08/01/2014 5:07PM

Sparkman: Bayern is courting greatness

Tom Keyser
Haskell winner Bayern is from the female family of Courtly Dee, one of the most influential broodmares of the past 40 years.

Most breeders spend a lifetime searching for that one mare that seems to produce only high-class runners, no matter the sire. Those who find an Urban Sea, Hasili, or Grey Flight are automatically successful. Those lucky enough to find more than one are well on their way to greatness.

The late Lee Eaton got lucky in 1972 when he claimed the beautifully bred 4-year-old filly Courtly Dee, by Never Bend out of Tulle, by War Admiral, for $15,000 at Laurel Race Course. Her first foal, Ali Oop, by Al Hattab, was upright and back at the knee but still won the Grade 1 Sapling Stakes. Her second foal, Native Courier, by Exclusive Native, was a multiple Grade 3 winner on turf.

As a commercial breeder, Eaton’s natural inclination was to strike while the iron was hot, and he sold Courtly Dee, in foal to Alydar, for $900,000 to Helen Groves, Helen Alexander, and David Aykroyd at the 1980 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. The resulting foal was the 1983 champion 2-year-old filly and 1984 Arkansas Derby winner Althea, and tail-female descendants of Courtly Dee have produced 11 Grade 1/Group 1 winners, mostly for Helen Groves’s daughters. The most recent of these is last week’s runaway Haskell Invitational winner, Bayern, by Offlee Wild.

Bayern was bred in Kentucky by Helen Groves’s daughter, Helen Alexander, owner of Middlebrook Farm, and he is a third-generation descendant of Courtly Dee. He is the third foal of his dam, Alittlebitearly, by Thunder Gulch, who was so named because she was born Dec. 14, 2002, and thus officially became a yearling 18 days later.

Alittlebitearly did not race, but she retained obvious and considerable residual value as a broodmare, since she was half-sister to the Group 3-winning and Group 1-placed sprinter Bertolini, by Danzig, and stakes winners Alchemilla, by Deputy Minister, and Amelia, by Dixieland Band. Amelia is dam of Grade 3 winners Assateague, by Stormy Atlantic, and Kindergarden Kid, by Dynaformer, as well as He’s Had Enough, by Tapit, who ran second in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Alittlebitearly’s dam, Aquilegia, by Alydar, was a full sister to champion Althea and ranked as Courtly Dee’s second-most accomplished daughter on the track, winning the Grade 2 New York Handicap and Grade 3 Black Helen Handicap and earning $446,081.

Althea herself became almost as good a broodmare as her dam, producing the Japanese Group 1 winner and champion Yamanin Paradise, by Danzig, the Grade 3 winner Destiny Dance, by Nijinsky II (the dam of the Grade 1 winner Balletto, by Woodman), the stakes winner Alyssum, by Storm Cat, and the stakes winner Aurora, by Danzig. Aurora in turn produced the Grade 1 Super Derby winner and successful sire Arch, by Kris S., the Grade 1 winner Acoma, by Empire Maker, and the UAE Horse of the Year Festival of Light, by A.P. Indy.

Other daughters of Courtly Dee are responsible for the Grade 1/Group 1 winners Aldiza, by Storm Cat, Azzaam, by Chief’s Crown, Green Desert, by Danzig, No Reason, by Brian’s Time, Vespa, by Elusive City, and the 2014 Japanese Derby winner One and Only, by Heart’s Cry, among others.

Helen Alexander put Alittlebitearly’s first two foals, the winners Don’t Surprise Me, by Macho Uno, and Rush In, by Langfuhr, into training before eventually losing them via the claiming box, but she consigned her third foal, a handsome colt by Offlee Wild, to the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training through agent Eddie Woods. Kaleem Shah purchased the colt for $320,000 in the name of Ed Savant after he breezed a quarter-mile in 21.3 seconds at the under-tack show.

Alittlebitearly has since produced a current yearling colt by Scat Daddy and a 2014 colt by Lonhro. She was bred to Tapit this year.

