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Sparkman: Johannesburg a true internationalist
For most of the racing world, the most memorable moment of the 2001 Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park in the darkest days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was Tiznow’s game victory in the Classic over Sakhee that incited Tom Durkin’s “Tiznow for America” race call. For the author, though, the most memorable moment occurred a bit earlier on the program.
As I was assigned to cover the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the entrance to the track from the tunnel under the grandstand was the place to be to collect immediate impressions from the winning connections. Leaning against the outside rail on the edge of Big Sandy as the horses neared the finish, I was almost run over by a joyous stampede of Irish stable boys as they sprinted the last few yards with their upset winner, Johannesburg. That unbridled joy was the perfect counterpoint to the looming awareness of recent tragedy that imbued that emotionally fraught day with particular poignancy.
A winner of all six of his starts that season in Europe, Johannesburg had long since clinched champion European juvenile honors, and his emphatic win at Belmont ensured that he would earn an Eclipse Award statuette as American champion 2-year-old male as well. Like Arazi, the previous European-trained champion to dominate American 2-year-olds in the Juvenile, Johannesburg failed to confirm his dominance at 3.
However, though he has never been a commercially popular sire, Johannesburg has enjoyed considerably more success than Arazi in a similarly peripatetic stud career. And he has enjoyed perhaps his best year in 2013, with major winners in the United States, Argentina, and Japan, all locations stamped on his travel passport.
Last week, his 3-year-old gelded son River Seven shipped to Churchill Downs from Woodbine and displayed a strong late kick in the stretch to win the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf, his third stakes win. River Seven’s dam, Sans Souci Island, by Chester House, won a minor stakes at Woodbine but is closely related to several good stakes winners in Europe and Dubai, led by this year’s English 1000 Guineas winner, Sky Lantern, by Red Clubs, and including English champion filly Negligent, by Ahonoora, and French Group 3 winner and U.A.E. Derby runner-up Songlark, by Singspiel.
Bred in Kentucky by Wayne Lyster and Jayeff B Stables, Johannesburg was from the second crop of Storm Cat’s brilliant son Hennessy and out of the winning Ogygian mare Myth, from the family of foundation mare Monarchy. Offered as a weanling by Lyster’s Ashview Farm at the 1999 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, he was listed as sold for $240,000 to Chestnut Valley Farm.
If that was indeed a pinhook, it was not a successful one, since Demi O’Byrne had to pay only $200,000 for the colt at the following year’s Keeneland September yearling sale on behalf of the usual Coolmore partnership between Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor.
Sent to Coolmore’s historic training stables at Ballydoyle, Johannesburg made his debut for Aidan O’Brien on May 30, 2001, at Fairyhouse, winning a six-furlong maiden race by 3 1/2 lengths. Clearly precocious and speedy, Johannesburg then annexed the five-furlong, Group 3 Norfolk Stakes at the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting. The Curragh’s Group 3 Anglesey Stakes three weeks later at six furlongs is one of Ireland’s most historic juvenile races, and Johannesburg dispatched Wise Dan’s sire, Wiseman’s Ferry, easily by four lengths.
The six-furlong, Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at Leopardstown was even easier, and Johannesburg scored the first of four straight Grade/Group 1 victories in four different countries by five lengths over Miss Beabea.
The level of competition was considerably tougher at Deauville two weeks later, but it made little difference to Johannesburg, who again showed his superb turn of foot from off the pace to win the Group 1 Prix Morny by 1 1/2 lengths over the talented Zipping. He next added England’s most historic six-furlong juvenile event six weeks later at Newmarket, beating Zipping again, this time by three lengths, in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes.
At this point in his racing career, Johannesburg had never run farther than six furlongs and had never encountered one of those new-fangled turns on a racecourse. Thus, his odds of 7.20-1 for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile around Belmont’s one sweeping turn on dirt could not be considered particularly generous, despite his unbeaten record.
The favorite, U.S.-based Officer, also was unbeaten and had adapted to Belmont’s contours and unique surface when winning the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes over the same 1 1/16-mile distance three weeks earlier.
Officer and second favorite Came Home, however, engaged in a speed duel in the Juvenile, running the first half-mile in 46.85 seconds over a deep, holding track, as Johannesburg adjusted to the strange conditions while running in fifth place. As Officer and Came Home began to flag on the turn, Johannesburg advanced under jockey Michael Kinane, and in the final furlong, only he and the long-winded Repent were really doing any running.
Johannesburg had gotten first run with a swift move to the outside of the fading pacesetters, and he kicked clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
O’Brien and Coolmore picked the Kentucky Derby as Johannesburg’s natural target as a 3-year-old, but the colt lost his unbeaten tag in his only prep race, the seven-furlong, Group 3 Gladness Stakes, when the 4-year-old filly Rebelline outstayed him by a nose under testing conditions. That was perhaps not the best preparation for running 1 1/4 miles on dirt a month later, and Johannesburg never saw which way War Emblem went in the Kentucky Derby, finishing eighth, beaten by 13 lengths.
