08/22/2014 2:48PM

Sparkman: Evil is as evil does

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The benefits of breeding and raising horses in Florida are undeniable. The year-round warm weather, rich limestone-based soil, and mineral springs of the Ocala area provide ideal climate and environmental conditions for raising a strong, healthy Thoroughbred.

Warm weather and mineral-infused grass, however, have no known effect on the DNA of stallions, so Florida’s natural advantages of climate and environment have never made much impact on Kentucky’s enormous historical advantages and momentum as a stallion center. What a Pleasure (1975-76), Dr. Fager (1977), and Buckaroo (1985) remain the only Florida-based stallions to lead the American sire list.

After Mr. Prospector established the pattern in the 1970s and 1980s, Florida became the place where fast, precocious horses went to make their reputations, sometimes specifically in hopes of proving themselves good enough to attract a lucrative bid from Kentucky. After Mr. Prospector, who stood his first six seasons at Aisco Farm in Florida, led the American sire list in 1987 and 1988 while standing at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, a long list of sires who began their careers in Florida transferred to Kentucky after early success, most notably In Reality, Fappiano, and Saint Ballado, the latter who led the American sire list in 2005.

The American stallion market has changed dramatically since those heady days, with larger books and a rapidly contracting foal crop reducing the number of stallions required, both in Kentucky and Florida. One of the best stallions now standing in Florida has never managed to attract large books, even in his home state, despite the fact that his record, from very limited opportunity, indicates that he should be much more widely patronized.

Journeyman Stud’s Hear No Evil has sired six stakes winners from only 77 named foals in his first six crops, led by multiple Grade 1 winner Jackson Bend, but as that shockingly low number of foals indicates, he has yet to attract the patronage he has earned.

Bred in Florida by Fred and Jane Brei’s Jacks or Better Farm, Hear No Evil fittingly is a grandson of the greatest stallion ever to stand in Florida, Mr. Prospector. His sire, the Kentucky-bred Carson City, by Mr. Prospector out of Blushing Promise, by Blushing Groom, was a precocious, high-class sprinter who won the Grade 2 Sapling Stakes at 2 and the Grade 2 Fall Highweight Handicap at 3, both at six furlongs.

Carson City was a very successful sire, without ever hitting the heights of fashion, siring 100 stakes winners from 1,057 foals (9 percent), led by the champions Small Promises and Islam, plus the Grade 1/Group 1 winners State City, City Zip, City Band, Carson Hollow, Cuvee, Flying Chevron, Pearl City, and From Carson City. City Zip has been Carson City’s best son at stud, with an occasional assist from the Grade 2 winner Pollard’s Vision, but Carson City hardly has developed a reputation as a sire of sires.

Hear No Evil began his racing career for Jacks or Better and trainer James Hatchett with a promising second in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race May 11, 2002, at Calder. He won his next three starts at the same venue, culminating with a victory July 6 in the 5 1/2-furlong Criterium Stakes, beating future multiple graded winner Supah Blitz by a half-length. That earned him a trip north to the barn of trainer Tim Ritvo, but he was well beaten in both the Grade 2 Sanford and the Grade 3 Sapling and returned to his home base to run second in two more stakes that year.

Hear No Evil had stood up well to a busy season for a contemporary 2-year-old, winning 3 of 9 starts, with three seconds, and he showed comparable durability at 3 and 4, winning 2 of 10 starts at 3, including stakes at Calder and Tampa Bay Downs, and placing in four stakes at Calder and Gulfstream Park at 4 despite going winless in 10 starts.

Hear No Evil notched one more win at 5 in the Turf Classic Stakes at Tampa before retiring to his birthplace in 2006 with a record of six wins, including four black-type races, nine seconds, and three thirds from 37 starts for earnings of $599,415. Hear No Evil’s versatility was just as admirable as his soundness and toughness, winning on both dirt and turf at distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles.

Admirable and useful as those qualities are, however, they were not enough to attract many broodmares, and neither was his pedigree. Hear No Evil’s dam, Nizy, by Cox’s Ridge, was good enough, since she also produced the Grade 3-placed stakes winner Home On the Ridge, by the bad sire Homebuilder, and the stakes winner and stakes producer Ladyinareddress, by Tactical Advantage.

