Leading North American Sire in 2004: Elusive Quality

Leading North American Sire in 2004: Elusive Quality
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Elusive Quality, leading sire and leading third-crop sire of 2004.
Elusive Quality   has become a poster boy for what a stallion with a modest fee can accomplish. The 2004 leading sire by progeny earnings had his stud fee go from $10,000 to $30,000, to $50,000, and now to its present $100,000. It's a success story reflecting quality through and through.

The race for leading sire of 2004 was over sooner than anyone expected and probably quicker than any time in history. The knockout punch came in dramatic fashion in America's greatest race and signaled the rise of a new star.

A third of the way into the year, Elusive Quality's unbeaten son, Smarty Jones  , crushed the competition in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) to take home the winner's share of the purse and a $5-million Oaklawn Centennial bonus. Ninth at the time on the sire list, Elusive Quality vaulted past front-runner Pleasant Colony to open up a lead of some $3.4 million. After that, it was just a matter of who would finish second. (It turned out to be El Prado.)

Elusive Quality's sire title is all the more impressive because his 2004 runners were conceived at the time the son of Gone West stood for $10,000. Elusive Quality, with his oldest runners 4-year-olds in 2004, ended the year with progeny earnings of $10,756,659 and also ranked atop the third-crop sire list.

A world-record-setting miler, Elusive Quality has turned in some big numbers since entering stud in 1999 at Sheikh Maktoum's Gainsborough Stud near Versailles, Ky., as the property of brother Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud Management. As a freshman sire in 2002, Elusive Quality ranked among the nation's leaders with 23 juvenile winners, and led all first-crop sires by number of stakes winners, with six, and stakes victories, with 11. Perhaps more impressive is that he sired a big horse right away. His son Elusive City was France's champion 2-year-old male.

Elusive Quality ended 2002 atop North America's first-crop sire list by progeny earnings, but the title was taken away after it was determined Elusive City had raced with a banned substance in two events. The subtraction of earnings from those two races demoted Elusive Quality to third behind Distorted Humor   and Awesome Again  .

The fall from the top notwithstanding, Darley saw fit to raise Elusive Quality's fee from $10,000 to $30,000 for 2003.

"Elusive Quality is such a good-looking horse and he has passed that on to his progeny," said Dan Pride, director of stallion operations at Darley at Jonabell near Lexington. "Conformation-wise, there has not been a trait that you have to breed away from. He's a correct horse, has plenty of size--16.2 hands--and great bone and substance.

"If you look at his sale results, specifically this year (2004), he not only is doing it on the racetrack, but he physically gets the type of horse that people are wanting to buy and that are attracting attention in the sale ring."

The attraction to Elusive Quality's weanlings and yearlings was in full force in 2004. His eight weanlings averaged $306,875 and his 47 yearlings averaged $170,234, both averages up considerably from 2003.

According to Pride, Elusive Quality proved popular to both pinhookers and those buying to race. "Darley bought three weanlings in November (at Keeneland) and I guarantee you we're keeping them to race," Pride said. "As for yearlings, you have to look at the sale results. They're a good mix of both. We bought one (a colt) for $950,000 at Fasig-Tipton July that we'll keep to race."

The $950,000 was the highest price paid for a Fasig-Tipton July yearling since 1983.

Bred in Kentucky by John and Marie Costelloe's Silver Springs Stud Farm and Marie Costelloe, Elusive Quality was a record setter on dirt as well as on turf for Sheikh Mohammed and trainer Bill Mott.

"He was a very fast horse, had plenty of raw ability and a very efficient, smooth stride," Mott said. "He won his first start (by 11 1/2 lengths) at 1 1/16 miles, but it later became apparent that he would do better when shortened up. He also could move easily from dirt to turf."

He also could move fast over both surfaces. His time of 1:31.63 in the Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park was a world record on grass and came about five weeks after he won the Jaipur Handicap (gr. IIIT) there at seven furlongs in the good time of 1:20.99.

On dirt at Gulfstream Park, he recorded the highest Beyer Speed Figures two consecutive years in the sprint division, a 122 in 1997 when he set track record of 1:20.17 for seven furlongs and a 123 for the same distance the following year.

