10/24/2014 5:28PM

Sparkman: Native Bombshell latest success for War Front

Michael Burns
Native Bombshell is among the stakes winners for her young sire War Front.

From one point of view, we should never be surprised when a horse just below top class as a racehorse becomes a top-class stallion. We know, after all, that genetics accounts for only 35 to 40 percent of racing ability, which means that environment, how and where the horse was raised, trainer and grooms, pushy or laid-back owners – in short, everything else you can think of – accounts for the other 60 to 65 percent of the ability expressed in a horse’s race record.

From one way of looking at it, however, genetics plays a larger role in success at stud. If a horse does not have the right genes, he simply cannot pass them on to his offspring. Environment, however, is still vitally important. Where a horse stands at stud can make an enormous difference in terms of the quality of mares he receives. The clientele of a given stallion station, and the quality of the mares they own, is inevitably highly influential in determining success or failure. That clientele, after all, determines the environment of the stallion’s offspring.

Thus, after 100 years of sustained success as a stallion station, perhaps we should never be surprised by the success of a sire standing at Claiborne Farm. Since Celt led the American sire list in 1921, 10 different Claiborne stallions have topped the sire list 28 times.

It may not be too many more years before Claiborne’s current star stallion, War Front, adds to those numbers – if European owners do not buy up too many of his best offspring. Latest evidence for War Front’s possibilities on this side of the Atlantic is the victory of Native Bombshell in the Grade 3 Ontario Fashion Stakes at Woodbine on Oct. 19.

Bred in Kentucky by Bruce Gibbs and Tim McMurry (Fleetwood Bloodstock), Native Bombshell is one of 33 stakes winners from the first 333 foals sired by War Front in his five crops of racing age, a 10 percent strike rate unequaled by any American stallion with a similar number of crops. Ten of those 33 have earned their black type abroad, including his best runner, Declaration of War (out of Tempo West, by Rahy), highweighted older horse in Europe in 2013, who also finished a very close third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and War Command (Wandering Star, by Red Ransom), winner of the 2013 Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes.

War Front, however, first made his name siring fast horses in the U.S., headed by his first-crop stars The Factor (Greyciousness, by Miswaki), a multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter; Grade 1-winning grass miler Data Link (Database, by Known Fact); Hong Kong Group 1 winner Warning Flag (Good Vibes, by Unbridled’s Song); and Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks winner Summer Soiree (Mazel Tov, by Mazel Trick). Few horses sire four Grade 1/Group 1 winners in a career, much less their first crop, so that sensational success at the top level on all surfaces sent every bloodstock agent in the world looking for War Fronts to buy. This year, 19 yearlings by War Front have sold worldwide through Oct. 22, for an average of $596,040. That group is led by the joint $2.2 million sale-topper at the Keeneland September yearling sale signed for by M.V. Magnier on behalf of the Coolmore partnership.

Bred in Kentucky by Joseph Allen, War Front, one of the last good sons of three-time leading sire and exceptional sire of sires Danzig, made his debut for Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens in December of his 2-year-old season, finishing seventh in a six-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct. Third at a mile in his first start at 3 a month later, he did not race again until the end of the Saratoga meeting 7 1/2 months later.

He returned a much better horse, winning three straight races by wide margins. War Front blitzed maiden and allowance fields by 11 1/2 and six lengths, respectively, and then scored by a widening eight lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Princelet Stakes at Belmont Park. That winning sequence came to an end in the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap, when he faded in the stretch after running prominently to finish sixth.

War Front raced seven times at 4, all at sprint distances, and won only once, beating Judiths Wild Rush and Mass Media in the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. However, he finished second in five graded stakes, headed by the Grade 1 Forego (to Pomeroy) and Grade 1 Vosburgh (to Henny Hughes). War Front finished in front of both of those horses in his final start, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but still finished only seventh, beaten 7 1/4 lengths by Thor’s Echo.

