Big Cat, Big Picture - by Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the May 4, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter

By Evan Hammonds The April 25 death of Storm Cat at 30 at Overbrook Farm near Lexington doesn’t close the book on the greatest North American stallion of the last 20 years. The saga is far from over. As a super sire of sires—just like his grandsire Northern Dancer—his name will live in the pedigrees of top horses for generations to come.

The saga continues in large part due to his breeder and owner, William T. Young of Lexington, who believed in the horse, stood the horse, and helped shape Storm Cat’s career as a stallion. Young’s business principles that helped carry him to great success in Central Kentucky also carried him to the pinnacle of the sport he so dearly loved.

“The legacy of Storm Cat as far as Overbrook and Mr. Young is the one quote in the press release (of the horse’s death) that read ‘Storm Cat made Mr. Young look like a genius,’ ” said Ric Waldman, who was brought in by Young to manage Storm Cat’s stallion career. “Well, Mr. Young was a genius.”

Young had originally offered to sell Storm Cat as a yearling and the youngster was entered in the Keeneland July select yearling sale in 1984 but tested positive for equine viral arteritis (EVA). Keeneland officials offered to put Storm Cat in the September sale, but Young balked and decided to race the colt himself.

Few expected greatness when Storm Cat took up residency as one of two stallions at Overbrook in the winter of 1988, nearly 21⁄2 years removed from his best racing efforts at the end of his 2-year-old year in 1985 that included a heart-stopping nose loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).

That span is a lifetime when a stallion operator is beating the bushes for suitable mates. As he had in the business world, Young stayed the course.

“Storm Cat wasn’t well received early on, but Mr. Young’s confidence in Storm Cat never wavered,” Waldman said. “He always believed in him.

“Any of the rest of us who had Storm Cat might have sold him or certainly might have laid off some ownership in him when he started at stud, but Mr. Young always saw the big picture and wasn’t afraid to take a risk and Storm Cat confirmed Mr. Young’s belief and confidence and willingness.”

What followed was the “big story.”

Despite the leading sire and broodmare sire titles, 180 stakes winners, and his command in the sales arena, Storm Cat wasn’t without his detractors. Some students of conformation would cringe with the mere mention of the name Storm Cat. Waldman acknowledges that.

“The big one was the off-set knees, but nowadays the market has become more accepting,” he said. “The market certainly became more accepting of off-set knees on Storm Cat progeny at the sales, but also ifyou really want to criticize and you are looking at his balance from the profile, his neck might have been a touch short for the rest of his body, but he did have some body.

“Everybody wants to focus on those flaws he passed on, but his offspring ran so well with them, I’d like to look at the strengths. He really did pass on a body and, of course, the will to win, and the heart, and the energy and determination.”

Waldman, who managed the stallion book of not only two-time leading sire Storm Cat but also two-time leading sire Deputy Minister, is the type of guy we’ve always considered “one of the smartest guys in the room.” He summed up Storm Cat’s legacy succinctly:

“In spite of all the difficulty Storm Cat had and the insurmountable odds he had against him, he still succeeded. Man did everything man could to keep him from being a success, but a stallion who is meant to be a success to the extent that Storm Cat was, will succeed in spite of man’s intervention.”

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