Reprinted from the Jan. 4, 2014 issue of The Blood-Horse.
For 25 years and through several incarnations he has been a star. His name, like all others, has moved inexorably to the right in pedigree boxes, yet still shines brightly enough as his last crop turns 3. He exists now near the top of only the broodmare sire list, but might there still be enough magic to his blood that in 2014 he gets one more classic winner?
These kinds don't come around often; horses that have excelled at every stage from the time their mating was planned to the days when, their work finished, they munch hay as pensioners. The term "genetic masterpiece" is used with increasing frequency these days, but it is never so appropriate as when applied to A.P. Indy.
By Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and out of Weekend Surprise, a producer of two classic winners and three graded stakes winners and whom he would help make a Kentucky broodmare of the year, A.P. Indy also boasts Triple Crown winner Secretariat as his broodmare sire. It is a pedigree stamped in gold, but one that he has furthered by becoming a sire of sires. A.P. Indy's grandson Tapit , by his first big winner, Pulpit, is a prepotent stud who today commands the top price of any North American-based stallion.
Unlike his sire, who sold as a gangly yearling for a bargain basement $17,500, A.P. Indy brought the top price paid for a yearling of his generation, $2.9 million. But this sport isn't a beauty contest, and the ridgling backed up his good looks with a grade I victory in the Hollywood Futurity at 2 and, after famously being scratched out of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) the morning of the race with foot problems, came back to win the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at 3, earning Horse of the Year honors for 1992 before being hustled off to his birthplace, Lane's End Farm, for stallion duty.
There, he completed the trifecta of sale horse, racehorse, and stud horse. To date, A.P. Indy has sired 154 stakes winners and, along with his sons Malibu Moon , Pulpit, Flatter , Majestic Warrior , Bernardini , and Jump Start, resides on the first page of the 2013 leading sires list.
Decreasing fertility made his last few years at stud a struggle. His 2009 crop numbered 59 named sons and daughters; in 2010 there were 39; and in 2011, his final crop before being pensioned, A.P. Indy sired 36 named foals. Breeders were faced with a decision in those final years--take a risk that their mares would catch when bred to him or go a safer route with a stallion more likely to impregnate their mares.
"The last few years it got to be where it took a couple of times to get mares in foal to him," noted Lane's End's Bill Farish. "But there was absolutely no hesitation from breeders about going to him. If you're a commercial breeder, you were looking to get a colt, but he's proved to be such a great broodmare sire that people were just as happy getting a filly. I'm sure for stallions that aren't in the exalted position that A.P. Indy was, it would be more of a decision whether you'd want to try and breed to them."
"I used to have a prejudice against going to an older stallion until I got older myself," said John Sikura, owner of Hill 'n' Dale Farms, which bred or co-bred three of the horses from A.P. Indy's last crop. "He's such a prolific, great sire and we knew he was coming to the end of his career, so we sent multiple mares to him."
Sikura had already enjoyed success breeding to A.P. Indy with his Deputy Minister mare Daijin, having raced homebred full sisters Serenading, a champion in Canada; and multiple stakes winner Handpainted. Sikura sold two of his yearlings from A.P. Indy's last crop, keeping the third, Got Lucky, to race. Out of Malka, Got Lucky ran a strong second in the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) for Sikura and his partner Philip Steinberg and has a bright future with trainer Todd Pletcher.
"Malka's dam is named Get Lucky, and we were lucky to get her in foal to A.P. Indy," Sikura said in explaining the name. "But The Jockey Club had other ideas, so we had to appeal before ultimately getting it."
Sheikh Mohammed's Darley has been a steady customer at the court of A.P. Indy throughout his stallion career, having enjoyed particular success with Mr. Prospector-line mares that produced horses such as Bernardini and Flashing for them, and it was no different in A.P. Indy's latter years. Darley is the breeder of eight of the 36 foals from his final crop. And, rather unusual for a sire who is known for having his progeny improve over time and distance, Darley has enjoyed success with this last crop as 2-year-olds. Arethusa, a filly out of the graded stakes winner Miss Coronado, won the Sharp Cat Stakes.
