If anyone needed a reminder of the rewarding yet unforgiving nature of the bloodstock world, then look no further than the snapshot served up by the Breeders’ Cup.

The decision of Coolmore to send mares all the way to Japan has been consistently vindicated in recent years and a further exclamation point was added by the victory of Auguste Rodin in the Turf. A brilliant ride by Ryan Moore ensured that the colt was able to make the most use of his turn of foot and become the second Breeders’ Cup winner in as many years from Trevor Stewart’s Cassandra Go family after Victoria Road’s success in the 2022 Juvenile Turf. Nor do the parallels end there since Victoria Road is from the first crop of Saxon Warrior, like Auguste Rodin a Classic-winning son of Deep Impact out of a Group 1 winner.

The expense and logistics of sending a mare to Japan means it is invariably the domain of larger breeders – for instance, the Niarchos family and Wertheimer brothers are others to have long reaped those rewards. 

On the other side of the coin, the unfashionably-bred White Abarrio, by the far the best sired by the now Korean-based Tapit horse Race Day, was sold for just $7,500 as a yearling. Those buying on a budget should take heart from his fruitful season, which came to a head with his success in the $6 million Classic; but for those breeders who get caught in the ‘unfashionable’ trap, it serves as another reminder of just how unforgiving the market can be.

Auguste Rodin flies home under Ryan Moore. Photo – Bill Selwyn

Nobals, winner of the Turf Sprint, was even cheaper as a $3,500 Fasig-Tipton October yearling. He is the second Grade 1 winner after Code Of Honor for Frankel’s brother Noble Mission, who swapped Lane’s End Farm for the JBBA in Japan in 2021. Noble Mission has spent his life in the shadow of Frankel and indeed it was only several hours earlier that his celebrated sibling secured a landmark first Breeders’ Cup victory as a sire thanks to Inspiral’s flying finish in the Mile. Her win capped an excellent day for Cheveley Park Stud, also represented at Newmarket by the highly promising Montrose Fillies’ Stakes winner Regal Jubilee, another Frankel from one of her breeder’s deep families. In Inspiral’s case, she descends from a line that has been in Cheveley Park Stud’s hands since 1988, when the operation purchased her fourth dam Rose Goddess for $450,000.

Nobals is out of a mare by former Juddmonte sire Empire Maker and was bred by Juddmonte US president Dr. John Chandler from a family that has been in his hands for four generations. In fact, Juddmonte’s prints were in evidence throughout this year’s meeting, notably as the owner-breeder of the Distaff heroine Idiomatic, a member of the Monroe/Best In Show family who is the product of four generations of Juddmonte breeding, and owner of Elite Power, who made it back-to-back wins in the Sprint. Elite Power isn’t a Juddmonte product, instead joining the outfit when bought for $900,000 as a yearling off his breeder Alpha Delta Stables. That outlay now looks incredibly good value given his earnings of $3.8 million and confirmed place on Juddmonte’s Kentucky roster, where he is sure to be popular at $50,000.

The Monroe family also sits behind the Juvenile Turf hero Unquestionable, one of two Group 1-winning juveniles for his sire Wootton Bassett this year and a fifth Group/Grade 1 winner for Sea The Stars as a damsire. The colt descends from Monroe via the Didina branch and represents a major feather in the cap for his breeders Guillaume and Camille Vitse of the fledging Normandie Breeding.

‘Let’s not forget Curlin either’

Let’s not forget Curlin either. The Hill ’n’ Dale Stallion was represented by the Dirt Mile, Distaff and Sprint winners – namely Cody’s Wish, Malathaat and Elite Power – at last year’s Keeneland-hosted meeting and repeated that remarkable sweep again this year. In a show of the durability that is often associated with his stock, Cody’s Wish and Elite Power returned to successfully defend their titles while for his giant daughter Idiomatic, the Distaff was the ninth race and eighth win of a demanding campaign rarely seen in today’s era. 

