Like most of his progeny, Kitten’s Joy is making a sustained late run, showing his best turn of foot nearing the wire. This race is the contest for 2018’s top North American sire, and Kitten’s Joy has overcome a fast early start from the competition to open a short lead; however, the ultimate order of finish is still very much up in the air.
The advent of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) in 2017 has thrown a heavy thumb onto the scale of the battle for top progeny earnings. Worth $7 million to the winner in each of its first two runnings, by far the loftiest reward for any victory on the continent, The Stronach Group’s brainchild sent Unbridled’s Song on his way, posthumously, to top the general sires list a year ago. His Arrogate not only banked that $7 million but went on to add the Dubai World Cup’s (G1) $6 million winner’s reward to his coffers. As of April 2017, Unbridled’s Song sat atop the sires list with $14,120,190, $13 million of which came from Arrogate. In second position sat Candy Ride at $4,558,256, largely on the strength of Gun Runner’s $2 million earned by finishing second in the Dubai World Cup.
As Gun Runner ascended through the second half of the season and Arrogate lost his magic touch, Candy Ride closed the gap considerably on Unbridled’s Song. By year’s end Unbridled’s Song held on to the top spot, totaling $18,532,448 (Arrogate $13,338,000) to Candy Ride’s $15,432,953 (Gun Runner $6,950,700). Kitten’s Joy finished third with $13,155,955 in progeny earnings.
Gun Runner began 2018 with a facile victory in the Pegasus, but unlike Arrogate, was retired to stud before the Dubai World Cup. Nevertheless, he staked Candy Ride to an early lead out of the gate on the sires list, his $7 million Pegasus take accounting for a significant portion of Candy Ride’s $8,988,108 progeny earnings as of mid-April. Thanks to the exploits of Hawkbill ($3,750,000 as of mid-April), Kitten’s Joy sat in second position with progeny earnings of $5,680,783.
Although Hawkbill would earn less than $180,000 from mid-April on, Kitten’s Joy has managed to overtake Candy Ride for the top spot, and as of Oct. 14, Kitten’s Joy had $15,543,347 in progeny earnings to his credit compared to Candy Ride’s $14,670,633. Scat Daddy, whose son Justify ($3,798,000) successfully navigated the Triple Crown, was in third position with $14,134,886.
It’s definitely a horse race, with the upcoming Breeders’ Cup World Championships looming as the determining factor. Kitten’s Joy has grade 1 winners Oscar Performance (Mile, G1T) and Roaring Lion (Classic, G1 or Turf, G1T) as likely participants while Candy Ride counters with grade 1 victors Game Winner (Juvenile, G1) and Separationofpowers (Filly & Mare Sprint, G1).
Most all would agree that it’s healthier to have a body of work compiled by numerous progeny over the course of a season rather than one outstanding horse winning one or two deep-pocket races decide such a prestigious year-end honor as leading sire. While we can’t argue with offering owners the opportunity to recoup their considerable investments in racehorses with a one-race jackpot, this year’s model has offered a more competitive environment than we witnessed in 2017. Another small move in this direction is the paring of the Pegasus winner’s purse to $6 million for 2019, further increasing the importance of season-long excellence.
And this year’s sires race to the wire adds a layer of importance to the World Championships, with another title likely to be awarded based on its results.