12/28/2015 10:50AM

2015 Breeding Year in Review: Pharoah's influence far-reaching


Like a rising tide lifting all boats, all aspects of the Thoroughbred industry have been touched by its long-awaited Triple Crown winner. American Pharoah’s timing was opportune, as he burst onto the scene in a recovering industry that has seen larger foal crops and improved auction figures indicative of optimism – along with rising stud fees, on which the Triple Crown winner had a direct impact.

The Jockey Club reported that 22,104 live foals were born in North America in 2015, a gain of about 2 percent from 21,697 in 2014. For 2016, the breed registry is projecting the foal crop at 22,500. These recent figures mark the first year-over-year growth in the foal crop since 2005.

While the weanlings of the 2015 foal crop were romping in fields, American Pharoah capped the season of his Triple Crown sweep with a score in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland. Two days later, he took the short van ride to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky., where he will begin stud duty for a fee of $200,000. That mark ties him with Ghostzapper, who entered stud before the recession in 2006, as the highest-priced first-year stallion in recent years – and also ties for the second-highest 2016 fee overall in North America. He will be one of 11 six-figure stallions standing on the continent for 2016, and has had a direct influence on raising that mark from six in 2015.

American Pharoah boosted the profile of his young sire, WinStar Farm’s Pioneerof the Nile, who will stand for $125,000 in 2016, more than double his 2015 fee. Meanwhile, Pioneerof the Nile’s sire, Empire Maker, returned to the U.S. after several years in Japan and will stand for $100,000 at Gainesway in Lexington, Ky., which repatriated him in partnership with Chilean-based Don Alberto. Don Alberto, a major commercial player the last several years after purchasing the former Vinery property in Kentucky, is making its first foray into the North American stallion business. Gainesway struck another international deal with the Niarchos family, purchasing an interest in French classic winner and Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Karakontie.

The new additions bolster the roster for Gainesway, which stands North America’s most-expensive stallion, Tapit, at $300,000. The prolific stallion, who leads the general sire list by nearly $5 million, broke his own single-season progeny earnings record with more than a month remaining in 2015. Through Dec. 18, his seasonal earnings were $17,549,523, surpassing his final mark of $16,812,111 last year. Tapit’s runners in 2015 were highlighted by Wood Memorial and Pennsylvania Derby winner Frosted; multiple-graded-stakes-winning juvenile Mohaymen; multiple Grade 1 winner Tonalist, who became the stallion’s first classic winner in 2014; and champion Untapable, who added another Grade 1 to her résumé in the Apple Blossom. Untapable’s dam, multiple Grade 1 producer Fun House, was honored as Kentucky’s Broodmare of the Year.

Tapit, American Pharoah, and Claiborne Farm’s War Front ($200,000) lead North America’s six-figure stallions, followed by Medaglia d’Oro (Darley) at $150,000; Pioneerof the Nile at $125,000; and Bernardini (Darley), Distorted Humor (WinStar), Empire Maker, Curlin (Hill ‘n’ Dale), Kitten’s Joy (Ramsey Farm), and Speightstown (WinStar), all at $100,000. Medaglia d’Oro and Pioneerof the Nile rank second and third, respectively, on the general sire list.

Kitten’s Joy was once again leading turf sire, led by the exploits of Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Stephanie’s Kitten. Stephanie’s Kitten and her sire are both homebreds for reigning Eclipse Award breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who in September were honored as 2014’s National Owner of the Year and National Breeder of the Year by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. Also walking away with a major piece of hardware were the California Chrome team of Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, honored as National Small Breeder of the Year.

New to the six-figure stallion ranks is Curlin, who enjoyed a monster season in 2015, led by Keen Ice, who defeated American Pharoah in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes; additional Grade 1 winners Curalina and Stellar Wind; and multiple-graded-stakes-winning 2-year-old Exaggerator. Curlin also shook up the Central Kentucky stallion rosters with a move from Lane’s End to Hill ‘n’ Dale for 2016. Hill ‘n’ Dale, in the name of Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings and Elevage II, purchased a 20 percent interest in the two-time Horse of the Year in May for a reported $6.2 million, and will now stand him in conjunction with Stonestreet Farm, which retains the majority share. The share purchased by Hill ‘n’ Dale formerly belonged to disbarred lawyers Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion’s Midnight Cry Stables. Gallion and Cunningham are both in the midst of prison sentences for taking about $94 million owed to clients from a $200 million settlement tied to the anti-obesity drug fen-phen. The 2009 ruling also required the lawyers to pay the victims and also forfeit money to the federal government, which led to the seizure of their assets, including the share in Curlin. A listing contract in the horse was awarded by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Among freshman sires, Ashford’s Uncle Mo, himself a juvenile champion, was the breakout star of the season. Led by unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Nyquist, he leads both the freshman and 2-year-old lists by a wide margin, with $3,553,344 in progeny earnings through Dec. 18. The figure smashes Tapit’s record for a freshman sire of $2,811,337, established in 2008.

Among other major Kentucky farms with international dealings, Spendthrift Farm acquired Yallambee Stud in Victoria, Australia, to be the home of its new Australian Thoroughbred operation. Named Spendthrift Australia, the venture will include breeding, racing, stallions, and buying and selling in the local sales market. The outfit shuttled North American stallions Jimmy Creed, Warrior’s Reward, and Can the Man to stand the Southern Hemisphere season, and purchased Australian stallion Hampton Court.

American Pharoah is out of the Yankee Gentleman mare Littleprincessemma, who was purchased for $2.1 million by Summer Wind Farm at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky selected fall mixed sale. The mare subsequently produced a full brother to her champion, Irish Pharaoh, on Feb. 13, one of several notable foals to arrive in 2015. She is back in foal to Tapit.

