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BC Juvenile Sprint a Potential Stallion-Maker

Earlier this week Breeders' Cup announced a new Juvenile Sprint, thereby expanding its suite of races to 15. The $500,000 race will be run at six furlongs on the dirt and is open to colts, geldings, and fillies. I'll admit my first reaction was "do we really need another Breeders' Cup race?", but considering the race's potential to identify good stallion prospects, I realized that North American breeders were overdue for a championship-level 2-year-old sprint.

Although the Juvenile Sprint will begin ungraded, it will immediately address our lack of options for the best young sprinters. Currently there are only two grade I sprints for 2-year-old colts in North America—the Hopeful and Del Mar Futurity—both at seven furlongs and both on the same weekend. Meanwhile, there's a relative wealth of such races for colts in Europe.

2YO group I sprints in Europe
Race (sex)CountryDist.
Phoenix Stakes (c)Ireland6 f
Prix Morny (c&f)France6 f
Middle Park Stakes (c)England6 f
National Stakes (c&f)Ireland7 f
Grand Criterium (2001-present) (c&f)France7 f
Prix de la Salamandre (to 2000) (c&f)France7 f
Dewhurst Stakes (c&f)England7 f

Below are selected winners of these races who went on to become top sires. Notice that despite their sprint wins at 2, all of these stallions were able to sire good runners at a wide range of distances.

Notable Euro 2YO group I sprint-winning sires, last 25 years
YearWinnerRace
2004Shamardal (TrueNicks,SRO)Dewhurst
2004Dubawi (IRE) (TrueNicks,SRO)National
2002Oasis DreamMiddle Park
2001JohannesburgPhoenix, Prix Morny, Middle Park
2001Rock of GibraltarGrand Criterium, Dewhurst
1999Giant's Causeway (TrueNicks,SRO)Salamandre
1995Danehill DancerPhoenix, National
1993Grand LodgeDewhurst
1992ZafonicPrix Morny, Salamandre, Dewhurst
1991El PradoNational
1989MachiavellianPrix Morny, Salamandre

Juvenile sprints play an important role in Australia as well. The glamour event is the Golden Slipper (gr. I), a six-furlong race for colts and fillies. This year it was worth A$3.5 million, making the Slipper the world's richest race for juveniles. Fillies get a 2-kg weight break, and 10 have won it in the past 20 runnings. Considering that top fillies occupy the winning position about half the time, it's an impressive list of Slipper-winning sires. Also note that top sires Redoute's Choice (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO) and Bel Esprit (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO) won the six-furlong Blue Diamond (gr. I), Melbourne's key 2-year-old race held a month before the Golden Slipper.

Notable Golden Slipper-winning sires, last 25 years
YearWinner
2005Stratum (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO)
1995Flying Spur (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO)
1994Danzero
1990Canny Lad
1988Star Watch
1987Marauding

The Golden Slipper is run in early April, corresponding with early September on the Northern Hemisphere calendar, so you might draw some parallel to our first grade I for 2-year-olds, the seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) held in early September at Saratoga. Key differences are the Hopeful's current $250,000 purse (one-fifteenth the value of the Slipper), and it almost never sees a filly (the grade I filly equivalent, the Spinaway, is held on the same weekend). An important similarity is sire production.

Notable Hopeful-winning sires, last 25 years
YearWinner
2004Afleet Alex (TrueNicks,SRO)
2002Sky Mesa (TrueNicks,SRO)
2000City Zip (TrueNicks,SRO)
1996Smoke Glacken (TrueNicks,SRO)
1995Hennessy
1993Dehere (TrueNicks,SRO)
1989Summer Squall
1986Gulch

Compare this group to the best Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I)-winning sires over the same period—a nice list with a couple standouts, but perhaps lacking the total sire power of the Hopeful.

