12/30/2013 3:18PM

Year in Review: Changes at the top of the stallion market

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Barbara Livingston
Kitten's Joy maintained a slim lead over Speightstown on the North American general sire list through Dec. 26.

The U.S. stallion market has experienced major shifts in the past five years.

Leading racetrack and commercial sire Storm Cat was pensioned in 2008, followed by fellow breed-shaping sire A.P. Indy in 2011. Influential sire El Prado died in the fall of 2009, perennial leader Pulpit passed in late 2012, and the bloodstock market lost standout commercial sire Unbridled’s Song this past July.

While stalwart sires such as Giant’s Causeway, Malibu Moon, Awesome Again, and Tiznow have continued their prominence in the new era, these changes in the upper echelon have created room for new sires to step into the void.

Kitten’s Joy, War Front, and Tapit all enjoyed breakout seasons in 2013, ranking first, fifth, and eighth on the general sire list through Dec. 26. Their accomplishments are remarkable considering their relative youth – Kitten’s Joy and Tapit are both 12, while War Front is 11. The average age of the other sires in the top 10 is 16.

“Over the last five or six years, as the market tightened up due to the economy, it affected the supply and demand,” said Bernie Sams, bloodstock manager at Claiborne Farm, which stands War Front. “There are probably not as many proven horses in central Kentucky to breed to as there have been in the past, and some younger horses are coming to the top, which is what needs to happen.”

The three stallions are all young representatives of major sire lines. Kitten’s Joy, who stands at Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Ramsey Farm, is by the late El Prado, while War Front is by leading sire Danzig, who died in 2006 at Claiborne. Gainesway’s Tapit is by the late Claiborne stallion Pulpit, a son of A.P. Indy.

Following a season in which the three young sires combined for 28 graded stakes winners and more than $30.1 million in progeny earnings through Dec. 26, they all see a corresponding leap in their stud fees for 2014. Kitten’s Joy’s fee doubles to $100,000, while War Front’s jumps from $80,000 to $150,000. Tapit, already standing for six figures, climbs from $125,000 to $150,000. The fees for War Front and Tapit – both of whom were among the leading commercial sires of the year – make them the highest in the United States.

The stallions have some similar attributes that have fueled their rise in the market. All show marked versatility in their progeny, a valuable asset in a racing landscape that now has three major surfaces. War Front’s top earner in 2013 was Declaration of War, who captured a pair of Group 1 events in Europe, the Queen Anne Stakes and the Juddmonte International. He then finished third, beaten a head, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, his first start on dirt.

War Front’s other stakes winners on turf this year included War Command, a Group 1-winning juvenile in Europe. He also was represented this season by Departing, a three-time graded stakes winner on dirt, while Lines of Battle captured the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby on synthetic.

“Versatility-wise, [War Front’s progeny] run long, they run short, they win as 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, as older horses,” Sams said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re sprinting or going two turns. The fact that [they have won on] dirt, turf, and synthetic is pretty remarkable and just shows you how good a sire he really is.”

Tapit, the sire of juvenile champions Stardom Bound and Hansen, was represented by his 10th career U.S. Grade 1 winner this season when Joyful Victory captured the Santa Margarita. A sire of turf and synthetic standout runners in recent years, Tapit continued to rack up notable dirt runners in 2013, such as Grade 2 winner Flashback and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint third-place finisher Dance Card, further enhancing his commercial profile at North American auctions.

“Tapit’s ability to get graded winners on turf, dirt, and synthetic sets him apart from other stallions,” said Michael Hernon, director of sales at Gainesway. “He’s not in a pocket where he’s stuck and requires one surface to get graded stakes winners. His top colts and fillies are very, very versatile and not one-dimensional. The market really gravitates toward him.”

Kitten’s Joy, as expected, is best known as a standout turf sire, and will finish as 2013’s leader in that category by a wide margin. In 2013, he was represented by Grade 1 winners Stephanie’s Kitten, Big Blue Kitten, Real Solution, Admiral Kitten, and Kitten’s Dumplings on grass. Ken Ramsey said in October that he feels Kitten’s Joy could become “the Storm Cat of turf sires.” He also has developed a reputation as a good synthetic sire, with his progeny running especially well on the turf-like Polytrack surface that is the main track at Keeneland and elsewhere.

This versatility has helped fuel the young sires to international success, as the majority of major racing jurisdictions outside of the United States contest their important events on turf. War Front, in particular, got a boost having two winners at England’s renowned Royal Ascot meeting, with Declaration of War winning the Queen Anne and War Command taking the Group 2 Coventry Stakes.

“The fact that he had both win at Royal Ascot that day [June 18] was huge,” Sams said. “We always knew Royal Ascot was a very important race meet, but probably not until that happened did I realize the significance of it. The e-mails and phone calls the farm got after the two wins, from all over the place, was pretty remarkable. I think it goes back to the fact that his progeny have run on dirt, turf, synthetic, England, Ireland, France, America, Hong Kong. The fact that he has shown he can be a top-class international sire has fueled the commercial side.”

Kitten’s Joy and Tapit also have sired a diverse group of champions around the globe, from Puerto Rico to Macau (Kitten’s Joy), and from Spain to Turkey (Tapit). Tapit also is the sire of Testa Matta, a Group 1 winner in Japan last season. Following that success, Katsumi Yoshida of Northern Farm moved aggressively in the 2012 Kentucky fall mixed sales to acquire a pair of Tapit’s Grade 1-winning daughters, going to $2.1 million for Zazu at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale and $1.85 million for Tapitsfly at Fasig-Tipton November.

“There has been international demand for his seasons and his progeny,” Hernon said. “Several of his top racemares are in Japan, for example.”

In 2013, Tapit was represented by four seven-figure yearlings at the Keeneland September sale, more than any other sire. War Front had two, including the sale-topping $2.5 million colt purchased by Coolmore. The stallions finished as Keeneland September’s top two sires by gross receipts and were second and third by average behind international titan Galileo, who appeared unstoppable on a global scale in 2013.

Tapit and War Front finished the year with yearling averages of $398,116 and $363,076, with Kitten’s Joy at $102,511.

Among established sires enjoying a breakout run of commercial success this year was Spendthrift Farm’s Malibu Moon, who sired his first classic winner in Kentucky Derby hero Orb. All three winners of the Triple Crown events were the first classic winners for their sires, with Oxbow taking the Preakness for Adena Springs stalwart Awesome Again and Lane’s End’s Curlin siring Belmont winner Palace Malice from his first crop.

Malibu Moon, a 16-year-old son of A.P. Indy, subsequently was represented by the first two seven-figure yearlings of his career at Keeneland September, and overall posted a $199,554 average for his yearlings. Malibu Moon’s fee was raised from $70,000 to $95,000 for 2014.