07/11/2013 1:00PM

John P. Sparkman: Gone (West) but not forgotten

Coady Photography
Bahamian Squall, who won the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder on July 6, might be the last top horse by Gone West, who has sired 101 stakes winners.

Mr. Prospector’s transfer from Aisco Farm in Florida to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky for the 1981 breeding season meant a sharp upgrade in the quality of broodmares to be covered by the sensational young son of Raise a Native.

Mr. Prospector had shown what he could do with mares with Kentucky-quality pedigrees through the accomplishments of Fappiano, Miswaki, Gold Beauty, and Eillo, among others, and buyers responded by digging into their bank accounts when his first Kentucky-conceived yearlings came on the market in 1983.

Al Zawbaah, out of a stakes-winning three-quarter sister to Storm Bird, became Mr. Prospector’s first of many seven-figure yearlings at $2.7 million at the 1983 Keeneland July sale of selected yearlings. Thus, by the time Mare Haven Farm’s dark-coated colt by Mr. Prospector out of stakes winner Secrettame, by Secretariat, stepped into the Keeneland sales ring two years later, a seven-figure price for such a handsome, well-made colt was a foregone conclusion.

The $1.9 million ticket agent Harley Clemons signed for the colt whom Mr. and Mrs. James Mills would name Gone West raised not the slightest ripple in a sales crowd still drinking in the bar to celebrate the world-record sale of Seattle Dancer for $13.1 million just an hour or so earlier. Almost 30 years on, however, Seattle Dancer is forgotten for almost everything except his record price, while Gone West occupies a place of honor in the pantheon of Thoroughbred sires.

Bahamian Squall, the winner of the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap on July 6 at Calder, is Gone West’s 49th group or graded stakes winner and one of 101 stakes winners from 1,281 lifetime foals (7.9 percent). Those numbers, impressive as they are, do not, however, adequately account for breeders’ reverence for Gone West.

The reason for Gone West’s exalted status in Thoroughbred pedigrees is more obvious, though, when one peruses the accompanying list of 23 sons and grandsons who have sired Grade 1 or Group 1 winners all over the globe. That list includes leading American sire Elusive Quality and three-time leading South African sire Western Winter, plus such outstanding sires as Mr. Greeley, Grand Slam, Zafonic, Proud Citizen, and Gone West’s current star son Speightstown.

Bred by Dr. and Mrs. William O. Reed at their Mare Haven Farm near Lexington, Ky., Gone West was the first foal out of the beautifully bred Secrettame, a Secretariat half-sister to 1980 2000 Guineas winner Known Fact, by In Reality, and to multiple Grade 1 winner and top sire Tentam, by Intentionally. Secrettame had placed in the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes when the Reeds paid $1.15 million for her at the 1982 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale, and she won the Shirley Jones Handicap for them the following February before being retired and covered by Mr. Prospector in April.

Trained by Harley Clemons’s uncle, Racing Hall of Famer Woody Stephens, Gone West lived up to his price and his regal pedigree. The winner of a maiden race from four starts at 2, he improved rapidly early in his second season, winning the Grade 2 Gotham Stakes, running second to Gulch in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, and winning the Grade 2 Withers. Gone West was simply not cut out to run 1 1/2 miles, though, and failed to extend Stephens’s historic streak of Belmont Stakes winners to six, finishing sixth behind easy winner Bet Twice.

Nine furlongs was very much within his compass, though, and Gone West scored his Grade 1 victory in the Dwyer Stakes before tailing off form in his final three starts. Gone West retired to Alice Headley Chandler’s Mill Ridge Farm in 1988 as the winner of six of 17 starts and an earner of $682,251.

West by West (out of West Turn, by Cox’s Ridge) provided Gone West with a first-crop Grade 1 winner by capturing the 1993 Nassau County Stakes, but by then, his second-crop son Zafonic (Zaizafon, by The Minstrel) had made Gone West one of the most popular sires on the international market.