Notable BC Juvenile-winning sires, last 25 years
YearWinner
2001Johannesburg
2000Macho Uno (TrueNicks,SRO)
1995Unbridled's Song (TrueNicks,SRO)
1992Gilded Time
1986Capote

Theoretically, the 8.5-furlong Juvenile is supposed to determine the champion 2-year-old and therefore the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby and 3-year-old classics. For that reason its place will always be secure. But if a 2-year-old sprint can be a more consistent barometer of future sire success, then the Juvenile Sprint is a welcome addition to the Breeders' Cup. It's certainly a race I'm looking forward to.

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16 Comments:

Ian,

The 1988 Golden Slipper winner Star Watch was a good sire that died early unfortunately but has been the horses that you have listed.

3YO Sprinters are also under catered for in North America, especially early in the year. While you would hope to have a Kentucky Derby runner, the reality is that many of the horses that are on the 'Derby trail' simply are not bred to get that far. Outside of the Bay Shore and the Swale, there are really not a lot of options for three year olds that are sprinters. If you look at the success of the Ascot Vale Stakes (now the Coolmore Stud Stakes) in the Spring of the Australian carnival, a good sprint race for three year olds in the spring creates options for those that aren't bred to stay and can also become a 'sire making' race. Maybe Keeneland would think about putting on a $200,000 6f sprint for open 3yo's on the same day as the Bluegrass so as to attract the best three year olds, no matter what the distance.

Byron

Byron Rogers 16 Jun 2011 8:22 AM

Byron,

Good call on Star Watch--I'll add him to the Golden Slipper table. Thanks.

We really do get tunnel vision about the Derby trail over here. Like you say, for some horses it's just not a reality. An exceptional sprinter is still an exceptional racehorse. Some argue against over-selecting for speed in the American thoroughbred, but the international record says that precocious sprinters who are good sires can usually sire good runners at all sorts of distances.

Ian Tapp 16 Jun 2011 9:02 AM

Thought provoking piece, but I disagree with the message of the title, i.e. that such a race (in particular) would/could identify future top US stallions. Can't speak to Austrailian/New Zealand racing/breeding, but I think a more complete analysis of The Hopeful and BC 2 y. old colt race winners (as examples you offered) would tend to refute rather than support your premise. It's a bit involved, but it paints a picture where precocity factored more heavily in later (as compared to those of more distant past) Hopeful (end of August) winners, and that owing to its date, the winners of BC Juvenile (where, perhaps, precosity reigned less supreme) mirrored more closely those earlier Hopeful winners-which tended to become better sires than more recent Hopeful winners. As example (given it's only annecdotal), take a look at the racing career of Buckpasser. He won an early August (or late July/I forget) 6 1/2 f Sapling S. and then the later August Hopeful-defeating in process some who would later become confirmed sprinters. The difference, I suspect, was that the sprinters of old tended to be less precocious then the sprinters of today-otherwise, a Buckpasser would have been less likely to defeat them. There's a lot more to this (as today one could theorize that the breed as a whole has become more precocious and, separately, bred more sprinter-like), but the bottom line for me is that a later in the year high caliber 2 yr. old sprinter contest would tend not to illuminate a future top level stallion.      

sceptre 16 Jun 2011 10:59 AM

This anaylsis has some "pop," I must say. Given the research here I can't make a case against the new race, particularly from a breeders' perspective. ... As previously written, however, I stand by my belief that money shouldn't be taken away from the grade I BC Sprint to pay for it. ... If this new 2YO race is popular, maybe it will pay for itself in subsequent years. Thanks for the insight Master Y.

JerseyTom 16 Jun 2011 10:59 AM

sceptre,

Interesting argument as to which is more important, precocity or speed, but the BC is only 2 months later on the calendar than the Hopeful. Byron mentioned the 6f Coolmore Stud Stakes--it's 7 months later than the Slipper, for 3YOs, and still important for future sires. Obviously the BC Juv Sprint and Hopeful can co-exist. Considering international 2YO sprints (both early and late season) are consistently supplying future sires, I think the race is a welcome add.

