11/26/2014 1:18PM

Sparkman: Stallion a 'Giant' of the breed

Courtesy of Ashford Stud
Giant's Causeway is based at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky.

For more than 40 years, the various Coolmore partnerships headed by John Magnier have consistently tried to purchase what they consider to be the best horse at whatever auction they attend. Coolmore’s current position of dominance in the international bloodstock market is an obvious measure of its professionalism and expertise in that sphere, but its many expensive purchases have seldom been more productive than the one they made at the 1996 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, where they bought the beautiful multiple Grade 2 winner Mariah’s Storm, by Rahy, in foal to Storm Cat, for a sale-topping $2.6 million.

Coolmore named the resulting foal Giant’s Causeway, after a spectacular ancient volcanic remnant of basaltic columns in Northern Ireland, and he developed into the best son of the great sire Storm Cat, both on the racetrack and at stud. Winner 9 of 13 starts, including six Group 1 races, Giant’s Causeway has led the American general sire list three times. His most recent star, Take Charge Brandi, followed up her shocking Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies score with a victory in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Princess Stakes Nov. 22, and may well give him his first official American champion this season.

Mariah’s Storm was a high-class racemare, just below championship caliber, from one of the best families in the American Stud Book, and Giant’s Causeway is not the only celebrity she has produced for Coolmore. By the brilliant miler and top sire Rahy, Mariah’s Storm won six graded stakes and is a half-sister to French Group 2 winner Panoramic, by Rainbow Quest, and Japanese stakes winner Air Zion, by Groom Dancer. Her dam, Immense, by Roberto, was a Grade 3-winning half-sister to champion 2-year-old filly Dearly Precious, by Dr. Fager, from the family of foundation mare Itsabet, by Heliopolis.

Mariah’s Storm produced seven foals by Storm Cat, and six of them were stakes horses. You’resothrilling won the Group 2 Cherry Hinton Stakes in England and the Group 3 Swordlestown Stud Sprint Stakes in Ireland, and is the dam of Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas winner Marvellous and 2014 Cartier champion European 2-year-old colt Gleneagles, both by Galileo.

Freud, Roar of the Tiger, Tumblebrutus, and Tiger Dance, all full brothers to Giant’s Causeway, each placed in stakes. Freud has been the best sire in New York for most of the last decade and has shuttled successfully to Argentina, while Tumblebrutus has been a good sire in Chile. Roar of the Tiger died young but sired a graded winner in Canada, and Tiger Dance has sired a group stakes winner in South Africa. One of Mariah’s Storm’s daughters by Galileo, Hanky Panky, also placed in a Group 3 in Ireland, and the old mare produced her 13th foal, another Galileo filly, this year.

Trained at Ballydoyle by Aidan O’Brien, Giant’s Causeway won all three of his starts at 2 in 1999, culminating with an easy victory in the Group 1 Prix de la Salamandre. He also won his first start at 3, but finished second in both the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Irish 2000 Guineas at The Curragh. His 3 1/2-length runner-up finish to King’s Best at Newmarket probably reflected how good he was at the time, but he was clearly below his best on very soft ground at The Curragh when beaten a neck by the second-rate Bachir.

Giant’s Causeway then strung together a series of five consecutive Group 1 wins, all characterized by a stirring display of courage and determination when challenged in the final furlongs. In the St. James’s Palace Stakes, Valentino stuck his head in front 100 yards out, but Giant’s Causeway rallied to win by a head. In the Eclipse Stakes, eventual Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Kalanisi headed Giant’s Causeway a furlong out, but again the Storm Cat colt responded to edge that foe at the wire.

Victory over Dansili in the Sussex Stakes was relatively easy, with Giant’s Causeway staying on to win by three-quarters of a length, but in the Juddmonte International, Kalanisi again spurted past Giant’s Causeway a furlong out, only to once again lose by a head after Giant’s Causeway fought back. The Irish Champion Stakes was similar, but Greek Dance, who headed Giant’s Causeway in the straight, was not as good as Kalanisi, and Giant’s Causeway won by a comparatively casual half-length.

Giant’s Causeway’s sequence of battling victories earned him the sobriquet “the iron horse,” but his winning sequence came to an end in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes due to a clever ride by Kevin Darley on Observatory. Instead of challenging next to Giant’s Causeway, Darley brought Observatory wide down the center of the course, and by the time Giant’s Causeway saw him it was too late to engage his superlative battling qualities.

