01/19/2013 8:19PM

Eclipse Award winner Beholder: Top sprinter Henny Hughes comes up with a two-turn champion

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Henny Hughes conformation photocourtesy Walmac Farm; Joy Gilbert photoHenny Hughes
On March 15, 2005, a good-looking son of Hennessy entered the ring at Barretts select sale of 2-year-olds in training. He was the ninth foal from a mare who to then had produced nothing but claimers … but, this one filled the eye, and, oh, how he could run. During a preview 12 days earlier, the chestnut had created buzz by blasting a furlong in 9.90.  By sale time, however, buyer interest in hip number 45 failed to intersect with consignor expectations, and at a final bid of $370,000 the colt missed his reserve. Gulf Coast Farms—which had purchased him for $180,000 at Fasig-Tipton July in 2004—took him home.

The $1.9 million “it” horse of the Barretts sale was What a Song, who won his first three starts that summer, including two stakes, but was euthanized in August after suffering a leg injury. That misfortune left a spot on center stage for the Barretts $370,000 buy-back who was named Henny Hughes, and the colt soon became a sensation—first for Gulf Coast and trainer Patrick Biancone, later for Darley and Kiaran McLaughlin. Henny Hughes proved fearsome at up to seven furlongs: a near-champion at two, twice an Eclipse Award finalist, and a multiple Grade 1 winner, a racehorse so fast and so talented, Biancone once dared compare him to Secretariat.

Though no Secretariat, Henny Hughes was exceptional, winning six of ten starts—usually after deploying a soul-crushing sprint through the stretch. His victories included five stakes and back-to-back Grade 1 races, and he defeated older rivals with aplomb in the Vosburgh of 2006.

“He was special … one of the best I ever trained,” recalled Kiaran McLaughlin, who conditioned Henny Hughes after Darley acquired him following his 15-length rocket launch in the Tremont Stakes, his second career start.

With no sprint worlds left to conquer, $1.1 million-earner Henny Hughes entered stud in 2007 at Darley’s Kentucky division for an advertised $40,000 fee, a number that did little to discourage patrons, who loved the colt’s brilliance and that his sire was a top son of Storm Cat.

Henny Hughes pulled several seasons shuttling between Kentucky and Australia, and was well received in both hemispheres. His debut crop of 100 North American-conceived foals arrived in 2008 from a stellar group of mares that included the dams of champion Kona Gold and of future Grade 1 winners Eskendereya, Jeranimo, and Executiveprivilege—the latter an Eclipse Award finalist among 2012 juvenile fillies. That crop initially disappointed; although it produced 20 two-year-old winners in 2010, only two were of even minor stakes class.

McLaughlin kept the faith in his former charge.  “As a stallion,” he would say, “everybody thinks [his offspring] will be quick and early and win at four furlongs, whereas I think just the opposite. I think they’re going to come around a little later and run a little further.”

He knew the horse well.

Things improved from that sluggish beginning and before long Henny Hughes was acknowledged as a prolific sire of quality runners, his best prior to 2012 being of Grade/Group 3 caliber. Lacking the “big” horse, his fee began a predictable trek south, from $40,000 in 2007 to his present $7,500. The nine-year-old stallion is slated to stand the 2013 Northern Hemisphere season at Walmac Farm in Kentucky under a lease agreement.

At $7,500, Henny Hughes may just be one of the best bargains around. From three racing crops, he has sired 146 winners, 33 stakes horses, and earners of $10.7 million, and last year ranked third among third-crop sires, behind only Bernardini and Flower Alley.

The horse who altered the course of Henny Hughes’ career-to-date and yanked him out of the Grade 3 doldrums was 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and champion 2-year-old filly Beholder. Bred in Kentucky by the Mitchell family’s Clarkland Farm and foaled on Mother’s Day (May 9) 2010, Beholder was the eighth foal out of Leslie’s Lady, a former $8,000 yearling and minor Indiana stakes winner.

That hard-trying Tricky Creek mare won five of 28 starts at up to 6 1/2 furlongs, and more than paid her feed bill with earnings of $187,014. She had class enough to merit a spate of $15,000-to-$25,000 partners as a young matron, including Harlan’s Holiday in 2004. The foal from that mating became Grade 1 winner Into Mischief, today one of the hottest young stallions on the planet.

Leslie’s Lady was purchased by Clarkland Farm for $100,000 in foal to Orientate at Keeneland’s 2006 November sale. Clarkland sold her subsequent three yearlings for $25,000, $70,000, and $25,000 before hitting it out of the park with her strapping bay 2010 Henny Hughes filly, who fetched $180,000 from Spendthrift Farm at Keeneland two Septembers ago.

So trainer McLaughlin has proved prescient—Henny Hughes’ best would indeed be more than one-dimensional speedballs. In fact, when crossed with a mare whose fuse was every bit as short as his own, he produced a two-turn winner on racing’s biggest stage, an unexpected filly deservingly crowned as queen of her division.

To read about Beholder's Eclipse Award-winning season, click here.

Beholder female family and pedigree