07/12/2004 11:00PM

Danzig calls it quits

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Dell Hancock
Danzig, a lookalike son of the great stallion maker Northern Dancer, was himself a successful sire of sires.His sons at stud included Danehill, Chief's Crown, and Langfuhr.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Danzig, one of North America's most successful and influential sires in the last two decades, has been pensioned from stud duty at Claiborne Farm at age 27.

The historic nursery in Paris, Ky. - where Danzig stood his entire career, siring 181 stakes winners and 21 champions - made the announcement Tuesday, saying Danzig's advancing age had affected his fertility and made it more difficult for him to mount and dismount mares.

"He's just a step slower than he was," said Claiborne spokesman Bernie Sams, "and there was no sense in going on with him."

The Northern Dancer stallion will remain in his usual paddock and stall for the rest of his days, Claiborne manager Gus Koch said.

"He deserves that," Koch said. "We're not going to change his life one iota. He doesn't even know he's retired."

Danzig's pensioning marks the end of an era at Claiborne. He arrived at the farm July 18, 1980, as a 3-year-old with just three starts, all wins, and no stakes performances to his credit. But he leaves stud service as an acknowledged king of the breed. His progeny include such runners, sires, and producers as globally influential stallion Danehill; Canadian champion, broodmare of the year, and Breeders' Cup winner Dance Smartly; champions Chief's Crown, Dayjur, Petit Loup, and Anabaa; champion and fashionable young sire Langfuhr; Belmont winner Danzig Connection; Preakness winner Pine Bluff; back-to-back Breeders' Cup Mile winner Lure; Breeders' Cup Mile winner War Chant; multiple Grade 1 winner Versailles Treaty; and numerous others.

Danzig is America's leading sire by stakes winners, with 181, and the leading sire of graded stakes winners with 105 group or graded victors. From 21 crops to race so far, Danzig has progeny earnings of more than $97.6 million.

And there will be more runners to add to that total. Danzig covered 45 mares this year, and 26 of those were known to be in foal as of July 13. His fee in 2004, though advertised as private, was from $200,000 to $250,000.

Danzig's rise to prominence began in trainer Woody Stephens's barn at Belmont Park. Bred in Pennsylvania by Will Farish III and Derry Meeting Farm from the stakes winner Pas de Nom (Admiral's Voyage), Danzig sold for $310,000 as a yearling and was sent to New York as part of Henryk deKwiatkowski's racing string. In 1979, he made one start at age 2, winning a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight. At 3, he won a pair of allowance races by wide margins.

Stephens was impressed with Danzig, but Danzig never got a chance to enter stakes company after that promising start. When veterinarians discovered Danzig was developing a slab fracture in his left knee, deKwiatkowski retired him.

"I remember when Danzig arrived here," said Koch. "A leading figure in the central Kentucky area came out to look at him. I showed him Danzig, and this man stood there running his hands down the horse's legs, and he said, 'How can I pay $80,000 for a share in a horse that never ran in a stakes?'

"Well," Koch said, "about four years later those shares were worth $1 million apiece, due in large part to Danzig having gotten a champion in his first crop."

That champion was Chief's Crown. A son of Six Crowns, by Secretariat, Chief's Crown took the 2-year-old title in 1984 after winning the Saratoga Special, Hopeful, Cowdin, Norfolk, and Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He gave Danzig good publicity the following season, as well, during his campaign on the Triple Crown trail. Despite capturing the Swale, Flamingo, and Blue Grass, Chief's Crown did not win any of the classics, but he ran creditably, finishing third in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont and second in the Preakness. He went on to win the Travers and defeat older horses in the Marlboro Cup.

"He got off to a blast of a start," Koch said of Danzig's stud career. "We probably were able to syndicate him for $80,000 a share, partly because of two things: one, he was by Northern Dancer, the preeminent sire in the country at that time; and, two, Woody Stephens trained him, and when Woody talked, people listened. Woody talked this horse up. He liked him."

Danzig went on to get more champions, and his sons and daughters have indicated that his influence - part of the long line left by his own great sire, Northern Dancer - was no fluke. Danzig led the United States sire rankings from 1991-93, was among the nation's top sires in 1985, 1986, and 1994, and has been near the top of the broodmare sire list in 2000, 2001, and 2003. His influence was such that he also was one of the leading stallions in England in 1989.

His son, Danehill, became a globally influential stallion in his own right under circumstances that Danzig did not have: a new trend that encouraged stallion masters to shuttle their horses from the Northern to Southern Hemisphere and breed them to more than 125 mares a season.

"Thinking about it, it was lucky Danzig retired to stud when he did," said Claiborne's Bernie Sams. "I wonder, in today's era of books that are 150-odd mares, whether people would ever have bred to him? Would he have even had a chance to stand in Kentucky, as a horse that never ran in a stakes? With today's big books, a horse like Danzig might have been overlooked. But in his time a lot of people who bred to him were breeding to race."

"He's continued that sire line," Koch said of Danzig's contribution to the Thoroughbred breed. "I've always thought Danzig was Northern Dancer's best son. He's just like his daddy. Both were always on the bit. They weren't mean horses, but you never took your eye off them. They were small but powerfully built, and you respected them.

Danzig's numbers

b. 1977, Northern Dancer-Pas de Nom (Admiral's Voyage)

Danzig won all three starts before a fractured knee sent him into early stud duty at Claiborne Farm. He was leading general sire from 1991 through 1993, and his remarkable record as a stallion includes:

* 21 champions worldwide
* 181 stakes winners
* 105 graded or group winners
* 5 winners of Breeders' Cup races:
Chief's Crown, 1984 Juvenile
Dance Smartly, 1991 Distaff
Lure, 1992-93 Mile
War Chant, 2000 Mile
* 2 U.S. Classic winners
Danzig Connection, 1986 Belmont
Pine Bluff, 1992 Preakness