Storm Forecast: Evaluating Storm Cat as a Sire of Sires

Few stallions have fit the modern commercial market better than Storm Cat. Seven times the leading sire of juveniles, he regularly gets quick, precocious runners, yet has demonstrated that with the right mare, he can throw a horse capable of getting the American classic distance of 10 furlongs. He tends to stamp his foals in his own image: well-balanced, muscular, with good shoulders, strong hips, and an indomitable will to win. If he also throws his own offset knees more often than conformation experts might like, that can be forgiven considering that of his 960 foals that are at least three years old, 84 have won graded or group stakes (8.75%) at some point in their careers--a hit rate nearly 11 times the breed average.

That's producing the "big horse" in a big way.

Nonetheless, Storm Cat is 22, and while his prowess appears undiminished--his 2-year-olds of 2004 include Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) winner Consolidator and champion juvenile filly Sweet Catomine--his breeding career will be over within the next 5-10 years. There is no doubt that his daughters will carry on his heritage: he is already the broodmare sire of 42 stakes winners, including 2004 champion sprinter Speightstown and 2000-01 Argentine champion juvenile filly Randy Cat.

But what of his sons?

Certainly, Storm Cat has the reputation of being a hot "sire of sires." And there is no question his sons are popular. More than 100 are listed as standing in the United States alone, and five were listed among last year's top 50 sires by progeny earnings. Whether the hype is matched by actual production may be another question.

Take Tale of the Cat , for example. Tenth on the general sires list in 2004, he has proven his ability to get a "big horse" by siring Lion Heart, one of the best colts of the 2001 crop. From his first three crops of racing age, he has sired 23 stakes winners, 12 of them graded/group caliber.

But a closer look at the statistics removes some of the luster. There are 424 foals in Tale of the Cat's first three crops, so his percentage of stakes winners from those foals is 5.4%--a long way from his sire's 13.8% for all foals that were 2-year-olds or older in 2004. His 2.3% graded or group stakes winners from foals is also far below his sire's mark, and Lion Heart is his only grade I winner. At a similar point in his own career, Storm Cat had already sired champions Mistle Cat, Catrail, and Munaaji, as well as grade/group I winners Tabasco Cat, Sardula, Desert Stormer, November Snow, Harlan, and Missed the Storm.

This is not a knock on Tale of the Cat, whose stud career reflects the new realities of commercial breeding--large books (he covered 185 mares during the 2004 Northern Hemisphere season) and an emphasis on getting a "big horse" early to generate favorable publicity, boost yearling and juvenile sales, and keep the mares coming. But it is a warning that more than a few outstanding individuals need to be considered in evaluating a horse's stud performance.

Forest Wildcat, 34th on the 2004 general sires list, is also worth examining. A six-furlong specialist himself, there is no question that he can throw speed, as his sons Wildcat Heir (Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, gr. I) and Var (Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp Majestic Barriere, Fr-I) proved last year. His 25 stakes winners to date represent 7.3% of his foals from his first five crops, and 2% of them are graded/group stakes winners. His record is good, but he is essentially a pure speed sire with an average maximum winning distance of only 6.57 furlongs for his foals. That may not bode well for attracting the quality of mares likely to produce good sires to continue the line, and in fact his Comparable Index (CI) is 1.94, compared to 2.16 for Tale of the Cat, 2.13 for Hennessy, and 3.99 for the current Storm Cat sensation, Giant's Causeway.

Hennessy, the leading juvenile sire of 2001 thanks to champion Johannesburg, has had an uneven career since then and checked in at 36th on the 2004 general sires list. He is the leading sire of graded/group winners among Storm Cat's sons, with 26 such winners--five of grade/group I stature--among his 38 stakes winners to date. Like Tale of the Cat, however, his numbers are affected by large books; he has an excellent 3.44% graded stakes winners from his first five crops, but only 5% stakes winners and 46.5% winners.

Out of Island Kitty, by the staying Hawaii, Hennessy is one of the few Storm Cat sons to sire a horse capable of going a classic distance, having gotten BMW Queensland Derby (Aust-I) winner Half Hennessy in his second Australian crop. His son Johannesburg, bred from the same female family as Tale of the Cat, is a good bet to be an early commercial success, but whether his progeny will succeed on the track is a question that will not be answered until his first crop hits the races in 2006.

In some ways, Storm Boot has come closer to his sire's record than any other Storm Cat son to date. A consistent stallion who was 41st on the general sires list in 2004, he has sired 35 stakes winners from his first eight crops, for a strike rate of 8.6%, while 66.7% of those foals have won at some level. But Storm Boot has sired only seven graded stakes winners, and while he has developed the reputation of a solid "breed-to-race" sire, he is not particularly commercial. Also, like Forest Wildcat, he is essentially a sire of speed. Given a CI of 1.43 for his mares, his chances of siring a son that can continue his line above the regional level seem slim.

