By Michele MacDonald
It is not an exaggeration to say that no Thoroughbred stallion has ever lived a life like 2002 champion and dual classic winner War Emblem.
From demonstrating he was one of the sharpest runners of the past decade with victories in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I)—and thus good enough for the Shadai Corp. to spend $17 million to acquire him for stud duty—War Emblem has turned into a quixotic puzzle.
Notoriously shy as a breeder, he has managed to sire only 106 registered foals in eight crops foaled from 2004 to 2011, although more than half of those were sired in the last three years of that period. He also had foals born in 2012, although an official total is not yet available from Japan’s studbook database.
Photo: Courtesy of Shadai Farm
This year, however, he has reverted back to strange behavior. He opted to cover only three mares—and none of those is in foal, officials at the Shadai Stallion Station related during the recent Japan Racing Horse Association Select Sale on the island of Hokkaido.
The 2013 foaling season thus will be the third year of War Emblem’s stud career that he will have no sons or daughters born, following the zero foal years of 2007 and 2008.
For the Shadai Corp., this result is more than financially painful. War Emblem’s managers have done more than can be imagined would be done anywhere else on the globe, including parading mares past him every day of the breeding season to allow him to choose which ones he might deign to accept.
They have brought in equine experts from around the world, including Dr. Sue McDonnell of the New Bolton Center of the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School of Medicine, who concluded he was intimidated by other stallions and should be moved to his own barn, surrounded only by mares.
Thus, for the last several years, War Emblem has lived a kind of stallion dream life. Housed in a small barn in a quiet area of Katsumi Yoshida’s Northern Farm, he has had his pick of literally hundreds of mares over the past several seasons, with more than 300 led past him in 2010 alone.
He tries to bite and threatens to kick or strike mares he doesn’t like—and sometimes the people who handle him as well.
So what will Shadai do with War Emblem?
“We will try again,” said Teruya Yoshida, owner of Shadai Farm and the eldest of the three Yoshida brothers who jointly operate the stallion station and the Shadai Corp.
While War Emblem is frustratingly difficult in his behavior, his foals are prized. At the JRHA sale, an unweaned filly who is a full sister to War Emblem’s classic Shuka Sho (Jpn-gr. I) winner Black Emblem sold for ¥42 million ($518,519) and a colt from the family of American gr. I winner Healthy Addiction brought ¥29 million ($358,025).
Fifteen of War Emblem’s daughters from his 2005 crop of 33 foals are now in Japan’s broodmare pool. And the stallion also has two Australian-bred offspring born in 2009, both bred by Arrowfield Group: the filly Exactly You and the colt Revive Emblem, although neither has won to date.
As far as racing goes, the best may still be ahead of War Emblem in that his largest ever crop, the 43 registered foals of 2010, will begin racing this year as juveniles. That group has the potential to be a stellar bunch since it includes:
• Sabratha, a filly out of French gr. I winner Lady of Chad;
• Sugino Esperanza, a filly out of multiple Chilean gr. I winner Lhiz;
• Sinhadipa, a filly out of 2005 Del Mar Oaks (gr. I) winner Singhalese;
• Trans Am Star, a colt out of multiple American gr. I winner Star Parade; and
• Double War, a colt out of American gr. II winner Queue.
So, the unusual story of War Emblem is far from over.