02/07/2014 5:10PM

Sparkman: Sons of Unbridled's Song 'Fashionably' late to party

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Benoit & Associates
Fashion Plate is the first winner for her sire Old Fashioned, by Unbridled's Song.

As the stud career of the late, great Storm Cat began to wind down in the early 2000s, the Kentucky breeding industry needed a successor as the designated young sire of sires. The obvious choice seemed to be Unbridled’s Song, who had begun his stud career brilliantly, with Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine, Grade 1 winner Songandaprayer, and multiple Grade 2 winner Even the Score in his first crop and Grade 1 winner Buddha in his second.

As recently as the middle of last year, however, the investment the breeding industry made in sons of Unbridled’s Song looked like an expensive wager gone very wrong, since Even the Score, the sire of Dullahan and Take the Points, was his only son to have sired a Grade 1 winner. That lackluster record began to improve dramatically in the last half of the year, as Unbridled’s Song’s sons First Defence, Dunkirk, and Rockport Harbor all added Grade 1 winners to their stud records.

After last Saturday’s Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita, another name can be added to that list, a name that could turn out to be the most promising of all. Las Virgenes winner Fashion Plate is the first Grade 1 winner by Unbridled’s Song’s son Old Fashioned, but if other promising runners in his first crop are any indication of his potential as a stallion, she will not be his last.

Bred in Kentucky by Rod and Lorraine Rodriguez, Old Fashioned was one of an impressive series of high-class offspring of Unbridled’s Song selected for Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms by agent Tom McGreevey. At the time McGreevey paid $800,000 for Old Fashioned at the 2007 Keene-land September yearling sale, Fox Hill already had raced Grade 2 winner Rockport Harbor, and Fox Hill’s future graded stakes winners Eight Belles and Honest Man, both by Unbridled’s Song, were only a few months away from their maiden victories.

McGreevey and Porter also purchased eventual Grade 3 winner Winslow Homer, yet another Unbridled’s Song progeny, the following year.

Old Fashioned may well have been the most talented of those five Fox Hill runners, although like many Unbridled’s Songs, he did not last very long. He made his debut for trainer Larry Jones at Delaware Park in October 2008 and just got up at the wire for a nose victory at six furlongs.

A month later, he was much fitter and much better suited for a longer distance, drawing off effortlessly after leading all the way to win a one-mile allowance race by 15 1/2 lengths at the same track. Old Fashioned treated tougher competition with similar disdain in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct a month later, again leading throughout to win geared down by 7 1/4 lengths.

That was about as visually impressive a performance as any 2-year-old of 2008 managed, and he ranked fifth on the Experimental Free Handicap at 121 pounds, five below champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman, another son of Unbridled’s Song.

Old Fashioned began his second season in training in similar fashion at Oaklawn Park, rating just off the pace in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes before drawing away for a 3 1/4-length win. Favored at 2-5 in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes a month later, the gray colt readily took the lead on the final turn but had no answer when Win Willy charged past in the final yards to win by 2 1/4 lengths, with Old Fashioned eight lengths ahead of the rest.

Old Fashioned had pulled hard behind fast early fractions on an off track in the Rebel, but he had no visible excuse in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby. Allowed to set his own pace under a firm hold, he fought back gamely when challenged by Papa Clem at the top of the stretch but finished second, a half-length behind. Days later, it was announced that Old Fashioned had suffered a non-displaced slab fracture of his right knee. He was retired to Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., but did not serve any mares that year.

As a son of Unbridled’s Song out of the Grade 3-winning Meadowlake mare Collect Call, from the family of successful sire French Deputy, Old Fashioned had plenty of pedigree for a Kentucky stallion. In conformation, he is a very well-made horse – big but not as big as many Unbridled’s Songs, and perhaps a bit more short-coupled and compact.

