01/16/2016 6:14PM

Triple Crown sire line in spotlight for 2016

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Empire Maker, the classic-winning grandsire of American Pharoah, returns to the U.S. for 2016 after standing for five years in Japan.

There is no denying the hype that surrounds a Triple Crown winner when he goes off to stud and the résumé boost his sire receives for adding his part to the feat. What’s more uncommon is a grandsire that stands to benefit from a Triple Crown win.

When the Ashford Stud breeding shed opens for business in February, American Pharoah will be only the fourth of the 12 Triple Crown winners to begin his stallion career while his sire and grandsire are still active themselves.

His sire, WinStar Farm resident Pioneerof the Nile, and grandsire, Empire Maker of Gainesway, will be among the Triple Crown winner’s stiffest competition for mares in his debut season, with all three coming from similar blood but offering enough differences to make each stand apart.

American Pharoah brings with him the excitement of his recent ontrack exploits and the intrigue of what his stud career might hold. Pioneerof the Nile, still early in his career, enters the breeding season more proven than ever, with winners or placers in Triple Crown races from both of his first two crops. Empire Maker brings with him a little of both, having just returned from a five-year stay in Japan after beginning his stud career at Juddmonte Farms, arguably seeing his most success in the U.S. after leaving the country.

“Anytime you breed mares and you’re catering to breeders, it’s different strokes for different folks,” said Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar Farm. “Some people like the older horse, some people would like the young, new horse off the track. For me, I like the fact that Pioneerof the Nile is the up-and-coming star, that he’s the one that’s been able to sire a Triple Crown winner.”

American Pharoah joins Affirmed, Omaha, and Gallant Fox among the Triple Crown winners with two generations of their sire line still at stud upon their debut.

Affirmed, his sire, Exclusive Native, and grandsire Raise a Native overlapped for four seasons at Spendthrift Farm, from Affirmed’s debut season at stud in 1980 to Exclusive Native’s death in 1983. Omaha began his stud career in 1937 beside his sire Gallant Fox and grandsire Sir Gallahad III at Claiborne Farm, later being relocated to stand in New York. The three remained active for 11 years, until 1948. Gallant Fox overlapped his sire and grandsire Teddy for six seasons, from 1931 to 1936. American Pharoah’s situation is unique in that he is the only one of the four Triple Crown winners in this group that did not debut at stud at the same farm as his sire or grandsire.

What ties these Triple Crown winners together is that they all came along early in their respective sires’ careers. Omaha hailed from the first crop of Gallant Fox, who himself was a member of Sir Gallahad III’s second crop. American Pharoah also came out of the second crop from his sire. Affirmed was the outlier of the bunch, coming out of the sixth crop by Exclusive Native.

That fact sits perfectly fine with Walden, who said the success of Pioneerof the Nile’s runners over their first two crops on the track sets up the still-young stallion well for his recent books of mares, with expectations high for even better mares going forward. However, he acknowledged that breeders now have more sources to tap into that bloodline than they did just last year.

“I think the interesting thing for the whole American Pharoah/Pioneerof the Nile/Empire Maker thing is that you have all three coming in and last year you just had Pioneerof the Nile,” Walden said. “It gave breeders a bit of a different option on which one they wanted to breed to that were thinking about breeding to the Unbridled line through Empire Maker.”

Skipping back a generation, Empire Maker is the youngest grandsire of a Triple Crown winner to still be active at stud, having recently turned 16. Raise a Native was 19 when Affirmed joined the Spendthrift roster, while Sir Gallahad III was 17 and Teddy was 18. Empire Maker enters his 13th season at stud, while the other three stallions in that elite group sired 18 crops or more over the course of their lifetimes.

One of the most obvious dividing factors among the three stallions is their price points. There is little to be offered from a historical context in terms of comparative public market pricing. Affirmed and his line, the most recent example, stood for private fees during the 1980 breeding season at Spendthrift.

American Pharoah will have the most expensive advertised fee of the group, standing for $200,000. The rate makes him the highest-priced first-year stallion in North America since Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, who stood for the same fee in 2006, and ties him with Claiborne Farm resident War Front for the second-highest fee in North America for the coming season.

Empire Maker, who stands at Gainesway in a partnership between the farm and Don Alberto Corp., will stand for $100,000 in his return to the U.S.

Michael Hernon, Gaines-way’s director of sales, was well aware of the ideal timing the partnership had in reintroducing the 16-year-old Empire Maker back into the U.S. market. He said the stallion has seen a healthy mix of interest from both domestic and international breeders, and is expected to breed about 135 mares in his return season.

“I think the success and emergence of American Pharoah and his success in winning the Triple Crown has put real focus on Empire Maker himself, and obviously his son Pioneerof the Nile,” Hernon said. “I think Empire Maker is held in high regard, he’s proven, and he was obviously a top runner. I think the expectation is high and he was very well-received at $100,000.”

Hernon said that breeders were keenly aware of Empire Maker’s blood ties to the Triple Crown winner, but most who sought out the stallion did so for his own merit, which includes siring 30 graded or group stakes winners from his first nine crops of racing age.

“I think it’s well known, but we’ve also been making people aware of his versatility to get top runners, both colts and fillies,” Hernon said, mentioning three-time champion Royal Delta as an example of the stallion’s ability to get top females. “Clearly, American Pharoah finished up his racing career in great style with the Breeders’ Cup win at Keeneland, so he keeps the focus on himself, and of course his sire and Empire Maker.”

Pioneerof the Nile sits in the middle, both in the sire line and by his 2016 stud fee. The 10-year-old will stand for $125,000 this year, and Walden said he had 125 mares in his book.

“The neat thing about it is Bob Baffert was quoted during that whole run saying that American Pharoah’s greatness comes from Pioneerof the Nile,” Walden said. “Empire Maker gives you a chance to get that Derby horse, but the bottom side [Star of Goshen], out of a Lord At War mare, she was a freak with true speed, and American Pharoah has that galloping speed, which he thinks comes from the side of Pioneerof the Nile’s pedigree. It’s just exciting to be a part of it.”

WinStar Farm has established itself as a believer in the Empire Maker sire line, also standing Grade 1 winner and dual classic-placed Bodemeister, whose first foals are 2-year-olds of 2016 and were among the best received progeny of first-crop yearlings during last year’s auction season.

“We feel like we’ve got the two best sons of Empire Maker at stud,” Walden said.