the same fee in 2024.

Mitole | Louise Reinagel

Now, clearly this farm needs no help in how to make their remarkable machine run smoothly. The Spendthrift team know that Mitole was the one who took the biggest slide of the quartet, in the inevitable slackening of demand for their second crop of yearlings. But they had already ensured that these were conceived more affordably, trimming him from $25,000 in his debut season to $15,000. That was partly a concession to the Covid market, but it also offered such obvious value about a champion sprinter that he maintained the enthusiastic support of 184 mares even last spring, after topping 200 in each of his three previous seasons.

In other words, the system is functioning smoothly and Mitole has played his part so well that he approaches the winning post with a narrow advantage over Maximus Mischief (my serial “gold” pick, I might add, after starting at $7,500!) by prizemoney and also a wafer-thin one by individual winners (32 from 79 starters).

Whether or not he holds out, Mitole is the only one of the four to have a graded stakes scorer–and so joins Flameaway and Solomini in what has been a weirdly unproductive group, by that measure-in GIII Pocahontas S. winner/GI Alcibiades runner-up V V's Dream.

The precocious Maximus Mischief has shown a lot more of his hand (77 starters from 122 named foals) and remember that Mitole (79 from 145) himself only squeezed in a single start at two, in late November. It was as a 4-year-old that he racked up his four Grade Is–including that resonant Met Mile/Breeders' Cup Sprint double, and a stakes record at the intermediate distance in the Forego. So it seems fair to suggest that he has only just got started.

By now Mitole has surely stifled misgivings about his sire, himself after all a brilliant performer and a conduit of corresponding genes. Eskendereya's fifth dam is Cosmah, and doubles up her half-sister's son Northern Dancer top and bottom. It was presumably his unfashionable sire that confined Mitole to $20,000 as a yearling–but then along came kid brother Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow), himself a $17,000 short yearling, to reiterate the merit of a family cultivated by the late Edward A. Cox Jr.

Hot Rod Charlie has now followed Eskendereya to Japan, where they have made a habit of exposing crass commercial trends in Kentucky. But here's a horse making the family assets work even in this less imaginative environment, and his debut at the 2-year-old sales–behind only Omaha Beach in the key freshman medians–suggest that Mitole will be taking out a long lease on the attention of pinhookers.

 

Sires In The Teens: Breeder Selections

Aidan O'Meara, Stonehaven Steadings

Aidan O'Meara | Keeneland

Gold Medal: Volatile
One of the best angles for success in the commercial breeding field is identifying a future leading stallion in the early stages and this sometimes requires taking a leap of faith breeding when their first runners are about to run. Volatile has been the breakout star at the yearling sales this year, mirroring his sire's first crop results a few years back. He's a beautifully built horse himself and passed his physique on with remarkable consistency. He's been very well supported by breeders and will have plenty of ammo in his first few crops to give him every opportunity. If his offspring have legitimate ability, he will skyrocket up the stallion ranks and $15,000 will look like the deal of the decade.

Silver Medal: Connect
The crop of 2021 has all been overshadowed by Gun Runner's incredible achievements, but Connect has been quietly developing a very solid career for himself. He has shown consistency with three graded stakes winners again this year and a strong supporting cast of stakes horses. He has also shown the ability to get the all-important high-class horse with Rattle N Roll. He measures well in all statistical categories and looks to be a stallion that can establish himself long term in the mold of a Midshipman/First Samurai/Blame type.

Bronze Medal: Audible
The Spendthrift quartet has garnered most of the attention from this year's freshmen and rightly so but one horse is simmering just below these and that horse is Audible. His 14% stakes horses with his first 2-year-olds cannot be ignored and his own racing career suggests there is more improvement to be had as they mature. He's a beautiful horse that can throw the right kind as witnessed by his first crop of yearlings. $15,000 is very intriguing for a horse with some potential future upswing and worst-case scenario has shown plenty of ability for longer term success at this price point.

Peter O'Callaghan, Woods Edge Farm

Peter O'Callaghan | Fasig-Tipton

Gold Medal: Midshipman
This stallion has been very good to us both on the track and in the sales ring. We recently bred first-time-out 2-year-old winner Midshipman's Dance; pinhooked Grade II winner Special Reserve; bred Leucothea and co-bred Amidst Waves, both of whom are multiple stakes winning 2-year-olds. He is a very consistent and well-respected sire, standing for an affordable $15,000. You can sell one well at the sales and he produces winners every weekend at the track.

Silver Medal: Mitole
Obviously a brilliant racehorse and looks to be turning out some good 2-year-old winners this second half of the year. Must be a horse worth a punt at $15,000. We are breeding to him again this year.

Bronze Medal: Vekoma
A brilliant racehorse, a high class 2-year-old who trained on, winning some high-profile races in the GII Bluegrass S. going two turns at three. Then winning the GI Carter H. and GI Met Mile at four in impressive fashion. Furthermore, he is a very well-bred son of Candy Ride (Arg), out of the GISW Speightstown mare Mona De Momma from the family of Mr. Greeley.

He is a good-looking horse who seems to sire plenty of good-looking stock. We have bred to him each year and have bought foals by him in each crop, he has not let us down so far.

I think he is a horse with a legitimate shot to be a sire standing at an affordable fee of $15,000.

 

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