SLIDE SHOW: American-Bred Japanese Sires
"Visitors who enter the office at Shigeyuki Okada's Big Red Farm in Japan immediately know how the owner feels about his prize stallion, Roses in May.
The first thing they see is a luminous portrait of the nearly black son of Devil His Due, a piece of art Okada painted himself in tribute to the horse that won the 2004 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) and 2005 Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).
"I am very lucky; I love this horse," Okada said.
Stabled in a Kentucky-style barn on Big Red's tranquil, tree-dotted 618 acres lying at the base of mist-covered hills, Roses in May is adored even by his grooms. "He is such a big star. We all take care of him so carefully," said stud manager Sugou Masataka.
Okada is hoping Roses in May will follow in the steps of another blackish American horse, Sunday Silence. He recruited 198 mares for the stallion¹s first season at stud in 2006, following with 153 this year.
Other American-bred or -raced stallions also are in the running to become Sunday Silence's heir as Japan's best sire. In fact, Big Red also is home to Japanese champion Agnes Digital, who was purchased by trainer Toshiaki Shirai when just a foal at co-breeder Catesby Clay's Runnymede Farm near Paris, Ky. A fiery 10-year-old son of Crafty Prospector, Agnes Digital, ranked second on Japan¹s freshman sire list through mid-July.
"I think the next big stallion will be Agnes Digital," said Dr. Masatake Iida, president of Chiyoda Farm. "When he was running, he was the best horse; so when he retired, I became the biggest shareholder in him. I¹ve even run ads for him overseas." Multiple grade I winner Wild Rush, by Wild Again, shrewdly purchased by a group of young Japanese breeders from Frank Stronach in 2003 just before his American offspring achieved major success, also is popular while and is based at Arrow Stud.
Yukio Shimokobe of Shimokobe Farm orchestrated the purchase of Wild Rush, who covered 142 mares this season. "We are really looking for stallions that can cover Sunday Silence-line mares and nick well with them," he said.
A number of veteran sires with connections to America are holding their own, with Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Brian's Time continuing to rule Arrow Stud. The 22-year-old son of Roberto serviced 87 mares this year.
Paradise Creek, 1994 champion grass horse, is stabled nearby and was bred to 68 mares this season.
Another older stallion, Afleet, by Mr. Prospector, a leading sire in the U.S. in 1996 and '97 before reaching the same pinnacle for years in Japan, received 69 mares at the Thoroughbred Breeders Club Co. farm.
Not all the American-raced stallions have been so successful, however. The stars of champions and dual classic winners Charismatic and Silver Charm and multiple grade I winner Captain Steve seem to have waned. Dr. Shigeki Yusa, stallion affairs manager for the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders' Association, said Charismatic and Captain Steve have been moved from the main JBBA stallion station in Shizunai to a branch stud, while Silver Charm has not been very busy this year.
The JBBA's American headliner, Forty Niner, remains in robust health after beginning the Japanese phase of his stud career in 1996. Unfortunately for the JBBA, the son of Mr. Prospector has been battling fertility problems.
Only six of the 19 mares he covered this year are in foal, Yusa said, a number similar to what the stallion attained in 2006. He may be reaching the end of a career that has yielded progeny earnings of more than $104.7 million to date and a reputation as a potent sire of sires.
"It is something that comes with age," said a spokesperson for the JBBA, which has stood the 22-year-old son of Mr. Prospector at its Shizunai Stallion Station since since he arrived in Japan, when asked about Forty Niner¹s apparently decreasing fertility.
Forty Niner is in good health and remains at the JBBA's main stallion complex on the island of Hokkaido, along with Silver Charm and European champions Opera House and Bago.
The champion 2-year-old male of 1987 in the U.S., Forty Niner was retired to Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky., which bred and raced him, after his 3-year-old campaign. He ranked as America's leading freshman sire in 1992 and was sold to Japanese breeders in 1995. Soon thereafter, he enjoyed his best years, ranking as second leading sire in the U.S. in 1996, when his son, Editor's Note, won the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
As Forty Niner's first sons also began to succeed as sires, offers from American studs to repatriate the stallion began to flood into the JBBA, which rejected them all. Forty Niner reached his Japanese zenith in 2003 while ending the season as champion dirt sire. He ranked as Japan's sixth leading sire overall in 2004, 11th in '05, and is 20th on the '07 list through mid-July.
Forty Niner has sired 55 stakes winners in 16 crops of racing age, but his lasting mark has been through his sons, including Distorted Humor , sire of champion and dual American classic winner Funny Cide, and Roar, Argentina¹s leading sire in 2005.