Buyers looking for a two-year-old in training are now so well catered for in Europe that it is all too easy to overlook the American sales that pioneered the concept.
Despite all the controversy surrounding today’s US-bred racehorse, overlooking America’s various breeze-up sales is potentially unwise. For example Havana, one of last year’s top two-year-old colts in the States, was picked up for $575,000 at Barretts in California.
Other notable juvenile buys include several recent Eclipse Award winners. I’ll Have Another, the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, was a $35,000 graduate of Ocala’s April sale; the champion sprinter Trinniberg was another inexpensive purchase at Ocala; and Lookin At Lucky, who achieved the rare feat of heading his generation both at two and three years, was a $475,000 purchase at Keeneland’s April sale.
Don’t forget, either, that the top dozen two-year-olds in Europe last year included four American-breds and a fifth who was conceived in Kentucky, with No Nay Never and War Command both demonstrating the mixture of class and precocity for which American imports were once noted.
In an effort to pinpoint stallions worthy of attention at the forthcoming juvenile sales, I have amalgamated the Experimental Free Handicaps (ratings) of the last five years to see which names cropped up most frequently.
There was a very decisive leader, with a total of 24 individual two-year-olds, and I must admit that this dominant force took me rather by surprise. It was none other than Kitten’s Joy, a champion middle-distance turf horse who didn’t even tackle stakes company as a two-year-old (he did round off his first season with victories over 8.5 and nine furlongs).
The reigning champion sire in North America, he has also been champion sire of two-year-olds, in 2012, and he has consistently shown that triumph was no flash in the pan
No-one can still be unaware of Kitten’s Joy’s prowess as a stallion. The reigning champion sire in North America, he has also been champion sire of two-year-olds, in 2012, and he has consistently shown that triumph was no flash in the pan. His five crops of racing age have all produced at least two qualifiers for the Experimental Free Handicap, including seven in 2011, six in 2012 and five in 2013.
Kitten’s Joy’s ability as a sire of two-year-olds isn’t a total surprise. His sire El Prado was a four-time winner at two in Ireland, where he won the National Stakes and Beresford Stakes. Also, three of Kitten’s Joy’s four grandparents (Sadler’s Wells, Lady Capulet and Lear Fan) were Group 1 winners in Europe, with all three gaining at least one Group 1 victory over a mile at three.
Kitten’s Joy hasn’t had a lot of runners in Britain, but his progeny clearly merit more opportunities on this side of the Atlantic. Incidentally, his 24 Experimental horses consist of 11 males and 13 fillies, so there is no great disparity between the sexes.
Harlan’s Holiday a great loss
While the scale of Kitten’s Joy’s dominance was somewhat unexpected, I was by no means surprised that his nearest rivals, with 17 qualifiers, were Harlan’s Holiday and Tapit. Harlan’s Holiday was North America’s champion sire of two-year-olds in 2012 before finishing fourth on the 2013 list. He had six Experimental qualifiers in each of those years, most notably the unbeaten champion Shanghai Bobby, who is now in his first season at Ashford Stud.
Sadly Harlan’s Holiday is no longer available to Kentucky breeders, as he died last year while on shuttle duty in Argentina. There will still be plenty of opportunities for Europeans to acquire youngsters by him, as he had 130 reported foals in 2012 and 124 in 2013, and he covered 187 mares in his final American season.
Harlan’s Holiday already has a successful stallion son to his credit in Into Mischief, who was America’s busiest stallion of 2013
This grandson of Storm Cat had every right to sire good two-year-olds capable of progressing at three. He won two of the main trials for the Kentucky Derby – the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes – as well as the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at four, even though he was a four-time stakes winner at two. Although he was still only 14 at the time of his death, Harlan’s Holiday already has a successful stallion son to his credit in Into Mischief, who was America’s busiest stallion of 2013 by a comfortable margin, with a total of 210 mares.
