12/14/2012 4:07PM

Spring At Last is a surprising third-generation success

Bob Coglianese
Spring At Last won the Donn Handicap in 2008, then finished eighth in that year’s Carter Handicap and was retired to stud shortly thereafter.

The 1970s were a truly weird decade. The Beatles broke up, the Rolling Stones did not. A president resigned. Polyester bell-bottoms and platform shoes anyone? Viceregal, the first champion son of Northern Dancer, failed at stud, but his lightly raced full brother, Vice Regent, succeeded far beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

The sire line founded by Vice Regent’s best son, Deputy Minister, foaled right at the end of that weird decade, continued its successful transition to a third generation this year with the rebound success of his best grandson, Ghostzapper, and the surprise debut of leading North American-based freshman sire Spring At Last.

Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Spring At Last was the fourth foal out of Winter’s Gone, a Dynaformer mare WinStar’s Kenny Troutt and Bill Casner purchased for $410,000 in foal to Coronado’s Quest at the 2000 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale. The attraction to Winter’s Gone was clearly pedigree, since she never got any closer than fourth in six starts at 2 and 3 in the late 1990s.

By the great sire Dynaformer, Winter’s Gone is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner and $2.3 million earner Bien Bien, by Manila, multiple graded winner Dr. Schwartzman, by Fluorescent Light, and stakes winner Fantasy Lover, by Raja Baba. Fantasy Lover’s daughters have since produced Grade 2 winner Compari, by Redattor (a Brazilian-bred), and stakes winner Golden Baby, by Gold Token.

Winter’s Gone’s dam, Stark Winter, by Graustark, also was a stakes winner and half-sister to stakes winner Silver in Flight, by Silver Series, from the immediate family of champion Forward Gal, by Native Charger. Her family traced through the trans-Atlantic stud maintained by Joseph E. Widener between the two world wars to her 10th dam, Fairy Gold, by Bend Or, dam of Fair Play and Friar Rock.

Winter’s Gone is also inbred 4x3 to both Ribot and Flower Bowl through the great full brothers Graustark and His Majesty, an inbreeding pattern that has produced many influential stallions throughout the history of the breed.

Winter’s Gone’s first two foals won races, but her third, Sharp Lisa, by Dixieland Band, sold for $50,000 to Mays Farm at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale and developed into a versatile, top-class, if not particularly consistent, filly. Second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes at 2, she won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes on dirt at 3 and the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap at 4.

After foaling Spring At Last in 2003, Winter’s Gone produced Grade 2 winner Sharp Susan, by Touch Gold, dam of promising 2012 2-year-old Indiano Jones, by A.P. Indy.

Spring At Last was withdrawn from the 2004 Keeneland September sale and did not make his racecourse debut until July of his 3-year-old year, when he easily captured a six-furlong maiden race at Belmont. After finishing third in a couple of allowance races, Spring At Last ran fourth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths by Silent Roar, in the Paterson Handicap at Meadowlands, and he then ran a mile in 1:33.59 to win an Aqueduct allowance race by 7 1/2 lengths.

Three days later, Spring At Last was the star of a reduction of WinStar’s racing stable at the 2006 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, where owner J. Paul Reddam signed the ticket at $675,000.

Spring At Last paid the first dividend on the purchase price with a second to Latent Heat in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, but then ran sixth in the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders’ Cup Stakes before finishing second again in the Strub Stakes, another Grade 2. Fifth behind Lava Man in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, he repaid most of Reddam’s investment with a victory in the $1 million Godolphin Mile, a Grade 2 at Nad al Sheba, beating an international field by 2 3/4 lengths.

Spring At Last did not race again until the following December, when he won an optional claiming race at Santa Anita, but he followed up just more than a month later by beating A. P. Arrow in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap. Spring At Last raced only once more, finishing eighth to Bustin Stones in the 2008 Carter Handicap, another Grade 1 race, and was retired shortly thereafter to stand at his birthplace for the 2009 breeding season.

Although Spring At Last’s pedigree and race record were plenty good enough to merit a chance in Kentucky, he was just the type of horse who could quickly get lost in the crowd if his progeny did not attain immediate success on the racetrack. His sire, Silver Deputy, was the first son of two-time leading sire Deputy Minister to make a name for himself at stud, siring 88 stakes winners from 1,072 foals (8 percent stakes winners from foals), including seven champions, headed by Racing Hall of Fame member Silverbulletday.

Silver Deputy’s previous best son at stud, Posse, however, had achieved only middling success with his first few crops and would move on to New York. Given the performance of Spring At Last’s first crop as 2-year-olds this year, his position in Kentucky should be secure for some time.

Spring Venture got the ball rolling for her sire with victories in the Grade 2 Natalma and Grade 3 Mazarine Stakes at Woodbine. Then her stablemate Spring in the Air, who had finished a closing second in the Natalma, shipped south to win the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland. The following month, Seaneen Girl, second to Spring Venture in the Mazarine, captured the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes.

Spring At Last’s first crop of 72 foals includes stakes winner A Lover’s Question, stakes-placed Just Gone, and seven other winners from 30 starters, and it seems certain that there will be more good winners to come. As is the case with many young Kentucky stallions in this highly competitive age, though, his next three crops will be smaller, and headlines might be harder to come by.

That pattern of first-crop feast followed by second-, third-, and fourth-crop famine has become a pernicious cycle in the careers of many young stallions since stallion book size exploded some 20 years ago. By the time breeders discover that a previously lightly regarded horse is in fact a good sire, they have wasted the careers of hundreds of mares on over-hyped sires of far less merit.

Spring Venture and Spring in the Air are both inbred 4x4 to Mr. Prospector, a feature they share with thousands of other less-accomplished racehorses. More interestingly, Seaneen Girl’s pedigree introduces two more crosses of Graustark through her second dam, Win Right Now, by Waquoit, who is inbred to Darby Dan’s great stallion 4x2.

Breeders are likely to try to re-create similar patterns in future offspring of Spring At Last, and no doubt some of them will be successful, but if he is as good as this first crop makes him look, other patterns of success will emerge as well. The male line Vice Regent began in the silly 1970s has endured into the 21st century.