Surpassing a Giant: Raven's Pass Tops First-Crop Sales

Eight years ago The Blood-Horse MarketWatch noted Giant's Causeway's high rankings--second by average and third by median--in a review of leading first-crop yearling sires. Lofty sales prices were no surprise for a Coolmore stud who had been a star entering stallion in 2001. The North American auction results are notable because Giant's Causeway's first foals resulted from a breeding shed in Ireland. In 2011 another Irish-based invader is even more convincing in his domination of the native yearling market. The story of Raven's Pass includes several additional parallels to Giant's Causeway--certainly a welcome comparison given the latter's current two-year reign (2009, 2010) atop the general sires list.

Kentucky-bred Raven's Pass ran 11 of 12 career races in England and France, including a win in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot. Kentucky-bred Giant's Causeway ran 12 of 13 times in Europe, winning six group Is in England, Ireland, and France. Both horses contested their final events stateside in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), that race pushing the lifetime earnings of both runners above the $3 million mark. In each case, international leading owners had the option to retire their champion chestnut 3-year-olds to farms in the U.S., Ireland, or Australia. Owner/breeder Coolmore initially chose Ireland for Giant's Causeway, only to relocate the stallion to its Kentucky-based Ashford farm a year later. Darley also opted for an Irish start for Raven's Pass, whose final two races--both wins at group/grade I level--were in the colors of Princess Haya of Jordan, wife of Darley owner Sheikh Mohammed.

Raven's Pass has a daunting task if he is to be the equal of Giant's Causeway as a sire. (If he succeeds, he will likely help promote Elusive Quality as an emerging sire-of-sires, much as Giant's Causeway did for Storm Cat at the start of the past decade.) Raven's Pass' Breeders' Cup win is one important reason he appeals to an American market. Much as that victory bettered Giant's Causeway's own record in the big race, Raven's Pass' first-year sales results bypassed the Coolmore heavyweight's standings. Raven's Pass tops his sire crop by yearling (1) median, (2) average, (3) percent profitable, and (4) rate of return--a superfecta achieved only once before (by Bernardini in 2009) since MarketWatch started tracking the four categories in 2000.

In so doing, Raven's Pass managed to spoil the coming-out party for Curlin. Lane's End's chestnut son of Smart Strike has amassed many laurels as a runner (not least back-to-back titles as Horse of the Year) and is in high demand in the breeding shed. His six-figure yearling median and average were good for second place, but his crop-leading entering stud fee ($75,000) was about 46% higher than the €40,000 Darley got for Raven's Pass in 2009, making profitability and ROR more of a challenge for breeders.

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