By Alan Porter
It certainly comes as no surprise when a stallion prospect suddenly jumps up out of Florida. Mr. Prospector, Kris S., Saint Ballado, started out there before making the move to Kentucky, and within the last 15 years or so, it’s been the springboard to freshman sire crowns for End Sweep, Valid Expectations, and Successful Appeal .
So, it’s no great cause for astonishment when we find that this year’s current leading freshman sire also commenced his career in the Sunshine State. What is less predictable is that unlike End Sweep, Valid Expectations, Successful Appeal, and Wildcat Heir (last year’s world record-breaking leader by individual winners) – all of whom had obvious potential as sires of fast, precious horses – this year’s star would be a classically-bred middle-distance horse who reached his peak at five.
That, however is the profile of Congrats , who is currently heading the freshman sire list for 2010 (as an aside, we can note that this is an unusual year as far as the freshmen are concerned: The faster and more precocious runners have been routed by middle-distance horses, A.P. Indy sons Congrats and Bernardini sandwiching Bluegrass Cat , who is out of an A.P. Indy mare).
Though he was destined to do his best work later in life, Congrats was actually forward enough to win at Saratoga in two starts as a juvenile. At 3, he recorded three allowance victories in seven starts, and earned his first black type with a third to Strong Hope and Empire Maker in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II). Six starts at 4 saw Congrats develop into a stakes winner, achieving that feat with a win over Perfect Drift in the Alysheba Stakes. It was at 5, however, that he really showed his mettle, winning the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) by 5 1/2 lengths; taking second to Rock Hard Ten in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), with Saint Liam, Borrego, Grand Reward, Imperialism and Island Fashion among those in arrears; second in the Ack Ack Handicap; and third in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) and San Antonio Handicap (gr. II). Congrats remained in training at 6, but four starts yielded only one placing, a second in the Memorial Day Handicap (gr. III).
Retired to stand in Florida at a fee of $12,500, Congrats may not have been typical of the usual Ocala draft picks – whose aptitude is almost always slanted to the fast, precocious end of the spectrum – but he certainly owned the credentials for upside. In addition to a very respectable race-record, he is out of a Mr. Prospector mare, so is bred on an identical cross to A.P. Indy stallion sons, Pulpit, Malibu Moon , and Mineshaft , and he’s also a brother to Flatter . A winner four times in six starts, Flatter was only graded stakes-placed, his best achievement a third in the Washington Park Handicap (gr. II). Retired to Claiborne, Flatter has never stood for more than $5,000 – although he will be at $7,500 in 2011 – but with his oldest runners just 5, has sired 15 stakes winners, including the U.S. graded scorers Apart, Tar Heel Mom, Mad Flatter, and Jack o’ Lantern. Praise, the dam of Congrats and Flatter, is a half sister to grade-I winner Eastern Echo, and graded winners Yell, Roar and Blare of Trumpets. Her dam, Wild Applause, a graded stakes-winning daughter of Northern Dancer, is a half sister to Kentucky Derby (gr. I) victor, Sea Hero, and from the Searching branch of the La Troienne family.
Given this background, it’s not particularly shocking that Congrats might come up with a good runner, although as we’ve said, it was less predictable that it would happen so quickly. However, he registered his first U.S. graded winner when the filly, Wickedly Perfect took the Sorrento Stakes (gr. III) in August (having been preceded early in the month by Puerto Rican graded scorer Check My Cheeks), and his first grade I when the same runner captured the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) in October. What’s really striking, however, is that Congrats is also leading freshman sire by individual winners (22) and by stakes horses, with 10 (that’s 10 2-year-old stakes horses from 55 starters, or more than 18% of his runners). Two of those stakes-placed horses have earned those credentials in grade one events: Jordy Y, finishing third to Wickedly Perfect in the Alcibiades, and I’m Steppin’ It Up finishing third in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I).
Congrats’ latest stakes winner is Turbulent Descent, who scored easily on her debut at the Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meeting Oct. 3, and returned on Sunday for the Moccasin Stakes at Hollywood Park. There she tallied by 1½ lengths, but the bare result does not do justice to the impression she created as she cruised past the wire under a virtually motionless David Flores. Turbulent Descent now heads to the Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I), where she is likely to start a short-priced favorite to give her sire his second grade I winner.
Turbulent Descent is the third foal and third winner for her dam, the unraced Forestry mare, Roger’s Sue. The second dam, Fabulous, was unplaced in her only start, and only one of her foals, Bonay, earned black type. Although she may have had her shortcomings as a runner and producer, Fabulous was certainly extremely well-bred. A daughter of Seeking the Gold, she is out of the excellent mare Gorgeous, winner of five graded stakes events, including the Vanity Invitational Handicap (gr. I), Ashland Stakes (gr. I) and Hollywood Oaks (gr. I). Gorgeous never produced a top-class runner – her best was the Nureyev filly, Stunning, a listed winner in France – but she is granddam of the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) heroine, Swift Temper (who is out of a sister to Fabulous), and of the 2010 Etihad Airways Falmouth Stakes (Eng-I) victress Music Show (whose dam is by Fabulous’ grandsire, Mr. Prospector). Gorgeous is out of champion Canadian 3-year-old filly Kamar, also dam of champion Canadian 3-year-old male Key to the Moon, and of Seaside Attraction (by Seattle Slew, the grandsire of Gorgeous), winner of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), and dam of champion 2-year-old filly Golden Attraction (by Mr. Prospector) and Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Cape Town (by Seeking the Gold). Kamar is also ancestress of several other major winners, including Fantastic Light, a champion in Europe and the U.S. The dam of Kamar, Square Angel, was champion 3-year-old filly in Canada, and she is out of Nearctic’s intensely inbred daughter, Nangela, an outstanding tap-root mare.
Rated A++ by TrueNicks, Turbulent Descent is bred on the same cross as Wickedly Perfect, both by Congrats out of mares by sons of Storm Cat, and they come from just seven starters to date bred on the cross. Her pedigree is an absolutely intriguing one as her sire and granddam are reverse Seattle Slew/Mr. Prospector crosses, with the Seattle Slew through A.P. Indy (Seattle Slew, with a second dam by Buckpasser) and Slew o’Gold (Seattle Slew out of a Buckpasser mare). Congrats’ dam, and Roger’s Sue, the dam of Turbulent Descent, are reverse Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer crosses. In addition Congrats’ granddam, Wild Applause, is by Northern Dancer out of a Graustark mare, and Turbulent Descent’s broodmare sire, Forestry, is a Northern Dancer/His Majesty (brother to Graustark) cross. Finally, Turbulent Descent combines 3 x 4 inbreeding to Mr. Prospector, with a cross of Bold Sequence, a three-parts-sister to the dam of Mr. Prospector.
Prior to Turbulent Descent's victory, it had already been announced that Congrats would move from Vinery, Florida to Vinery, Kentucky, for the 2011 season, when he'll stand for $15,000. Not surprisingly, the farm has since been swamped with season inquiries.