Among recent Broodmare of the Year honorees, Oatsee (2011) produced a Distorted Humor filly and was bred back to Malibu Moon; Take Charge Lady (2013) produced a War Front filly who subsequently sold for a North American weanling record of $3.2 million, and Take Charge Lady was bred back to War Front; and Fun House produced a Tapit filly, a full sister to Untapable, and was bred back to the stallion.

Mandy Pope has spent several years building up a high-profile broodmare band, boarded at Timber Town Farm in Lexington. Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, a $10 million purchase by Pope, delivered a War Front colt on Feb. 14, while $4.2 million Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty delivered a filly by the same sire the following month. They were bred back to Tapit and War Front, respectively. Two-time champion sprint female Groupie Doll, a $3.1 million purchase by Pope, delivered her first foal, a Tapit colt, ahead of his due date on March 5. The colt was initially too weak to stand or nurse and remained under the care of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for two months before returning to Timber Town in May. Groupie Doll recovered in good order from the foaling and did not display any ill effects. She was bred back to Tapit.

Neither 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra nor 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta delivered a foal in 2015, with Rachel Alexandra likely pensioned after two difficult foalings, and Zenyatta, kept open in favor of an earlier cover, is in foal to War Front. The first offspring of both mares made it to the track, led by Rachel Alexandra’s Bernardini filly Rachel’s Valentina, who won the Spinaway Stakes and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Rachel Alexandra’s first foal, the Curlin colt Jess’s Dream, won his debut at Saratoga in August. Zenyatta’s first foal, Cozmic One, by Bernardini, has been well beaten in two starts, while her second, Ziconic, by Tapit, has yet to race.


Smart Strike, a perennial leading sire and cornerstone of the Lane’s End stallion roster, led the list of departures in 2015, euthanized March 25 due to complications from laminitis. A Grade 1 winner, Smart Strike, a 23-year-old son of Mr. Prospector, led the national sire list in 2007 and 2008, and had progeny earnings in excess of $118.6 million at the time of his death. He is the sire of 12 champions, led by Curlin. Other Eclipse Award winners by Smart Strike include Lookin At Lucky, English Channel, and My Miss Aurelia. In Canada, he sired Horses of the Year Soaring Free (2004) and Never Retreat (2011), as well as champions Eye of the Sphynx, Portcullis, Gold Strike, and Added Edge.

Prominent young sire Scat Daddy, who was the leading North American general sire by stakes winners, dealt Ashford a blow when he suddenly collapsed and died on Dec. 14. Other notable deaths in 2015 included Grade 1 winner and prominent Kentucky stallion Yes It’s True; leading Florida sire Wildcat Heir; Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill; Cee’s Tizzy, sire of champion Tiznow; champions Soaring Softly and Escena, who both won Breeders’ Cup events; Texas’s all-time leading sire, Valid Expectations; Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Success Express; Easter Bunnette, dam of Havre de Grace; Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Concern; Wiseman’s Ferry, sire of champion Wise Dan; champion Smuggler; Canadian champion Sky Classic; and European champion Soviet Song.

Also departing in 2015 were stallions Green Desert, Horse Chestnut, Lion Hearted, Not For Sale, Sharp Humor, Sought After, Stay Gold, Tiago, Twining, Utopia, Wild Gold, and Willcox Inn; retired gelding The Tin Man; Old Friends residents Bluesthestandard, Creator, Escapedfromnewyork, Mixed Pleasure, Ogygian, Thunder Rumble, and Williamstown; and six horses in a barn fire at Chanteclair Farm in Kentucky. The death of Vertigineux, dam of Zenyatta, was announced in June.

Prominent racing industry participants who died during the year included Donald Sucher (age 89), who bred Hall of Fame racemares Chris Evert and Winning Colors; Sheikh Rashid al-Maktoum (33), eldest son of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum who campaigned top-level horses as Zabeel Racing International; Henry Lindh (84), owner and breeder of Grade 1 winner Grecian Flight; A. Stevens Miles Jr. (85), who campaigned Warrior’s Reward and Neck ‘n’ Neck; Dick Lossen (76), a prominent owner, breeder, and bloodstock agent; Anthony Joseph Hamilton Sr. (58), owner of Two Hearts Farm in Paris, Ky.; and prominent Kentucky breeder Kathryn Martin West (91), who developed Waterford Farm.

Among the stallions pensioned from stud duty in 2015 were dual classic winner and champion Thunder Gulch, now dubbed a “babysitter” for American Pharoah at Ashford. Also pensioned were leading Maryland sire Not For Love, the broodmare sire of California Chrome; leading Australian sire Encosta de Lago; dual classic winner and champion War Emblem in Japan; Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup; Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold; and Grade 1 winner Stephen Got Even. The latter four have taken up residence at Old Friends in Kentucky, which has continued to expand its roster while waving the banner for aftercare efforts. The organization partnered with Kentucky Downs to establish a satellite facility at the Franklin, Ky., racetrack this past summer.

The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredited 37 aftercare organizations in 2015. That includes 21 organizations that were reaccredited and 16 that were accredited for the first time. There are now 56 accredited TAA organizations using more than 180 facilities across the United States and Canada. New Vocations, partnered by several prominent figures in the breeding and sales industry, broke ground on a new retraining and adoption facility at Mereworth Farm in Lexington, and continues a capital campaign toward the facility.

The Retired Racehorse Project conducted the annual TCA Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium for the first time in Lexington. It was held at the Kentucky Horse Park in the week prior to the Breeders’ Cup. Winning the America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred contest was Soar, a winning Ontario-bred who transitioned into competitive trail and Western freestyle under the care of trainer Lindsey Partridge.