01/11/2013 1:41PM

Empire Maker's offspring excel far from his adopted home in Japan

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Florida Derby. now stands at stud in Japan, but the offspring he produced as a young stallion in the United States are earning bundles of money.

Depending on how you look at it, the leading North American sire of 2012 stood last season on the island of Hokkaido. The progeny of Empire Maker conceived during his seven seasons at his birthplace, Juddmonte Farms in Lexington, Ky., before his premature export to Japan in 2011 earned $14,066,640 worldwide in 2012. That is about $350,000 more than the offspring of Giant’s Causeway, the horse who will be acclaimed the leading North American sire by the racing industry.

The reason for the discrepancy is the cockeyed method by which the principal publications and data sources of the Thoroughbred industry count earnings for North American stallions. Every other major racing country in the world determines its leading stallion by earnings only within the boundaries of that country, with the exception of England and Ireland, which traditionally combine earnings in those two countries (but ignore earnings by their stallions elsewhere in the world). Empire Maker also ranks as the country’s leading sire by North American earnings only, about $400,000 ahead of Speightstown’s North American earnings.

When American-bred racehorses began dominating racing in Europe in the 1980s, however, American stallion owners demanded that American statistics include European earnings, and the magazines that published sire lists complied, since the stallion owners were their principal advertisers. Over the decades since, as the Jockey Club Information Systems expanded its database worldwide, the countries those sire lists encompassed also expanded to include most of those countries. In some publications, Japan and Hong Kong earnings are excluded because their purses are too high.

I suspect that one would have to explain in some detail to most owners and breeders how purses could possibly be too high to be counted, but that is the state of play. Other data sources add only Dubai World Cup Day performances to North American earnings. Do not ask why.

Those quibbles aside, though, the performance of Empire Maker’s progeny in 2012 made it clear that his export to Japan after the 2010 breeding season was a huge loss for the American breeding industry. It was also a huge surprise at the time.

Empire Maker remains the only American classic winner bred and owned by Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, widely regarded as the world’s best breeding operation of the past two decades. He was also a huge favorite of Juddmonte’s late Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who, of course, became the namesake of the best horse Juddmonte has bred and owned, the recently retired, undefeated Frankel.

Second-generation homebred

The sixth foal of the brilliant but temperamental Grade 1-winning racemare Toussaud, by El Gran Senor, Empire Maker was a second-generation Juddmonte-bred. Abdullah purchased his second dam, Grade 2 winner Image of Reality, by In Reality, for $500,000, in foal to El Gran Senor, at the 1987 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.

By the time Empire Maker arrived at Frankel’s barn in 2002, his half-brother Chester House, by Mr. Prospector, and half-sister Honest Lady, by Seattle Slew, were already Grade 1 winners, and another half-brother, Decarchy, by Distant View, was a Grade 2 winner. That summer, a third half-brother, Chiselling, by Woodman, won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes.

Empire Maker earned Frankel’s admiration before he ever ran as a juvenile by outworking the trainer’s 2002 Travers Stakes winner, Medaglia d’Oro, and duly won his first start in October by 3 1/2 lengths at Belmont Park at very short odds. Puzzling defeats in the Remsen and Sham stakes robbed some of his public luster, but he finally fulfilled his potential with a stunning 9 3/4-length romp in the Florida Derby. He was much less impressive in the Wood Memorial Stakes, holding off Funny Cide by a half-length, but that was enough for him to start as favorite for the Kentucky Derby despite doubts about his participation because of a bruised foot.

Not at his best at Churchill Downs, Empire Maker failed to catch Funny Cide by 1 3/4 lengths, but exacted revenge on a sloppy track in the Belmont Stakes, beating Ten Most Wanted by three-quarters of a length, with Funny Cide third. Empire Maker raced only once more, showing signs of his dam’s uncertain temperament when beaten a neck by Strong Hope in the Jim Dandy Stakes. Empire Maker had beaten Funny Cide in two out of three meetings with a valid excuse for that defeat, but voters preferred the popular, overachieving gelding Funny Cide to the slightly underachieving blueblood Empire Maker for champion 3-year-old male.

Empire Maker retired to Juddmonte in 2004, and sired five graded winners among his 10 stakes winners, including four Grade 1 winners, in his first crop of 93 foals. His second crop of 95 foals included eight stakes winners, five group or graded winners, including one Grade 1 winner. The third crop numbered 99 foals, with six stakes winners, including three graded winners.

Those percentages were outstanding in the contemporary market, but when the offer came from Japan in the autumn of 2010 when his third crop were 3-year-olds, four factors militated against him: Most Empire Makers were relatively slow to mature; a fair number had shown a measure of the uncertain temperament he inherited from his mother; four of his five Grade 1 winners were fillies; and only one of the graded winners and two of the other stakes winners had been bred by Juddmonte. In fact, given the number of top mares Juddmonte bred to Empire Maker, his production for it had to be disappointing. The offer was accepted and Empire Maker has stood in Japan ever since.

In the 1990s when it seemed every other English classic winner was exported to Japan, English breeders joked that the surest way get a stallion to sire a champion was to export him to Japan. Sure enough, Empire Maker’s next crop of 3-year-olds included a champion, dual Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta. Out of Grade 3 winner Delta Princess, by A.P. Indy, Royal Delta followed the Empire Maker pattern, developing into the best of her age and sex late in her 3-year-old year, and has won 9 of 15 starts and more than $3.7 million, with more to come. Royal Delta earned champion 3-year-old filly honors in 2011 and is certain to be named champion older female for 2012.

Empire Maker also added two more Grade 1 winners to his ledger in 2012, including his second male top-level winner, Bodemeister, who earned widespread admiration for his victory in the Arkansas Derby and front-running seconds in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Empire Maker’s three Grade 1 winners this year – Royal Delta, Bodemeister, and In Lingerie – all exhibit the most common inbreeding pattern of the good offspring of Empire Maker, a 4x4 duplication of Northern Dancer, but that is such a widespread occurrence in the contemporary Thoroughbred as to be almost meaningless as a distinguishing feature. More interestingly, five of his nine Grade 1 winners carry a cross of Seattle Slew on the bottom side, a far less-common feature.

With one more American-conceived crop to come to the races, and doubtless more good horses to mature from his current crop of 3-year-olds, Empire Maker has sired 36 stakes winners from 551 foals age 3 and up (6.5 percent), including 20 group or graded winners (3.6 percent), both highly respectable numbers. If another top 3-year-old or two emerges this year and Royal Delta retains her best form, Empire Maker may yet manage to win the sire championship he deserved in 2012.