09/15/2005 11:00PM

A new benchmark in storied sire line

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Already the world's favored commercial stallion, Storm Cat became more than that last week when his son out of Tranquility Lake sold for $9.7 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

Only his grandsire, Northern Dancer, has generated similar success in the sale ring, and now Storm Cat has transcended the term "commercial stallion" and become a benchmark in his own right.

In addition to numerous high-class offspring with speed and versatility, both Northern Dancer and Storm Cat have hurdled the highest obstacle for important sires: to get sons who succeed as stallions.

Northern Dancer sired more top stallions than any horse. Among his best sons at stud were Nijinsky II, Sadler's Wells, Nureyev, Danzig, Lyphard, and Danehill. Many others were more than useful as sires and managed to sire high-class horses.

The early- to mid-1980's were exhilarating days for breeding and racing Thoroughbreds, and Northern Dancer's charisma was an essential part of the ambience.

In 1984, for example, Nijinsky II and Lyphard had already proven themselves as sires of classic stock. Nureyev was coming on strong as the latest son of Northern Dancer to sire top-class racers, and among Northern Dancer's own racehorses of the year was a trio of bay colts, each of whom became classic winners.

Sadler's Wells won the Irish 2000 Guineas, and the even more talented El Gran Senor won the English 2000 Guineas and Irish Derby and was second in the Epsom Derby to a third son of Northern Dancer named Secreto.

Is it any wonder that the yearlings by Northern Dancer at that summer's Keeneland July sale averaged nearly $3.5 million?

Of the classic-winning trio, Sadler's Wells has become simply the best stallion in Europe. El Gran Senor was marginally fertile, yet sired some very good racehorses, and Secreto managed to sire a few good horses before his export overseas.

In 1984, another champion son of Northern Dancer, Storm Bird, had his first crop of yearlings, and among them was a bossy dark brown colt later named Storm Cat.

A Grade 1 winner at 2, Storm Cat made only a pair of starts at 3, when bothered by foot trouble, and went to stud at 4. Entering stud at a time when changes in the tax code made investing in Thoroughbreds (and many other things) a losing proposition, Storm Cat had the good fortune to be owned by W.T. Young, who sent good mares to his young horse and persuaded some lucky friends to do the same.

Given the temper of the times and his own imperfect conformation, Storm Cat was a stallion who required some expertise in selling, at least until his runners showed what they could do. From his first crop, Storm Cat had eight stakes winners out of 44 foals, and each of the next two crops had nine stakes winners. As evidence of his offspring's quality from the first, among those first three crops were Alabama winner November Snow, Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat, and Kentucky Oaks winner Sardula.

The only thing that could make Storm Cat more popular would be to sire a son who could sire classic winners and champions.

Storm Cat's son Hennessy began the show with international champion Johannesburg, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 2001, as well as a trio of Group 1 races in England, France, and Ireland.

In addition to Hennessy - sire of Grade 1 winners Harmony Lodge and Madcap Escapade, as well as a star juvenile this year in Henny Hughes - the sons of Storm Cat able to sire winners at the highest level included Forest Wildcat (D'Wildcat, Forest Secrets, Var, Wildcat Heir), Harlan (Menifee), Forestry (Forest Danger), and Tale of the Cat (Lion Heart, My Trusty Cat).

But no son of Storm Cat has shown the consistent level of accomplishment that Giant's Causeway has shown in the last 12 months.

As the sire of three Group 1 winners in his first crop, Giant's Causeway has quickly established himself as Storm Cat's best son at stud. Out of the Rahy mare Mariah's Storm, Giant's Causeway has helped to elevate the valuations of yearling colts by Storm Cat out of Rahy mares such as Tranquility Lake and Serena's Song, whose son brought $3,500,000 last week. As such, Giant's Causeway is the first Storm Cat son to suggest that he could equal or even surpass his sire, a benchmark in itself.