04/11/2013 12:43PM

Unbridled’s Song is on the rise as a sire of sires

Barbara D. Livingston
Unbridled’s Song hasn’t stood out as a sire of sires, but that could change if First Defence continues to find success.

The career trajectory of Unbridled’s Song is in many ways more prototypical of the modern commercial Thoroughbred than that of A.P. Indy, the horse regarded as the ideal modern Thoroughbred.

In the five years between 1990, when A.P. Indy sold for a year-topping price of $2.9 million, and 1995, when Unbridled’s Song became the first seven-figure juvenile at the Barretts March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training, sales of juveniles evolved from a regional sideshow into a vital part of a recovering Thoroughbred marketplace.

Unbridled’s Song’s progression from a $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling to a $1.4 million Barretts 2-year-old (though turned back by the buyer after the sale) to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to highly successful stallion epitomizes virtually every facet of the contemporary Thoroughbred industry in ways that even the career of A.P. Indy does not.

Unbridled’s Song’s transition from successful sire to successful sire of sires, however, has not gone as smoothly as A.P. Indy’s. Despite some early success for his first-crop son Songandaprayer, the list of Grade 1 and Group 1 winners sired by sons of Unbridled’s Song is not extensive. His son Even the Score has sired Grade 1 winners Dullahan and Take the Points, and...that’s it.

That brief list may well be on the verge of expansion if Unbridled’s Song’s granddaughter Close Hatches is as good as she looked in winning the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes on April 6. Close Hatches is the second group or graded winner from the first crop of First Defence, who is perhaps the best-bred Grade 1-winning colt by Unbridled’s Song at stud.

Bred in Lexington, Ky., by Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, First Defence is the third foal out of the Seattle Slew mare Honest Lady, one of four Grade 1 winners out of Grade 1 winner Toussaud, by El Gran Senor, from the great family tracing to foundation mare Bravura, by Niccolo Dell’Arca. Honest Lady won six of 15 starts, including the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap, and produced French stakes winner Phantom Rose (by Danzig) and English stakes winner Honest Quality (by Elusive Quality).

Since Honest Lady’s best half-sibling, 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, was a son of Unbridled, breeding Honest Lady to Unbridled’s best sire son, Unbridled’s Song, was an obvious gambit.

First Defence finished seventh in his first start as a 2-year-old at Saratoga on July 29, 2006 but led all the way in his second attempt Oct. 13 at Belmont, laying down fractions of 22.47 seconds and 45.80 on his way to an 8 1/4-length maiden win in 1:10.55. After that, his second-place finish to subsequent multiple Grade 2 winner Zanjero in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Churchill was a bit disappointing.

First Defence followed that pattern of huge performances followed by somewhat disappointing ones throughout his career. He began his second season in training with easy victories in an allowance race at Belmont and the Long Branch Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Monmouth but could not outrun the high-class Hard Spun in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga, though he ran with great credit when beaten 1 1/2 lengths by one of the best 3-year-olds in the country.

In his final start at 3, First Defence never got in a blow, finishing well back in seventh in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes.

First Defence won his first start at 4 but then ran like a horse who did not quite stay a mile, fading to fifth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap. Victory over yielding turf in the Grade 3 Jaipur Stakes at six furlongs was followed by defeat in the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at six furlongs on dirt.

Seven furlongs was the perfect distance for First Defence, and he finally got his Grade 1 victory in the Forego Handicap at Saratoga, leading most of the way to win easily in 1:21.55. Six furlongs, though, was a bit on the short side against top competition, and he made no show in either the Vosburgh or the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in his final two career starts.

First Defence was retired to stand at Juddmonte for a fee of $20,000 in 2009. His six wins in 14 starts demonstrated that he was sounder than the average offspring of Unbridled’s Song, which has been the chief knock against him. Despite his 100 stakes winners (7.3 percent of foals ages 3 and up), 44 graded winners, 15 Grade 1 winners, three Breeders’ Cup winners, and two champions, his 1,361 foals ages 3 and up average only 9.4 career starts.

Too many of his talented, high-profile offspring, including Midshipman, Eight Belles, Old Fashioned, Rockport Harbor, Zensational, Buddha, and Songandaprayer, burned brightly but all too briefly.

First Defence physically resembles his broodmare sire, Seattle Slew, much more than he does Unbridled’s Song, and, though it is too early to draw conclusions, his above-average soundness for a son of his sire may well be expressed in his offspring. His son Dundonnell (out of Family, by Danzig) showed flashes of talent at 2 last year in England. Dundonnell won two of five starts, including the Group 3 Acomb Stakes, and finished a good fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Close Hatches’s Gazelle victory was her third in three starts this year, and First Defence is also the sire of Smokinindaboysroom, who ran second in the Turfway Prevue Stakes at 2 last year.

Close Hatches is the first foal out of the Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado, a very well-bred filly who won only one minor race in the French provinces from six starts. Rising Tornado was one of five winners out of the stakes-placed Silver Star, a full-sister by Zafonic to European champion 2-year-old Xaar and a half-sister to French Group 3 winners Masterclass (by The Minstrel) and Diese (by Diesis) and to stakes winner Ile de Jinsky (by Ile de Bourbon).

Diese has produced Grade 1 winner Senure and two other stakes winners. Didicoy (by Danzig), a stakes-placed half-sister to Silver Star, is the dam of Grade 2 winner Didina (by Nashwan), the granddam of Group 1 winner Cityscape (by Selkirk) and Group 2 winner Bated Breath (by Dansili).

Juddmonte acquired Close Hatches’s third dam, Group 3 winner Monroe, privately from the Niarchos family in 1981. Monroe, by Sir Ivor, is a daughter of foundation mare Best in Show, who also is tail-female ancestress of classic winners, champions, highweights, or leading sires El Gran Senor, Rags to Riches, Peeping Fawn, Jazil, Spinning World, Pathfork, Try My Best, and Redoute’s Choice. Close Hatches is inbred 6x4 to Best in Show and 5x4x6 to Northern Dancer.

Like most of Juddmonte’s foals, Dundonnell is equally well bred, being the seventh foal – but the first winner – out of an unraced full-sister to the great sire and sire of sires Danehill, and to graded winners Eagle Eyed, Shibboleth, and Harpia, from the female line of Northern Dancer and Halo.

Not many young sires get an opportunity to cover mares with those kinds of pedigrees, but Rising Tornado and Family are far from the best mares Juddmonte could send to First Defence. In fact, as the previously dismal record of Family illustrates, he shows signs of markedly upgrading his mares.

That is a talent that few of Unbridled’s Song’s sons have shown to date. If First Defence’s offspring can maintain soundness through multiple seasons of racing as their sire did, Unbridled’s Song might have found a worthy son to pass on his male line.