Divided Attention, out of the graded stakes-producing mare Contrive, is graded stakes-placed, having finished second in the Tempted Stakes (gr. III). And Patent, a colt out of graded stakes producer Issaqueena, looked impressive when breaking his maiden on the turf.
"We think we'll have some meaningful runners out of his last crop," said Jimmy Bell, president of Darley's North America operation. "It's surprising to have that many 2-year-olds because it is when you start stretching them out—like with Bernardini, who had the one race at 3 in January and all of a sudden, boom —that you get that dramatic improvement. Although they are 3-year-olds for the most part, we always like to get them to the races in the fall at Belmont or going 1 1⁄16 miles in California at 2, get that experience under their belt, and the ones with serious talent come to the forefront and get their picture taken then. Any kind of start at 2 is a big help moving them to their 3-year-old season, when they come on strong in their development."
George Bolton, co-owner of graded stakes winners such as The Factor , My Miss Aurelia, and Curlin , decided to breed to A.P. Indy in his final years at stud after his fee dropped from a high of $300,000 into the $150,000 range. Along with David DiPietro, Bolton bred the graded stakes-winning Rare Gift to A.P. Indy and got a filly from his last crop, selling the now-named Native Talent as a yearling.
"I thought at that price it was a very good risk/reward," Bolton said. "I always breed to have a commercial product where I have the option to sell or race, so I try to go to the top 10 stallions. His record stands for itself. Even though we sold that yearling, I bought Majestic River as a yearling so we would have an A.P. Indy filly in the barn. I think she will be a stakes-quality filly. She is coming back to the races after getting a break."
Chris Baker, who managed the late Edward Evans' Spring Hill Farm, noted the historic opportunity as a reason the Edward P. Evans estate bred graded stakes winner and stakes producer Gold Mover to A.P. Indy in his final year at stud.
"First, Gold Mover is a Mr. P-line mare so it was a chance to breed on an established, productive cross," Baker said. "She was a compact, muscular, speedy mare that we felt would complement A.P. Indy well. And she already had produced a stakes winner by Giant's Causeway , so we wanted to build her into an important broodmare and felt this was the way to do that. The mare was very fertile, so we felt we had a fair shot to get her in foal even given his situation, and it was also the last chance to do this mating.
"Mr. Evans' mantra was to always try and produce a racehorse first, but when I'd ask him if we were going for a sale-topper or a graded stakes winner, he said, 'Why not both?' But ultimately he was a racing man."
Nick Zito is known more as a trainer than a breeder, but he and longtime client Robert LaPenta bred Sweet Sarah, a mare they co-owned, to A.P. Indy and got a colt that would be named Drive from his final crop. A subsequent split between Zito and LaPenta resulted in Drive being sent to another trainer.
"Mr. (Will) Farish was nice enough to let us breed to A.P. Indy," noted Zito. "He was at the end of his career, and we wanted to get in on it. I never did have too many A.P. Indys to train but did well (graded stakes winners Stephen Got Even and A P Valentine) with the ones I had. That success figured in; you dream of having a top horse by A.P. Indy. That was the key, and that's what we did, always planning to race him. I was excited to train another one, but it didn't work out."
If A.P. Indy's stallion career is to have a fairy tale finish, one of his newly minted 3-year-olds would have to enter the winner's circle at Churchill Downs May 3 after the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Bernardini earned his sire a Preakness Stakes (gr. I) win, and the filly Rags to Riches emulated her sire by taking the Belmont Stakes, but he's yet to sire a Kentucky Derby victor, and this year represents his final opportunity. Potential candidates for Derby glory have already presented themselves. The WinStar Farm homebred Commissioner, out of stakes winner and graded stakes producer Flaming Heart, handled 1 1⁄8 miles at Saratoga last summer while breaking his maiden. Most eyes, however, are trained on Honor Code, who is out of the stakes-winning and graded stakes producer Serena's Cat, and was bred by Dell Ridge Farm, which bought Serena's Cat as a weanling for $1.4 million, a sum befitting a granddaughter of the great champion Serena's Song.
