By Chris McGrath
The stallions we assess today find themselves at the first major crossroads of their new career. Poor fellows, they're still a long way from having the chance to demonstrate whether they can actually produce runners. But that seems a pretty incidental consideration in the current marketplace, which has created a self-fulfilling cycle. Like it or not, stallions nowadays do indeed have their best chance of producing a good one from their first crop, as these typically emerge from the biggest and best books they will ever get. That, in turn, only reinforces demand for new sires-and it has become extremely hard to break that circle.
In contrast, we now come to that awkward bubble for stallions between the market testing of first weanlings (and soon first yearlings) and the racetrack testing of first juveniles. Even that, of course, will scarcely be a fair measure of those that might need two turns and maturity to show their full hand. There's nothing like having a strong third and fourth book behind you, then, if a stallion actually starts delivering on the track. But this is instead typically a time when book numbers begin to slide, and farms often start dangling lower fees to keep these horses in the game.
Fee cuts are duly one of the “value” factors we must weigh now, alongside the initial vibes from the weanling marketplace. As a result, we can't just replicate our previous choices among this intake. The sands are shifting. On the other hand, we do need to persevere somewhat. If you truly believe in a horse, you will expect him to make an impact on the track even if he has meanwhile endured a tepid reception at market. And, if he does indeed vindicate your belief, there might actually be a commercial dividend for those who keep the faith now.
That makes this is a devilish group to sieve down to a “podium.” We want to respect the professional verdict of horsemen, presented with the first flesh-and-blood evidence of a stallion's genetic imprint. But we also want to respect those horses that will have to ride out diminishing books pending any racetrack impact. We all know of great stallions who were clinging to the precipice around this point. Yet we also know that many who find themselves in that kind of early pickle will indeed just keep slithering into the abyss.
So let's hit and hope, and see if we can strike a balance between these conflicting forces.
We've often noted that those directing ringside investment tend to be pretty obedient, in that sale averages broadly tend to align with the order suggested by sires' opening fees. This intake, however, actually featured one or two that dropped out of that sequence, with their weanlings, and who will duly be under pressure to raise their game at the yearling sales next year.
Of those who have been processing “mega” books, VEKOMA appeals as a valid play right now. He has taken another friendly clip to $15,000 at Spendthrift (started at $20,000) which should help to maintain momentum pending a remarkable stampede of runners. (First books of 222 and 196!) While the sheer volume of his stock will ensure a wide range of experiences for vendors, a $92,222 average is highly respectable in view of the fact that he sold no fewer than 27 of 29 offered. A Grade I winner at seven, eight and nine furlongs, Vekoma is from a stallion-producing family and channels a lot of speed by the standards of his sire of sires.
It is only with extreme reluctance that we ask HONOR A.P. to dismount the podium, as I remain certain that he was extremely close to the summit of his generation, in ability and looks alike. I suspect it may have been a little difficult for him to start out alongside his own sire, who would ideally have elevated himself into a different commercial tier by now. In the round, however, Honor A.P. has ample pedigree to convert his inherent gifts into an awful lot of “run” for your money.
He should have an adequate foothold with opening books of 110 and 81, and we will be keeping the faith at $15,000 at Lane's End. With that tremendous frame of his, I wouldn't be at all surprised if one or two of his foals mature into major pinhook scores from a median touching $45,000.
We gave COMPLEXITY high rank in this group last year and he made a very solid auction debut, finding a home for 27 of 33 weanlings at $58,518. But while his yields are basically in step with the other $12,500 start-up in the intake, he cedes the podium purely because the rival in question-as we'll see in a moment-has taken a fee cut even as his family tree had been elevated.
Everything remains in place for Complexity, however, not least after covering as many as 282 mares across his first two years at Airdrie. He was the most expensive yearling of his crop by a stallion who has since elevated himself to a much less accessible fee; and, for such a fast horse, you might have expected him to spend a rather larger portion of his career in sprints. I'm confident Complexity will have a say in the freshman sires' championship-and, if he does, obviously those who support him now will be well ahead of the curve.
Bronze: WAR OF WILL (War Front-Visions Of Clarity by Sadler's Wells)
This series is not about finding stallions who are simply the most credentialed to succeed. That said, I do feel that this guy may have the best prospects of this group of turning himself into an important stallion. For a dirt Classic winner to combine Northern Dancer's parallel breed-shapers Danzig and Sadler's Wells as closely as he does-they respectively account for his sire and dam-feels like a fairly historic opportunity to reconcile the culpably separated gene pools of North America and Europe.
And, in those terms, he looks value as well. Certainly the early signs are that War of Will is getting the commercial traction he needs, with 255 mares across his first two books and a highly promising ring debut, processing 21 of 28 weanlings offered at $102,761.