Among the two-year-olds, Big Evs’ brilliant display in the Juvenile Turf Sprint further consolidated the place of his sire Blue Point as one of the most exciting young sires seen in years. He joins Lyphard and Sadler’s Wells as those European-based sires (at the time of conception) to have sired a pair of Group 1 winners out of their first crops, the impressive Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner Rosallion being his other Group 1 scorer.

Justify: American Triple Crown winner has already made an impact in Europe. Photo – Bill Selwyn

However, the headlines deservedly belonged to Justify as sire of winners of both the Juvenile Fillies and Juvenile Fillies Turf, Just F Y I and Hard To Justify. 

This kind of dirt/turf versatility has been a hallmark of Justify’s fledgling stud career. It can be argued that he has had the opportunity to perform as such – for starters, he has covered a number of high-flying turf mares, particularly those by Galileo, to go with a strong base of American support – but at the same time, this is a pretty typical aspect of the Johannesburg/Scat Daddy line. Scat Daddy, in particular, was quick to develop into an influence for all jurisdictions, with his early status as the ‘Galileo of Chile’ swiftly complemented by a raft of top-flight winners in the US and Europe. And let’s not forget that Scat Daddy’s sire Johannesburg, the champion two-year-old of 2001, remains Aidan O’Brien’s sole American winner on dirt (from a limited pool of runners).

The move showed signs of paying off early on when Aidan O’Brien sent out Statuette, the filly out of Immortal Verse, to win the Group 2 Airlie Stud Stakes on her second start in June 2022

Justify’s racing career was brief and brilliant. American racing had only just celebrated one Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah, whose sweep in 2015 had ended a 37-year drought, when Justify emerged to power through the 2018 series for Bob Baffert. The strapping chestnut had raced for a partnership that included WinStar Farm but ultimately it was to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud, already home to American Pharoah, that he retired amid huge expectations as the unbeaten winner of six starts in 2019. At an opening fee of $150,000, he understandably attracted an outstanding first book of mares from an array of the world’s leading breeders; for their part, Coolmore were quick to gamble on his ability to become effective with turf mares by sending him the likes of Ballydoyle, Brave Anna, Clemmie, Gagnoa, Immortal Verse, Together Forever and Virginia Waters in his first season and Alice Springs, Liscanna, Maryinsky, Misty For Me, Roly Poly, Silk And Scarlet, Wedding Vow and Winter alongside returns for Brave Anna, Clemmie, Gagnoa and Together Forever in his second.

The move showed signs of paying off early on when Aidan O’Brien sent out Statuette, the filly out of Immortal Verse, to win the Group 2 Airlie Stud Stakes on her second start in June 2022. By the end of that July, there had also been a Saratoga highlight in the Grade 2 Schuylerville Stakes winner Just Cindy while back in Ireland, Aspen Grove won the Group 3 Newtownanner Stud Stakes.

Justify didn’t end the year as North America’s champion first-crop sire but he wasn’t discredited in third behind Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic among what is widely regarded as a vintage generation of sires. At the same time, he began to create noise as the Australian season gathered momentum, mainly thanks to daughter Learning To Fly, who swept the Widden Stakes, Inglis Millennium and Riesling Stakes before an injury suffered when unseating in the Golden Slipper Stakes brought her season to a shuddering halt.

The foundations therefore had been laid for Justify to become a potentially important sire of the future, something that is now coming to fruition.

However, there was a spell between early March and mid-June this year when there was just the one stakes winner in the Northern Hemisphere – and a non Graded one at that in Wonderful Justice. By contrast, the $12,500 stallion Army Mule had racked up four by the same point. Luckily, the breakthrough arrived on a major stage when Arabian Lion ran away with the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes on dirt at Belmont Park. And not long after that, Aspen Grove put several underwhelming Irish efforts behind her when taking the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks on turf.

Hard To Justify: one of two Breeders’ Cup winners for Justify. Photo – Bill Selwyn

Currently, a first American crop of 181 foals contains 11 stakes winners, two of them at the highest level. The group also includes Snow Fairy Stakes winner Red Riding Hood, the filly out of Ballydoyle, and Listed scorer Unless, the filly out of Clemmie.

