08/12/2013 4:11PM

John P. Sparkman: Opening a new front for Danzig

Barbara D. Livingston
Talented 3-year-old Departing, a multiple graded stakes winner, is one of several top flight runners in training by Claiborne stallion War Front.

The reputation of great stallions as sires of sires ultimately is dependent on the accomplishments of a very few sons. Only the greatest sires of sires produce more than a few sons who make a lasting impact and establish enduring branches of their male lines.

Danehill and Green Desert already have established thriving branches of the Danzig branch of Northern Dancer, and other sons of Danzig such as Anabaa, Boundary, and Lure have important sons at stud who may yet extend their branches of Danzig’s line.

The latest son of Danzig to sire sons who will be given a chance to establish their own dynasty is War Front, whose first three crops include four Grade 1 or Group 1 winners, including The Factor, who stood his first season at Lane’s End in 2013, and 2013 Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes winner Declaration of War, who surely will find a place at stud when his racing days are over.

War Front’s son Departing, the winner of the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 3, cannot help his sire extend a branch of the Danzig male line since he is a gelding, but he is yet another indication of War Front’s promise as an enduring influence. The Mountaineer race was Departing’s second graded stakes win – and his fifth victory in seven starts – and his 8 3/4-length romp over proven graded stakes performers bore all the hallmarks of a future Grade 1 winner.

Bred and raced by financier Joe Allen, War Front is one of four stakes winners out of Allen’s multiple stakes-winning mare Starry Dreamer, by Rubiano, whose fourth dam, Secret Valley, by Priam II, is a half-sister to the great Darby Dan foundation mare Golden Trail, by Hasty Road. War Front’s half-sister by A.P. Indy, Teammate, was one of the best fillies of her generation, winning the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss and Shuvee and running second in the Grade 1 Alabama and Gazelle. His half-brother Ecclesiastic, by Pulpit, won the Grade 3 Jaipur Stakes twice, and another half-brother, Riviera Cocktail, by Giant’s Causeway, was a listed stakes winner.

War Front held up the family honor, winning four of 13 starts from 2 to 4, but never won the Grade 1 race that would have made him a slam-dunk prospect as a stallion. Unplaced in his only start in December of his 2-year-old season, he ran third in an Aqueduct maiden race the next month, but then did not reappear until the end of the Saratoga meeting.

War Front scored a powerful 11 1/2- length maiden win in 1:09.68 for six furlongs over future multiple Grade 2 winner Master Command, then took his next two starts, culminating with an eight-length romp in the 1 1/16-mile Princelet Stakes at Belmont Park.

War Front never made the lead in his next start, the 1 1/16-mile Discovery Handicap, tiring to finish sixth, and never raced beyond seven furlongs for the rest of his career. He raced seven times at 4, winning the six-furlong, Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap but finishing second in the Grade 1 Vosburgh and Forego, the Grade 2 Tom Fool, and the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector and Deputy Minister. With such a consistent record and no clear leader of the sprint division, War Front still could have earned championship honors by winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but he finished a well-beaten seventh.

A medium-sized, lengthy, powerfully made horse, more correct than many Danzigs, War Front had plenty of pedigree to be given a chance at his birthplace, Claiborne Farm, but upon entering stud, he had not given breeders sufficient reason to send him their best mares. He has quickly forced a reassessment of that evaluation, siring 21 stakes winners from 183 foals in his first three crops, an 11.5 percent strike rate that has become increasingly rare in the big-book era.

His progeny’s average earnings index of 2.40 is well above the 1.67 index of the foals by other sires out of his mates, a clear indication that War Front improves on his mares.

Most American horsemen probably would rank The Factor (out of Greyciousness, by Miswaki), who won the Grade 1 Malibu and Pat O’Brien stakes in 2011, as his best, but there is plenty of competition for that honor among War Front’s progeny. Data Link (Database, by Known Fact) won the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile in 2012; Irish stakes winner Warning Flag (Good Vibes, by Unbridled’s Song) won a stakes in Hong Kong under the name Sweet Orange and one in Ireland under his registered name; and Declaration of War (Tempo West, by Rahy) confirmed his high class with a second in the Group 1 Coral Eclipse and a third in the recent Group 1 Sussex after his breakthrough, top-level win in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot.
War Front’s juvenile son War Command (Wandering Star, by Red Ransom) also looked like a future Group 1 winner when he romped home by six lengths in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Departing is not scheduled for an immediate step up to Grade 1 company, with one of three Grade 2 races – the Super Derby, the Indiana Derby, or the Pennsylvania Derby – lined up as his next probable target. Bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Departing is the third foal and third winner out of Leave, by Pulpit, a granddaughter of the speedy stakes winner Fun Flight, by Full Pocket.

Bred by Patricia Blass and Dorothy Davis and raced by Blass, Fun Flight was a sixth-generation tail-female descendant of champion sprinter and great foundation mare Myrtlewood, by Blue Larkspur, and she inherited a fair measure of Myrtlewood’s legendary speed. A half-sister to multiple stakes winners Tricky Fun, by Phone Trick, and It’s a Done Deal, by Upper Nile, Fun Flight won the six-furlong Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Blass bred multiple stakes winner Pink Shoes, by Phone Trick, out of Fun Flight. Pink Shoes has produced stakes winners Prom Shoes, by Include; Wildcat Shoes, by Forest Wildcat; and Isabell’s Shoes, by King of Kings, and is the second dam of Grade 3 winner Clearly Foxy, by Volponi.

Blass bred Fun Flight to Claiborne Farm’s 1987 champion 2-year-old male Forty Niner on a foal-share arrangement in 1989 and 1990, with Claiborne racing the first foal, stakes winner Tour, and Blass racing the second, two-time stakes winner Flight Forty Nine. A fast, sound filly who won five of 28 starts and earned $254,939, Tour reflected the stamina limitations of her family, never winning beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.

Tour’s progeny by more stamina-oriented sires have shown a greater distance capacity. Trip, by Lord At War, won the Grade 3 Turfway Breeders’ Cup Stakes at 1 1/16 miles twice, and Laity, by Pulpit, won the 1 1/16-mile Cradle Stakes and the John Battaglia Memorial.

Conversely, Joke, by the sprinter Phone Trick, won two stakes at six furlongs and is the dam of the brilliant sprinter Zensational, by Unbridled’s Song.

Departing’s dam, Leave, who was unplaced in her only start, is a full sister to Laity and clearly has passed on more stamina-oriented genes to Departing, who pushed his bankroll to more than $1 million with his victory in the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby.

War Front’s best runners mostly have been effective at distances around a mile, but there is no reason on pedigree why he cannot sire good horses who stay classic distances. His offspring also have proven commendably versatile, and he has sired high-class runners on all three surfaces – dirt, synthetic, and turf.

The ability of War Front’s progeny to run on turf has inevitably grabbed the attention of European buyers, particularly Coolmore, which acquired an interest in both Declaration of War and War Command from Allen. Coolmore’s principal agent, Demi O’Byrne, purchased three yearlings by War Front last year, and other prominent European buyers, including Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Matkoum and Sheikh Fahad bin Hamad al Thani, the new power player on the sales scene, followed suit.

War Front averaged only 61 foals in his first three crops, but there are 66 current 2-year-olds already registered with The Jockey Club and at least 84 yearlings in the pipeline. Claiborne does not habitually breed the huge books that are common at other stallion farms, but War Front is certain to have even more, perhaps better, and certainly better-pedigreed runners hitting the track over the next few seasons.