11/14/2014 4:09PM

Sparkman: Sire after 'Elusive' honor

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Debra A. Roma
Hootenanny, from the first crop of Elusive Quality's son Quality Road, won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

For a horse who led the American sire list in 2004, ranked fifth in 2008, and has sired 116 stakes winners, Elusive Quality gets relatively little respect from the commercial market. His 34 yearlings sold this year have averaged $84,056, and stallion stations have hardly been clamoring to stand his sons at stud.

The latter may be about to change, since Hootenanny’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf catapulted Elusive Quality’s son, Quality Road, to the top of the American freshman sire list. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Elusive Quality’s son Evasive ranks a surprising second on the French freshman sire list.

The relative lack of respect Elusive Quality has been accorded in the bloodstock world stems from several sources. First, Elusive Quality’s 2004 sire championship was considered slightly bogus in some quarters because champion Kentucky Derby- and Preakness-winning son Smarty Jones earned a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park for sweeping the Rebel Stakes, Grade 2 Arkansas Derby, and the Kentucky Derby. Without that bonus, Elusive Quality would have finished 13th on the 2004 sire list. Elusive Quality’s fifth on the 2008 sire list was due largely to the $2.7 million Raven’s Pass earned for his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Second, Smarty Jones has failed to make the big impression as a sire that would have made stallion masters want more sons of Elusive Quality, and since stallion potential is a major factor in allowing buyers to rationalize million-dollar prices for yearling colts, Elusive Quality’s yearling average suffers accordingly.

Third, although Elusive Quality is a big, impressive, muscular, well-made horse, his progeny come in all shapes and sizes, and too many tend to be of the coarse, awkward-looking variety.

Elusive Quality came by his impressive physique and his brilliant racing ability honestly. His sire, Gone West, was one of many outstanding sire sons of the great Mr. Prospector, siring 101 stakes winners through Nov. 11 and establishing a vibrant branch of the Mr. Prospector male line through his sons Mr. Greeley, Speightstown, Western Winter, Zafonic, and Zamindar.

Elusive Quality’s dam, Touch of Greatness, by Hero’s Honor (a possible source for the coarseness one sometimes finds in Elusive Quality’s offspring), was unraced, but she was half-sister to the German and Italian champion Gold and Ivory, by Key to the Mint, and from one of the best families in the American and, indeed, international stud book. Her dam, Ivory Wand, by Sir Ivor, won the Test Stakes in 1976, when it was only a Grade 3, but ran second in the Grade 1 Spinster and is second dam of champion Anees, by Unbridled, and of the Group 1 winner Heart of Darkness, by Glint of Gold. She is also the third dam of the Grade 1 winner Grand Couturier, by Grand Lodge.

Ivory Wand was a half-sister to four stakes winners, including Group 1 winner Gregorian, by Graustark, the brilliant Grade 2 winner Truly Bound, by In Reality, (grandam of the Japanese Oaks winner Silk Prima Donna, by Brian’s Time), and the stakes winner Arkadina, by Ribot, who also ran second in the classic Irish 1000 Guineas and Irish Oaks. Arkadina produced four more stakes winners, including Irish classic winner Dark Lomond, by Lomond. Another half-sister, Tash, by Never Bend, is dam of French highweight Mukaddamah, by Storm Bird, and third dam of the American champion 3-year-old filly Questing, by Hard Spun, and the multiple Grade 1 winner Switch, by Quiet American.

Elusive Quality’s third dam, Natashka, by Dedicate, was, at worst, the second best American 3-year-old filly of 1966, when Lady Pitt was voted champion, winning the Alabama Stakes (on the disqualification of Lady Pitt) and Monmouth Oaks. Broodmare of the year in 1981, Natashka was a granddaughter of the 1942 champion 3-year-old filly Vagrancy, by Sir Gallahad III from the fabulous, widespread family descending from Frizette.

Bred in Kentucky by Silver Springs Stud Farm and Mrs. Joseph Costelloe, Elusive Quality was purchased privately by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum as a yearling, but did not make his first start for trainer Bill Mott until May of his 3-year-old year when he won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on a sloppy Belmont track by 11 1/2 lengths. Beaten just a head in his second start, he then captured a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at his home track.

Receiving 11 pounds from the winner, Elusive Quality dueled throughout the Grade 2, seven-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes with brilliant Honour and Glory, but the far more experienced colt got his nose down on the wire, with Distorted Humor 1 1/2 lengths away in third. Elusive Quality ran poorly in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational, but closed out his first season at the races with consecutive six-furlong allowance wins at Churchill Downs.