Ian Tapp 16 Jun 2011 11:44 AM

On one side, I don't mind a Sprint race for 2 year olds, but I fear the number of breakdowns in this race will be high due to the fast pace and training required to get to the race will take its toll on the horses.  On the other side, once again we are focused on the wrong part of the Thoroughbred.  Speed is not a problem with the breed, soundness and stamina are.  Odds are, none of these sprinters will win or probably even compete in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.  Those 2 year olds who are competing for a year end championship will run in the Juvenile.  Now since we have a sprint race for the 2 year olds, how about we INCREASE the distance for the B.C. Juvenile to 1 1/8 miles for both colts and fillies.  

Robert 16 Jun 2011 12:43 PM

Ian,

As I implied, the issue is complicated, but one worthwhile. We won't be able to unearth all the relevant variables here and then, perhaps, reach consensus. Looming over much of this is the question "begged" in your piece's title, i.e. what performance characteristics signal a future stallion of high merit? For the US (and, I believe, Europe), it's fairly clear to me that in times past the confirmed sprinter rarely succeeded as a stallion. As an aside, interestingly, though, high caliber European filly/mare sprinters (of the past) often became major + influences. Today, in the US, there is a higher % of shorter distance races at all levels, many of the higher caliber races are run at shorter distances and, therefore, as the competition at those relatively shorter distances is stiffer than before, those who rise to the top in them are more likely genetically superior to their counterparts of times past. So, the likelihood that a confirmed sprinter-type would become a meritorious stallion is greater today than before (which is why mere histoical review of past Hopeful and, to a lesser extent, BC Juvenile winners/ vs later stallion prowress could lead to false conclusions realtive to present predictions-all this testimony to your conclusion-although I still maintain that the evidence YOU offered contradicts your assertion). All that said, I still believe that today's confirmed sprinter is at a disadvantage (albeit less so) re- likelihood of succeeding greatly as a sire.-and that, the later in the year he demonstrates such proclivity, the more likely are his abilities limited to sprinter status.    

sceptre 16 Jun 2011 12:52 PM

Interesting comments here. ... Robert, just a heads-up that research has shown there are fewer breakdowns among 2YOs than other age groups. If anything this new race (I'm not a big fan of it either, by the way) will appeal to a certain type of horse that probably won't race much around two turns anyway. ... I'm in the longer-race camp, too--I love marathons, etc.--but doubt the Juvenile will be raced at 1 1/8 miles again.

JerseyTom 16 Jun 2011 1:00 PM

Ian;

Great post! I really enjoyed it. Interestingly, Kingmambo finished second in the 1992 Prix de la Salamandre behind Zafonic.

Although it is not a grade I race, the Sanford Stakes has done a good job of turning out some good sires over the last twenty years, with Afleet Alex, Chapel Royal, Whywhywhy, City Zip, More Than Ready, Maria's Mon, and Dehere among the winners.

-Keelerman

-Keelerman 16 Jun 2011 2:13 PM

Any 2 mile graded, grouped or more-than-optional-claimers left in the US now?

mz 16 Jun 2011 2:28 PM

It's only tangential to topic, but I feel obliged to dissent with Jersey Tom's opening sentence(s). That stat on less breakdowns among two-year-olds should not lead one to conclude that racing one at age 2 (as opposed to waiting til later) will somewhat lessen their chances for breakdown, either then or later, if all else is equal. Rather, the converse is the likely reality. There is evidence to support the notion that early training (concussion, etc.) may help prevent later breakdown, but not racing per se. Likely, the best course for their safety would be judicious training/remodeling throughout, but to withhold racing as long as possible. The abovementioned high stakes 2 yr. old sprint is, to my mind, counterproductive to the goal (I ) mentioned. And, if it is indeed a potential stallion forecaster, it may somewhat defeat that purpose by causing more early breakdown for some, thus foreshortening their careers, and preventing them from displaying sufficient merit to afford them reasonable opportunity at stud.    

sceptre 16 Jun 2011 5:01 PM

Ian:

You have taken on a tough subject here.