Normally a Grade 2 winner of 4 of 13 starts and $424,205 would not raise much interest from Kentucky stud masters, but fast sons of Danzig merit special attention, and War Front had enough pedigree and the right connections – Allen boards his mares at Claiborne – to earn a stall at Claiborne. His dam, Starry Dreamer, by Rubiano, was a three-time stakes winner and had placed in the Grade 1 Gazelle, and she had already produced multiple Grade 3 winner Ecclesiastic, by Pulpit. Starry Dreamer later produced multiple Grade 2 winner Teammate, by A.P. Indy, and stakes winner Riviera Cocktail, by Giant’s Causeway. A half-sister to two stakes winners, Starry Dreamer is a tail-female descendant of Brookmeade Stud’s good broodmare Sunny Vale, dam of foundation mare Golden Trail.

In conformation, War Front is more or less a bigger version of his sire. Medium-sized, lengthy, and very muscular, he is slightly offset in front like Danzig. His head is rather plain, but his best offspring are big, attractive, impressive horses who are often exceptional movers, as he is himself.

Native Bombshell is the second foal out of Flat Screen, by Pulpit (another successful Claiborne sire), a mare with a somewhat checkered history. Bred in Kentucky by Jerre Paxton’s Northwest Farms, Flat Screen won her first start at Emerald Downs, a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race, as a 2-year-old in 2006, by 4 1/2 lengths. That was quite a promising beginning, but she ran fourth in her only other start at 2 and disappeared for 10 1/2 months. She won again when she returned to the races at Emerald, but it was in a $7,500 claimer, and she was promptly claimed for $12,500 by trainer Grant Forster when she ran second in her next start, and she never ran again.

McMurry has Northwestern roots, and it is surely no coincidence that Flat Screen’s first foal was bred by his Fleetwood Bloodstock and Gibbs, owner of Greenfield Farm. That filly, Queen Nora, by Political Force, placed twice in four starts in Argentina. Native Bombshell, who sold for $150,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2011, is Flat Screen’s second foal, and the mare has since produced a 2-year-old filly, Medicine Butte, by Old Fashioned, who has placed in her only start this year, and a yearling filly by Tribal Rule. Greenfield Farm, agent, sold Flat Screen for only $2,000 as a barren mare at the 2011 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.

McMurry and Gibbs had several reasons to think Flat Screen might be a good investment at a claiming price of $12,500. Her sire, Pulpit, is one of the best sire sons of the great A.P. Indy, and her dam, Bella Gatto, by Storm Cat, placed in a stakes and is a half-sister to Grade 2 Withers Stakes winner Williamstown, by Seattle Slew.

That is a pretty good pedigree on the surface, and it gets even better further down the page. Bella Gatto is also a half-sister to the dam of Australian Group 2 winner California Dane, by Danehill. Bella Gatto’s dam, Winter Sparkle, by the very bad sire Northjet, was a half-sister to stakes winner Hay Patcher, by Hoist the Flag, dam of multiple Grade 1 winner and leading sire Broad Brush, by Ack Ack.

The family traces to Native Bombshell’s sixth dam, foundation mare Dangerous Dame, by Nasrullah, ancestress of Capote, Exceller, Mastercraftsman, Sakhee, and Gordon Lord Byron, among many others. Native Bombshell’s pedigree carries four crosses of Northern Dancer (3x6x5x6) and two of Mr. Prospector (5x4), but that is practically standard equipment for the contemporary Thoroughbred.

Native Bombshell’s victory in the Ontario Fashion was her fourth in six starts, but her first start this year at 4. Winner of the Ruling Angel Stakes at Woodbine last year at 3, she had not run in almost a year before her victory last weekend.

War Front ranked fifth on the American sire list last year, and he currently stands 28th this year. The success of Declaration of War, War Command, Group 2 UAE Derby winner Lines of Battle, and others has meant that many of his most attractive yearlings are purchased by deep-pocketed European and Middle Eastern buyers.

Still, one would not be shocked if that one big horse puts War Front back near the top of the American sire list.