But for whatever reason, it appears as though Justify’s second crop is even better.

It is, of course, highlighted by the British and Irish champion two-year-old elect City Of Troy, whose resounding victories in the Superlative and Dewhurst Stakes for Ballydoyle has sparked chatter of an assault on the Triple Crown. But there is also the Prix Marcel Boussac winner Opera Singer to look forward to as well as the tough Ramatuelle, who rattled off wins in the Prix Robert Papin and Prix du Bois prior to a game second in the Prix Morny. 

Ballydoyle also houses Capulet, the colt out of Wedding Vow who was only half-a-length off winning the Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown, the Zetland Stakes runner-up Gasper De Lemos (out of Alice Springs’ sister Hence) and Greenfinch, a daughter of Misty For Me who looked a filly with a future when the recent winner of her maiden at Dundalk.

It’s noticeable how many fare well when allowed to use their stride and go from the front

That is before the American-based juveniles are considered, a group in which the Breeders’ Cup heroines Just F Y I, who came into the meeting having won the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes in the Belmont slop, and Hard To Justify, previously winner of the Grade 2 Miss Grillo Stakes, stand tall. The Grade 2 Jessamine Stakes winner Buchu (another out of a Galileo mare) completes the septet of stakes winners to have so far emerged out of his 173-strong group of juveniles.

Justify is a big horse, not just tall but strong with it. Many of his progeny inherit that frame and with that in mind, it’s noticeable how many fare well when allowed to use their stride and go from the front; City Of Troy and Opera Singer in particular spring to mind as examples of those with a high cruising speed and ability to maintain a relentless rhythm from the outset.

Just F Y I was also able to make use of a prominent position in the Juvenile Fillies, overpowering pacesetter Tamara early into the stretch before holding on to score from a closing Jody’s Pride, a daughter of American Pharaoh. 

In keeping with the theme of owner-breeder success at the Breeders’ Cup, Just F Y I represents the breeding programme of her owner George Krikorian, who paid just $35,000 for her granddam Starrer, winner of the 2003 Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap. Just F Y I is the third foal out of Starrer’s stakes-placed daughter Star Act, whose sire Street Cry is in the midst of a purple patch as a broodmare sire headlined by Romantic Warrior and Tom Kitten, successful in the Cox Plate and Spring Champion Stakes on the same day in Australia recently.

As for Hard To Justify, she represents the flourishing yet young operation belonging to breeder Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals’ Yeguada Centurion, also responsible this year for Big Rock, Blue Rose Cen and fellow Justify filly Ramatuelle

As for Hard To Justify, she represents the flourishing yet young operation belonging to breeder Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals’ Yeguada Centurion, also responsible this year for Big Rock, Blue Rose Cen and fellow Justify filly Ramatuelle. 

Yeguada Centurion paid $300,000 for Hard To Justify’s dam Instant Reflex, a Grade 3-placed daughter of Quality Road, at the 2019 Keeneland November Sale. The mare is a great-granddaughter of the Grade 1 Beverly Hills Handicap winner Corrazona (by El Gran Senor), a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Thirty Six Red, via Listed scorer Slow Down (by Seattle Slew), also the third dam of July Cup winner Starman.

Instant Reflex is the first daughter of Quality Road to produce a Group/Grade 1 winner although the 17-year-old Lane’s End stallion did also feature as the damsire of the fast-finishing Juvenile Turf Sprint runner-up Valiant Force.

There is no doubt that today’s breeders aren’t nearly as bold as some of their predecessors when it comes to experimenting with different bloodlines. That’s probably to the detriment of the breed, especially as the net continues to close in Europe as to the variety of sire lines available. That’s where Auguste Rodin becomes so important when the time comes for him to join the Coolmore roster as another Deep Impact option, perhaps in Ireland alongside Saxon Warrior. It also emphasises the potential importance of a horse like Justify, especially if 2024 yields the anticipated rewards on both sides of the Atlantic.

Justify: developing into an important international sire influence. Photo – Bill Selwyn