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Freshman sires reflect more signs of a power shift
In the heyday of the American breeding industry – from about 1960 to 2000 – it was essentially a given that the highest-priced freshman sire each year would reside in Kentucky. How the mighty have fallen.
Three Kentucky stallions whose first foals will race in 2013 are priced at $15,000 this spring, a far cry from the $200,000 initial fee charged for the 2004 Horse of the Year, Ghostzapper, when he retired to stud in 2006. That fee is also almost $100,000 lower than the fee for the world’s most expensive freshman sire of 2013, 2009 European Horse of the Year Sea The Stars, who stands at the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud in Ireland for 85,000 euros (about $113,465).
In fact, the $15,000 Kentucky breeders will have to pay this year for the services of Colonel John, Pioneerof the Nile, and Zensational is less than the $16,686 set for Coolmore’s Irish-based Mastercraftsman, as well as the $26,740 for dual Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Conduit and the $16,044 for Forego Stakes winner Pyro in Japan.
The relatively low fees of America’s most highly regarded freshman sires of 2013 are a reflection both of the shift of bloodstock power from the United States to Europe exemplified by the overwhelming successes of American-bred 14-time leading English sire Sadler’s Wells and his Irish-bred son Galileo, as well as the peculiar landscape of the American racing year of 2009.
The logistics of Thoroughbred breeding dictate that the ranks of freshman sires are normally populated by the best racehorses of four years ago, but in 2009, a gelding (Mine That Bird) won the Kentucky Derby; a filly (Rachel Alexandra) captured the Preakness Stakes; Summer Bird, winner of the Belmont and Travers and eventual 3-year-old champion male, raced on as a 4-year-old; and another filly, Zenyatta, dominated males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The best older horse of 2009, Gio Ponti, second to Zenyatta in the Classic, also raced in 2010.
Meanwhile in Europe, Sea The Stars carried all before him, sweeping undefeated through six Group 1 races, culminating with a victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that was almost as thrilling as Zenyatta’s last-to-first charge in the Classic. Mastercraftsman, a classic-winning miler, also got as close as anybody else to Sea The Stars, running him to a length in the Juddmonte International. And just before Zenyatta’s Classic win, Conduit nailed down his second straight Breeders’ Cup Turf before being exported to stand in Japan.
STALLION ROSTER: North American freshman sires of 2013
That left Zensational, a sensational sprinter by Unbridled’s Song from a family of sprinters, as the most expensive stallion to retire to stud in the United States in 2010 at a $25,000 fee. Winner of the Grade 1 Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien stakes and Triple Bend Handicap, Zensational won 5 of 8 career starts, but failed after a poor start in attempting to nail down champion sprinter honors in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
A big, lengthy gray, Zensational is entirely typical of the offspring of his sire, Unbridled’s Song, who sired his 100th stakes winner when Graydar upset the recent Donn Handicap. After some early success for Songandaprayer, sons of Unbridled’s Song have yet to make quite the impact some people had expected, but Zensational has 80 foals in his first crop, 43 of whom sold as yearlings for an average price of $60,977, third-best among this group. Zensational finished fourth in his only start as a 2-year-old, but he comes from a precocious family that includes two juvenile stakes winners in the first two dams, so it is reasonable to expect that he will get some precocious 2-year-olds.
Pioneerof the Nile was a very good, if rather late-developing, 2-year-old in 2008, winning the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in December. He started as the third favorite for the Kentucky Derby after stretching his win streak to four in the Robert B. Lewis, San Felipe, and Santa Anita Derby but could not cope with Mine That Bird’s rail-skimming run on a sloppy track.
Pioneerof the Nile is a more compact, close-coupled horse than his sire, Empire Maker, who led sires by North American earnings in 2012, which should give him a better chance at siring horses with a more precocious profile. As a son of La Troienne Stakes winner Star of Goshen, a half-sister to the graded sprinter-miler Powis Castle, Pioneerof the Nile, too, comes from a family more noted for speed than stamina. Pioneerof the Nile has 94 registered 2-year-olds, and 57 of them sold last year for an average price of $75,689.
The most popular first-year sire among yearling buyers last year, though, was Colonel John, the first Grade 1-winning son of Tiznow to go to stud. Colonel John’s 61 yearlings sold (out of a total of 86) were conceived at an initial fee of $15,000 and averaged $83,418 at yearling sales last year.
Like Pioneerof the Nile, Colonel John was a late-developing 2-year-old, winning the Real Quiet Stakes in November and running second to 2012 freshman sire sensation Into Mischief in the 2007 CashCall Futurity. Colonel John earned his Grade 1 spurs in the 2008 Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes, and added the Wickerr Stakes as a 4-year-old.
The medium-sized Colonel John is one of the prettiest sons of Tiznow, a gigantic, rather plain horse who is not known for siring fast juveniles. There is not all that much apparent speed in his female family either, although his second dam won a restricted statebred stakes at 2.
Over the past 20 years, though, leading a 2-year-old sire list has become less and less dependent on real precocity. It is now rare for a juvenile with the slightest classic pretensions to debut before July, and meets at Saratoga and Del Mar are far more likely starting points for highly regarded 2-year-olds. Only three graded stakes for juveniles still exist on the racing calendar in the first six months of the year. That compresses the contest for leading juvenile sire and leading freshman sire into the last five months of the year.
It has been more than a decade since the leading American freshman sire stood anywhere but Kentucky (Texas-based Valid Expectations in 2001), but the declining foal crops have spread potential stars to other states. Dixie Chatter in California, Benny the Bull and In Summation in Florida, and Monba in Pennsylvania are all Grade 1 winners with potential to make an impact, though none has as many foals going for them as the top-priced Kentucky stallions.
Internationally all eyes will be on Sea The Stars. A handsome half-brother by Cape Cross to leading sire Galileo, he covered a glittering book of mares in his first season, and his 35 yearlings sold averaged almost $400,000.
No one will expect the offspring of Sea The Stars to dominate the Royal Ascot meeting in June as New Approach’s did last year, but by the time the colors of autumn provide a picturesque backdrop to the green of Europe’s racecourses, it will be time for new stars to emerge.
Leading North American freshman sires
By average 2012 yearling sale price (5 or more sold)
|Stallion||No. 2012 yearlings sold||2012 yearling avg. price|
|Pioneerof the Nile||57||$75,689|
|U S Ranger||31||$42,025|
By number of current 2-year-olds
|Stallion||No. current 2yos|
|Pioneerof the Nile||94|
|Two Step Salsa||50|
Leading stallions by sons whose first foals are 2-year-of 2013
Those international horses just seem better in quality than the American ones that are mentioned. Several of the U.S. stallions were retired early, in some cases unsound, and some just weren't all that stellar. Surely we have some more intriguing freshman sires than those? I am surprised to see how many mares some of them got.
Sea The Stars was the real deal! I hope he can pass his traits to his offspring.
The once proud family-based tradition of horse breeding is now like puppy mills...