By Alan Porter
August 9 brought the news that Hennessy had died of apparent heart failure at Haras La Mission in Argentina while preparing for the Southern Hemisphere season. The 14-year-old son of Storm Cat out of Island Kitty, by Hawaii, has so far sired 57 stakes winners from 1,057 foals of racing age, for earnings of nearly $54 million.
While it is somewhat early to appraise his impact on the breed, one can at least recognize Hennessy as having what we might term an important "sociological" legacy. Hennessy, who was foaled in 1993, came along in Storm Cat's fifth crop, the first conceived after his runners had hit the track. He sold for $500,000 as a yearling and went on to earn the distinction of being the first son of Storm Cat to capture a grade I event as a juvenile (Storm Cat’s daughter Sardula had taken the Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I) late in 1993). In fact, Hennessy was the dominant member of his division for much of the year, and arguably came very close to earning an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old. After placing in his career debut and winning in his second try, Hennessy captured, in succession, the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. II), by 5-1/2 lengths; the Sapling Stakes (gr. II), by 9-3/4 lengths; and the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), by 3-1/4 lengths. Unplaced in the Moet Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont, Hennessy rebounded to run Unbridled's Song to a neck in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Had that decision gone his way, it's likely that Hennessy would have rested on his laurels for the rest of the year, and voters would not have denied him juvenile honors. As it was, however, he started twice more at 2, and was almost certainly feeling the effects of the campaign when second in the Hollywood Prevue Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. III) and fourth in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). Incidentally, the major juvenile events that year were contested by a crop that went on to have a more than usual impact as stallions. This crop included eventual Champion Maria's Mon, subsequent leading freshman sire Honour and Glory, Louis Quatorze, and Matty G.
Injured before he could start at 3, Hennessy was retired to Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky. It is interesting to consider with the benefit of perspective that while Storm Cat is now an eagerly sought-after sire of sires, when Hennessy's career was in its formative stages, the jury was still very much out on Storm Cat's standing in that role. Storm Cat's first significant sons with runners—Mountain Cat, Storm Boot, and Future Storm—had their first juveniles at the track in 1997, the year in which Hennessy covered his first mares. The following year saw the first runners for Storm Cat sons Catrail, Harlan, and Delineator, and retiring to stud the year before Hennessy was Tabasco Cat.
Storm Boot did extremely well considering his limited initial opportunities and Delineator has been a very good horse for Washington breeders, but neither sires was going to make Storm Cat's name as a sire of sires. The short-lived Harlan got Menifee in his first crop, and would get Harlan's Holiday three years later, but his early death diminished the impact of his achievements. Catrail, who stood in Ireland and shuttled to Australia before standing in Kentucky and then Canada, suffered from fertility problems and overall has been a disappointment. The two highest-profile Storm Cat sons to retire before Hennessy were Tabasco Cat and Mountain Cat, who were both exported in fairly short order. Tabasco Cat, who went to Japan and did get three grade one winners, was more disappointing than a disaster. Mountain Cat went to Turkey.
Hennessy and Forest Wildcat were the next major Storm Cats with runners, and while they were subsequently followed by Stormy Atlantic , Tale of the Cat , Forestry , and Giant's Causeway , there's little doubt that the success of Hennessy and Forest Wildcat came at a very important juncture, not least the degree of acceptability which it conferred to the next Storm Cats along.
Hennessy's statistics—or at least his percentage of stakes winners to foals—doesn't really do justice to his ability as a sire, like many horses in the “big book” era, and he's better appreciated by noting that he had at least one really good horse in almost every crop. This included Ballerina Handicap (gr. I) winner Harmony Lodge in his first crop; world-champion 2-year-old Johannesburg in his second; Ashland Stakes (gr.I) heroine Madcap Escape, a winner of seven of nine starts, in his fourth; and brilliant juvenile and sprinter Henny Hughes in his sixth.
As that list indicates, Hennessy was primarily a conduit for speed and precocity, but in the right circumstance, the distaff side of his pedigree played a role; he was out of a mare by the South African-bred Hawaii, the Champion U.S. Turf Horse of 1969. A number of Hennessy's runners were able to make their mark on the turf, some over middle distances. In addition to Johannesburg, who dominated Europe's juveniles on turf before taking the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), we can note two horses from his first two Australian crops: Half Hennessy, winner of the 1-1/2 mile BMW Queensland Derby (gr. I), and Grand Armee, a superior miler who also twice took the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (gr. I) at 10 furlongs, as well as U.S. millionaire grass horse Silver Tree.
The turf aspect to the distaff side of Hennessy's pedigree may turn out to be a plus for his descendents with the growth in popularity of all-weather surfaces (Hennessy himself already has 2007 all-weather graded winner Mary Delaney). The Hawaii section of his pedigree—and indeed the whole female side—might also be relevant to Hennessy's early promise as a sire of sires. His first sons with runners so far are Perigee Moon, Canada's Leading Freshman Sire of 2005; Bacoma, a grade I sire in Chile with his first crop; and Johannesburg, who has 10 stakes winners (six of them graded) in his first crop, which are currently only 3-year-olds. In this context, the dam's side of Hennessy's pedigree may well be more important for what it is not than for what it is. Or put another way, Hennessy's distaff side is completely free of most of the strains close up in the commercial broodmare population, something which applies to Hennessy's pedigree as a whole. Other than for Northern Dancer and Secretariat appearing in the third generation on his sire’s side (but back in the fifth generation for the offspring of his sons and daughters), his stallion sons are free to be crossed over with the most commercial lines of the day. This has already proved to be the case for Johannesburg, who has Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer in his dam, and already has several stakes winners with further additions of those strains in their dam, notably multiple grade I winner Scat Daddy, who will second his sire at Ashford next year. It will also be interesting to see how this works for Henny Hughes (another outcross to most of the commercial population, as his first two dams are by Meadowlake and Hagley).
Since Hennessy's dam was an elite producer—also dam of the grade-I winning Pearl City and multiple graded stakes winner Shy Tom—we'd also expect him to eventually do well as a broodmare sire. In that role, he's so far appeared in the pedigrees of multiple graded stakes winner Tiz Wonderful and Australian stakes winner Superfly.