Bred and owned by Known Fact’s owner, Juddmonte Farms, Zafonic was the best 2-year-old in Europe in 1992, when he went unbeaten through four starts, including the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes, Prix de la Salamandre, and Prix Morny.

Zafonic showed that he had retained all his brilliance with a dominating 3 1/2-length win in the 1993 2000 Guineas but bled when well-beaten in his only subsequent start in the Sussex Stakes. Retired to Banstead Manor Stud, Zafonic sired an equally brilliant 2-year-old, Xaar (Monroe, by Sir Ivor), in his first crop, but Xaar could not dominate at 3, and Zafonic’s subsequent stud career has been somewhat uneven.

Despite siring a healthy 9.1 percent ratio of stakes winners to foals, Zafonic’s popularity declined when a portion of his offspring displayed his own tendency to break blood vessels and developed wind problems. Zafonic’s most successful son at stud has been the South African-based Count Dubois, but his son Iffraaj surprised many with his early success in both Europe and New Zealand.

Gone West’s most successful sire son to date has been Elusive Quality (Touch of Greatness, by Hero’s Honor), who led the American sire list in 2004, when his son Smarty Jones came within a length of a Triple Crown. A big, powerfully muscular horse who inherited some of the coarseness of his broodmare sire, Hero’s Honor, Elusive Quality possessed brilliant speed as a racehorse, recording a world-record time for a mile of 1:31.63 in the Grade 3 Poker Handicap in 1998.

Elusive Quality is not the most consistent sire, but he has proven himself capable of getting top-class runners under all conditions all over the world. His list of 96 stakes winners (6.2 percent of foals ages 3 and up) includes Raven’s Pass, who won at the top level on both turf and synthetic; Sepoy, a champion at 2 and 3 on the hard turf courses of Australia; and top American dirt horses Smarty Jones and Quality Road.

Smarty Jones, a smallish, unprepossessing individual, has been a disappointment at stud in America, but Elusive Quality’s French highweighted son Elusive City has done well in both Europe and New Zealand, and Raven’s Pass’s first crop has shown promise in Europe and Dubai. Sepoy has just begun a career as a shuttle stallion in Australia and Europe.

Like his sire, Speightstown (Silken Cat, by Storm Cat) was a high-priced yearling, selling for $2 million to Eugene Melnyk at the 1999 Keeneland July sale. Hampered by a series of minor injuries, he finally was able to show his ultimate ability at 6, capping his career with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Despite their differences in coat color, the chestnut Speightstown bears a strong physical resemblance to his sire and has come close to matching Gone West’s performance and versatility at stud. His progeny have won Grade 1s or Group 1s on dirt and turf and are equally at home on synthetics. A top-10 sire in the United States for the past two years, Speightstown might eventually have the best chance of Gone West’s sons to extend his male line beyond the second generation.

In the intensely competitive contemporary stallion market, Bahamian Squall likely will have to win a Grade 1 race to earn a legitimate chance to pass on his genes to future generations, but his pedigree is good enough to merit that chance. He is the 13th foal, 11th winner, and third stakes winner out of his prolific dam, Midway Squall, by Storm Bird. Bahamian Squall’s older three-quarter brother Apriority, by Gone West’s son Grand Slam, won the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Stakes and ran second in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in 2011.

Midway Squall was unraced, but her dam, Oh So Precious, by Best Turn, won a stakes and was a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Doonesbear. Bahamian Squall’s fifth dam, Arousal, by Fairway, a half-sister to the great stayer and leading English sire Alycidon, was imported in 1955.

Gone West died of the effects of old age in 2009, and Bahamian Squall comes from his penultimate crop. Gone West’s final crop, 3-year-olds of 2013, includes only four foals, and none has shown the slightest indication of developing into a stakes-quality horse.

Bahamian Squall may turn out to be Gone West’s last hurrah as a sire, but his many Grade 1- and Group 1-winning descendants ensure that Gone West’s name will not soon be forgotten.