Moving on to Tapit, his record would have looked even more impressive had I extended the sample to include 2008, the year his first crop reached the track. Five of them gained inclusion on the Experimental Free Handicap and among them were the accomplished fillies Stardom Bound (124lb) and Laragh (117). As it is, Tapit’s next five crops have produced a further 17 representatives, with fillies again leading the way with a total of ten. Among the 17 were the champion colt Hansen (126), He’s Had Enough (123), Tapitsfly (119), Normandy Invasion (118), Dancinginherdreams (118), Tell A Kelly (118), Untapable (117) and Tapiture (116).
Clearly Tapit is proving highly effective as a sire of two-year-olds, achieving both quality and quantity. At 16 hands, the grey son of Pulpit is a little smaller and neater than many other American stallions, which may be a contributing factor to his prowess as a sire of two-year-olds.
Next on the list, with a team of 15, is Lion Heart. The sale to Turkey in 2010 of this Kentucky Derby runner-up came as something of a surprise, as Lion Heart was still only nine. The son of Tale Of The Cat had been a consistently busy member of the Ashford team, covering books of 233, 158, 165, 215 and 180 mares in his first five years. His sale before the 2010 season means that he had no American two-year-olds in 2013, but he had six Experimental qualifiers in both his 2008 and 2009 crops – an excellent achievement, even if he had numbers on his side. He had 15 two-year-old winners from his first Turkish crop.
With a creditable total of 14 comes the champion sprinter Speightstown. Thanks to his first-crop son Lord Shanakill, this versatile son of Gone West wasted no time in showing that he can sire smart European runners, others being Bapak Chinta, Tropics and Seek Again. There’s sure to be more to come.
Ghostzapper’s half-brother City Zip (13 qualifiers) has carved out his own niche as a very reliable source of precocious performers. His pedigree made him well qualified to excel in this area, as he won five of his 11 juvenile starts, including the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, and he was by a quick-maturing sprinter in Carson City.
One of the most colourful success stories of the American industry has been that of AP Indy’s royally-bred son Malibu Moon. Having started his stallion career at a low fee in Maryland after injury had limited his career to just two starts, Malibu Moon sired last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Consequently he is standing the 2014 season at a fee of $95,000. He sired a champion American two-year-old in one of his early crops and has a creditable total of 13 Experimental qualifiers over the last five years.
Bearing in mind that his dam Macoumba and second dam Maximova were both Group 1-winning juveniles in France, you would think that Malibu Moon has something to offer European racing, but he has to overcome the widespread belief that the Seattle Slew male line is much more at home in the US.
Mr Prospector’s veteran son Smart Strike has already shown that his progeny can shine on European turf. His sons Zip Top, Utley and Zanzibari all showed very useful form at two and he has also been ably represented by the likes of Tungsten Strike, Denomination and Saranac Lake. Unraced at two himself, Smart Strike has an impressive record with his American juveniles, with his five-year team featuring such as the champions Lookin At Lucky (126) and My Miss Aurelia (124).
By becoming the highest-ranked French two-year-old of 2013, Karakontie acted as a reminder of the talents of Storm Cat’s son Bernstein. He once sired five Experimental horses in a single crop, and four in another. Unfortunately there is only one more crop – 80 two-year-olds of 2014 – to come.
One lower-ranked stallion worthy of an honourable mention is Scat Daddy. As a son of Johannesburg, he was bred to shine at two. This he did, winning three of his five juvenile starts including the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes.
Scat Daddy has had only three crops of two-year-olds so far. His first produced five qualifiers and there were three from his smaller second crop. The sire of Daddy Long Legs, who ranked equal-third behind Camelot and Dabirsim among the European juveniles of 2011, he also sired No Nay Never, the dashing American-trained colt who ranked third behind Toormore and Kingston Hill last season.
No Nay Never comes from a crop of only 53 named foals but there are 131 live foals in Scat Daddy’s 2012 crop, so there should be plenty of them on offer at sales on both sides of the Atlantic.