When you think of Japan’s breeding industry, the name Sunday Silence is overwhelmingly dominant. After all, nine sons of this great stallion ranked in the top dozen sires in Japan in 2013, with Deep Impact taking his second championship.
Surely the time is going to come when Japanese breeders will need alternative bloodlines and one possible option may come via the unexpected form of another – very different – American stallion. The one I have in mind is Storm Cat’s son Hennessy, who died of heart failure at the age of 14 in 2007 while on shuttle duty in Argentina. In a peripatetic career, Hennessy had also stood one season in Japan and three in Australia, in addition to his years at Ashford Stud in Kentucky.
Hennessy’s stallion career largely celebrated his ability to pass on his speed, often coupled with his precocious juvenile talent
Hennessy had raced only at two, when he matched some of the achievements of his sire Storm Cat, such as finishing a close second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and earning a weight of 124lb on the Experimental Free Handicap. However, he bettered his sire in some areas. After narrowly losing his first start, Hennessy reeled off four wins by a total of 25 lengths, including impressive victories in the Grade 2 Hollywood Juvenile Championship, Grade 2 Sapling Stakes and Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes.
An injury ended Hennessy’s career after nine races, before he could run at three, so we were left in the dark as to how he would have progressed or how far he would have stayed. The chances are, though, that he wouldn’t have stayed much beyond the 8.5 furlongs of his narrow Breeders’ Cup Juvenile defeat.
His stallion career largely celebrated his ability to pass on his speed, often coupled with his precocious juvenile talent. We were reminded of this a few years after his death, when his daughter Special Duty won the Prix Robert Papin and Cheveley Park Stakes as a prelude
to her ‘victories’ in the English and French 1,000 Guineas.
Hennessy’s 2001 season in Japan supplied him with a Grade 1 winner, Sunrise Bacchus, winner of the February Stakes over a dirt mile, and now Japan is the permanent home of two of his most accomplished northern hemisphere sons in Johannesburg and Henny Hughes.
Johannesburg never quite showed the same brilliance as a sire that had made him such an exceptional two-year-old. How many juveniles manage to become a Group 1 winner in two countries, let alone four, as Johannesburg did by winning the Phoenix Stakes, Prix Morny, Middle Park Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile? Even though he has proved less effective as a stallion he still managed to sire a magnificent total of ten Group/Graded winners in his first crop. It could be significant that two of these ten – Scat Daddy and Teuflesberg – have sired first-crop Grade 1 winners, while another of them – Sageburg – has a first-crop Group 2 winner. Scat Daddy has also sired the exciting No Nay Never from his second crop. For good measure, Johannesburg’s ten first-crop Group/Graded winners included the very fast filly La Traviata, already the dam of Middle Park Stakes winner Crusade.
It was announced in October 2009 that Johannesburg had been sold to Japan, so his first Japanese crop reached the races in 2013. Despite being smaller than those of some of his high-profile rivals, this crop did well enough to earn Johannesburg fourth place among Japan’s juvenile sires.
His 30 winners were led by Fukuno Dream, a Listed winner on turf and dirt, and Horai Akiko, who established herself among the best of her sex with three wins from four starts, including the Grade 3 Kokura Nisai Stakes and the Grade 2 Daily Hai Nisai Stakes. Although technically not a first-season sire, Johannesburg has been included in this category and topped the table by a sizeable margin.
It will be fascinating to see whether these results restore breeders’ faith in Johannesburg, as it seems that the Japanese quickly lost interest in him. The Japanese Stud Book credits him with only 28 foals in 2012 and 14 in 2013.
Henny Hughes is another whose career has had some peaks and troughs. At his best he was a top-notch sprinter, but sprinters tend not to be highly prized by American breeders and Henny Hughes initially did little to counteract this prejudice.
Having started at $40,000, his fee was soon in freefall, to the extent that he was available at $12,500 in 2012. He managed to attract only 22 mares that season, so it came as little surprise when Darley sold him to Western Australia in July 2012.
The perverse world of racing and breeding then played one of its tricks. By the end of 2012 Henny Hughes ranked second among North America’s leading sires of two-year-olds, thanks largely to his champion daughter Beholder. In next to no time he was heading back to Kentucky for the 2013 season.
Even though Beholder was busily adding to her reputation with victories in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes and Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks (and ultimately the Breeders’ Cup Distaff), Henny Hughes wasn’t rushed off his feet, despite his modest $7,500 fee. The next stop on his itinerary proved to be Japan, as he was sold to the Yushun Company in October.
This latest move was prompted by the success of a couple of Henny Hughes’s sons. The first, Henny Hound, became a Grade 3 winner over six furlongs in 2011. Then Keiai Leone won one of Japan’s top dirt tests for two-year-olds in 2012, before developing into a Grade 3 dirt winner at three.
Yushun Company has every reason to be delighted with their purchase, as Japan’s top two-year-old prize, the Asahi Hai Futurity in mid-December, was won by Asia Express, a Florida-bred son of Henny Hughes.
Bought for $230,000 at Ocala in March 2013, Asia Express is now unbeaten in three starts. After winning his first two starts on dirt at Tokyo, he adapted very well to turf in the Asahi Hai Futurity, and ended 2013 as the top-rated juvenile in Japan.
It will be interesting to see whether a son of Henny Hughes has sufficient stamina for the Japanese colts’ Classics, the shortest of which is over a mile and a quarter. It could be in his favour that his broodmare sire, Running Stag, was a Group winner over a mile and a quarter in France and the US.
Pistolet keeps firing through his sons Arvico and Balko
When Top Ville’s son Pistolet Bleu died at 13 in 2001, after covering 325 thoroughbred mares in his first season as part of Coolmore’s National Hunt squad, I guessed that would be the end of his male line. After all, his presence in Ireland was partly a result of his disappointing results as a sire of Flat horses in France (and partly a response to the excellent results achieved by his own jumping stock and that of other sons of Top Ville).
A winner of the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, Pistolet Bleu was to prove a major loss to the Irish industry, judging by a legacy which featured the likes of Sizing Europe, Cappa Bleu, Merigo, Geos, Katarino, Vodka Bleu, Snap Tie, Copper Bleu, Seven Is My Number, Parsons Pistol, I’msingingtheblues and Ramses Bleu.
Fortunately, France’s jumping trainers do not automatically geld their horses and consequently two sons of Pistolet Bleu were represented by stakes-winning jumpers in December. The better known of the two is the Devon-based Arvico, whose son Arvika Ligeonniere recorded his fourth Grade 1 success over fences when he took the Punchestown Chase. Arvico had won all three of his starts over hurdles in France, having earlier scored five times on the Flat.
Gitane Du Berlais could just be the tip of the iceberg for Balko; make a note of his name
The other son of Pistolet Bleu to make his mark in December was the French-based Balko. Born in 2001, Balko raced exclusively over jumps, winning nine of his 19 starts. His six successes over hurdles included a Grade 2 at Auteuil and he also won two important chases on the same track, including the Grade 2 Prix Congress.
Balko’s first foals were born in 2008 and among them are Fago, a familiar name following his very useful victories at Newbury and Haydock; Michto, a Grade 3 winner over fences at Auteuil; and Walk Sibo, a Listed winner over jumps at Cagnes-sur-Mer in December.
Balko also scored with the ex-French Gitane Du Berlais, an impressive all-the-way winner of a Listed juvenile hurdle at Aintree. This talented filly could just be the tip of the iceberg for her sire, as Balko has some sizeable crops in the pipeline, with nearly 70 two-year-olds this year and a similar number of yearlings. Make a note of his name.