02/17/2011 4:44PM

Leading first-crop sire of 2010: Congrats

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In retrospect, Congrats had all the ammunition he needed to get to the top of a sire list. He is by A.P. Indy and, as a son of the Mr. Prospector mare Praise, hails from the illustrious female family that produced such runners as Sea Hero for Paul Mellon and Roar for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider.

What is more surprising is that Congrats topped the freshman sire list, a ranking dependent on precocious 2-year-olds. But one man who thought Congrats had the ability to get early and classy 2-year-old runners is Brent Fernung, who managed Congrats during his initial season at Florida’s CloverLeaf Farms II in 2007. After that breeding season, CloverLeaf owner John Sykes closed his farm, sold an interest in Congrats to Vinery, and moved the horse to their Florida stud farm. After his success in 2010, Vinery moved the now 11-year-old Congrats to Kentucky this year with a $15,000 fee.

In 2006, Fernung was Sykes’s manager at the CloverLeaf operation when he got word that Claiborne Farm and Dilschneider had Congrats on the market. Fernung had two main questions about the horse: Did he have a good turn of foot, and what did he look like?

“It’s been my experience that A.P. Indy horses that have a quick turn of foot and have all the other qualities you want, those make good sires,” Fernung said. “The ones that don’t necessarily have a quick turn of foot have a rougher time. He did break his maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs, which didn’t thrill me but gave me a little bit of pause. Then he ran second in the Ack Ack Handicap in California after coming off a layoff. He got loose on the lead and went five-eighths in 56 and change. The race was 7 1/2 furlongs, and he hung in there to be second. That race convinced me this was a malleable horse you could do with what you wanted. They trained him to stretch out and go long, but if they’d wanted him to have some giddy-up, he was capable of it. The fractions for that race were phenomenal, and he was on the engine all the way.”

As for looks, Fernung said, Congrats more than fit the bill. Fernung advised Sykes to make the purchase, and Congrats started his stud career in 2007. Standing for $12,500, he sired 107 foals that season, and the crop put him atop the 2010 freshman sire rankings. Led by Grade 1 winners Wickedly Perfect and Turbulent Descent and Grade 1-placed I’m Steppin’ It Up, the group produced 10 stakes winners and five graded winners or graded-placed runners.

Fernung said he thinks the speed- and performance-oriented mare base in Florida enhanced Congrats’s turn of foot and helped produce those young runners. And, at $12,500, Congrats was getting some of the state’s upper-level mares.

His popularity continues in Kentucky. Vinery’s president, Tom Ludt, said Congrats is booked full this year. Demand appears to be driving up his seasons in the market; at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s recent mixed sale, a no-guarantee season sold for $33,000.

“He’s been overwhelmed,” Ludt said of interest in Congrats. “We probably had 350 mares submitted to him.”

He will probably breed about 160 of those, a very healthy book at a time when many young sires are struggling to get mares. For Vinery, Ludt said, Congrats was a very good gamble when Sykes approached them with the offer to sell an interest.

“He’s gorgeous, he’s an A.P. Indy, and because he was a first-year sire we were able to look at what had happened with him,” Ludt said. “He’d had a big first-year book, and this is that book today. He was a good, solid horse who ran all the way up to his 6-year-old year.”

Fernung, who owns Journeyman Stud in Florida, no longer stands Congrats, but he has reason to root for the horse’s continued success: He got two lifetime breeding rights when Sykes moved Congrats to Vinery.