Updated on 05/13/2013 1:24PM

Legendary Overbrook Farm stallion Storm Cat dies at 30

Barbara D. Livingston
Overbrook Farm's Storm Cat, one of the most influential sires of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, was euthanized due to the infirmities of old age on April 24 at age 30.

Storm Cat, the prominent American stallion who sired champions on both sides of the Atlantic and inspired multi-million-dollar bidding wars for his foals, died Wednesday at age 30.

Overbrook Farm, Storm Cat’s home for his entire stud career and after his 2008 pensioning, announced the Storm Bird horse’s death late Wednesday morning. Storm Cat’s longtime veterinarian, Dr. Robert Copelan, euthanized him due to the infirmities of old age, and the great horse died at just after 10 a.m. Storm Cat was buried at Overbrook in Lexington, Ky., which has leased its land to a number of operations since the death of its founder, W. T. Young, in 2004. 

“Storm Cat was a once-in-a-lifetime horse and the key to the success that Overbrook Farm enjoyed,” said Young’s son and the current Overbrook owner, William T. Young, Jr. “My father often said that Storm Cat made him look like a genius.”

“He was a top stallion who deserves mention in the same breath as all the top stallions of the last half-century,” said longtime Overbrook advisor Ric Waldman, who was present at Storm Cat’s death. “When I think of Storm Cat and the prototypical Storm Cat offspring, I think of the heart and courage and energy and drive that Storm Cat gave so many of his successful runners.”

Storm Cat led the general sire list twice (in 1999 and 2000), the broodmare sire list in 2012, and the juvenile sire list a record seven times (1992-’93, 1995, 1998-’99, 2002, and 2004). Several of his sons have followed his rise: Giant’s Causeway, Hennessy, Tale of the Cat, and Stormy Atlantic are among those who also have led the juvenile sire rankings by progeny earnings, and Giant’s Causeway led the general sire list in 2009, 2010, and 2012. Storm Cat also has proven to be a breed-shaping stallion thanks to his daughters; to date, their ranks include Contrive, the dam of 2005 champion juvenile filly Folklore, and Silken Cat, who produced 2004 sprint champion Speightstown, himself a successful sire.

Storm Cat’s runners collectively earned more than $128 million and included 180 stakes winners, among them classic winners Tabasco Cat (1994 Preakness and Belmont) and Sardula (1994 Kentucky Oaks). He sired five Breeders’ Cup winners, including the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Cat Thief for Overbrook, and is that event’s leading sire by starters and money won, with 44 Breeders’ Cup starters having earned $8,866,300. In addition to Cat Thief, he also sired 1995 Sprint winner Desert Stormer; 2002 Juvenile Fillies winner and eventual juvenile filly champion Storm Flag Flying; 2004 Juvenile Fillies winner Sweet Catomine, also a juvenile filly champion that year; and 2009 Ladies’ Classic winner Life is Sweet.

His other Grade or Group 1 winners featured such names as Sharp Cat, Storm Beauty, Bluegrass Cat, Raging Fever, High Yield, and many others.

Storm Cat also sired such champions as 2000 European Horse of the Year Giant’s Causeway, now a much sought-after and influential sire in his own right for Coolmore’s Ashford Stud; Canada’s 2005 turf mare champion Ambitious Cat and 1995 champion juvenile filly Silken Cat; and European champion juveniles Aljabr (1998), Hold That Tiger (2002), and One Cool Cat (2003). Storm Cat’s British and European highweighted runners also include such horses as England’s two-time highweight Catrail (1993-’94); Ireland’s 3-year-olds Black Minnaloushe (2001) and Dark Cheetah (2005) and juvenile filly Heart Shaped (2008); France’s juvenile filly Denebola (2003); and Italy’s older male Mistle Cat (1996), among others.

Storm Cat’s stud fee, which had started at $30,000, peaked at $500,000, and he drove buyers—especially John Magnier’s Coolmore Stud partnership and its great rival, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s Darley Stud—to excessive bidding duels that largely defined the bloodstock business from the mid-1990s until the market crash of 2008. Storm Cat became synonymous with the kinds of precocious and classy horses that dominated yearling buyers’ lists at a time when the market also was flush with money, particularly among racing’s wealthiest buyers. His highest-priced yearling was Jalil, who fetched $9.7 million at the 2005 Keeneland September yearling sale in 2005, but he also sired the $8 million Mr. Sekiguchi, $6.8 million Tasmanian Tiger, $6.4 million Van Nistelrooy, and $6.3 million Objectivity, to name just a few highlights from an astonishingly long list of $1 million-plus auction horses.

In his auction success, Storm Cat carried on the tradition of his grandsire, Northern Dancer. That sire inspired the original record-setting battles between Coolmore and the Maktoum family in the 1980s, before a sharp market correction by the early 1990s. It was fitting, then, that the market revival should come with Storm Cat.

W. T. Young bred Storm Cat from his four-time graded stakes winner Terlingua, by Secretariat, and watched him carry the Overbrook silks to a Grade 1 victory. But even Young could not have expected the colt to mature into such a dominant and influential sire. Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Storm Cat won the Grade 1 Young America Stakes at 2 and finished second in the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, so short a nose behind Tasso that Young went down to the winner’s circle and only discovered there—to his lifelong chagrin—that Storm Cat had lost the photo finish.

Storm Cat’s race record, which also included a second at 2 in a division of the World Appeal Stakes and a 3 1/2-length allowance victory in just two starts at 3, was a good one in a brief career of eight starts, and he had earned $570,610 by the time he shipped to Overbrook as one of the new farm’s first stallions.