Des Ryan handles the matings for the Justice family's Dell Ridge Farm and has enjoyed extraordinary success. Dell Ridge is represented as breeder of North American graded stakes winners Morning Line , Shakespeare , Noble Tune, and Violence .
After breeding Serena's Cat to Unbridled's Song, Ryan sent her to A.P. Indy.
"I'm a firm believer in breeding young mares to proven stallions for the first three years to see if they prove themselves," said Ryan. "And A.P. Indy/Storm Cat was a nice cross. We bred her twice to him that year, but she didn't catch. She was the first one to come back into her third heat cycle, and I thought I'd give her one more shot with him to see if it clicked. It was early enough in the season, and the third time was the charm."
Dell Ridge looks to sell almost every horse it breeds, using Lane's End as a consignor. So it was not unusual for Lane's End farm manager Mike Cline to travel to Dell Ridge that spring to see the Serena's Cat yearling. What he saw caused him to get David Ingordo, who does bloodstock work for Lane's End, on the phone immediately.
"There are a handful of horses I've seen in my life that, when you see them, you ask, 'Does this horse really exist?' " said Ingordo. "And he was one of them. It took me about six seconds to fumble for my cell phone and call Mr. (Will) Farish about Honor Code.
"The horse has a presence that he exudes. He has a gorgeous head—he'd be George Clooney if he were human. Everything about him says class and quality, down to his color, which is eye-catching. With his pedigree, he's everything you'd hope he'd be.
"I can tell you exactly where I was standing when Empire Maker walked out and I first saw him. This horse is in that category. He walked out, stood up like a statue, and struck a pose."
It wasn't long before Will Farish struck a deal to buy a majority interest in Honor Code from Dell Ridge.
"We weren't out looking to buy a horse; he just appeared," said Bill Farish, Will's son. "And then we really wanted him. He checks all the boxes in bold face. What this horse could be, well, when we bought him, Dad and I talked about how amazing he looks; since then, what he could be has gone unsaid between us."
At Saratoga last summer, people set their clocks to when Honor Code was due to train, flocking to see him. And in his debut performance, he didn't disappoint, rallying from more than 20 lengths behind over a sloppy track at the Spa to win surging away by 4 1⁄2 lengths. After a similar drop-way-back-and-rally-furiously effort left him a neck short in the Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (gr. I), Honor Code made a middle move to the lead following a crawling early pace to win the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) by a nose under the Lane's End silks while trained by Shug McGaughey, who won the 2012 Derby with Orb .
That victory, along with his pedigree, secured a stall for Honor Code in the Lane's End stallion barn. What happens going forward will determine his stud fee.
"To have that kind of precocity with his pedigree and looks, you can make a pretty compelling case for him as a stallion prospect," said Bill Farish with understatement.
Lane's End stands A.P. Indy sons Stephen Got Even and Mineshaft , but Honor Code would be the first of his sons to be brought home since the big horse was pensioned. And if he authors the feel-good ending to the fairy tale, so much the better.
"To have him in A.P. Indy's last crop, you couldn't write it up any better," Farish said. "It's staggering, the legacy and influence of A.P. Indy. He is dominating through his sons and grandsons (Lane's End also stands A.P. Indy's paternal grandson Discreetly Mine and maternal grandson Morning Line), especially at a mile-plus. You hate to say Honor Code is the culmination of anything because there is a lot more to come."
While A.P. Indy will live on for generations, the coming months will tell whether his final crop contains the exclamation point to what has already been an incredible saga.