10/09/2008 11:00PM

Sky Mesa's success at stud suddenly skyrockets

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - With the impressive victory of his daughter Sky Diva in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont, Sky Mesa has thoroughly re-established himself as a player among the top second-crop sires in the country and is currently the overall leading sire of juveniles in 2008.

On going to stud in 2004, Sky Mesa was one of the most popular young stallions in a salty group of now-second-crop sires that also includes Belmont winner Empire Maker, Horse of the Year Mineshaft, champion sprinter Aldebaran, champion juvenile Macho Uno, champion juvenile Vindication, and major winners Harlan's Holiday, Proud Citizen, and Posse.

But when their first racers came of age last year, Sky Mesa was taking a lot of dirt in the face while early-maturing stock by Posse and Harlan's Holiday were cleaning up, and then Proud Citizen and Empire Maker swept much of the glory by siring Grade 1 winners among their first juveniles.

In a shocking contrast, Sky Mesa did not even have a stakes winner from his first crop of young racers last year, and the stallion's 180-degree turn in 2008 with six stakes winners - three who are age 3 and three more age 2 - is one of the major success stories of the season.

"If he had this kind of success last year, I'd have been up on the roof by now," said of Robert Clay, owner of Three Chimneys Farm, where Sky Mesa stands. "It is a sire line that is not always quick out of the gate, but he was a top 2-year-old and has been quick with this group."

The lack of major success with Sky Mesa's first juveniles was doubly puzzling to breeders and owners. First, they had great hopes for the Sky Mesas because many of his offspring looked quick and early-maturing. Second, Sky Mesa himself was an unbeaten 2-year-old, including wins in both the Hopeful and Breeders' Futurity. Except for a foot problem that knocked him out of the race, he would likely have been favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The nonperformance of his racers last year also caused a quirk in the stallion's stud fee. After standing for a fee of $35,000 in his first season, Sky Mesa plunged in market demand for his fifth season, and the fee was reset at $15,000 for 2008. The stallion's stud fee for 2009 will be determined after the Breeders' Cup.

"We were hoping this would happen last year," Clay said. "Instead, we had to cut his fee, and his book size went down. But he has four years of full books, and we expect him to be popular in 2009."

Indeed, the stallion cannot miss attracting increased patronage with Grade 1 winner Sky Diva and Gradeo1-placed Terrain both aiming for the Breeders' Cup. Now the Sky Mesas' racing results are as good as their looks.

A massive horse with the powerfully rounded muscles of the Storm Cat tribe, Sky Mesa has the length and balance that horsemen look for in top prospects, and he imparted these qualities to many of his offspring, which sold well at the sales.

"He gets a good-looking yearling, and his 2-year-olds have always sold well at the sales," Clay said. "Jack Oxley and I own him, and we are very hopeful."

Oxley purchased Sky Mesa as a yearling for $750,000 and raced him successfully with trainer John Ward.

Sky Mesa is the third foal out of the 17-year-old Storm Cat mare Caress, a multiple graded stakes winner. A daughter of the Affirmed mare La Affirmed, Caress is a full sister to graded winner Bernstein, who has become the hottest stallion in Argentina and whose success in the States includes the recent Alcibiades winner Dream Empress.

Sky Mesa descends from the most vigorous line of Bold Ruler and comes through Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and his most successful son, A.P. Indy, the sire of the increasingly important stallion Pulpit, whose sons currently rank first and fifth on the juvenile sire list.

In addition to being the sire of Sky Mesa, Pulpit is also the sire of the promising freshmen sires Tapit (5th) and Stroll. Also unbeaten at 2, Tapit sired multiple Grade 1 winner Stardom Bound in his first crop to race this year, and she is the likely favorite and chief competition for Sky Diva in the BC Juvenile Fillies.

Stroll is the sire of three stakes-winning fillies from his first crop of runners, with at least one expected for the BC Juvenile Fillies, which could produce a Pulpit trifecta.

Pulpit's younger sons at stud include Corinthian, winner of the Metropolitan Handicap and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile; Purge, winner of the Cigar Mile; and Sightseeing, winner of the Peter Pan.

Of these, Corinthian will have his first foals next year, Purge will have his first runners, and Sightseeing will be covering his first mares in 2009.