For all of the negativity that surrounded 2019, two industry stories were actually very encouraging for the future of Thoroughbred racing and breeding. Heading into a new year, a little optimism can’t hurt.
On the racing front, as abysmal as a lot of people’s experience was at the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico in May, the early October announcement regarding a deal reached by the Maryland Jockey Club and the city of Baltimore to redevelop the aging plant and retain the second leg of the Triple Crown is a solid one for not only the Maryland racing community, but the national scene. Showing that racing operators, such as The Stronach Group, and government officials, such as the city of Baltimore and Maryland’s statehouse, can work together to revitalize the sport bodes well for the game’s long-term future. The agreement has moved to the statehouse in Annapolis and is on the agenda of the General Assembly’s 2020 session.
For the breeding industry the uplifting item of 2019 is the success of Ashford Stud’s American Pharoah as a sire. The horse that captured the sport’s imagination by winning the Triple Crown in 2015 saw his first group of foals hit the track in 2019, and his progeny earned him the title of leading first-crop sire. To have a star horse become a star sire is significant in that it connects the dots from breeding performance (and commercial value) to racing performance.
American Pharoah’s 27 winners paved the way to more than $2.7 million in earnings, and he sired a Breeders’ Cup winner along with a group winner in France.
American Pharoah did his part to balance the nation’s trade deficit, also having five winners in Japan.
“Japanese owners and breeders have believed in and supported American Pharoah from day one, both by breeding mares to him and also at the sales, so it is great to see how much success he has achieved there,” said Ashford Stud’s director of sales Charlie O’Connor. “Of Pharoah’s five juvenile winners in Japan, one was purchased in the U.S.A. in utero, two came from the yearling sales, and two more from the 2-year-old sales.”
While it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison to other Triple Crown winners’ progeny due to today’s crop sizes, American Pharoah’s start can best be compared to the first crop of Seattle Slew. Slew led the first-crop sires list in 1982 by siring 2-year-old filly champion Landaluce, eventual multiple champion Slew o’ Gold, and grade 1 winner Slewpy. In his second crop came dual classic winner Swale.
American Pharoah’s first crop of yearlings sold like hot cakes—and his second produced an $8.2 million sale yearling—but that doesn’t equate to success on the track the following year. Early on, though, industry players liked what they saw.
“From early on in the year we were receiving reports from the 2-year-old guys and trainers that a lot of his progeny possessed many qualities similar to himself, namely excellent action and very sound minds,” said O’Connor.
“The quality, quantity, and versatility of winners Pharoah has produced so far have been exciting to watch,” he continued. “To have had a winner at the Breeders’ Cup from his first crop with Four Wheel Drive (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, G2T), and hit the board with two other runners was very special.”
Expectations were high for American Pharoah as a sire because he was the champion 2-year-old male of 2014, but his prowess at the classic distances bodes well as his young runners gear up for their 3-year-old campaigns…and beyond.
“Since he came to Ashford, Pharoah has been supported by the best in the business,” O’Connor said. “The world’s top breeders sent him their best mares, and he lit up the sale ring every step of the way—whether it be in-foal mares, weanlings, yearlings, or 2-year-olds. Expectations have always been high for whatever test he takes on next.
“It is always important for a horse to get off to a good start with his first crop of runners, but what American Pharoah achieved in 2019, not just in America but across the globe, has exceeded all expectations,” O’Connor concluded. “We look forward to seeing his progeny progress, as he did, into their 3-year-old season.”