Champion Sires of 2013: Blips or Trends?

Given that the common perception of U.S. commercial breeding would be that the most prized performer is one that is at its best between seven and nine furlongs on dirt, it might be considered something of a paradox that the title of 2013 leading sire came down to a hard-fought battle between a champion turf horse and a champion sprinter.

The lead could have changed hands almost up until the very last day of the year, but in the end Kitten's Joy (TrueNicks) prevailed over Speightstown (TrueNicks) by a little more than $71,000 (or about 0.6% of his total earnings). Kitten's Joy is the first leading North American sire to spend his entire stakes career on the turf since his sire, El Prado, achieved the feat in 2002. With his sons Kitten's Joy, Medaglia d'Oro (TrueNicks), and the emerging Artie Schiller (TrueNicks) (two grade I-winning 2-year-olds on all-weather in 2013), El Prado has served as a highly efficient beachhead for the Sadler's Wells line in the U.S. Medaglia d'Oro already has two stallion sons that are grade I winners on dirt—Warrior's Reward (TrueNicks) and Violence (TrueNicks)—and it will be very interesting to see what inroads into the mainstream the sire line will make in the next decade or so.

To a degree, Kitten's Joy's success has been fuelled by dominance of a division that has not historically been the strongest, that of domestic turf horses (to date only Csaba of his 13 U.S. graded stakes winners has captured a stakes at that level on the dirt). We'd have note, however, that such as Stephanie's Kitten, Big Blue Kitten, Real Solution, Kitten's Dumplings, and Admiral Kitten have been able to score at the highest level in contests that traditionally draw representative European constants. The overwhelming majority of Kitten's Joy's runners were bred by his owners, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, who have been indefatigable in their support of their champion. Although we think it is inaccurate to say that they "made" Kitten's Joy—in the words of Eddie Arcaro, you "can't come without the horse"—they should be given credit for providing the opportunity for Kitten's Joy to make himself, which is not exactly the same thing. And without having firsthand knowledge of the thought process, we also believe that we have to hand it to them for some clever selection, which appears to us to be primarily based on the pedigree pattern the mares provided rather than on racing class or catalog page. It's going to be very interesting to see how Kitten's Joy fares now that a far great proportion of his mates are being supplied by leading international breeders. It's also going to interesting to see whether his success will pave the way for greater acceptance of turf performers as stallion prospects.

By way of contrast to Kitten's Joy, Speightstown went to stud with every expectation of being a successful sire. A son of Gone West out of a Storm Cat mare, the only thing to cavil at in regard to his race-record was his failure to win a stakes until the age of 6, but since that was a function of a litany of issues rather than lack of precocity, it always seemed a minor peccadillo. What intrigues us most about Speightstown is his ability to transcend his own apparent aptitudinal limitations, and to get top-class runners, or at least colts, who are able to excel at as far as 10 furlongs. These would include [Haynesfield], who walloped that year's champion older male Blame (TrueNicks) in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I); Travers Stakes (gr. I) dead-heater Golden Ticket; Delegation, who is only a grade III winner but who has ran a 110 Beyer at the trip; and at half a furlong shy of a mile and quarter, European Lord Shanakill. While in general one would counsel against "fish and fowl matings" at this stage, you would have to accept Speightstown as a potential U.S. classic sire in the same way that Green Desert sprinter/milers Oasis Dream, Invincible Spirit, and Cape Cross (and before them Danehill) performed in Europe.

Third on the general sire list was Giant's Causeway (TrueNicks), who headed the list in 2009, 2010, and 2012. In 2013 he had a particularly good year with his daughters, his 20 stakes winners including the Prix de l'Opera (Fr-I) heroine Dalkala; Penelopa, who took the German Oaks (Ger-I); and Blueridge Mountain, successful in Klawervlei Stud Majorca Stakes (SAf-I). It's long and well-established that Giant's Causeway is a prolific sire of stakes winners, but it now appears that he could be an influential one too. Three of his sons, Shamardal, Footstepsinthesand (GB) (TrueNicks), and 2013 freshman Intense Focus have sired group I winners in Europe (Shamardal equaled that achievement in Australia), First Samurai is a grade I sire in the U.S., and Morning Raider is a group I sire in Chile. His younger U.S. sons include Eskendereya (TrueNicks) (first runners in 2014), Creative Cause (TrueNicks), and Hold Me Back (TrueNicks). The first stakes winners out of Giant's Causeway mares were foaled in 2007—so were just 6-years-old last year—and yet he has already appeared as broodmare sire of nine individual stakes winners.

We'll also very quickly mention fifth-placed War Front (TrueNicks), who with his oldest only 5 has rocketed to stardom. Although he only raced on dirt, the son of Danzig has become an outstanding turf sire, particularly this year with European stars Declaration of War (who also ran a huge race in the grade I Breeders' Cup Classic) and juvenile standout War Command. The year also featured an excellent dirt 3-year-old in Departing, who was cleverly placed to capture a trio of graded stakes and take his earnings to over $1.4 million.

Another "blip" or "trend" conundrum is found when we look at the leading sire of 2-year-olds and leading freshman sire lists. Until very recently it seemed well-established that Unbridled's Song was a disappointment as a sire of sires. One of the prime examples was the luckless Rockport Harbor, who started his career in Kentucky but had stood the 2013 season in Pennsylvania before being euthanized due to complications arising from laminitis. Naturally, the hitherto disappointing Rockport Harbor immediately shot to the top of the 2-year-old sires table courtesy of the upset victory of Ria Antonia in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and Rise Up in the Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III). On the balance of his first five crops taken as a whole—they've supplied just three other graded winners—we suspect that Rockport Harbor's uptick was only a blip.

We're less sure about the tale told by the leading freshman sire list, which was headed by another son of Unbridled's Song, Dunkirk (TrueNicks). Out of the A.P. Indy mare Secret Status, a Mother Goose Stakes and Kentucky Oaks (both gr. I) winner, Dunkirk was a different sort of Unbridled's Song, a later-maturer who took second in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and on his final outing, second in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Despite being himself unraced at 2, Dunkirk was represented by 14 2-year-old winners, six of them stakes horses, including Havana, winner of the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and Dunkin Bend, who took the Sapling Stakes (gr. II). In general, Unbridled's Song did not do well with Seattle Slew line mares, and he had only two graded winners on the cross. One of those, First Defence (TrueNicks), was also represented by a first crop grade I winner in 2013, that being the excellent Close Hatches. The other is Darley's champion 2-year-old male Midshipman, whose first runners reach the track in 2014. If he also hits, we'll probably find ourselves looking at a trend.

The runner-up on the freshman list was another Unbridled line horse, Pioneerof the Nile (TrueNicks), a son of the the much-missed Empire Maker. Winner of the CashCall Futurity and Santa Anita Derby and runner-up in the Kentucky Derby (all gr. I), Pioneerof the Nile was represented by 13 winners, including the very promising Cairo Prince, who took the Nashua Stakes (gr. II) and was a close second in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II). Third was Colonel John (TrueNicks), one the legion of young sons of Tiznow either facing or about to face the progeny test. Colonel John was represented by seven winners, including the Sorrento Stakes (gr. II) scorer Concave and four other stakes horses including Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT) third Colonel Joan.

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