"He was under wraps when he set the record and was never really pushed," Mott recalled.

Mott felt Elusive Quality showed the best of his ability in the 1996 King's Bishop Stakes (gr. II) at seven furlongs at Saratoga.

"It was against Honour and Glory, and they really battled it out in the stretch," Mott said about the race in which Elusive Quality was beaten a nose in his fourth start.

Elusive Quality was entered for the 1998 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), but failed to draw in. He retired from racing with a record of nine wins from 20 starts and earnings of $413,284.

NO LETTING UP

Elusive Quality's stature as a prized stallion continued after his freshman year. In 2003, Elusive Quality was represented by the earners of $3 million and led all second-crop sires with 10 stakes winners and 15 stakes triumphs. Best yet, it was the year Smarty Jones   arrived on the scene.

The speed that had served Elusive Quality so well on the racetrack would be at the heart of Smarty Jones' success. A Pennsylvania homebred for Roy and Patricia Chapman, Smarty Jones made a big splash as a 2-year-old at his home track of Philadelphia Park. He won by 7 3/4 lengths in his first start and by 15 in the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes in his next. His victory in the latter race, in 1:21.88 for seven furlongs, was good enough for a 105 Beyer Speed Figure, the co-highest of the year for a juvenile.

Smarty Jones failed to attract much attention early on the 2004 Triple Crown trail despite wins in the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct and Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. That changed slightly after he won the first race in the Oaklawn Centennial series, the March 20 Rebel Stakes, and changed considerably after he captured the April 10 Arkansas Derby (gr. II), the second race in the three-race series.

The 4-1 Kentucky Derby favorite, Smarty Jones won by 2 3/4 lengths over Lion Heart, and then took the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) by a record 11 1/2 lengths before finishing second to Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

Smarty Jones retired shortly after the Belmont with earnings of $7,613,155, and was syndicated for $650,000 per share, bringing his total valuation to $39 million. He will stand for $100,000 at Robert N. Clay's Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Ky.

As expected with the success of Elusive Quality, breeders have begun to hitch a ride on the stallion's bandwagon. Such stakes-winning sons as Gimmeawink, Great Notion  , and Omega Code   will enter stud in the U.S. in 2005. Elusive City, who stood the Southern Hemisphere season at Trelawney Stud in New Zealand, will stand in 2005 at Huma Park Stud in Ireland.

Elusive Quality's success also was the determining factor in Sheikh Mohammed buying the stallion's half-brother, Rossini, in 2004 and relocating him from Ireland to Darley at Jonabell for the 2005 breeding season. "The similarities of Rossini's start at stud are similar to Elusive Quality's," Pride said. "Rossini was retired for a modest fee and bred to modest mares, and he now has 17 winners and two group winners. He definitely moved his mares up."

Rossini's fee is $10,000. Instead of joining Rossini at Darley at Jonabell, Elusive Quality will remain at Gainsborough. "Nothing has changed from Sheikh Mohammed's original intention of standing Elusive Quality at Gainsborough," said Jimmy Bell, managing director of Darley at Jonabell.

Elusive Quality not only will be supported by Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Maktoum, but also by brother Sheikh Hamdan of Shadwell Stud. Pride estimates the brothers will patronize Elusive Quality with some 50 of the 135-145 mares that the stallion will cover in 2005. Elusive Quality stood the recent Southern Hemisphere season at Darley Australia.

Although he was a record setter on dirt and grass, Elusive Quality has achieved his greatest success at stud so far on dirt. But that might change.

"With the exception of Elusive City, it looks like there is more of a bias to dirt than turf," Pride said. "But as the mares have improved in his crops, you get more mares from turf families being bred to him. We're optimistic that his turf potential will be as solid as his dirt potential.

"When horses retire at a $10,000 level, most of the mares you get are going to be American, dirt, speed-type mares. You don't get a turf pedigree with a lot of those European families. But we found with the stud fee going up and the support broadening, he has gotten some of those turf families. So, there is every reason to believe that based on his own success, he should have some kind of success on turf."

A long line of solid turf mares. That's just what the competition doesn't need.

Most Popular Stories