Gifted athlete and remarkable sire Giant's Causeway , long a cornerstone of Ashford Stud's Kentucky breeding operation, died April 16 following a brief illness, according to Coolmore Stud. He was 21.
"To foal, raise, and race a horse of Giant's Causeway's caliber is every owner/breeder's dream, so for him to stand as a stallion at his birthplace, and go on to be a three-time champion sire is nothing short of sensational," said Coolmore America manager Dermot Ryan. "Giant's Causeway was a once-in-a-lifetime horse, and I would like to thank the owners, the Magnier and Tabor families, for entrusting us with his stud career.
"I would also like to extend my gratitude to all of the stallion handlers at Ashford past and present for providing the highest level of care for Giant, in particular Blaise Benjamin and Richard Barry. He will be a huge loss not just to us, but to the industry as a whole."
Named for a unique geological formation on the coast of Northern Ireland, the robust chestnut horse was the first foal out of grade 1-placed, grade 2 winner Mariah's Storm. The daughter of Rahy won six graded stakes, including the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes and Turfway Park Budweiser Breeders' Cup Stakes (both G2) for owners Bill and Margie Peters before being sold to Coolmore principal John Magnier for $2.6 million at the 1996 Keeneland November breeding stock sale in foal to Storm Cat.
Overbrook Farm's Storm Cat commanded a $125,000 stud fee in 1996, and Giant's Causeway played a major role in boosting the sire's fee toward its eventual $500,000 peak.
Sent overseas to top Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, Giant's Causeway showed his talents early. He went undefeated in his first four starts and became a group 1 winner at 2, taking the Prix de la Salamandre at Longchamp. At 3, Giant's Causeway earned the nickname "The Iron Horse" after capturing five consecutive group 1 stakes in England and Ireland over a span of 11 weeks. His blazing streak began with the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and rolled through the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, Champagne Lanson Sussex Stakes, Juddmonte International Stakes, and the Esat Digifone Irish Champion Stakes.
Giant's Causeway finished second in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1) back at Ascot before being sent to Churchill Downs to contest the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). He and Tiznow hooked up for one of the most thrilling stretch drives in Classic history, with Tiznow prevailing by a neck in the first of two consecutive Classic wins. Giant's Causeway retired with a 9-4-0 record in 13 starts and earnings of $3,078,989.
Retired initially to Coolmore Stud in Ireland, a season to Giant's Causeway began at 100,000 Irish punts (US$115,000). The stallion stood only his first season in Ireland before Ashford became his primary address.
Giant's Causeway's first crop included three group winners, led by group 1 winner Shamardal. The young stallion went from strength to strength, being represented as a second-crop sire by eight graded/group winners, of which four were grade/group 1 winners. Overseas, Shamardal captured three group 1 stakes—the St. James's Palace Stakes, Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), and the Gainesborough Poule d'Essai Poulains (French Two Thousand Guineas). In North America, his brightest star was First Samurai , who won the Champagne Stakes and Hopeful Stakes (both G1) before finishing third in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
Ashford owned the second-crop sire standings in 2005 with Giant's Causeway at the top with $6,484,673 in progeny earnings and Fusaichi Pegasus ranked second with $4,086,404 in earnings.
Giant's Causeway first broke into the top five on the North American leading general sire list in 2006 as a third-crop sire. He became North America's leading sire in 2009, 2010, and 2012, and consistently remained among the top five sires through 2014. Early in his stud career, Giant's Causeway was shuttled twice to Australia (2002, 2004) and once to Argentina (2008). Since 2009, he remained in the States.
Through April 16, Giant's Causeway has sired 178 black-type winners, of which 104 won graded/group stakes. The ever-present will to win among Giant's Causeway's progeny was enhanced by an adaptability indicated by his 77 black-type winners on dirt and synthetic surfaces and 113 black-type winners on turf.
His top runners include eight champions: Shamardal, Take Charge Brandi, Irish Mission, Showcause, Giant's Steps, Step In Time, Kung Fu Mambo, and Bambina Mia. The sire's runners have amassed more than $165 million to date, with his 2-year-olds alone having won more than $17.85 million in purses.
Predictably, Giant's Causeway attracted a lot of attention in the commercial markets. His auction yearlings have generated nearly $164 million in total sales through 2017 and averaged $234,932. Twenty of his yearlings sold for seven figures, with his winner Giant Among Men fetching the highest price of $2.6 million at the 2006 Keeneland September sale. Giant Among Men was out of Dissemble, the dam of multiple grade 1 winner Leroidesanimaux, who sired Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner Animal Kingdom .
Champion Take Charge Brandi is his top daughter to sell as a broodmare, going for $6 million to John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Equine at the 2015 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. As broodmares, Giant's Causeway's daughters have generated just shy of $56.6 million at auction and have averaged $140,098.
Giant's Causeway mares have produced 86 black-type winners and another 95 that are black-type-placed. Gun Runner , the 2017 Horse of the Year and a first-year sire, is Giant's Causeway's top runner as a broodmare sire. Giant's Causeway is also the broodmare sire of this year's Kentucky Derby contender Free Drop Billy, a grade 1-winning son of Union Rags , who finished third in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
Among his sons, Giant's Causeway has the most active sire-sons in 2018 among all Storm Cat line stallions. He is represented by 27 sons at stud this year, who are standing in 10 different states and three countries overseas. One of his sons, Airdrie Stud's Creative Cause , may be represented in the Kentucky Derby starting gate by Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3) winner My Boy Jack.