When reviewing young stallions over the last couple years, we've noted more than once that we were entering a crucial juncture with regard to the lasting impact of Unbridled's Song, at least as a sire of sires. It's no secret that the performance of his first sons at stud, a few isolated bright spots aside, has been disappointing. So, it might come as something of a surprise to note that when we review the freshman sires and leading sires of 2-year-olds of 2013, we find a different son of Unbridled's Song at the head of each list.
Topping the freshman standings is Dunkirk, who has been represented by Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (gr. I) victor and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) runner-up Havana, Sapling Stakes (gr. III) captor Dunkin Bend, and four other stakes horses to date. Dunkirk is actually one of two sons of Unbridled's Song with a grade I winner from their first crop in 2013, the other being First Defence, a second-year sire whose daughter Close Hatches has established herself as one of the best of her generation with grade I wins in the Mother Goose Stakes and Cotillion Stakes. We should also mention that sons of Unbridled's Song who have yet to have runners—and in some cases have yet to cover a mare—include champion 2-year-old male Midshipman , newly retired grade I winners Graydar and Emcee , and two current stars still in training in Will Take Charge and Cross Traffic , so the game is far from over.
Unlike the stallions mentioned above, the horse who appears to have a lock on the title of leading sire of 2-year-olds is a horse who looked to have had his shot at sire success, and missed. This is Rockport Harbor, who retired to stud in Kentucky in 2007 at a fee of $20,000, but who for the most recent breeding season found himself at Pin Oak Lane Farm in Pennsylvania, where he stood for an advertised fee of $7,500. Unfortunately he died Aug. 2 from complications resulting from laminitis.
Rockport Harbor was a typically precocious son of his sire, going 4-for-4 as a juvenile with wins in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden at Philadelphia Park by 8 3/4 lengths, a 6 1/2-furlong allowance at the same venue by 7 1/2 lengths, the Nashua Stakes (gr. III) by 6 1/4 lengths, and the Remsen Stakes (gr. II). The Remsen marked the first occasion that Rockport Harbor needed to work for a victory, as he was pressured throughout the last quarter mile by Galloping Grocer. At the wire, Rockport Harbor was a neck to the good of that rival, with the third horse 8 1/4 lengths back. While the performance might have momentarily seemed disappointing, it turned out that Rockport Harbor had been struck during the race and damaged a foot.
Although the injury delayed his preparation for a spring campaign the following year, an attempt was made to get Rockport Harbor to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). First time out in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II), he finished a promising second, beaten a half-length by Greater Good, but a sixth-place effort in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) saw the gray taken off the Triple Crown trail and in fact go to the sidelines for the rest of the year. There was cause for optimism the following year when Rockport Harbor re-emerged to take the Essex Handicap (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park | BloodHorse.com Track Profile">Oaklawn Park in mid-February. But after he finished only fifth as the odds-on favorite in the Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III), a foot abcess was discovered and Rockport Harbor was retired to stud.
Rockport Harbor's initial crop of 119 foals resulted in just four black-type winners, headed by May Day Rose, who took the Santa Ysabel Stakes and Railbird Stakes (both gr. III), and Obeah Stakes (gr. III) scorer Bryan's Jewel. There were five stakes winners, none graded, in Rockport Harbor's second crop, and four in 2010, the only graded scorer being Pataky Kid , successful in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III). The crop that has seen Rockport Harbor rocket to the top of the juvenile sire standings is his fourth, conceived at a fee of $12,500. Three are stakes winners, including Ria Antonia, who became her sire's only grade I winner with her upset triumph in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
It is not Ria Antonia, however, who took Rockport Harbor to the head of the standings. That was achieved by Rise Up, who recorded a dominating victory Nov. 23 in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) for his fourth win in six starts. Like his sire, Rise Up actually began his career in Pennsylvania, finishing second in a maiden at Presque Isle Downs on his debut, and then taking a similar event there by 4 1/2 lengths. Rise Up gained his first black-type win next time out, leading throughout to take the Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths.
Sold privately by co-owners Cottonwood Stables (also his breeder) and Blazing Meadows Farm to Paul and Andrena Van Doren after that win, Rise Up also switched from the barn of Tim Hamm to that of Tom Amoss. His first start for his new connections was an inauspicious one, as he tired to finish sixth in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) after briefly taking the lead in the stretch. The Jean Laffitte Stakes, run as a prep for the Jackpot, saw Rise Up turn in a much better performance, taking over after a half-mile and striding clear to tally by 6 1/2 lengths.
As one might expect, Rise Up has speed and precocity on both sides of his pedigree. His dam, a winner at five and six furlongs, is a daughter of 2-year-old "world champion" Johannesburg, a group/grade I winner in England, Ireland, France, and the U.S. at 2. She is a half sister to the stakes-placed Old Fashioned Girl, who to Stormy Atlantic (a son of Johannesburg's grandsire, Storm Cat) produced the two-time stakes scorer In the Rough.
The third dam, Beal Street Blues, is as her name might suggest, a daughter of Dixieland Band. She, too, excelled at 2, winning the Del Mar Debutante Stakes (gr. II) and Miss Oceana Stakes, and running third in the grade I Frizette Stakes. Beal Street Blues was also a sister to another speedy performer in Dixieland Brass, who took the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III). The family eventually goes back to the great foundation mare Frizette—ancestress of both Seattle Slew and Mr. Prospector—via her granddaughter Valkyr, dam of Coaching Club American Oaks heroine Hypnotic (through whom Rise Up descends) and champion Vagrancy. Valkyr is now ancestress of countless outstanding performers around the globe, among them Black Tarquin, Ferdinand, Anees, Margarula, Questing, and leading sire Elusive Quality .
Rise Up (TrueNicks A++) is bred on an extended version of the oft-tried Unbridled's Song/Storm Cat cross, versions of which have produced such as the previously mentioned Close Hatches, other grade I winners Magnificent Song and Buddha, and graded winners Half Ours , Noble Tune, Noonmark, and Neversaidiwassweet. The version that produced Rise Up, that over mares by Johannesburg, has already produced two stakes winners from only seven starters. This has looked a promising avenue to explore as Johannesburg's dam, Myth, is by Ogygian out of a mare by Mr. Prospector. Since Fappiano—the grandsire of Unbridled's Song—is by Mr. Prospector out of a half sister to the dam of Ogygian, the pedigrees of Myth and Fappiano are somewhat reversed.
As we've said, Rise Up's pedigree is all about speed, and he's done his best work as a runner when allowed to use that speed. He looks unlikely to stretch out to become a classic contender, but he should be a force in the 3-year-old ranks at the mile of the Jackpot or shorter.