08/29/2009 12:00AM

Freshman stallions making impact


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Thanks to its large catalog of more than 5,100 horses, the Keeneland September yearling sale provides a meaningful referendum on first-year sires' new yearlings. The catalog for this year's salehas yearlings by 289 stallions, and some of the freshmen among them could prove hot commodities. Even before the September sale, some already had made a mark at yearling auctions with high early-season average or median prices.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley Stud and John Magnier's Coolmore Stud, the dominant buyers at Keeneland September in recent memory, also are major stallion owners. This year, they both have an interesting group of freshman sires whose progeny they'll be keeping a close eye on.

By sheer numbers, Darley has the edge over just about everyone this year in the Keeneland September freshman sire group. Its three debuting sires - Bernardini, Henny Hughes, and Rockport Harbor - have a total of 159 yearlings in the catalog.

All three have already had a few good yearlings in the auction ring this summer at Fasig-Tipton's July and Saratoga yearling sales. Maktoum and associates have bought half of the 12 Bernardini yearlings at auction to date, and that's helped give the stallion an easy lead in sale average and median among freshmen with three or more horses sold publicly. His yearlings have averaged $570,833 for a $335,000 median - a good return even with his high 2007 stud fee of $100,000. Interest in the son of the highly fashionable A.P. Indy probably will continue in September both with Maktoum and others. Maktoum's interest alone should ensure that Bernardini's average stays high.

Dual Grade 1 winner Henny Hughes and multiple graded winner Rockport Harbor haven't been as strongly backed yet by Darley, but they also have triple-digit averages and medians at auction this year. Henny Hughes's 12 yearlings have averaged a healthy $223,333, while Rockport Harbor's 11 have a $112,455 average; their respective medians are $180,000 and $110,000. Henny Hughes and Rockport Harbor stood in 2007 for $40,000 and $20,000, respectively.

Coolmore's freshman representatives, Holy Roman Emperor and Hurricane Run, lack the numbers of their Darley colleagues. But they have a lot of class. Hurricane Run, by Coolmore's high-class sire Montjeu, was a European Horse of the Year, and French juvenile champion Holy Roman Emperor was a leading prospect for the 2007 classics before Coolmore abruptly retired him and sent him to replace the subfertile George Washington on its stallion roster.

Holy Roman Emperor, by Coolmore's great sire Danehill (now deceased), has a single yearling in the catalog. The stallion retired from racing in March 2007, just in advance of the English classic races and giving him enough time to cover some mares in the Northern Hemisphere breeding season. His fee was listed as private, but Sireaverages.com listed it as 40,000 euros, or about $52,000 at the contemporary exchange rate.

One of Holy Roman Emperor's first matings must have been to I'll Get Along, who was bred to him in Ireland and foaled the resulting filly on April 10, 2008. Now selling as Hip No. 151, the filly is a half-sister to champion 3-year-old and 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.

Holy Roman Emperor had quite a few entries in Arqana's Deauville select yearling sale in August, and they were well received. Seven of 10 sold, resulting in an average price of $175,046 and a median of $177,600.

Hurricane Run's yearlings at auction are even more numerous and also have scored a triple-digit average. Fifteen have sold so far, averaging $153,206 for a $92,352 median. His 2007 stud fee was 30,000 euros, or about $37,000 at the exchange rate then. Hurricane Run's draft at Keeneland September is small, with two colts and one filly.

One of the most popular first-crop sires in the young yearling auction season is WinStar Farm's Bluegrass Cat. The Storm Cat horse won the 2006 Haskell and was runner-up in that year's Derby, Belmont, and Travers, giving him the good classic-distance credentials that appeal to high-level buyers. Bluegrass Cat also is out of the Phipps family-bred She's a Winner, by A.P. Indy, adding even more depth to the pedigree. He stood for $50,000 in 2007, and his eight yearlings to sell publicly have averaged $201,875, with a $120,000 median. WinStar was listed as buyer for two of those, but the two most expensive, at $550,000 and $425,000, went to agent Mike Ryan and Roy Jackson, suggesting WinStar isn't the only entity that likes what it has seen so far of Bluegrass Cat. Buyers will have plenty to look at in September, because 76 Bluegrass Cat yearlings are in the Keeneland catalog.

WinStar has another first-crop sire in the catalog with Grade 2 winner Sharp Humor, a son of its flagship stallion Distorted Humor, himself a highly commercial sire. Sharp Humor stood his initial season for $12,500 and has 53 yearlings at Keeneland.

Claiborne Farm's dual Grade 1 winner First Samurai, by Giant's Causeway, is another of the handful of first-crop sires to generate a triple-figure average sale price, with three or more yearlings sold, so far this year. From a $40,000 first-season fee, his yearling's sellers have gotten an average return of $144,000 for five horses sold. The median stands at $95,000. A precocious runner who showed classic potential, he won the Champagne and the Hopeful before retiring from the Triple Crown trail in 2005. He has 47 yearlings at Keeneland September.

Flower Alley, Distorted Humor's Grade 1-winning son who stands at Three Chimneys, has a $100,000 median with seven sales, and his average sale price just misses the three-digit mark at $93,429. He has a crop of 42 on offer at Keeneland. Best known for winning the Travers Stakes, Flower Alley is by a fashionable sire in Distorted Humor and came into his own at 3 and 4 after making just one start at 2 (when he finished third).

Two Breeders' Cup winners and a Kentucky Derby winner also are making their yearling-sale debuts this season. Artie Schiller, who won the 2005 BC Mile, has 39 horses in the Keeneland September catalog, while 2005 BC Sprint winner Silver Train has 52. Both have maintained creditable sale-ring income this season. Artie Schiller's average stands at $89,167 for six yearlings bred on a 2007 stud fee of $15,000. Silver Train already has had 12 yearlings at auction bring an average of $89,503 from his $25,000 fee.

Artie Schiller, by El Prado, stood at Hurricane Hall in 2007 and is now at Pauls Mill. Silver Train, by the late Old Trieste, stands at Vinery.

Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, also has his first yearlings. There are 20 cataloged for September, marking the Holy Bull horse's first significant foray into the commercial arena. Only one Giacomo foal, a colt out of the Grand Lodge mare Officer's Pink, has sold at auction. But he's an interesting one, because he brought a $75,000 bid from Todd Quast, agent for Paul Buhlman's Goldmark Farm at Fasig-Tipton's New York-bred preferred auction. That sale suffered disastrous declines and had a $40,687 average and $27,000 median. The Giacomo colt easily outperformed the market as well as his own first-year stud fee of $12,500.

Giacomo, an Adena Springs stallion by Holy Bull, has 20 yearlings in the catalog at Keeneland.

There are numerous other freshmen in the pages of Keeneland's multi-book September catalog, including such Grade 1 winners as Aragorn (by Giant's Causeway) with 45 yearlings, Bandini (by Fusaichi Pegasus) with 39, and Bellamy Road (by Concerto) with 29. Among others of interest are A.P. Indy's sons A.P. Warrior with eight and Suave (22); the Unbridled's Song horse Unbridled Energy (34); the El Prado horse Borrego (24); and another Distorted Humor son, It's No Joke (9).