Though Offlee Wild sired a champion 2-year-old filly in his first crop, Bayern is his best horse to date and by a considerable margin. Bred in Kentucky by Helen Alexander’s sister, Dorothy Alexander Matz, Offlee Wild was the last Grade 1 winner sired by the outstanding sire Wild Again. Matz purchased Offlee Wild’s dam, Alvear, by Seattle Slew, for $100,000 at the 1990 Keeneland September yearling sale. Alvear was a full sister to the stakes winner White Bridle and half-sister to the exceptional sire Dynaformer, by Roberto, from the great family descending from her third dam, Golden Trail, by Hasty Road.

Twice a winner herself, Alvear had produced three minor winners by the time Offlee Wild came to market at the 2001 Keeneland September sale, but he was outstanding enough physically that Lansdon Robbins’s Azalea Stables signed the ticket at $325,000, an exceptionally good price for a son of Wild Again.

Offlee Wild won the second of his three starts at 2, a six-furlong maiden at Churchill Downs, by five lengths but finished second in the final start of his juvenile campaign. The more than 27-1 odds against him seemed about right for his first start at 3 in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, but Offlee Wild rated just off the pace and outgamed Powerful Touch to the wire to win by a head.

That automatically put Offlee Wild on the Kentucky Derby trail, but he finished a well-beaten fourth behind Trust N Luck in the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes and third, beaten eight lengths by Peace Rules and Brancusi, in the Grade 1 Blue Grass. He ran no better than a 30-1 shot should in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 12th, 11 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Funny Cide.

Pursuit of the Kentucky Derby has wreaked havoc on the subsequent career of many a racehorse, and Offlee Wild required a year and a trainer change to recover. Although given a four-month break after the Derby, Offlee Wild ran three more times at 3 without winning. Beaten a head in a Gulfstream allowance in his first start at 4, he ran badly again in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap.

Offlee Wild did not race again for two months, and when he returned to the starting gate under the tutelage of Rick Dutrow, he ran like a different horse. On May 14, 2004, he beat graded stakes winners Shaniko and Mustanfar by more than four lengths in a Belmont allowance race. A month later, he rallied from just off the pace to beat Funny Cide by a head at a weight advantage of only four pounds in the Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap, but he did not race again until the following year.

Offlee Wild returned to the races at age 5 with a narrow defeat as the 120-pound highweight (giving six pounds to winner Coast Line) in the John B. Campbell Handicap but romped to an 8 1/2-length win in the slop in the Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap. Well beaten in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special, he finally achieved that coveted Grade 1 victory in the Suburban Handicap, rallying from just off the pace to beat Tap Day by 1 1/2 lengths.

That victory, coupled with his outstanding female family, finally made Offlee Wild an interesting stud prospect, and Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s Darley acquired his breeding rights after the Suburban, with an eye on the Breeders’ Cup. Offlee Wild raced only once more, however, suffering an injury in the Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicap.

Retired to Darley in 2006, Offlee Wild led the freshman sire list in 2009, almost entirely due to the victory of his champion daughter She Be Wild (out of Trappings, by Seeking the Gold) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. A small, precocious filly, She Be Wild raced only twice more at 3, finishing third in the Grade 1 Ashland.

Offlee Wild’s first crop included only 65 named foals, including the additional stakes winners Heavenville (Seeking Heaven, by Petionville), Local (Icy Reality, by Proper Reality), and Offlee Swift (Cold Porridge, by Tiffany Ice). Like many young stallions who do not prove popular with breeders, Offlee Wild disappeared off the commercial radar over the next few years, eventually moving to Pennsylvania, where he now stands at Pin Oak Lane Farm.

Bayern is Offlee Wild’s only Grade 1 winner and the third graded winner since She Be Wild. Overall, he has sired 13 stakes winners from 296 foals age 3 and up, a 4.4 percent strike rate. He has 70 current 2-year-olds but only 19 yearlings. A handsome, well-made horse, Offlee Wild is built very much in the mold of his sire, Wild Again, and Bayern appears to be cut from the same cloth.

In her long and extraordinarily productive career as a broodmare, Courtly Dee produced 18 foals, including 15 winners, seven graded stakes winners, one listed stakes winner, and one Grade 1-placed winner. Those nine stakes-quality offspring were sired by five different stallions with pedigrees as different as Al Hattab, by The Axe II from the Blandford male line, and Alydar, by Raise a Native, from the Native Dancer line, and horses as physically diverse as the massive Fappiano and the smallish Forty Niner.

Such rarities among broodmares make greatness as breeders possible for their owners.