by John P. Sparkman
When Canadian-born pharmaceuticals entrepreneur Eugene Melnyk paid $2 million for Speightstown at the 1999 Keeneland July yearling sale, he had every reason to hope the colt would be worth the price. By top sire and budding sire of sires Gone West, out of Canadian champion Silken Cat, by two-time leading sire Storm Cat, Speights-town encapsulated the mainstream of American Thoroughbred breeding in his pedigree. And as his price indicated, he was an outstanding physical specimen: compact, extraordinarily muscular, and correct.
It took five years for that hope to be fulfilled.
Bred in Kentucky by Aaron and Marie Jones, Speightstown was the first foal out of Silken Cat, who had won all three of her starts at 2 in Canada, including the Mazarine Stakes, earning a Sovereign Award as champion 2-year-old filly. Silken Cat broke down in her first start at 3, but her pedigree was outstanding.
Her dam, minor stakes winner Silken Doll, by Chieftain, had already produced group I-placed English juvenile, Juyush, by Silver Hawk, and was a half sister to grade I winner Turk Passer, by Turkoman. Silken Cat’s second dam, Insilca, by Buckpasser, was a half sister to grade I stakes-placed Copernica, by Nijinsky II, dam of grade I winner Crusader Sword, by Damascus. The line traces to Meadow Stud’s great broodmare Hildene, dam of champions Hill Prince and First Landing and tail-female ancestress of many other high-class runners including champion Cicada, grade I winner Astra, Upper Case, and group I winner Petite Ile.
Speightstown worked well enough before his debut in a six-furlong maiden at Saratoga Aug. 26, 2000, to start at 2-1, but he finished last, beaten 15 lengths by subsequent graded winner Ommadon. The Gone West colt broke his maiden by 63⁄4 lengths the following February at Gulfstream Park, and won three consecutive allowance races at Woodbine that summer but could not hold off the brilliantly fast City Zip when he tried to lead all the way in the Amsterdam Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga.
Speightstown injured a knee in the Amsterdam and was able to race only twice in the next two years, beating Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Volponi in a Belmont Park allowance at 5. Not many champions win their first stakes as 6-year-olds, but Speightstown proved doubters wrong in 2004, winning five of his six starts, culminating in an authoritative victory over Kela in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Lone Star Park.
That secured an Eclipse Award statuette as champion sprinter and a place at stud at WinStar Farm for Speightstown at a valuation well over Melnyk’s original $2 million investment. His first crop of 100 foals, conceived at a stud fee $40,000, includes 15 black-type winners to date, headed by four grade/group I winners. Haynesfield (out of Nothing Special, by Tejabo) defeated champion Blame in the 2010 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes; Lord Shanakill (Green Room, by Theatrical) won the 2009 Etihad Airways Prix Jean Prat in France; Jersey Town (Jersey Girl, by Belong to Me), captured the 2010 Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile Handicap; and Mona de Momma (Society Gal, by Linkage) upset the 2010 Humana Distaff Stakes.
Haynesfield will be standing his second season in 2013 at Brereton Jones’ Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky., while Jersey Town will stand his initial season at the Phillips family’s Darby Dan Farm near Lexington.
Not surprisingly, Speightstown’s subsequent crops have not yet matched that sensational 14% black-type winner strike rate of his first crop, but additional grade I winners Poseidon's Warrior (Poised to Pounce, by Smarten) and Golden Ticket (Business Plan, by Deputy Minister), who dead-heated with Alpha in the 2012 Travers Stakes, have made it clear that Speightstown is a prolific sire of high-class runners. His 20 stakes winners this year, second only to Giant's Causeway among North American-based sires, pushed him to third on the general sire list by earnings behind only Giant’s Causeway and Empire Maker.
As shown by the short pedigrees of his grade I/group I winners above, Speightstown is not beholden to any particular broodmare sire line to produce a runner. Likewise, the extended pedigrees of four of those six show inbreeding to Northern Dancer, but then so does about the same proportion of all graded stakes winners these days, so there is no magic there.
Indeed there is none needed. Speightstown was a top-class racehorse, by an established sire of sires, from an outstanding female family, with the conformation you would expect from the fourth highest-priced yearling of his year.
That may not be all you need to become a successful stallion, but it is a hell of a good start.