04/25/2013 2:46PM

DRF Breeding Hot Sire: Giant's Causeway

Courtesy of Ashford Stud
Giant's Causeway

When Giant’s Causeway was retired to Coolmore’s Irish division for the 2001 breeding season, he immediately became one of the most sought-after young sires of his era due to his excellent pedigree and his even-better ability as a racehorse.

The Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat out of Grade 3 winner Mariah’s Storm had proven to be competitive at the highest level after relocating to Europe for the bulk of his racing career, taking on all comers at distances ranging from six furlongs to about 1 5/16 miles.

No one could have predicted it at the time, but Giant’s Causeway’s final start – in which he returned to Kentucky and finished a valiant second to Tiznow in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, his only career start on dirt – would prove to be a harbinger of his ultimate success at stud, with his name coming to represent bedrock bloodstock traits such as durability, versatility, and stamina.

Shipped once again to Kentucky to stand the 2002 Northern Hemisphere season at Ashford Stud in Versailles after one season in Ireland, Giant’s Causeway rose to the upper echelon of the North American general-sire list by the mid-2000s and has remained there ever since.

Dubbed the “Iron Horse” by his European fans after winning six Group 1 races and earning more than $3 million, Giant’s Causeway has lived up to that nickname and then some as a sire.

In 2005, when his first Ashford Stud-bred runners began their racing careers, Giant’s Causeway’s son Shamardal had already received the Cartier Award as Europe’s champion 2-year-old male the year before (Shamardal’s dam, the Machiavellian mare Helsinki, was bred to Giant’s Causeway in Ireland before returning to Kentucky and foaling Shamardal in 2002).

Shamardal would win the French 1000 Guineas, French Derby and St. James’s Palace Stakes in the spring and early summer of 2005 and is now a prominent sire at Darley’s Kildangan Stud in Ireland.

Shamardal’s performance was merely the beginning, however, as by midsummer, Giant’s Causeway’s Footstepsinthesand had captured the English 2000 Guineas and the regally bred My Typhoon, a future Grade 1-winning millionaire out of Urban Sea and foaled in Ireland, picked up her first two stakes wins on the Mid-Atlantic circuit.

Giant’s Causeway’s first crop included 15 stakes winners who earned more than $15 million during their careers, highlighted by the aforementioned trio but also including such graded and group stakes luminaries as Aragorn, Maids Causeway, and Naissance Royale.

More auspiciously in 2005, Giant’s Causeway’s emerging juveniles proved that Shamardal’s juvenile success in 2004 was no fluke. In late summer and into the fall, First Samurai captured Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga and Belmont, while Frost Giant shipped to Ireland to win a Group 3 stakes. Both are now young sires at Claiborne Farm and at New York’s Keane Stud, respectively, and have gotten off to promising starts.

The Iron Horse thus ended 2005 ranked seventh on the North American general-sire list. He has not ranked lower than that since, moving up to sixth in 2006, ending at fifth in 2007, jumping to second in 2008, and then leading the list in 2009 and 2010.

Impressively, some of his highest earners in the late 2000s were late-developing foals from his 2003 crop, such as Grade 1 winners Carriage Trail (2008 Spinster) and Heatseeker (foaled in Ireland, 2008 Santa Anita Handicap) and Grade 2 winners Fairbanks (2008 Hawthorne Gold Cup) and Neko Bay (2010 San Pasqual).

Frost Giant, a Group 3-winning juvenile in 2005, would, in fact, enjoy his most productive season in 2008, capturing the Grade 1 Suburban at Belmont.

In 2011, Giant’s Causeway ranked fourth on the general-sire list, but he recaptured the top spot in 2012, as his overall progeny earnings passed the $100 million mark. As of April 23, he sat right behind War Front in sixth on the general-sire list with more than $2.86 million in progeny earnings, but he takes a backseat to no stallion in terms of contemporary influence.

At 16, he continues to draw a large, elite book (he bred to 166 Northern Hemisphere mares in 2012), and his $85,000 fee is indicative of both his commercial influence (six-figure yearling and juvenile averages in 2012 and 2013, respectively) and the fact that he produces a handful of top-class runners in every crop.

Giant’s Causeway’s stature is such that a full brother with a modest race record (Freud) can receive enough support to become one of the most productive regional sires in the United States (at Sequel Stallions in New York), and lightly raced progeny such as Stonesider also can gain a foothold in the U.S. market as stallions.

He has produced superior runners over all surfaces and distances but, as befits his nickname, has done especially well as a sire of horses who welcome a route of ground. That makes it all the more notable that Giant’s Causeway has not yet sired a U.S. classic winner, although bad luck certainly played a role in 2010, when likely Kentucky Derby favorite Eskendereya missed the race due to injury and was subsequently retired.

Despite his 3-year-old son Winning Cause’s win April 20 at Keeneland in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes, it is probable that Giant’s Causeway will not be represented in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

Winning Cause improved to 3 for 3 on Keeneland’s Polytrack and picked up his first stakes win by a length in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 Lexington, giving him 20 qualifying points in Churchill Downs’s Road to the Kentucky Derby series and placing him on the fence approaching the classic. The colt’s connections, however, said there was a strong chance that they would keep Winning Cause on synthetic for the time being and target a race such as Woodbine’s Marine Stakes in late May for his next start.

Winning Cause, out of the winning Kingmambo mare Raffishing Look, has a very interesting pedigree that features a 2x3 cross of Storm Cat as well as the highly successful Storm Cat-Kingmambo mare nicking pattern. His second dam, the winning Storm Cat mare Touch of Truth, also produced Society Hostess, by Seeking the Gold, who was a Grade 3 winner and Grade 1-placed in the United States and also won a stakes in Europe.

Touch of Truth is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and sire Twilight Agenda, and another of her siblings, the Grade 3-placed Market Slide, by Gulch, was named Ireland’s Broodmare of the Year in 2002. She produced English classic winner and sire Refuse to Bend, Australian Group 1 winner Media Puzzle, and two stakes-placed winners.

Touch of Truth, Twilight Agenda, and Market Slide are out of multiple Grade 2 winner Grenzen, by Grenfall, whose pedigree branch extends to include notables such as 1990 Belmont winner Go and Go, Tattersalls Gold Cup winner Casual Conquest, and Grade/Group 2 winners Calming Influence and Steel Light.

Although Winning Cause may skip the Kentucky Derby, his genetic foundation suggests that he could perform very well over any surface as he continues to develop. In this, he is but the latest member of a versatile cohort of Giant’s Causeway runners destined to maintain their sire’s position at or near the top of the North American rankings for the foreseeable future.

Giant’s Causeway’s best chance for a classic win this spring may come in Europe with Coolmore’s Tableaux, who broke his maiden in the Group 2 Prix Noailles at Longchamp two days after Winning Cause won the Lexington.

Bred in Kentucky by Galleria Bloodstock, the 3-year-old colt was purchased by Demi O’Byrne for $330,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale and is out of the multiple stakes-winning Hansel mare Golden Antigua, whose 2004 foal by Giant’s Causeway, Giant Gizmo, won two Grade 3 stakes and earned more than $500,000.

Tableaux picked up his first win in his fourth career start, a turf race going about 1 1/4 miles, and becomes another of leading French trainer Andre Fabre’s possible candidates for the French Derby on June 2.