One of the oddities of racehorse production is that – rather like Bordeaux wine – there are definitely years which divide between vintage and non-vintage plonk. Just why this should be is hard to fathom, one possibility – as with wine – being the weather. For example, the 1992 Bordeaux crop has been described as “a poor rain-plagued vintage that should be avoided” and I guess it’s possible that different weather conditions, affecting the quantity and quality of grass growth, could affect a young horse’s development.
Whatever the reason, we have years when the four-year-olds are definitely superior to the three-year-olds and vice versa. We also seem to have years when the batch of new stallions prove much more effective than other years. One year which could definitely be described as vintage (thanks largely to Northern Dancer) was 1985, when Sadler’s Wells, Darshaan, Alzao, El Gran Senor and Night Shift were among the stallions which covered their first mares.
The next batch worthy of the vintage description was the class of 1990, which featured Danehill, Indian Ridge, Warning, Cadeaux Genereux and Polish Precedent. The retirees of 1998 weren’t bad either, as they contained Danehill Dancer, Singspiel, Royal Applause and Zamindar, while the 2001 group was headed by Montjeu, Dansili and Giant’s Causeway.
You could hardly complain about the 2003 collection, featuring Invincible Spirit, Rock Of Gibraltar and Kyllachy, and the following year’s team included Oasis Dream, Dalakhani and Acclamation. The 2006 newcomers, led by Dubawi and Shamardal, also merited the vintage tag, as did their 2008 counterparts which featured Dark Angel, Teofilo, Dutch Art and Lawman.
A memorable freshman season
To fast-forward to the current season, the stallions who covered their first mares in 2013 have been enjoying Classic success throughout the northern hemisphere.
Each of the first two legs of the American Triple Crown was won by a colt from the first crop of his sire, with Bodemeister supplying the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Maclean’s Music the Preakness hero Cloud Computing. There has also been plenty of Grade 1 success for other American stallions which covered their first mares in 2013. The Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags now has four Graded stakes winners to his credit, including the Grade 1 winners Dancing Rags, Union Strike and Paradise Woods, as well as Patch, the one-eyed colt who finished third in the last leg of the Triple Crown. Others with a Grade 1 winner to their credit are War Front’s fast son The Factor and Tiznow’s Wood Memorial Stakes winner Gemologist.
Nathaniel appears to have a potential champion in his impressive dual Oaks winner Enable and Frankel also has a first-crop Oaks winner to his credit, in the impressive Japanese filly Soul Stirring
Over in Europe it has been hard for any stallion to take the spotlight away from Galileo, with his formidable Classic squad of Churchill, Winter and Capri, but two of Galileo’s sons have made their mark. Nathaniel appears to have a potential champion in his impressive dual Oaks winner Enable and Frankel also has a first-crop Oaks winner to his credit, in the impressive Japanese filly Soul Stirring, a comfortable winner of the Yushun Himba. Frankel also went close to Classic glory with Cracksman failing by only a neck to take the Irish Derby.
The inexpensive French stallion Rajsaman did even better. Not content with being France’s leading first-crop sire in 2016, the son of Linamix has hit the jackpot with Brametot, who used his excellent finishing speed to pull off the Poule d’Essai des Poulains-Prix du Jockey-Club double. Brametot beat three sons of Galileo and two sons of Dubawi to take the Jockey-Club.
And while the German equivalents to the Guineas races don’t carry Group 1 status, another first-crop sire – the Australian-bred Sepoy – has done well with Unforgetable Filly, a good winner of the Group 2 German 1,000 Guineas. On a similar basis I should mention Helmet, whose first-crop son Thunder Snow won the Group 2 UAE Derby before finishing a respectable second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and winning the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat. Some would argue that Excelebration’s first-crop son Barney Roy might have beaten Churchill in the 2,000 Guineas had he not stumbled running into the dip, and this argument gained some credence when Barney Roy landed the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes.
Take a chance on unproven sires
This catalogue of success is surely going to require a rethink from the many breeders and buyers who have increasingly favoured the proven stallion over their unproven rivals, no matter how good they were on the racecourse.
To go back to the American stallions mentioned earlier, Bodemeister looks to be on course to develop into one of America’s elite stallions, as his first crop has already produced five black-type winners. In addition to Always Dreaming, he has another leading three-year-old in American Anthem, who has shown his appreciation of being dropped back to seven furlongs with his victories in the Grade 3 Lazaro Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita and the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park.
