(Originally from the March 23, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse)
by Anne Peters
It’s rare enough for a horse to become a successful sire, so imagine how exceptional it is for a stallion to become a successful sire of sires. We can all probably name a few that fit this bill including Northern Dancer, Roberto, Mr. Prospector, and Danzig, all extremely influential animals.
Many factors outside of raw genetics come into play, and two of the most important involve the sale ring and the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), factors that are inextricably linked.
In the last decade or so, several sires have continued their male lines with a flourish. Northern Dancer’s grandson, Storm Cat, is a major success with sons such as Giant's Causeway , Hennessy, Tale of the Cat , Stormy Atlantic , Bernstein, Forestry, and many others. Storm Cat got big, precocious offspring, some of which took their owners on the classic trail, win or lose; all factors important in making a stallion. Even though his progeny were noted for having some physical shortcomings such as bad knees, buyers were willing to take the risk in the hopes of having a Kentucky Derby starter.
European-raced Giant’s Causeway extends Storm Cat’s line even further, with the early showing of Footstepsinthesand and Shamardal in Ireland and First Samurai in the United States, and a lineup that includes Cowboy Cal , Eskendereya , Hold Me Back , Giant Oak , and Creative Cause waiting in the wings. Although Giant’s Causeway was a great 10-furlong horse, a lot of his sons are in keeping with the Storm Cat model, early maturing and fast, with talent on dirt, which seems to be the formula that works best in America.
Hennessy was a classic-type Storm Cat horse, precocious and fast, and was very dominant for that model as a sire. His son Johannesburg followed in his footsteps as a solid speed stallion, and when he went to Japan, we moaned, but he left behind Scat Daddy (North America’s leading freshman sire of 2011 by progeny earnings) and Teuflesberg (sire of champion sprinter Trinniberg ). Two other sons of Hennessy resurrected their reputations in 2012. The much-traveled Wiseman's Ferry stood briefly in Kentucky but now lives in Pennsylvania, where he basks in the glory of his son Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year. Henny Hughes was a slow starter and had actually been given walking papers out of Kentucky before his daughter Beholder became the champion 2-year-old filly of 2012, so now he’s back, this time at Walmac Farm.
Tale of the Cat’s son Lion Heartis a very good sire, which bodes well for Tale of the Cat’s other high-class sons Tale of Ekati andGio Ponti , with foals yet to race.
Harlan sired Menifee and Harlan's Holiday in a short stud career, and Harlan’s Holiday is making a strong showing as sire of last year’s champion 2-year-old male Shanghai Bobby . Harlan’s Holiday’s son,Into Mischief was one of the leading freshman sires of 2012. Keep in mind that one good son does not make any of them “sires of sires,” not yet.
Several of Mr. Prospector’s sons have created their own interesting subsets, including Fappiano, Gone West, and Forty Niner. As with Storm Cat, the fortunes of most of these are directly related to their ability to get big, handsome colts that sell well and get on the classic trail, which then translates into more success in the sale ring.
The Fappiano line has given us many classic winners and equally good stallions, the best being Unbridled, who sired the brilliant Unbridled's Song, classic winners Grindstone and Empire Maker, and grade II winner Broken Vow . Unbridled’s Song has yet to have a son knock it out of the park as a classic winner, or as a stallion, but there are still many of his sons in the pipeline who may hit, including First Defence , Zensational , and Midshipman .
Gone West made a strong statement through his sons Grand Slam, Mr. Greeley, Elusive Quality , Proud Citizen , and Speightstown . Like the Storm Cats, the Gone Wests tended to be typey, muscular individuals with speed as their hallmark. With repeated crosses to stamina, the tide is turning, and Elusive Quality has sired several good middle-distance performers such as Smarty Jones, Raven’s Pass, and Quality Road to go along with Elusive City in Europe. Smarty Jones, with 10 stakes winners last year, is a better sire than he gets credit for although a commercial failure in Kentucky, but it’s probably up to the more commercially favored Quality Road to make or break Elusive Quality as a sire of sires in North America.
A.P. Indy is earning a strong reputation as a sire of sires although his offspring tend to need some time and distance. His rare precocious sons such as Malibu Moon and Jump Start have done well, but so, too, his later-maturing ones such as Pulpit, Mineshaft , Bernardini , Congrats , and Flatter . Every year he almost always has a colt with classic aspirations, and his sons are so well-bred that they are ideal stallion prospects if they have any sort of race record at all.
Pulpit is represented by successful sire sons Tapit , Sky Mesa , and Stroll . Tapit is now ticking all the boxes, as his quick, early offspring are maturing into good colts on the classic trail.
The fact is that American sire lines are extremely dependent on the commercial market, which drives the breeders to feed the buyers what they want: big, handsome, virtually flawless colts that will put their owners on the road to the Kentucky Derby. The next great sire of sires will be the one whose sons deliver the goods, in the spring, on the dirt, headed for Churchill Downs.