(Originally from the May 18, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse)
by Anne Peters
The Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is the most coveted prize in American racing, and winning the Derby immediately marks a colt as a potential stallion prospect. Breeding success does not always follow, however, and the commercial market has been hard on Derby winners in recent years.
This survey starts 40 years ago, with the 1973 Triple Crown winner, Secretariat. Five percent stakes winners to foals is considered the borderline for a good sire, and all the Derby winners from 1973 to 1981 (except the 1980 winner Genuine Risk, a filly) lived up to that standard. They were Secretariat (57 stakes winners, 8.7%), Cannonade (27, 5.2%), Foolish Pleasure (43, 9.1%), Bold Forbes (29, 6.3%), Seattle Slew (114, 10.9%), Affirmed (86, 10.2%), Spectacular Bid (44, 5.8%), and Pleasant Colony (77, 12.4%). Nearly all of these proved great sources of stamina.
After Pleasant Colony in 1981, Derby winners as sires went through a tough decade. Gato Del Sol (1982) was markedly unsuccessful at stud in Kentucky. He was sent to West Germany, although later brought home to live as an honored pensioner at Arthur Hancock III's Stone Farm. Sunny's Halo (1983) was a better sire, with 39 stakes winners (3.9%), but he, too, was deemed unfashionable and died in Texas.
Spend a Buck (1985) also fell out of favor in Kentucky and ended his days in Brazil, but in that new gene pool he was revitalized and sired runners such as Einstein (now standing at Adena Springs) and the late Pico Central. His final statistics included 38 stakes winners (5.1%). Ferdinand (1986) was disappointing and after seven seasons (eight stakes winners, 2.0%), was sold to Japan, where a good stayer is better appreciated, although his story ended tragically.
Alysheba (1987) was another good sire of stamina, and also a commercial failure, although he had 18 stakes winners (4.5%). He was sold to Saudi Arabia late in life but returned to Kentucky as a pensioner. It became clear that the commercial market wasn't supporting the usually lean, lanky type that loves 10 furlongs.
The 1989 Derby winner, Sunday Silence, found few fans in Kentucky and entered stud in Japan. The big difference is that he proved a landmark stallion there, with 172 stakes winners (11.4%). Had Sunday Silence retired in Kentucky, it's almost certain he would have tanked commercially and been exported in disgrace, but he found his perfect gene pool and thrived instead.
Unbridled (1990), on the other hand, was on his way to sire greatness, and sired 49 stakes winners (8.7%) before an early death at 14 at Claiborne Farm. Although a classic type, he sired the brilliant Unbridled's Song (now at Taylor Made Stallions) as well as the surprise Derby winner Grindstone in his first crop, which enabled him to prove the real value of a classic sire. Unbridled's influence grows both in male line and as a broodmare sire. His daughter Lady Liberty is the dam of this year's Kentucky Derby winner, Orb .
After Unbridled, the 1990s were also hard times for Kentucky Derby winners as sires. Strike the Gold (1991), after only four seasons, was exported to Turkey, where he's reportedly done well. His 25 stakes winners represent 4.0% of his foals. Lil E. Tee (1992) got a shot, but his unfashionable pedigree worked against him. Still, he sired 20 stakes winners, a surprising 6.1% stakes winners to foals.
The elegant Sea Hero (1993) was doomed by his staying proclivity and although he sired 30 stakes winners (5.6%), he was sold to Turkey after five years. Go for Gin (1994) was not a raging success and left Kentucky after eight years (13 stakes winners, 3.0%).
Next came Thunder Gulch (1995), a pretty good sire with contradictory numbers. He's credited with 93 stakes winners, but typical of shuttle stallions his stakes winners-to-foals percent (4.1%) is diluted over 2,262 foals. This may reveal his preference for one gene pool over the other, he has 60 stakes winners in the Northern Hemisphere (4.6%) and 33 in the Southern Hemisphere (3.2%).
Then came another string of unimpressive sires: Grindstone (1996; 20 stakes winners, 4.0%; now in Oregon), Silver Charm (1997, now in Japan, 15 stakes winners, 3.0%), Real Quiet (1998, died in Pennsylvania; but the sire of the promising second-crop sire Midnight Lute ), and Charismatic (1999, 10 stakes winners, 3%, now in Japan). Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) has been a qualified success, with 69 stakes winners (4.2%) in both hemispheres. Monarchos (2001) followed him, and has not pulled off commercial acceptance (15 stakes winners, 3.0%), although he remains in Kentucky as a breed-to-race option.
War Emblem (2002) went to stud in Japan where he has a huge 8.2% stakes winners to foals. The catch is that he has sired only 98 foals (eight stakes winners) since 2003.
Then along came Smarty Jones (2004), sire of 20 stakes winners, a healthy 5.6% from seven seasons in Kentucky, but his stud career was compromised by the crash of the commercial market. He's now back home in Pennsylvania.
Giacomo (2005) has 12 stakes winners to date (5.2%) and made five seasons in Kentucky, one in California, and is back in Kentucky for 2013.
Street Sense (2007) was doing a good job with nine stakes winners (2.5%) so far, and after five seasons he went to Darley Japan for 2013. Big Brown (2008) has two stakes winners from his first crop to race, and it's too soon to draw conclusions on his success or failure, but the clock is ticking.
The 1970s were true golden years of racing and stallion making. Since then, a few Kentucky Derby winners have become good stallions, but many have been commercial disasters due to the very thing that helped them win the big race…their stamina. In a market that caters to mature-looking yearlings and precocious speed, the classic racehorse is at a disadvantage, but as Unbridled proved, when given the chance, the right horse can become a strong influence on the breed.