12/04/2015 1:55PM

Sparkman: Airoforce a highlight for Colonel John

Airoforce, a son of Colonel John, won his dirt debut in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Leading sires stand at or near the top of the sire list for a reason.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, for example, 10 different horses sired by eight of the top 10 stallions on the current general sire list scored stakes wins. Victories by Tonalist in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, Mohaymen in the Grade 2 Remsen, and Rafting in the listed Smooth Air Stakes added $675,570 to Tapit’s almost $5 million lead on the North American general sire list. Third-place Pioneerof the Nile closed some ground on runner-up Medaglia d’Oro with the help of $150,000 won by his son Midnight Storm in the Grade 3 Seabiscuit Handicap.

Fourth-place Candy Ride got a $119,040 boost from Ahh Chocolate’s victory in the Grade 3 Falls City Handicap, and fifth-ranked Kitten’s Joy, who sire led the list in 2013, added the $180,000 his gelded son Chiropractor earned in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. Seventh-ranked Giant’s Causeway, eighth-place Speightstown, ninth-ranked Scat Daddy, and 10th-place Malibu Moon all got into the act with stakes winners.

Established top sires like Tapit, Candy Ride, Kitten’s Joy, Malibu Moon, and Giant’s Causeway all enjoy the considerable advantage of attracting an outstanding collection of stakes-winning and purple-pedigreed broodmares that make their job of producing high-class racehorses easier. For stallions several notches down the stud fee ladder, however, it is always going to be necessary for them to produce high-class runners from mares with less-impressive credentials.

Thus it is always instructive to see a horse like Colonel John come up with a genuinely good horse from one of the better-credentialed mares in his book. That horse is Airoforce, out of the stakes-placed Cuvee mare Chocolate Pop. Airoforce won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs.

Colonel John, bred and raced by WinStar Farm – then owned by Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt in partnership – was from the third crop of his sire, 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow, but is a very different physical type from both his sire and broodmare sire. Both Tiznow and Turkoman, sire of Colonel John’s dam, Sweet Damsel, stand over 17 hands, and Tiznow in particular is a rather coarse, plain individual. Colonel John is tall but not overly big, and he is a far more elegant horse than Tiznow, with a lovely head.

Colonel John was a good horse right from the get-go as a juvenile, running second at Del Mar in his first start, followed by an easy maiden win at seven furlongs at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita in October for trainer Eoin Harty. Victory in the listed Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park was just as easy, and Colonel John started favorite for the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity but found one too good for him. Into Mischief won by
1 1/4 lengths as Colonel John rallied from well behind but could never catch him.

Into Mischief soon went the sidelines and Colonel John proved himself the best 3-year-old on the West Coast by winning the Grade 3 Sham Stakes and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. It was unclear, though, how good his California rivals such as El Gato Malo and Bob Black Jack really were, and Colonel John started second-favorite in a wide-open Kentucky Derby behind the undefeated Big Brown. The usual big Derby field worked against Colonel John’s come-from-behind style, and he got shuffled far back early and could only close to sixth, beaten 14 1/4 lengths by Big Brown.

Colonel John’s comeback race after a two-month break resulted in a fair third in the Grade 2 Swaps, but he was fitter for the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga and held on grimly in a stretch battle with Mambo in Seattle to win by a nose. With Big Brown retired, Colonel John was the best American-trained 3-year-old available for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and probably ran right up to his best form, finishing fifth, beaten about five lengths, to the British-trained sophomore Raven’s Pass. He ran once more at 3, finishing fourth over the inadequate distance of seven furlongs in the Malibu.

Colonel John did not race again until the Del Mar meeting the following summer, when he showed his versatility by winning the Wickerr Stakes on turf, running the mile in a sprightly 1:32.77 to beat Becrux by two lengths. His effort in the Pacific Classic at the end of the meet was nowhere near as impressive, a fifth behind winner Richard’s Kid. He ran a much better race in the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita, closing all the way to the wire to finish a neck behind longshot winner Gitano Hernando, with Pacific Classic winner Richard’s Kid three-quarters of a length behind him in third. In his final start, Colonel John again ran respectably in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He had never proven himself capable of beating top-class horses like Zenyatta and Gio Ponti, the one-two finishers, and he again finished fifth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths.