His second dam, Nizhanee, by Pago Pago, also was a stakes winner, and his fifth dam is the foundation mare Rock Drill, the dam of champion Lady Pitt, a tail-female ancestress of many good stakes winners for the Phipps family, but that connection is too far away to be meaningful for breeders.

Jacks or Better was the breeder of seven of the 12 named foals in Hear No Evil’s first crop. That number, though, included Jackson Bend (out of Sexy Stockings, by Tabasco Cat) and the multiple stakes winner Hear Ye Hear Ye (I Am Nifty, by Unbridled’s Song). Like Hear No Evil, Jackson Bend began his racing career for Jacks or Better at Calder, this time with trainer Stanley Gold, but after he swept the Florida Stallion Stakes series at 2, it was clear that Jackson Bend had the potential for bigger things, despite his diminutive stature. The Breis sold an interest to Robert La Penta and transferred the colt to La Penta’s multiple Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, Nick Zito.

Jackson Bend acquitted himself well on the Triple Crown trail, running second in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, and Grade 1 Wood Memorial, but the 1 1/4 miles and the big field of the Kentucky Derby were just too much for the colt, and he finished 12th behind winner Super Saver. Jackson Bend redeemed himself somewhat in the Preakness, running an ultra-game third, beaten only three-quarters of a length by the champion Lookin At Lucky. Jackson Bend later proved himself a top-class sprinter-miler, winning both the Grade 1 Carter and Forego and running third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Jackson Bend’s retirement from racing was announced in March, but his location is as-yet undecided.

Hear No Evil sired only nine named foals in his second crop, seven in his third, and five in his fourth, but after Jackson Bend swept the Florida Stallion Stakes in 2009, the stallion was transferred from Rising Hill Farm to Journeyman Stud. Jackson Bend’s quality finally attracted a somewhat larger book for his sire in 2010, resulting in Hear No Evil tallying 32 named 3-year-olds of 2014. That number includes Best Plan Yet (Bayou Plans, by Bayou Hebert), the winner of the Foolish Pleasure and Florida Stallion In Reality stakes last year at 2, and the 2013 Victoria Stakes winner, Conquest Whiplash (Saint Sammi, by Saint Ballado).

His sixth crop, 2-year-olds of 2014, numbers only 12 named foals to date, but they include the two best Florida-based juveniles seen out so far, the wonderfully named Sing Praises (Sacred Psalm, by Awesome of Course), who added the Florida Sire Dr. Fager Stakes on Aug. 9 to his victory in the Birdonthewire Stakes, and Leap Year Luck (Lucky of Course, by Awesome of Course), the winner of the Florida Sire Desert Vixen Stakes on the same day.

Sing Praises’s dam, Sacred Psalm, who placed in the Hallowed Dreams Stakes, is one of the better-credentialed mares to be bred to Hear No Evil, and his third dam, Nifty Fifty, by Honey Jay, also is the second dam of Hear Ye Hear Ye. Leap Year Luck, on the other hand, is the only stakes winner under the first three dams along her female line, and neither comes from a female family likely to ring any bells for pedigree analysts.

Jackson Bend’s female line, on the other hand, is notably superior to the majority of Hear No Evil’s mates. His dam, Sexy Stockings, is the dam of the multiple stakes winner Garter Belt, by Anasheed, and the stakes-placed Grande Shores, by Black Mambo, and she is a half-sister to the multiple Grade 3 winner Fort Loudon, by Awesome of Course. His second dam, Lottsa Talc, by Talc, was a tough and classy sprinter, winning the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie and Distaff and Grade 3 Interborough.

Still, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that Hear No Evil’s success as a stallion mostly is due to his own genetic contribution to his offspring, and it is puzzling why that success has not attracted more and better mares.

“It’s a head-scratcher because he’ll get a runner, and he gets a lot of them percentage-wise,” said Brent Fernung, the owner of Journeyman Stud.

“I think part of the problem is he went to stud as a one-farm horse. Jacks or Better were the only people breeding to him when he started out. When Jackson Bend came out in that first crop, I thought, ‘Here he goes,’ but the next year [the 2010 champion 2-year-old filly] Awesome Feather comes along for the same farm, and he got overshadowed by his stablemate, Awesome of Course [the sire of Awesome Feather and also a Journeyman stallion]. I think that Awesome of Course became more popular, and Hear No Evil was overlooked.

“With these 2-year-olds coming along again, I don’t see how this horse can keep from getting more mares,” Fernung added. “His percentages are very impressive.”