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DRF Breeding Hot Sire of the Week: War Front
Dell Hancock/courtesy Claiborne Farm
When War Front retired to the Hancock family’s Claiborne Farm in late 2006, his prospects for a successful stud career looked promising despite the fact that he topped out as a Grade 2 winner on the racetrack and could not break through at the Grade 1 level in his final three starts.
A son of legendary Claiborne stallion Danzig who was foaled and raised at the Paris, Ky., farm, War Front began his stud career in 2007 at a fee of $12,500, covering his first mares a little more than a year after Danzig was euthanized due to the infirmities of old age at 29.
Danzig was noted as a sire whose progeny could run on anything, and as the best U.S.-based son of Northern Dancer at stud, he established an international influence that will reverberate well into the 21st century.
War Front, by contrast, appeared to offer more limited, though still attractive, options as a stallion.
One of the fastest horses of his era, War Front never raced on turf and only once won at a distance beyond seven furlongs for owner-breeder Joseph Allen and Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens. His female family offered hints of turf ability but no convincing credentials.
Still, at age 11, War Front has become a versatile sire of racehorses over all surfaces and a highly regarded commercial sire. And in Lines of Battle, the winner of the March 30 UAE Derby, he may have his second serious Kentucky Derby horse in the last four years.
Lines of Battle was bred by Allen and is campaigned by Allen and the Coolmore-affiliated Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. He tallied his third win from six starts in the UAE Derby, a Group 2 event worth $2 million contested over Meydan Racecourse’s synthetic Tapeta Footings surface at about 1 3/16 miles.
Lines of Battle won by 1 1/2 lengths in a final time of 2:02.05 and earned 100 points in Churchill Downs’s Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying system, all but guaranteeing himself a spot in the starting gate May 4 should he be entered.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien told Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh in Dubai following the World Cup that barring injury, Lines of Battle will contest the Derby, where he will try to improve on the performance of last year’s UAE Derby winner, Daddy Long Legs, who raced for Magnier, Tabor, Smith, and O’Brien and was eased in the 1 1/4-mile classic.
Lines of Battle has yet to race on dirt, and he displayed lingering signs of immaturity in the UAE Derby, drifting out slightly after taking the lead in midstretch before regrouping and finishing well. His pedigree offers an intriguing mixture of turf and dirt influences, with a strong dose of class all around.
Out of Black Speck, who is by Claiborne stallion Arch, Lines of Battle is a half-sibling to French Group 2 winner Homebound, Group 1-placed winner Battle Paint, and French stakes winner Blue Exit, who placed in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes. His second dam, Andover Way, by His Majesty, was a Grade 1 winner in the early 1980s who is best known as the dam of Dynaformer.
It is the family of Grade 1 winner and Pennsylvania-based sire Offlee Wild, Grade 2 winner Sangrita, Group 2 winner and sire Silent Times, and multiple Group 1-placed stakes winner and WinStar stallion U S Ranger.
War Front garnered attention as a sire right off the bat in 2010, ranking fourth on the North American freshman sire list. His best 2-year-old earner from that crop, Soldat, won the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes on turf at Saratoga and finished second by a length to Pluck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
As a 3-year-old, the colt emerged as a Kentucky Derby contender after taking a 1 1/8-mile allowance race by 10 3/4 lengths in the slop at Gulfstream Park and then winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at the same distance by two lengths. Soldat finished fifth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and 10th in the Kentucky Derby and was retired at age 5 this past January after suffering a leg injury.
By mid-2011, several others from War Front’s first crop had developed as 3-year-olds, led by The Factor, who, more than any of War Front’s progeny, has emulated his sire’s blazing speed on the racetrack. The Factor briefly joined Soldat on the Kentucky Derby trail after rolling to a 6 1/4-length win in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, but he returned to sprinting in late summer and reeled off two Grade 1 wins at seven furlongs in the Pat O’Brien and Malibu stakes. He is standing his first season at Lane's End this year.
Two additional turf stars from that crop also surfaced: Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks winner Summer Soiree, who also won the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks on Polytrack, and dual stakes winner Summer Front. From his second crop, State of Play won the With Anticipation to give War Front progeny back-to-back wins in that turf event. By the end of the year, War Front ranked third on the North American second-crop sire list in earnings and first in both stakes wins and stakes winners, with nine and 16.
