09/20/2013 1:00PM

Hot Sires: Eskendereya and Quality Road

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Courtesy of Lane's EndQuality Road

Early last Monday during the seventh session of this year’s Keeneland September sale, overall gross receipts surpassed the 2012 sale’s final figure with more than five sessions remaining. The heady returns through Books 1 and 2 of the 2013 sale contributed to an already-upbeat atmosphere in Lexington, Ky., and offered more evidence to support many observers’ contention that the bloodstock market has largely recovered from a deep and debilitating trough that lasted roughly five years.

During the first week of trading, ending Monday with the first Book 3 session, several sires emerged as truly desirable properties for buyers seeking superior-pedigreed progeny. Two of this year’s most productive sires of racehorses – War Front and Tapit – continued their ascent into elite status. Mainstays such as Tiznow and Medaglia d’Oro also had a major presence, and Spendthrift Farm sire Malibu Moon broke the seven-figure mark for the first time at the sale.

Among the first-crop sires, a trio that was on most prognosticators’ shortlists as potential breakout stars made good on their reputations. Claiborne’s Blame, who had much success at the early Fasig-Tipton sales, continued to find favor with buyers (the stallion was profiled in the Aug. 18 issue of DRF Breeding). Two others with robust averages through the early sales – Taylor Made’s Eskendereya and Lane’s End’s Quality Road – improved on their pre-Keeneland figures during the Book 1 and 2 sessions, each sporting a $500,000 yearling to boot.

Through Monday’s seventh session, 31 yearlings by Eskendereya had sold for $4,672,000, averaging $150,710. Forty-one Quality Road yearlings had sold for $5,240,000 during the same period for an average price of $127,805. At press time, Eskendereya ranked 17th among Keeneland sires by gross and 22nd by average (among stallions with three or more horses sold). Quality Road ranked 15th and 35th. Blame, with 28 yearlings sold for $5,442,000, an average of $194,357, ranked 13th and 16th in those categories.

Quality Road and Eskendereya linger in the memories of racing fans as back-to-back Kentucky Derby prerace favorites who were withdrawn shortly before the classic due to injury. In 2009, Quality Road had dazzled observers with open-length wins in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park – earning Beyer Speed Figures of 113 and 111 – but the colt developed a quarter crack a week before the Derby and was shelved by owner and breeder Edward Evans until the summer.

Trained by Jimmy Jerkens through the Florida Derby, Quality Road resurfaced under Todd Pletcher’s supervision and became one of the standout handicap horses over the next 15 months, despite starting-gate issues that would result in his being a late scratch for the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

In his comeback race after the Kentucky Derby, Quality Road set a track record of 1:13.74 for 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga in the 2009 Amsterdam Stakes. He was even better in 2010, collecting Grade 1 wins in the Donn Handicap, Met Mile, and Woodward Stakes.

In the Donn, which he won by 12 3/4 lengths, Quality Road traveled 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.49, besting his track record set the year before in the Florida Derby and earning a career-best 121 Beyer. His retirement plans were announced before his final start in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, and he began his stud career in 2011 at Will Farish’s Lane’s End in Versailles, Ky., with Evans retaining ownership. His 2013 fee was $25,000.

Although he failed to win at the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles – finishing second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and third in the Travers in 2009 and last in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic – Quality Road did display versatility and stamina that were reflected by his track records and gaudy speed figures. His sire, Elusive Quality, has a stellar international reputation and has thrown such runners as champion and classic winner Smarty Jones and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Raven’s Pass over the past decade.

Quality Road’s female family is appealing as well, as his dam, Kobla, is a full sister to champion filly Ajina. They both are by Strawberry Road, an Australian and German champion who was one of the best long-distance turf horses of the 1980s and later found success at stud in the United States. Quality Road’s extended female family is bountiful with graded/group stakes winners, including multiple Group 1 winner and sire Bahri and Grade/Group 2 winners Nothing But Fun, Bahhare, and Highest Trump.

Quality Road’s highest-priced yearling at Keeneland September through Session 7 went for $500,000 to Crupi’s New Castle Farm II. The dark bay or brown colt is out of the Quiet American mare Quiet Flight, who is a full sister to stakes winner Quiet Dance, the dam of 2005 Horse of the Year and ill-fated sire Saint Liam.

Just as Quality Road will always be associated with the 2009 Kentucky Derby, albeit in an unfortunate way, Eskendereya is connected to the 2010 edition. The son of Giant’s Causeway became the second consecutive prerace favorite to withdraw before the Derby, in this case due to swelling in his left front leg.

As a 2-year-old, the colt won the off-the-turf Pilgrim Stakes as a second-start maiden and ran ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over what was then Santa Anita’s synthetic main track. But once switched exclusively to dirt at age 3, he put together a three-race winning streak at Gulfstream and Aqueduct that carried him into pre-Derby workouts as the “buzz” horse. Trained by Pletcher for owner Ahmed Zayat, Eskendereya dominated opponents in both the Fountain of Youth (106 Beyer) and Wood Memorial (109 Beyer), but his Triple Crown quest was over before it began.

Unlike Quality Road, Eskendereya did not race again after his setback. Shortly afterward, Zayat, who had purchased Eskendereya for $250,000 at the 2008 Keeneland September sale, sold a majority interest in the horse to Jess Jackson, then-owner of Stonestreet Stables, as part of a bankruptcy reorganization plan. Later that summer, Taylor Made in Nicholasville, Ky., was selected as Eskendereya’s stud farm. He stood there for $17,500 in 2013 and in the years ahead will be a strong candidate to at least partially fill the absence at Taylor Made left by the death of Unbridled’s Song in July.

Eskendereya also has an intriguing pedigree that covers a variety of mating options. Giant’s Causeway’s versatility as a sire is well-known, and on his dam’s side, Eskendereya shares with Quality Road strong doses of turf and stamina. Out of the winning Seattle Slew mare Aldebaran Light, Eskendereya is a half-brother to Group 1-winning turf sprinter and Irish-based sire Balmont, by Stravinsky. Further back in his female family reside such notables as 1974 Kentucky Derby winner and sire Cannonade, champion filly Tosmah, recently departed Grade 1 winner and graded stakes producer Lotka, and, most importantly, Grade 1 winner and breed-shaping sire Halo. Current turf standout Hyper also is from this family.

Eskendereya’s highest seller at Keeneland through Session 7 is a $540,000 colt out of the Forest Wildcat mare Quiet Action, who won the Ontario Damsel Stakes on turf at Woodbine in 2007 and placed in four other Canadian stakes, including the Grade 3 Natalma. The colt’s female family through three generations is comprised of mainly Canadian runners, highlighted by dual Grade 3 winner Seductively and stakes winners and $200,000 earners Torrid Affair, Wild Whiskey, and Barley Talk. Stonestreet Stables purchased the colt from Lane’s End’s consignment.

Eskendereya and Quality Road, along with Blame, captured most of the early headlines at Keeneland, but two others were picking up the pace as the sale progressed. Super Saver, the 2010 Kentucky Derby winner, had sold 29 yearlings for $3,721,000 through Monday and had inched past Quality Road with his average of $128,310. Dual champion Lookin At Lucky’s numbers – 29 sold through Monday for $3,670,000 and an average of $126,552 – also were noteworthy.