I was once interested in the subject, but after I looked up the pedigree, racing record and stud record of the horse Grey Sovereign, I concluded it was a waste of time trying to predict who would be a good sire.

Consider this. The following sires were sprinters, judging by their race records:

Abernant, Danehill, Mr Prospector, Choisir, Danzig and Grey Sovereign. Danzig never ran in a stake.

Good luck with this.

JerseyBoy 16 Jun 2011 5:04 PM

Thanks, JerseyBoy. The goal here isn't to find a magic bullet formula for predicting stallions, but rather to note races that over time prove the best tests for future stallions. The fact that the sire won a given race is academic. The fact that he had the genetic ability to win is what's important.

Your comment on Danzig proves the point. He dominated three starts before being injured. "Stakes winner" is academic. Danzig was insanely talented and everyone knew it.

Ian Tapp 16 Jun 2011 5:47 PM

I am so happy that the new race on the Breeders Cup agenda is for 2 year olds going 6 furlongs because at that time of year serious breeders are going to want to know the name of the sire and dam of the winner of this race right from it's first running. I think this race is going to prove so popular that it won't be long at all until it becomes a million dollar race.

John T 16 Jun 2011 11:13 PM

IMHO, we ought to have been running the BC Juvie as a one-turn mile, as it was in its inception (Hollywood has since shortened its mile chute). The current length of 1 1/16 and the tendency to space races farther apart has led to races of that length to be carded earlier and earlier in the season. We now see 2yos running 2 turns in AUGUST. That is insane. Young horses going around a turn straight out of the gate, straining those immature joints, can't be a good thing. Back in the days of 2yo champs who could stretch out at 3, 4, 5 most of the fall 2yo races were one-turn - the Champagne (one-turn mile),the Remsen (one-turn mile), the Breeders' Futurity (Beard course), the Ky Jockey Club S (one-turn mile). The Pimlico (later Pimlico-Laurel) Futurity and the Garden State S were in late October or early November and generally were a first try at the distance. And even Laurel once had a chute that allowed 1 1/16 races to be one-turn with the long finish line.

In regard to Danzig, it is not possible to know if he was a confirmed sprinter, the way Mr. Prospector was, because he never got a chance to try a longer race. Judging from his stud record, he may well have been best as a miler. Raise a Native's case is similar.

Pedigree Ann 17 Jun 2011 11:59 AM

Pedigree Ann-

I agree with your concerns about two turn vs one turn and track configuration as it relates to two-year-old racing. Very glad that you pointed this out.

About your mention of Mr. Prospector- No, I wouldn't categorize him as a confirmed sprinter. Rather, I feel he APPEARED to be a sprinter due to circumstance/necessity. I believe he was innately of the middle distance variety. I had followed his racing career rather closely-watched him race-, can recall his issues and what Croll had said about him. My guess is that, but not for his issues, Mr. P. could have had a career that somewhat resembled a Dr. Fager.

I apologize for taking up so much space on this topic, but the more I mull it over, the more disenchanted I become with this new Breeders' Cup 2 yr. old sprint. This ill conceived idea has the flavor of a very harmful enterprise. I feel that Ian's and Byron's comparatives are off mark, as an early Nov. 2 yr. old very high stakes US dirt sprint may be the most risky race ever proposed- I can recall no precedent for it. The present (open) Breeders' Cup Sprint is already one the riskiest races in the world, and now we'll be duplicating it for 2 yr. olds. Also, my guess is history will prove that it will reveal few if any meritorious future stallions, but instead will compromise the careers and well-being of numerous horses that point for and/or compete in it. I have much respect for the authors of this blog, and generally agree with their ideas, comments, and opinions. On this occasion, however, and never before to such a degree, I am in complete disagreement, and admonish them for failing to examine this race's ramifications.      

sceptre 17 Jun 2011 5:03 PM

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