Summer Front would go on to win the Grade 3 Hill Prince Stakes in 2012, and by then, War Front was settling into a comfortable and enviable groove, as even more top-class horses matured into stars from his first crop while precocious runners also continued to appear. The 4-year-old Data Link won the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile and two Grade 2 stakes on turf last year, while Warning Flag earned black type overseas in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, and consistent sprinter Great Mills placed in four graded stakes.
Declaration of War, from War Front’s second crop, won a Group 3 race on Dundalk’s synthetic track in Ireland, and Lines of Battle notched his first stakes win at the same venue last October in the Star Appeal Stakes (which Warning Flag won in 2010).
War Front has shown an ability to sire horses who can sustain a high level of performance. The Factor, Data Link, Soldat, Great Mills, Summer Front, State of Play, and Warning Flag, among others, have all won stakes races in multiple years, and Data Link and Summer Front appear poised to be major factors in the older male turf division this year.
Claiborne stallion manager Bernie Sams said War Front’s potential as a sire was evident from the outset, and his ascent has continued unabated since Soldat’s emergence in mid-2010.
“We bred around 100 mares to War Front the first year, and he came out of the box swinging and really hasn’t looked back,” Sams said. “You go back to Soldat when he won the With Anticipation at Saratoga – it started from there, and this horse hasn’t missed a beat every year since. For a horse that started out at $12,500, he’s done exceptionally well.”
The stallion’s success has not gone unnoticed by commercial breeders, and War Front has become a six-figure-average sire at the yearling and 2-year-old auctions. His 2011 foal out of the winning Arch mare Gold Vault sold for $1,050,000, the sixth-highest price at the Keeneland September yearling sale last fall. War Front had 16 six-figure yearlings at Keeneland, helping his overall yearling average reach $230,377 in 2012.
War Front also has been a major player in the select juvenile auctions. A colt out of the unraced Horse Chestnut mare Henna (a half-sister to the aforementioned Gold Vault) brought $600,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March sale of select 2-year-olds in training, and a colt out of the stakes-placed Pulpit mare Seasoned (from the family of Raven’s Pass, Rainbow View, and E Dubai) went for $570,000 at the Barretts March sale of select 2-year-olds in training, the third-highest price of the sale.
War Front has six juveniles cataloged for the Keeneland sale April 8, with two withdrawn as of April 3.
Claiborne set War Front’s fee at $80,000 for 2013. Sams said the stallion is most comfortable breeding to about 95 to 100 mares a year (he covered 102 mares in 2012), and his book was full before the start of the year. Even before the sudden death of Pulpit late last year, War Front had become a major asset for Claiborne. In terms of lineage, he, along with Darley stallion Hard Spun and others, will ensure that Danzig’s impact as a breed-shaping sire remains strong in North America.
“He’s 11, so you hope he’s got quite a few more years to go,” Sams said. “Obviously, if he continues to do what he’s doing, and with the mares he’s getting now, which are probably as good a book of mares as there are anywhere in central Kentucky, he ought to hopefully be able at some point to be considered [alongside Danzig]. You know, he’s still got quite a bit to do, but he’s well on his way to being similar to his father.”
War Front is the sire of Departing, a promising gelding owned and bred by Claiborne and longtime partner Adele Dilschneider who finished third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 30, his first loss in four career starts. His other 3-year-olds to watch include the Ken McPeek-trained colt War Dancer, who unleased a last-to-first rally to win his second consecutive race at Keeneland on April 10, and fillies Native Bombshell and Tres Belle. The latter won first out at Santa Anita on March 29 for Kaleem Shah and Bob Baffert in gate-to-wire fashion.
On April 5, War Front's 3-year-old colt Jack Milton stepped up to graded stakes company in his third career start and battled gamely in deep stretch to win the Transylvania Stakes by a neck over Up With the Birds as the feature race of Keeneland's opening-day card. He covered one mile in 1:41.80 for owner Gary Barber and trainer Todd Pletcher.
Bred in Kentucky by Cherry Valley Farm, Jack Milton is out of the Forty Niner mare Preserver and is a full brother to stakes winner Peace Preserver and a half-brother to Grade 3-placed winners Stake and My Rachel. Pletcher's assistant Whit Beckman told Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee that the newly-minted Grade 3 winner could make his next start in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 American Turf on the May 3 Kentucky Oaks undercard.