Giant’s Causeway’s final start, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, sealed his reputation and made him a viable stud prospect in the U.S., although he did not win. Always well placed just behind and outside of the pacesetting Tiznow and Albert the Great, he loomed menacingly at the top of the stretch, but jockey Michael Kinane dropped his whip and Giant’s Causeway could never quite get by Tiznow, losing by a neck.

Giant’s Causeway stood his first season at Coolmore in Ireland, but was then transferred the next season to Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky., where he has stood ever since. His sole Irish crop included four Group 1 or Grade 1 winners, headed by his best son to date, Shamardal (out of Helsinki, by Machiavellian). Shamardal was awarded champion 2-year-old honors in Europe after he posted an undefeated record at 2 and won the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes. He then won the French 2000 Guineas, the French Derby, and the St. James’s Palace Stakes at 3 before being injured in his final start, his only career defeat.

Shamardal has developed into one of the best sires in Europe with 70 stakes winners from his first 891 foals (8 percent), and currently stands third on the 2014 English sire list. He sired a horse with a somewhat similar record to his own in his first crop in Lope de Vega (Lady Vettori, by Vettori), who emulated his sire with front-running victories in the 2010 French 2000 Guineas and French Derby. Lope de Vega has extended the Giant’s Causeway sire line to a third generation with a sensational first crop of 2-year-olds this year, headed by Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes winner Belardo, and three other group stakes winners.

Giant’s Causeway’s first American-conceived crop also included a top-class 2-year-old colt in First Samurai (Freddie Frisson, by Dixieland Band), who won the Grade 1 Hopeful and Champagne but fell short of a juvenile championship when third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to winner Stevie Wonderboy. First Samurai is Giant’s Causeway’s best son currently at stud in America, with 22 stakes winners from 281 foals age 3 and up (7.8 percent), including Grade 1 winners Justin Phillip, Executiveprivilege, and Lea.

Coolmore, of course, keeps its stallions as busy as they possibly can, and Take Charge Brandi is one of 154 stakes winners from 1,964 foals age 3 and up (8 percent) sired by Giant’s Causeway. That number includes 29 Grade 1 or Group 1 winners, including Chilean champion Giant’s Steps (Hamsaat Hi Haat, by Hennessy); 1000 Guineas winner Ghanaati (Sarayir, by Mr. Prospector); 2000 Guineas winner Footstepsinthesand (Glatisant, by Rainbow Quest), another good sire son; and current Breeders’ Futurity winner Carpe Diem (Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song).

Take Charge Brandi reached Grade 1 level with her stunning, front-running victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at 61-1 odds. She is the second foal out of Charming, by Seeking the Gold, who won the first of her three starts, and finished second to Grade 1 winner Music Note in her second.

Charming clearly had above-average ability, and she is a half-sister to 2013 champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge, by Unbridled’s Song, and Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, by A.P. Indy. Their dam, Kentucky’s 2013 Broodmare of the Year, Take Charge Lady, by Dehere, was also a Grade 1 winner, capturing the Spinster Stakes twice and the Ashland at her favorite track, Keeneland. Take Charge Lady is a half-sister to stakes winners Commendation, by Capote, and Eventail, by Lear Fan; the latter is the dam of another graded stakes winner by Giant’s Causeway, Straight Story.

Take Charge Lady is obviously busily founding her own matriarchy, but she is a member of a family that has labored mostly at Grade 2 or 3 level, or the equivalent before the advent of the pattern system, rather than at Grade 1 level before Take Charge Lady came along. A $435,000 yearling purchase at the 2013 Keeneland September sale by Will Take Charge’s owner, Willis Horton, Take Charge Brandi is inbred 4x5 to both Secretariat and Blushing Groom, and dam Charming is inbred 2x5 to Mr. Prospector.

Giant’s Causeway currently stands second on the American general sire list for 2014, but since his $11.6 million total is almost $4 million behind leader Tapit, it will make no difference on that scale whether Take Charge Brandi keeps her possible engagement in the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes. Victory at Los Alamitos, however, could give a long-awaited first American champion to a giant of the breed.