However, there must be some doubt about whether he will stimulate much enthusiasm from European breeders and buyers. The potential problem is that this Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up is a son of Empire Maker, whose progeny generally struggled in Europe. It could be a different story, though, for Maclean’s Music and Union Rags.
Maclean’s Music could be categorised as a potentially brilliant performer who didn’t stay sound long enough to be tested against stakes company. In the past this category has produced the exceptionally successful Danzig and the Classic sires Malibu Moon and Red Ransom. But whereas Danzig and Red Ransom raced three times and Malibu Moon twice, Maclean’s Music managed just the one start, in the March of his three-year-old season. But what a start it was!
A son of Distorted Humor and the Grade 2-winning sprinter Forest Music, Maclean’s Music contested a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Santa Anita. He had already shown terrific promise in his work for trainer Steve Asmussen, but even those close to the colt must have found it hard to believe their eyes. He crossed the line more than seven lengths clear and stopped the clock at 1:07.44, having set fractions of :21.24, :43.48 and :55.05.
In the process, he posted a Beyer speed figure of 114, the highest debut Beyer of all time. Apparently only four dirt three-year-olds posted a higher Beyer figure in the preceding seven years and among them were Curlin and Rachel Alexandra – both winners of the Horse of the Year title – and the excellent Uncle Mo.
Sadly Maclean’s Music later fractured a splint bone and he was retired as a four-year-old due to complications from the removal of the splint.
However, the colt’s vastly experienced rider Mike Smith was still awestruck: “I have never sat on a horse that ran that fast and won so easily,” he said. “He was just cruising and I never asked him to run and we went 1:07 2/5. That was unbelievable. I am certain Maclean’s Music was a superstar.”
Sikura the stallion-maker
Another firm believer in the colt’s potential was John Sikura of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms. Sikura has an enviable reputation for helping to “make” stallions, with Candy Ride spending the formative first five years of his career at the Lexington farm, while Medaglia d’Oro was also a Hill ‘n’ Dale resident when he sired 17 first-crop stakes winners headed by Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
Cloud Computing, Maclean’s Music’s highest-priced yearling at $200,000, justified his price by becoming his sire’s first Graded winner when he defeated Classic Empire in the Preakness
Part of Maclean’s Music’s appeal is his resemblance to his sire Distorted Humor, who did so well that his fee soared from $12,500 to a peak of $300,000. Distorted Humor became champion sire in 2011, so Maclean’s Music’s retirement in 2013 was quite timely and he attracted 121 mares at a fee of $6,500.
He made an immediate impact, with as many as seven of his 80 first-crop foals earning black type as two-year-olds in 2016. None of the other freshman sires had more than five. Cloud Computing, who had been Maclean’s Music’s highest-priced yearling at $200,000, justified his price by becoming his sire’s first Graded winner when he narrowly defeated champion two-year-old Classic Empire in the Preakness.
The question now is whether Maclean’s Music will ever win the affections of European buyers. Although the presence of Unbridled’s Song as his broodmare sire is unlikely to win him many European friends, there are elements in Maclean’s Music’s pedigree which suggest he could sire fast European two-year-olds. Distorted Humor has had success in Europe, siring a team of seven Group winners. Five of them became Group winners at two, including the Group 1 National Stakes winner Pathfork and the Group 1 Moyglare Stakes winner Cursory Glance. We saw another example when the American-trained Happy Like A Fool finished second of 23 in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes.
Maclean’s Music also has the attraction of having a stakes-winning daughter of Gone West as his second dam. Gone West’s sizeable team of European Group winners featured such as Zafonic and Zamindar, as well as winners of the Queen Mary, Cherry Hinton, Princess Margaret, Richmond and Flying Childers Stakes.
While I am very reluctant at this early stage to mention Maclean’s Music in the same breath as Danzig, his background suggests that he could develop into a very useful sire of European juveniles – provided, of course, that buyers give him the chance. It could take some time, as his second, third and fourth crops are not large by today’s standards.
Union Rags has the advantage over Maclean’s Music in that he has been covering bigger books at a substantially higher fee ($50,000 in 2017 after four years at $35,000). He also has the advantage of having already sired a Listed winner in France, when Musaawah won the Prix de la Seine in May. With plenty of turf influences in his pedigree, Union Rags looks guaranteed to enjoy further European success.