By the time of his retirement, Old Fashioned’s race record was seen as all too typical of the Unbridled’s Songs – brilliant but brief. As successful as Unbridled’s Song had become, his progeny average only 9.3 starts per foal, even lower than the disturbingly low national average. That statistic, plus the failures of some of Unbridled’s Song’s previous sons at stud, meant that there was not a lot of industry buzz when Old Fashioned’s first progeny came to the races last year.

His daughter Sweet Whiskey (out of Baby Betty, by El Corredor) showed considerable promise at 2, however, with a good second in the Grade 2 Matron Stakes, and his son Hi Fashioned (Zamsweet, by Zamindar) annexed the Barretts Juvenile Stakes to become Old Fashioned’s first stakes winner.

Since the calendar year turned, the Old Fashioneds have started to improve. Sweet Whiskey scored in the Grade 3 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and Fashion Plate followed up on her impressive maiden win with her victory in the Las Virgenes.

Fashion Plate is the sixth foal and the second stakes winner out of the stakes-placed Australian-bred mare Miss Puzzle, by Citidancer (the Irish-bred Citidancer, by Lomond, not the American-bred Citidancer, by Dixieland Band). Bred in Kentucky on a foal share between William T. Nicholls’s Springland Farm and Fox Hill, Fashion Plate was listed as sold for $75,000 on her first trip through the auction ring as a weanling at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. At the Keeneland September yearling sale 10 months later, however, agent Nick de Meric was able to buy her for only $35,000.

De Meric’s judgment proved prescient. After she zipped a furlong in 9.80 seconds at the under-tack show for the 2013 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. spring sale of 2-year-olds in training, agent Simon Callaghan paid $340,000 for the big, dark bay or brown filly on behalf of Arnold Zetcher and Michael Tabor.

She showed little in her first start at Del Mar last summer but ran much better when third at Hollywood Park’s final meeting in December four months later. Fashion Plate continued her improvement with a 6 1/2-length win on Dec. 29 at Santa Anita and showed that was no fluke with her game victory over Grade 1 winner Streaming and stakes winner Arethusa in the Las Virgenes.

Fashion Plate’s dam, Miss Puzzle, placed in stakes at 3 in New Zealand and won one of six starts in the United States. Her fourth foal, the Candy Ride gelding Mr. Candy Bar, captured the 2011 Robert Dupret Derby at Santa Rosa.

Most of the names in Miss Puzzle’s pedigree will be unfamiliar to American readers. Her sire, Citidancer, was a well-bred horse by Seattle Slew’s English 2000 Guineas-winning half-brother Lomond out of English 1000 Guineas winner Mrs. McArdy, by Tribal Chief. A two-time Group 3 winner in Ireland and second in the Group 1 Phoenix Champion Stakes, Citidancer sired 16 stakes winners in the Antipodes but really could not be called a success.

Oregon, the sire of Fashion Plate’s Group 3-placed second dam, Miss Tree, also was beautifully bred, by Halo out of Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Three Troikas, and sired 20 stakes winners in Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore after placing in the Grade 3 Nashua in his brief racing career. Truly Vain, the next sire along the bottom line, was a top-class Australian sprinter but made little lasting impression as a sire.

New Zealand Horse of the Year Tit for Taat, by Faltaat, is a son of Fashion Plate’s third dam, but there is little else of interest in the first six generations along Fashion Plate’s female line. Given her origins, it is no surprise that her pedigree is an outcross, with 6x6 duplications of Nasrullah, Nothirdchance, and Native Dancer her closest inbreeding.

The declining reputation of Unbridled’s Song as a sire of sires and the long hiatus between his racing career and his first season at stud did Old Fashioned no favors as a stallion. In an era where popular young sires regularly father three-figure foal crops, Old Fashioned has “only” 81 foals in his first crop, 76 in his second, and, to date, 51 in his third.

With two high-class daughters in his first crop, however, he, along with Dunkirk and eventually horses like Will Take Charge, might finally validate Unbridled’s Song’s reputation as a sire of sires.