01/11/2013 2:41PM

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.

Daisy1Oopsy . 6 months ago
I absolutely and totally identify with Empire Maker whose dam it stated was titled as possessing uncertain temperament. So it goes in my family of humans. But it can be passed from the sire!!! i.e. Royal Delta, Bodemeister and In Lingerie. Five of his nine Grade 1 winners carry a cross of Seattle Slew on the bottom side. Empire Maker is one not to forget. This is a wonderful article and thank you.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
Phew! That was a rather amazingly tangled explanation of how the great sire, Empire Maker, slipped out of the hands of American breeders and landed in Japan. Those rules by our breeders about what counts in the earnings department is just nuts! - LOL. What the story of Empire Maker does prove, however, is how incredibly savvy the Japanese breeders are when it comes to evaluating and acquiring excellent talent and how to use it wisely. The Japanese breeders know great talent and horse flesh when they see it, and they consequently have the mother lode of our greatest Classics/stamina champions on their farms in Japan. They use foresight in their evaluation of horses, and we don't. They think long term when it comes to breeding, and we don't. And, consequently, their racing and breeding programs are thriving, and ours aren't. Ours has been in decline for decades. It's frustrating to watch our breeders make the same mistakes over and over again, and it's frustrating to listen to them complain when they realize Japan or Turkey has benefitted once more from our short-sightedness. I wish we would wake up and start planning and working with excellent foresight when it comes to our racing and breeding programs.
Gary Camejo More than 1 year ago
Everything is economics people! No one seems interested about seeing those tactical demanding races that thoroughbreds have won the respect of racefans.
Mable Roberts More than 1 year ago
We lost another hell of a Stallion to the smart breeders of Japan. *Sigh*!
not impressed More than 1 year ago
Sunday Silence was NOT exported because of greed. American Breeders wanted nothing to do with him and Japan wanted him so he went there. Arthur Hancock eventually sold him because he owed a debt and the money he got from SS's sale helped him keep Stone Farm. If he hadn't sold SS, he would have lost his farm and everything he had. He was counting on people to invest in SS, but hey you snooze you lose. You can't blame him. Besides, this American industry is stupid. They have no foresight. Lion Heart wasn't sold because of greed. Coolmore is already wealthy beyond belief. Coolmore just doesn't have patience with their stallions beyond a the first three crops. They always seem to jumpstart stallions who they sell. I'll Have Another wasn't sold for greed either. If you only have two farms wanting him for little amounts, American breeders tend to think he had no future at stud. So, because American breeders only sell for sale purposes and not to race anymore, they only jump on fashionable lines. It was rather obvious American breeders preferred Union Rags and Bodemeister over IHA and IHA was never going to get the chance to be successful here. Besides since our route races are now mostly sprints, I can't blame anyone for selling where they actually have DISTANCE races. I lost interest in horse racing because the industry has no interest providing the type of races we as fans like to see, and with the stupidity as far as letting all these blasted trainers and vets and people using medication and horses being doped on it, there is no accountibility. We are LACKING big time behind other countries. Why we think we need medication is beyond me. No other continent uses the damn stuff and we didn't until the 1990s, so you can't tell me we HAVE to have it. We're to blame because we keep breeding these horses who can't last, can't run longer than 8 races, and suddenly can't carry weight. Give me a break. We've weakened the breed and industry and until the industry wants to change we will never see another Triple Crown winner and we'll continue to see distances decreasing and races cancelled. I now follow the racing industry occasionally but I haven't watched a race since Black Caviar won at Ascot last year. If I do watch any racing, I tend to watch QH and European/Japanese/Australian racing. I like watching races like the Melbourne Cup and Japan Cup. Now if only USA racing would figure out what the rest of the world already knows, we'd be in good shape again.
Jock More than 1 year ago
I believe that you hit the nail on the head with this article.I used to love watching races over a distance ancarring weight by there accomplishments.How can a horse win horse of the year when they don't carry weight or run on natural surfaces over a distance of ground? I keep telling my brother that you can't compare horses of today with horses of older times.I think that they ruined horseracing when they added synthetic surfaces as it isn't natural and it's a lot easier for horse to pile up wins when they don't give others a chance by adding weight like they use to.I remember the great horses like Forego,Kelso,Native Diver,and Ta Wee caring as much as 140lbs to victory,Jerry
radnor87 More than 1 year ago
I wouldn't say it was greed. His owners certainly don't need the money , it was just a decision made based on the horses production at stud and what they expected of him as a sire. Over the years they haven't made too many mistakes. They have been exceptional contributors to racing and breeding.
kimmons2 More than 1 year ago
Just shows you how greedy these connection are! We are selling our soles for 20 pieces of silver!! Lion Heart, Sunday Silence, Empire Maker, I'll Have Another and on and on!! No wonder fans have lost interest in horse racing in this country... GREED!!!!!!!
james More than 1 year ago
"souls"..."30 pieces"
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
By the way, Mr. Sparkman, so glad to see you at the DRF! So sorry about the TTimes, but glad you have a new "stand".
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Thank you for a little more background on this great sire. It continues to boggle the mind at the amount of talent exported from the U.S. to Japan.
You Feel Lucky More than 1 year ago
Money talks.......