01/10/2014 4:27PM

Sparkman: Success better late than never for Henny Hughes

Barbara D. Livingston
Beholder could earn a second consecutive divisional Eclipse Award representing sire Henny Hughes.

At most horse sales, the candidates for top-priced horse can be counted on one hand, and the final results rarely vary from the presale script. At the 2005 Barretts March sale of select 2-year-olds in training, however, only one of the two “obvious” horses performed as expected in the sales ring.

Agent Murray Smith’s Songandaprayer colt, who had sprinted a quarter-mile in a sale-fastest 20.6 seconds, duly topped the sale on a $1.9 million bid from Robert and Beverly Lewis, but Jerry Bailey Sales Agency’s Hennessy colt, who had impressed with a 9.9-second one-furlong breeze, tied for the second-fastest of the sale, failed to find a buyer at a hammer price of only $370,000.

Both colts turned out to be just as good as they looked on Pomona’s bullring track. The sale-topper, named What a Song, won all three of his starts that summer, including the Grade 2 Best Pal and Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship, but had to be euthanized after fracturing sesamoids in a routine gallop a few days later.

The Hennessy colt proved just as – if not more – talented as What a Song. Named Henny Hughes, he, too, won his first three starts that summer, including the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, and proved much more durable, racing through the end of his 3-year-old season to compile a record of six wins and three seconds in 10 starts.

Retired to Darley Stud at 4, the early results from his stud career were disappointing, but in the past two years, he has enjoyed a major revival, especially through the exploits of his champion daughter Beholder.

Bred in Kentucky by Rob Whiteley’s Liberation Farm, Tom Evans’s and Pam Clark’s Trackside Farm, and CHO LLC, Henny Hughes was purchased by Bailey’s and Lance Robinson’s Gulf Coast Farms for $180,000 at the 2004 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale. That price is a measure of just how good-looking he was, since Henny Hughes was the ninth foal out of the stakes-placed Meadow Flyer, by Meadowlake, who had yet to produce a black-type horse.

Her dam, Shortley, by Hagley, was a talented sprinter on the Mid-Atlantic circuit, winning nine of 14 starts, including the Grade 3 First Flight Handicap, from a family that had spent several generations producing decent but not outstanding horses on that same circuit, the best of whom was Grade 3 winner Gin Talking, by Allen’s Prospect.

Henny Hughes was a racehorse of an entirely different order of magnitude. He won his first start for Gulf Coast Farms and Martin L. Cherry at Monmouth Park on June 17, 2005, racing five furlongs in 59.17 seconds to win by six lengths. That made him the 7-10 favorite for Belmont’s Tremont Stakes on Independence Day, and he won like an odds-on favorite should, drawing off by 15 lengths in a brilliant 1:03.67 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

Very few 2-year-olds run that fast under any conditions, and, not surprisingly, by the time he reappeared in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special on July 28, he was running in the maroon and white colors of Darley Stable, who purchased him privately after the Tremont. Again flashing his superior speed, Henny Hughes set fractions of 22.67, 45.93, and 57.63 seconds on his way to a 3 3/4-length win in 1:10.38 for six furlongs.

Henny Hughes had lost about half of his lead in the final furlong of the Special, so it seemed prudent to try to husband his energy when he met two other speedballs, Too Much Bling and First Samurai, in the Grade 1 Hopeful. First Samurai and Henny Hughes galloped along in second and third as Too Much Bling set torrid fractions of 22.22 and 44.81 seconds, but First Samurai took over in the stretch and beat Henny Hughes by 4 1/4 lengths.

Against the same rivals in the Grade 1 Champagne, Henny Hughes got first run on First Samurai, but it made no difference, as his rival outfinished him by 2 3/4 lengths, with Henny Hughes 9 3/4 lengths ahead of the rest. Henny Hughes finally beat First Samurai in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but Stevie Wonderboy upset them both, galloping past the dueling rivals in the final furlong for a 1 1/4-length victory.

Henny Hughes did not race again until the following July and never ran beyond seven furlongs again. Transferred from Patrick Biancone to Kiaran McLaughlin and from Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s Darley Stable to his son Sheikh Rashid’s Zabeel Racing, he won the Grade 3 Jersey Shore, the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, and the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes in succession and came to the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Sprint as the 8-5 favorite to cap an unbeaten season and clinch an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.

As he had done several times previously, though, Henny Hughes stumbled at the start, was bumped around repeatedly in the first furlong, and never got into the race, finishing last, beaten 16 1/2 lengths.

Retired to Darley at an initial fee of $40,000, Henny Hughes was widely tipped by conformation judges as something of a sleeper stallion compared with his highly touted barn mate Bernardini, but his first crop of 93 named Northern Hemisphere foals was largely disappointing on the racetrack. Only four of them managed to win stakes, and probably the best of them was Henny Hound (out of Beautiful Moment, by Crusader Sword), the winner of a local Grade 3 race in Japan.

Frankly, Henny Hughes’s percentages have not improved much since then, but the quality of his best runners has enjoyed a distinct uptick over the past two racing seasons. In 2012, his daughter Beholder (Leslie’s Lady, by Tricky Creek) upset the favored Executiveprivilege to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, earning a 2-year-old filly championship in the process.

Beholder proved that that top-level victory was no fluke in 2013, winning five of her seven starts, culminating with an authoritative victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff that may well earn her a second Eclipse Award.

On the other side of the Pacific, his son Asia Express (Running Bobcats, by Running Stag) was named Japan’s best 2-year-old male of 2013 after completing an unbeaten season with a victory in the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, Japan’s most prestigious juvenile event. Henny Hughes has done very well with only a few Japanese runners, but by contrast, his annual forays to Australia have produced only one stakes winner.

While Beholder and Asia Express are Henny Hughes’s only championship-level performers, the victory of his son Germaniac (Judy Soda, by Personal Flag) in the Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes at Laurel on Jan. 4 improved Henny Hughes’s record to 24 stakes winners from 551 foals ages 3 and up. That 4.4 percent ratio of stakes winners to foals is as good as several of his now much more highly regarded peers, but it was not good enough for him to maintain his place at Darley.

Beholder’s success, though, along with five other stakes-winning 2-year-olds in 2012, earned him a return to Kentucky at Walmac Farm for 2013, but he will stand at Yushun Stallion Station in Japan this year.

It is easy to see why many conformation experts touted Henny Hughes, both as a juvenile sales prospect and a first-year stallion. Correct and powerfully made, he has the extraordinarily long and muscular hip inherited from his paternal grandsire, Storm Cat, through his sire, Hennessy.
Vindication for those positive predictions may have been late in coming, but at least Henny Hughes has proven himself capable of occasionally siring a runner as talented as himself.