Elusive Quality began his 4-year-old campaign in similar fashion, wiring a Gulfstream Park allowance field by five lengths and setting a seven-furlong track record of 1:20.17. He seemed to lose his way for the rest of the year, however, going winless in four more starts with only a third in the Grade 2 Tom Fool added to his stakes record.

Elusive Quality continued his in-and-out form at 5. Often, it seemed that if he could make an easy lead, he was a very tough horse to run down, but if not, he put up little fight. Two easy allowance wins were followed by a dismal eighth in the Metropolitan Handicap, in which Wild Rush and Bankers Gold ran him into the ground. Switched to the turf for the first time in the Grade 3 Jaipur Handicap, he did not make the lead, taking awhile to adjust to the new surface, but fought on gamely to win by a head.

In Elusive Quality’s second start on grass in the Grade 3 Poker Handicap, he reverted to his front-running ways, setting fractions of 22.72 seconds, 44.51, and 1:07.53 on his way to a six-length win in world-record time of 1:31.63 for a mile on grass. Elusive Quality made only two more starts, running fourth in the Woodbine Mile and sixth in the Kelso Handicap.

Not many Kentucky stallion farms are interested in Grade 3 winners who do not win stakes until they are 5, but Sheikh Mohammed retired Elusive Quality to his brother’s Gainsborough Stud in 1999. Elusive City (out of Star of Paris, by Dayjur), the best of his first crop, was rated the best French 2-year-old of 2002 after his victory in the Group 1 Prix Morny. Elusive City ranks as Elusive Quality’s best sire son to date. Shuttling between France and New Zealand, he has been a success on both sides of the Equator, siring the French classic winner Elusive Wave in the Northern Hemisphere, and the champion Vespa and Group 1 winners Famous Seamus and Xanadu in the Southern among his 33 stakes winners.

Smarty Jones (I’ll Get Along, by Smile) headlined Elusive Quality’s second crop, winning all but the last of his nine starts, when Birdstone ran him down in the Belmont Stakes. Smarty Jones, who is a much smaller and less impressive individual than his sire, can hardly be deemed an outright failure with 24 stakes winners, including the Grade 1 winner Centralinteligence, but he did not met Kentucky breeders’ expectations and was transferred to Pennsylvania last year.

Raven’s Pass (Ascutney, by Lord At War), from Elusive Quality’s sixth crop, raced mostly in England, where he won the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes before capping his career with victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on synthetic at Santa Anita. Raven’s Pass also has sired some good horses in Europe without doing enough to become a star sire.

Elusive Quality has also done well in Australia, siring the champion Sepoy (Watchful, by Danehill), who is now at stud at Darley in Australia. In 2009 and 2010, Elusive Quality shuttled to Brazil, where he has been a tremendous success, siring the 2013 champion 2-year-old filly Ana Luisa (New Regina, by Royal Academy). And last week, Bonaparte (Princesa Carina, by Know Heights) and Birkin Bag (Princesa Rafaela, by Woodman), a colt and filly from his second Brazilian crop, swept the Derby and Oaks equivalents at Cidade Jardim in Sao Paulo.

Elusive Quality’s second best American son is Quality Road (Kobla, by Strawberry Road), a horse with a somewhat similar racing profile to his sire. Quality Road, a tall, correct, more refined horse than his sire, scored easy, front-running victories in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, Donn Handicap, Metropolitan Handicap, and Woodward Stakes but is equally famous for getting so upset at the start of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic that he had to be withdrawn. Quality Road twice set 1 1/8-mile track records at Gulfstream Park and set a record for 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga.

Quality Road was retired to Lane’s End in 2011, and his first crop got off to a great start this year when Kentucky-bred Hootenanny emerged as one of the stars of the Royal Ascot meeting with a victory in the Windsor Castle Stakes. Second in the Prix Morny at Deauville, Hootenanny returned to the U.S. and scored a brilliant victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Quality Road also is the sire of the undefeated, highly promising Blofeld, winner of both the Grade 2 Futurity and Nashua Stakes and highly ranked on many pundits’ lists of classic prospects for 2015.

Elusive Quality’s beautifully bred son Evasive (out of the Storm Cat mare Canda, a granddaughter of the great Miesque) won the Group 3 Horris Hill Stakes at 2 in England but failed to train on. He was given a chance at stud in France, where he has sired two stakes winners from his first crop of 2-year-olds this year.

The stud achievements of Quality Road and Evasive, however lofty they may eventually prove to be, have come too late in Elusive Quality’s career as a stallion to have much effect on his popularity at yearling sales. The son of Gone West will be 22 next year, and he no longer boards the shuttle to the Southern Hemisphere.

He has earned a rest in his autumn years.