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Short career, outsized influence for some sires
Fortunately for Thoroughbred racing, and indeed for humanity in the larger sense, the inference behind Billy Joel’s catchy refrain “Only the good die young” is simply not true. Although memories of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Jim Morrison burn bright in the rock star firmament, so do the rather more enduring flames of the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, among many others.
The thought behind the music, though, is deeply ingrained in popular culture, so it is natural that facile clichés bubbled to the fingertips when Itsmyluckyday won the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 26. Itsmyluckyday is from the second crop of 2007 champion older male Lawyer Ron, who died July 10, 2009, near the end of his second season at stud.
Lawyer Ron was certainly good, and he certainly died too young for the good of the breed, as did 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, whose singular crop of foals included 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.
It is too early to tell, however, whether either Lawyer Ron or Saint Liam will truly emulate a series of stallions who exercised an outsized influence on the Thoroughbred breed despite regrettably brief sojourns at stud. That list includes some of the greatest sires as well as others who might have achieved such status had fate been kinder.
As is true of so much else in American racing, the most influential of American breeders, James R. Keene, set the standard for owning great sires who died too young. And in keeping with his lifelong practice of more is more, Keene owned not one but two great sires who died before their first foals reached the races.
The senior Keene and his playboy son, Foxhall, purchased Domino, by Himyar, as a yearling in 1892, near the beginning of Keene’s second, epoch-defining foray into Thoroughbred racing. Keene had first ventured into horse racing more than a decade earlier with the purchase of 1879 champion 3-year-old Spendthrift, but had been forced to disperse his holdings after losing much of his fortune on Wall Street.
As soon as Keene regained his financial footing, he returned to racing, and Domino proved an inspired purchase, winning 19 of 25 starts while earning the sobriquet “the Black Whirlwind.” With no need of making money from stud fees and the fierce pride of individual achievement characteristic of the era, Keene stood Domino at his Castleton Stud, near Lexington, Ky., (today’s Castleton Lyons) as virtually a private stallion. Keene bred almost all of the 20 foals Domino sired in his two seasons at stud before his death from spinal meningitis in 1897.
Domino sired eight winners of the equivalent of modern stakes races as well as highly influential broodmares Pink Domino, Noonday, Dominoes, and Running Stream.
The stud career of Domino’s best son, 1901 champion 3-year-old Commando, was almost equally brief. Commando died of tetanus less than halfway through his fourth season at stud and left behind only 27 foals, 10 of whom became stakes winners. The undefeated Colin, Peter Pan, Ultimus, and Celt were all influential sires, and his daughters Home Rule and Mosquito were influential broodmares.
Peter Pan’s grandson Equipoise (by Pennant, by Peter Pan) survived only four seasons at stud after enduring 51 starts in six seasons of racing, but produced enough high-class horses to lead the American sire list in 1942, when his best son, Shut Out, won the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Travers Stakes (the only horse to win those three races and not be named champion 3-year-old male). With the fecund Whitney broodmare band at his disposal, Equipoise also proved a key name in the pedigrees of countless top-class Thoroughbreds through his daughters Alpoise (granddam of Tom Fool), Crepe Myrtle (fourth dam of Seattle Slew), and Igual (dam of Assault).
More recently, Seattle Slew’s sire, Bold Reasoning, a brilliant but not particularly sound racehorse who attracted only moderate patronage, died midway through his third season at stud after fracturing his pelvis in a breeding shed accident. Only the emergence of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew in his first crop and 1977 French champion 2-year-old Super Concorde in his second made it clear his early death was a tragic loss for the industry. Seattle Slew, of course, established the sire line that now traces mostly to his best son, A.P. Indy. Super Concorde sired six-time leading German sire Big Shuffle, sire in turn of 2010 leading German sire Areion. Super Concorde also is great-grandsire of 2011’s champion female sprinter, Musical Romance.
Controversial 1980 Preakness Stakes winner Codex did not establish an enduring male line in his three years at stud, but his two best sons, Lost Code and Badger Land, were both very good sires. Badger Land led the sire list twice in South Africa, and Lost Code sired 53 stakes winners worldwide.
The influence of 1989 Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer appears most likely to persist only through his daughters like champion My Flag, Retrospective, and Sheepscot.
Europe has had its share of influential but short-lived sires, most recently 2000 Dubai World Cup winner Dubai Millennium, who died of grass sickness after siring only 56 foals in his first crop. Fortunately, it included 2005 Irish 2000 Guineas winner Dubawi, who is currently one of the world’s best sires.
Though both were probably very good sires, two short-lived Epsom Derby winners, Shergar and Troy, were less fortunate. Shergar’s 36 foals in his only crop before being infamously kidnapped and slain by the Irish Republican Army included two classic-quality horses in Authaal and Maysoon, but none of his descendants has made a lasting impact to date.
Troy’s fillies were generally better than his colts, so it is not surprising that his most influential current descendant is the outstanding stallion Street Cry, by Machiavellian out of Troy’s 1985 Irish Oaks winner, Helen Street.
It is far too early to know whether Lawyer Ron, Saint Liam, or even the late Chester House, who sired an extraordinary 13 percent stakes winners in his three seasons at stud, will turn out to be a Domino, Commando, Equipoise, or Bold Reasoning, or simply fade into the genetic texture of the breed. Unfortunately, Saint Liam’s best son, 2009 Remsen and Nashua Stakes winner Buddy’s Saint, broke down at 3 and was euthanized, virtually eliminating any chance of Saint Liam carrying on the Saint Ballado branch of the Halo male line.
Chester House and Lawyer Ron, on the other hand, both have Grade 1-winning sons – generally a prerequisite to establishing a male line.
As Domino proved over a century ago, it only takes one.
Those damn paddock and breeding shed accidents! Why are they so frequent? Maybe the breeders should make sure the young stallions get adequate practice before they extend themselves. That's an area in the thorobred industry that needs some changes.
Is War Front dead? I just look at the claiborne web site and he is still listed
Could've included War Front here too
Well researched and interesting piece. DRF has some of the best sports writers in the country. Thanks.
One sire that is greatly missed and went far too young as well is the great Danehill. His influence over the turf lives on today through his many productive daughters. He is a wonderful broodmare sire who produce turf loving offspring. Whenever I am stumped handicapping Maiden Turf races, if I see anything out of the Danehill influence I would give it a second look before wagering elsewhere.