Colonel John retired to his birthplace in 2010 at a fee of $15,000 with a consistent record of six wins, three seconds, and a third in 15 starts for earnings of $1,779,012. As the winner of the Santa Anita Derby and Travers, he was arguably the second-best American-trained 3-year-old of his crop behind Big Brown, but in retrospect, the American 3-year-olds of 2008 were not an outstanding group.

His sire, Tiznow, had proven himself an outstanding sire, though perhaps not as consistent as some breeders might like, and Colonel John is one of his best sons and certainly one of his best-looking sons. Colonel John’s dam, Sweet Damsel, by Turkoman, had produced a talented filly in Caroline’s Gold, and later, Colonel John’s full brother Mr. Hot Stuff developed into a top steeplechaser, but the female family had not done much else in recent years.
Airoforce is the best of Colonel John’s six stakes winner from his first three crops of racing age, which include 302 foals. While that number is far from impressive, his sire profile has improved somewhat this year with the appearance of another talented 2-year-old in Cocked and Loaded (out of Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon), winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes and Tremont Stakes.

Cocked and Loaded’s dam was unraced, but Airoforce’s dam, Chocolate Pop, showed talent on the racecourse. Bred in Kentucky by Haras Buen Borincano, she sold for $29,000 to McMahon Bloodstock at the 2007 Keeneland January sale, and was wheeled to the Keeneland September yearling sale, where Alliand Equine bought her for $32,000. Pinhooked to the 2008 OBS February sale of selected yearlings, she was purchased for $60,000 by trainer Gary Contessa on behalf of Winning Move Stable and John Moriano.

Chocolate Pop was well beaten in her first start at 2 in September at Belmont, but she showed vast improvement second out, rallying to be beaten only a neck at six furlongs. Her maiden victory duly followed when Aqueduct opened, and she then finished second, beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Justwhistledixie (dam of current star 2-year-old Mohaymen) in the overnight Love Affair Stakes. That promising effort was followed by another in the Busanda Stakes in Chocolate Pop’s first start as a 3-year-old, when she rallied to finish second, beaten a length by Pumpkin Shell.

After the Busanda, Chocolate Pop was sold privately to Charles Wacker III, but ran only once more, finishing fifth in the Wistful Stakes behind What a Pear (dam of only one foal, Clark Handicap winner Effinex).

Chocolate Pop is half-sister to another stakes-placed horse in Jacolatt, by Twining, and her dam, White Chocolate, by With Approval, is half-sister to stakes winners Saint Knows and Her Sweet Saint, both by Sweetsouthernsaint. Airoforce’s fourth dam, Hattab Gal, by Al Hattab, produced three good horses, multiple Grade 1 winner Sea Cadet, by Bolger, Grade 2 winner On Target, by Forty Niner, and stakes winner Paper Princess, by Flying Paster, but on balance it is a solid family, not an outstanding one.

The Wacker estate sold Chocolate Pop for only $25,000 to Greathouse Bloodstock at the 2010 Keeneland November sale, and the mare was re-offered, in foal to Colonel John, but failed to meet her reserve at $35,000 in 2012. Airoforce, who was bred by Stewart M. Madison, is her first foal. She has since produced a yearling full sister to Airoforce, and a weanling filly by First Samurai. Chocolate Pop was bred to Sidney’s Candy this year.

Airoforce sold for only $20,000 at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale to Michael Neatherlin, but worked so well at the 2015 OBS April sale that East West Stable paid $350,000 for him. The Kentucky Jockey Club was Airoforce’s third win in four starts, all for owner John C. Oxley and trainer Mark Casse, and his first on dirt. His only loss came in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf when he failed by only a neck to hold off the closing surge of Hit It a Bomb.

Airoforce’s obvious talent will not be enough alone to revive the stud career of Colonel John, but it proves that, given the right mare, the son of Tiznow can sire a good horse.