Tabasco Cat, who died in March 2004, was an atypical son of Storm Cat, reaching his best form relatively late for this line and showing more staying ability than most. His failure to get the precocious runners typical of the Storm Cats in his first two crops led to his export to Japan in late 2000. As seems so often the case, his North American progeny started running right after he got on the plane, with grade I winners Habibti and Snow Ridge emerging in 2001. He ranked 49th on the general sires list in 2004, represented by Acorn Stakes (gr. I) winner Island Sand, Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (gr. II) winner Freefourinternet, and Carleton F. Burke Handicap (gr. IIIT) winner Habaneros. Overall, Tabasco Cat has 23 stakes winners, 11 of them graded, from his first six crops.

Ironically, although Tabasco Cat sired more stamina than most Storm Cats (average winning distance of 7.35 furlongs), his best son, Snow Ridge, was a sprinter who captured four graded events from 5 1/2 furlongs to seven furlongs as a 4-year-old. He is now at stud in Florida and is getting reasonable opportunities, while grade II winner Cat's At Home is at stud in Ontario.

Harlan parallels Tabasco Cat in that he was also a late developer who died young. Winner of the 1994 Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) as a 5-year-old, Harlan died in February 1999 after siring only five small crops. Unfortunately, his best sons, multiple grade I winners Menifee and Harlan's Holiday, emerged as runners after the death of their sire, who did very well from his relatively modest opportunities. From 102 foals, he sired 60 winners and six stakes winners (four of them graded) and had an Average Earnings Index (AEI) of 2.92 against a CI of 1.53, the best AEI/CI ratio of any Storm Cat son so far.

Although his grandsons Johannesburg, Lion Heart, Harlan's Holiday, and Menifee certainly have the credentials to make good sires, Storm Cat may have a better chance of founding an enduring male line with some of his younger sons. Forestry, winner of the 1999 King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I), is one such hope. A bigger, scopier horse than most Storm Cats, he is a maternal grandson of Pleasant Colony out of grade I winner Shared Interest and has been getting some very good mares (CI 3.51).

Whether Forestry will transmit Pleasant Colony's stamina when presented with the right mares is still unknown, but he is certainly getting speed. Ten members of his first crop of 74 foals have won stakes, including graded winners Teton Forest, Smokey Glacken, and Forest Danger. Only two of his second crop of 52 foals have won stakes so far, but the indications are that Forestry's progeny are not particularly precocious, and to judge by his first crop, they can be expected to do better this year at three.

Irish Classic winner Black Minnaloushe has so far been disappointing as a commercial sire, with his first yearlings averaging only $32,652. Nonetheless, he will have plenty of opportunity to show what he can do as a sire of runners as The Jockey Club credits him with 102 live foals of 2003, his first crop to come to the races. He is a half-brother to French champion juvenile Pennekamp and multiple grade I winner Nasr El Arab.

Rather surprisingly, Aljabr has not gotten the opportunities one would expect given his racing credentials, which include group I wins at two, three, and four. He had only 24 2-year-olds of 2004, and none have particularly distinguished themselves to date, nor have his sales figures been encouraging. Part of his problem may be a rather smallish, light-framed build combined with a pedigree that suggests more of a liking for European grass than for American dirt, but with only 29 mares sent to his court in 2004, he needs some on-track success or his days in Kentucky may be numbered.

European champion juvenile Hold That Tiger and Irish group II winner Van Nistelrooy, both from Storm Cat's 2000 crop, were very well received in 2004. Hold That Tiger, who hails from the same female family as Hennessy and 1996 Belmont Stakes (gr. I ) winner Editor's Note, covered 199 mares during the 2004 Northern Hemisphere season, while Van Nistelrooy, a $6.4-million sale yearling and a half-brother to four graded stakes winners, covered 186 mares.

Two more young Storm Cat sires with lesser credentials have been getting plenty of opportunities in Florida, although not with the quality of mares afforded to Storm Cat's Kentucky-based sons. A.P. Indy's half-brother Tiger Ridge, second among Florida-based freshman sires last year, covered 149 mares in 2004, while Gulf Storm, who stood his first year in 2004, covered 155 mares, a new single-season record for any Florida sire.

Everyone's choice as Storm Cat's heir apparent seems to be 2000 European Horse of the Year Giant's Causeway , who reigned as Europe's leading freshman sire in 2004 with four stakes winners including champion Shamardal and was also fourth on the U.S. freshman sires list. Such results, however, are probably no more than should have been expected given his huge book--Giant's Causeway was represented by 138 2-year-olds of 2004--and an exceptionally strong pool of mates (CI 3.99). Further, Giant's Causeway has so far failed to sire a stakes horse on dirt, leading to questions as to how well his progeny are suited to American racing. A big year for his 3-year-olds of 2005 would do much to silence the doubters.

Storm Cat has a number of graded/group stakes winners that are still in training, including grade I winners Consolidator and Good Reward, while Irish group I winner One Cool Cat will stand his first season in 2005 at Coolmore Ireland. These colts may yet provide Storm Cat with a top sire son even if Giant's Causeway and Forestry cannot follow up in their early successes. Nonetheless, it seems fair to say that at this time, the future of Storm Cat's male line is not as certain as sheer numbers might indicate.