Standing alongside another young grandson of Danzig, Silver State, War of Will similarly has an opportunity to enrich the legacy of a stallion who founded a global dynasty on this same farm. The maternal line, moreover, is regal: extending to matriarch Best In Show (Traffic Judge) through a line decorated by such brilliant Niarchos performers as his dam's sibling Spinning World (Nureyev) and granddam's half-sister Chimes Of Freedom (Private Account), herself dam of Aldebaran (Mr Prospector) among others. The result is a “stairwell” of quality through War of Will's third and fourth generations that makes it irrelevant which genes filter through, because they are uniformly proven to be potent (i.e. not just by the names that bring them into this pedigree).
That's how you end up with a Preakness winner who could then add a Grade I mile on turf at four. We know that the commercial market often betrays a childish dread of any flavor of chlorophyll in a pedigree, but hopefully everyone can see that the grass elements in this horse are all about miler speed and class.
Obviously, War of Will remains a far more affordable alternative to his ageing sire. In the next instalment of this series we'll see whether another elite dirt winner by War Front, Omaha Beach, can retain gold in his own class. But for now we note with pleasure that War of Will and Silver State share a chance to take their farm back to the future, lighting a path from the glorious torch that was Danzig.
Silver: GLOBAL CAMPAIGN (Curlin-Globe Trot by A.P. Indy)
I've been with this fellow throughout and will gladly double down now that he gets a trim in fee, from $12,500, even as his genes have been exalted by a stellar start to his own stud career by half-brother Bolt d'Oro.
With 177 mares in his first book, Global Campaign will have the necessary ammunition for his bid potentially to give their remarkable dam a second consecutive champion freshman from just three foals delivered before her premature loss.
It'll be fun to see whether her only other son, Sonic Mule (Distorted Humor), can thrive in his own stud career, in Uruguay. Even as things stand, however, Globe Trot was clearly a conduit of some very potent genes.
This is a branch of the Myrtlewood dynasty that has conspicuously concentrated speed. Globe Trot's dam was a triple graded stakes winner (including round one turn) whose half-sister produced triple Grade I sprint winner Zensational (Unbridled's Song)-an unusually quick horse, for his sire, just as two juvenile Grade Is hardly made Bolt d'Oro a standard issue Medaglia d'Oro. Sonic Mule was graded stakes-placed at six furlongs. Sure enough, Global Campaign himself was loaded with a good deal more speed than might be expected in a son of Curlin out of an A.P. Indy mare.
Indeed, he outpaced Yorkton (Speightstown) over seven furlongs on his comeback at four. And while he never ran at two, that was pretty marginal: he romped on debut on January 5. I always felt that his slightly uneven development-which didn't stop him clocking four triple-digit Beyers in 10 starts-meant that people never quite recognized the level he had reached once putting it all together. Conceivably, moreover, his outlying family left him unfinished business over slightly shorter distances (unpressured in the GI Woodward H.).
Global Campaign made a solid debut at the sales, hitting a median of $52,500 for 16 weanlings sold (25 offered). And while his second book halved to 87, the chance presented by his big first crop could really work in favor of those who persevered. The fee cut gives them every incentive to do so again, not least with Bolt d'Oro ($15,000 in 2021, now $35,000) now surging beyond the reach of many operating at this level.
Gold: COUNTRY HOUSE (Lookin At Lucky-Quake Lake by War Chant)
$7,500 Darby Dan
No point undertaking an exercise like this if you're not prepared to stick your neck out from time to time. Quite clearly the odds are steeply against Country House, favored by no more than 89 mares across his first two books, but he deserves someone to stand up and point out what the herd is missing.
He was scandalously underrated as a racehorse, a victim of all the hoopla about the horse he supplanted as Derby winner. He got no credit for beating all the rest of his crop on the day that counted-including horses like Improbable and Game Winner, who were launched at much higher fees-though his performance actually sat very coherently with the way he had been progressing through his rehearsals.
He was then unfortunate to be denied any chance of authenticating his breakout (becoming even more of a forgotten horse, sadly, after the decision to keep him in training backfired) and, though sensibly priced and inbred to the Sam-Son matriarch No Class (Nodouble), has evidently remained in the margins of breeders' attention.
What a fabulous achievement, then, to hit a $250,000 home run with one of only four weanlings into the ring from his debut crop. Obviously, the colt he sold at Keeneland in November, buried deep in the catalogue as Hip 2370, could turn out to be a flash in the pan. But the fact is that far more expensive peers had to summon two or three dozen weanlings from enormous books to muster a single sale in that kind of range.
Congratulations to those who banked that dividend off a $7,500 cover. It may be too much to hope others will now sit up and take notice, given how deplorably the market has treated Lookin At Lucky over the years. But that horse has never lost his appeal to those prepared to swim against the tide in pursuit of merit. And perhaps it will also prove true of his son that there's no limit to the kind of runner he might produce, if only he is given a chance.
As we've said, this is an agonizing podium because it permits wildly different interpretations of value, bringing together horses like Vekoma, who have suggested immediate viability on a more industrial model, with others who can overcome early neglect and prove long-term value once they get runners.
Country House, while clearly belonging in the latter category, has also made a resounding commercial statement from tiny opportunity. He's an audacious pick, no doubt, but plenty of less deserving prospects will be receiving far more attention-and we must do the little we can to redress that.