It was a difficult beginning. Breeders were wary of Storm Cat’s offset knees, which many believed contributed to the brevity of his racing career and felt would compromise his foals’ chances at the yearling auctions.

“His conformation didn’t leave the most favorable impression,” Overbrook advisor Waldman later recalled in the book The Home Run Horse. “Now, we’re more forgiving of that, because we know that those conformation traits we were so critical of have gone on to get good racehorses. No one knew then that they were looking at the prototype that would end up with those runners.”

Officially, Storm Cat’s initial stud fee was $30,000, but, Waldman said, “we did everything short of begging” to get mares to Storm Cat that year. But when his first crop of foals went to the races in 1991, they roared. From just 39 juvenile runners that year, Storm Cat sired two Grade 1 winners—Harlan and November Snow—and one of American breeding’s greatest careers was launched.

“Maybe he’s given the public more acceptance of offset knees or maybe forced the public to analyze those offset knees a little bit more carefully and not write them off,” Waldman said. “Because here he was, a highly successful commercial stallion who wasn’t very tall, had a short neck, and had offset knees. And yet he was a top commercial stallion. Naturally, that won’t be the only consideration of Storm Cat, but people will think of how successful he was commercially and with runners in spite of those flaws.”

For those who knew the stallion best, Storm Cat’s death also represented a personal loss, and a group of them gathered to be with the old horse when he died Wednesday morning. Among that group were the stallion’s devoted longtime groom Armando Reyes; Overbrook’s former stallion manager Eduardo Terrazas, who has continued to keep an eye on Storm Cat throughout the horse’s retirement; W. T. Young’s grandson Chris Young; and Young’s son-in-law William Hamilton, husband of Young’s daughter Lucy.

“I never looked at him as the famous horse he was,” said Terrazas, who joined Overbrook when Storm Cat’s first foals were yearlings. After Young’s death, when the farm dispersed its bloodstock, Terrazas began leasing some of the property for his own operation. “It was like when you know a person before they are famous. We always got along and had respect for each other, in our way. After I came back here to Overbrook, one of the first times I had a chance to sneak out and take a look at him, he surprised me because all I had to do was whistle and he came running back to the fence. That made me think he recognized my whistle.”

Terrazas and Reyes continued to care for Storm Cat throughout his life as a pensioner, and Terrazas reported that Storm Cat retained much of his character, strong-willed and happy, into old age.

“They are horses you don’t fight,” Terrazas said of Storm Cat and his progeny. “If you fight them, they’re going to fight back, so you have to find a medium ground where you get along. But  I never saw him savage anybody. He was the kind of horse that, when you’d go to bring him in, he’d go prancing and dancing all the way to the barn, and when you turned him out he was the same way.”

Terrazas and Reyes turned Storm Cat out for the last time at about 7 a.m. Wednesday morning and let him graze for about an hour and a half.

“He wanted to go out, so we  let him go out before we made the decision,” Terrazas said. The horse had lost weight and those around him knew that now was the time to let him go. “I’d been thinking about it for about a week, and I was just glad we got it done, because the waiting is the most difficult thing for everybody—knowing you have to do it and waiting for the right moment. We just wanted to do the right thing for the horse, and nobody even thought about anything else. It had to be what was best for him.”

Storm Cat now lies in a grave headed by a life-sized bronze statue of himself and prepared by Overbrook’s Terry Judd and John Young. His legacy, of course, lives on in the breed and its records, and his memory will not soon fade.

“Coincidentally, after Copelan gave the injection, we heard a lot of thunder,” Terrazas said with a sigh. “It was a storm moving in. It started raining about 10 minutes after he passed. Copelan made the comment that the heavens were not happy because of this storm, and I said, ‘Maybe they are welcoming him up there.’”

Storm Cat facts

1983, dk. b. or br. h., Storm Bird—Terlingua, by Secretariat

Breeder: W. T. Young Storage, Inc. (Penn.)
Owner: W. T. Young
Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard
Race record: 8-4-3-0, $570,610
Stakes wins: 1985 Young America S. (G1)
Stakes placings: 2nd in 1985 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and 1985 World Appeal S.
First year at stud: 1988
Pensioned: 2008 (21 crops)
Honors at stud: Leading sire (1999, 2000); leading broodmare sire (2012); leading juvenile sire (1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004)
Foals: 1,452
Starters: 1,110
Winners: 807
Wins: 2,340
Stakes winners: 180 (12%)
Graded/group stakes winners: 108
Earnings: $128,085,381
Average earnings per starter: $115,392

Champions (8): Aljabr, Ambitious Cat, Giant’s Causeway, Hold That Tiger, One Cool Cat, Silken Cat, Storm Flag Flying, Sweet Catomine

Grade/Group 1 winners (35): After Market, Aldiza, Aljabr, Black Minnaloushe, Bluegrass Cat, Catinca, Cat Thief, Consolidator, Courageous Cat, Denebola, Desert Stormer, Dessert, Finder’s Fee, Forestry, Giant’s Causeway, Good Reward, Harlan, Hennessy, High Yield, Hold That Tiger, Life Is Sweet, Missed the Storm, Mistle Cat, Mr. Sidney, Nebraska Tornado, November Snow, One Cool Cat, Raging Fever, Sardula, Sharp Cat, Sophisticat, Storm Flag Flying, Sweet Catomine, Tabasco Cat, Tactical Cat

Statistics through April 23, 2013

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