He ran only once more, finishing a well-beaten ninth in the six-furlong, Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Never a big horse, Johannesburg had not grown much from 2 to 3 and, essentially, he had simply matured earlier than his peers. Johannesburg’s stud career has been moderately successful but not consistent. Johannesburg is correct and well-balanced and moves beautifully, but he is rather long and low in the back, and many of his offspring cannot overcome that deficiency in the way he did.
Still, Johannesburg proved immediately that he can get a very good horse. His first-crop son Scat Daddy (out of Love Style, by Mr. Prospector) won the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at 2 and the Grade 1 Florida Derby at 3 before losing his form.
A big, handsome, correct, almost black horse, Scat Daddy also has made an excellent start at stud, with Grade 1 winner Lady of Shamrock and 2013 Group 1 Prix Morny winner No Nay Never in his first few Northern Hemisphere crops along with three Chilean Group 1 winners in the Southern Hemisphere. Scat Daddy helped make Johannesburg the second-leading freshman sire of 2006 in North America, according to Daily Racing Form statistics, behind Street Cry.
Johannesburg’s first American crop also included the talented sprinter Teuflesberg (St. Michele, by Devil’s Bag), whose first-crop son Trinniberg was voted champion sprinter of 2012 after his win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Johannesburg also enjoyed considerable success abroad with his first crop. Sageburg (Sage et Jolie, by Linamix) won the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan at 4 and has made a decent start at stud in France. Johannesburg’s first Southern Hemisphere crop also included multiple Australian Group 1 winner Turffontein (Spirit Of Grace, by Dr Grace).
By the time all this first-crop brilliance was revealed on the racetrack, however, Johannesburg was already on his travels, and, as with so many young stallions these days, there was a distinct dip in his success rate for his next few crops. Johannesburg’s offspring were never popular in the sales ring either, which did not encourage Coolmore to keep him in one place. Since starting his career at Ashford, Johannesburg has stood in Australia, Argentina, and Japan.
His stint in the “land of the rising sun” resulted in this year’s unbeaten Japanese 2-year-old filly Horai Akiko (Horai Sunday, by Sunday Silence), the winner of the Group 2 Daily Hai Nisai Stakes on Oct. 5. His sojourn in Argentina has produced Argentine classic winner Juhayna (Jus Agendi, by Nugget Point), who captured her fourth Group 1 race, the Gran Premio Enrique Acebal, on Nov. 16.
Throughout his peregrinations, Johannesburg has sired good horses, totaling 61 stakes winners from 1,570 foals of racing age (4 percent) and seven Grade/Group 1 winners through Nov. 19. That number also includes this year’s Grade 1 Forego Stakes winner, Strapping Groom (Something Silver, by Silver Deputy), and 2010 Group 1 AJC Australian Oaks winner Once Were Wild (Wildesong, by Unbridled’s Song).
Johannesburg certainly was bred to be a good sire, though one would have hoped for more consistency given the quality of his pedigree. His sire, Hennessy, was one of the best sons of the great Storm Cat and sired 76 stakes winners from 1,401 foals of racing age (5 percent), including Wiseman’s Ferry and Henny Hughes, the sire of Beholder.
Johannesburg also is closely related to Tale of the Cat, another good sire by Storm Cat. Tale of the Cat is a half-brother to Johannesburg’s dam, Myth, by Ogygian. The winner of the Grade 2 King’s Bishop, Tale of the Cat has sired 98 stakes winners to date from 2,187 foals of racing age (4 percent), led by champion Gio Ponti.
Myth also is a half-sister to Minardi, by Boundary, who won the 2000 Group 1 Phoenix Stakes and Group 1 Middle Park Stakes, races Johannesburg captured a year later. Spunoutacontrol, by Wild Again, a stakes-winning half-sister to Myth, also is the dam of this year’s Grade 2 Pat O’Brien and San Fernando Stakes winner, Fed Biz, by Giant’s Causeway, the best son of Johannesburg’s grandsire, Storm Cat.
Johannesburg’s second dam, Yarn, by Mr. Prospector, is a full sister to 1991 Grade 1 Frizette Stakes winner Preach, who is more familiar in contemporary pedigrees as the dam of the very good racehorse and sire Pulpit, by A.P. Indy. Third dam Narrate, a Grade 3 winner by Honest Pleasure, is a half-sister to four other stakes winners and a half-sister to the third dam of Johannesburg’s son Teuflesberg.
Johannesburg’s fifth dam, foundation mare Monarchy, by Princequillo, was a high-class full sister to multiple champion and leading sire Round Table, and is a tail-female ancestress of top runners Leading Light, Tessla, Robellino, Always Aloof, and Toylsome.
Johannesburg now stands at Shizunai Stallion Station on Hokkaido in the Northern Hemisphere after being sold by Coolmore in 2009. With Horai Akiko emerging as a possible champion juvenile filly in his first Japanese-conceived crop, he may prove a successful outcross for the plethora of Sunday Silence-line mares in that country.