01/31/2014 3:11PM

Sparkman: Prince of the Empire

Barbara D. Livingston
Cairo Prince, winner of the Fountain of Youth, has helped get Pioneerof the Nile off to a solid start at stud.

By definition, it is all but impossible for a “filly sire” to become an important sire of sires. Future sires are almost invariably culled from among outstanding Grade 1-winning sons of top sires, since they are the horses who receive the best – these days, sometimes the only – opportunities at stud.

Nine out of the 11 Grade 1 winners sired by Empire Maker, the leading sire by North American earnings in 2012, are fillies, so it is encouraging that his first male Grade 1 winner, Pioneerof the Nile, has sired a promising colt in his first crop. Pioneerof the Nile’s son Cairo Prince was an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park and ranks among the winter-book favorites for the 2014 Kentucky Derby.

Empire Maker, the winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes, established his reputation as a filly sire during the latter part of the previous decade, as four female Grade 1 winners (Acoma, Country Star, Icon Project, and Mushka) emerged from his first crop, beginning with Country Star’s win in the Alcibiades in 2007.

Mushka won a Grade 2 stakes in 2007, and Acoma picked up her first of seven career graded stakes wins in May 2008, with two more to come that fall. By then, Empire Maker’s second-crop son Pioneerof the Nile had started to make headlines as a leading 2-year-old.

Bred in Kentucky by his owner Ahmed Zayat’s Zayat Stables, Pioneerof the Nile is the sixth foal of his stakes-winning dam, Star of Goshen, by Lord At War, a mare Zayat acquired privately in foal to Empire Maker in 2008. Zayat had paid $680,000 for Star of Goshen’s fourth foal, the Gone West colt Forefathers, at the 2005 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings, and the speedy colt had placed in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes, Grade 2 Jerome Handicap, Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap, and Bergen County Stakes in Zayat’s blue and yellow silks.

Bred to stay any distance American racehorses are asked to run, Pioneerof the Nile made his debut in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Saratoga’s turf course on Aug. 4, 2008, but was trapped on the rail throughout and finished fourth. He made amends in his second start three weeks later, rallying from well off the pace to beat Lime Rickey by a length over the same course.

Trainer Bill Mott, who trained Pioneerof the Nile for his first four starts before Bob Baffert took over, clearly thought a lot of the colt, and threw him in at the deep end in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in his third start. Pioneerof the Nile ran with credit, rallying from well off the pace to finish third behind winner Square Eddie and Terrain, beaten eight lengths.

Pioneerof the Nile ran even better in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, though it did not show on paper. No horse could keep up with the winner, Midshipman, but Pioneerof the Nile was always in the chasing pack and finished fifth, beaten only 2 3/4 lengths by the winner and 1 1/2 lengths by runner-up Square Eddie.

Transferred to Baffert after the Juvenile, Pioneerof the Nile continued his improvement in his final juvenile start, the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity, rallying from just off the pace and gamely holding off the closing bid of I Want Revenge to win by a nose.

With Midshipman off to Dubai for the winter, Pioneerof the Nile had established himself as the primary California-based contender for the 2009 Kentucky Derby, and he dominated Santa Anita’s prep races on what was then its Pro-Ride synthetic main track, winning the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis, Grade 2 San Felipe, and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in succession. All of his races, however, had been on either turf or synthetic, which cast doubt on his credentials for the Derby over Churchill’s dirt oval.

After the expected favorite, I Want Revenge, was scratched the morning of the race, the 2009 Kentucky Derby was viewed as wide open, and Pioneerof the Nile started a lukewarm third choice at 6-1 behind Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire and Florida Derby runner-up Dunkirk. Well placed outside the early leaders by Garrett Gomez, Pioneerof the Nile put his head in front briefly between calls in upper stretch but had no answer for the sprint along the rail that Calvin Borel conjured from Mine That Bird over a sloppy track. Pioneerof the Nile held on to finish second in front of the closing Musket Man and Papa Clem.

Pioneerof the Nile, the second betting choice behind sensational Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness two weeks later, beat a hasty retreat after the first six furlongs and was eased in the stretch, finishing 11th. A few weeks later, it was announced that Pioneerof the Nile would be retired to stud after suffering a soft-tissue injury during a routine workout.

Retired to Vinery in Kentucky in 2010, Pioneerof the Nile was one of the best colts of a generation totally dominated by the filly Rachel Alexandra. His first crop of 94 foals showed sufficient promise last year to place him second on the freshman sire list by earnings behind Dunkirk.

Pioneerof the Nile’s son River Dancer (out of Clever Actress, by Theatrical) showed potential first, running second in the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga, but the star from the moment he set foot on the track was Cairo Prince. Bred in Kentucky by Richard and Katherine Elam, Cairo Prince sold first as a short yearling for $200,000 to Vinery Bloodstock and Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm at the 2012 Keeneland January sale of horses of all ages. Pinhooked to the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale, he was purchased for $250,000 by agent Steve Shahinian on behalf of Namcook Stables.

Racing for Namcook Stables, Paul Braverman, Harvey Clarke, and Craig Robertson III, Cairo Prince easily won his first start at Belmont Park in October, followed quickly by a victory in the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes. Cairo Prince battled the length of the stretch with Honor Code in the Grade 2 Remsen but finished second by a nose in his final juvenile start. His 5 3/4-length romp in the Holy Bull was his first start this year.

Cairo Prince is the fourth foal and third stakes horse out of the good stakes winner Holy Bubbette, by Holy Bull. Bred and raced by Richard Elam, Holy Bubbette won six of 13 starts at 3 and 4, including the 2003 Dixie Miss Stakes at Louisiana Downs and the 2004 Whimsical Stakes at Woodbine, and placed in the Grade 3 Chaposa Springs Handicap at Calder in 2003.

Holy Bubbette’s second foal, Nonna Mia, by Empire Maker, placed in three stakes, including the Grade 1 Frizette in 2009. Holy Bubbette’s third foal, Holdin Bullets, by Ghostzapper, ran third in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.

Holy Bubbette is a half-sister to another good filly in Sum Runner, by Summing, the winner of the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes in 1993. Their half-sister Ms Louisett, by Siphon, ran third in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf.

Cairo Prince’s second dam, Juliac, by Accipiter, was unplaced in her only start but was a half-sister to Marauding, by Warfare, the winner of the Grade 3 Oil Capitol Handicap. The family first rose to prominence in the 1920s with the advent of the great Sarazen, by High Time, a son of Cairo Prince’s eighth dam, and was developed further in the 1930s and 1940s by Alfred G. Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt bred champion Next Move, by Bull Lea, as well as the top-class runner Sometime Thing, by Discovery, and Sea-Change, by Count Fleet, a modest runner who is the fourth dam of the immortal Miesque.

Cairo Prince is, of course, a long way from attaining that kind of stature, but he has made his sire a rather hot commodity on the stallion market. A racy, correct, powerful horse, perhaps slightly flat through the knee, Pioneerof the Nile is slightly smaller and more compact than his sire but resembles Empire Maker in his overall look.

When Empire Maker was unexpectedly exported to Japan in 2011, it seemed very unlikely that he would do much to extend the male line of his sire, Unbridled, in the United States. With Pioneerof the Nile and his other male Grade 1 winner, Bodemeister, now both covering mares at WinStar Farm, Empire Maker’s prospects as a sire of sires now look far more promising.