There was no shortage of impressive winners at the latest Royal Ascot meeting, but the performance which made a lasting impression came from War Command in the Coventry Stakes, when he burst six lengths clear of a field which featured a dozen other previous winners.
Judging by the subsequent records of the last six winners of this Group 2 test, War Command must have an extremely bright future. Henrythenavigator, Art Connoisseur, Canford Cliffs, Power and Dawn Approach all went on to Group 1 success, with four of them becoming Classic winners. Even Strong Suit, the weakest link among them, twice finished a close third at the highest level.
A quick look at War Command’s pedigree is enough to establish the source of his precocious talent. Both of his grandsires, Danzig and Red Ransom, burst onto the American scene with the reputation of being exceptionally talented two-year-olds, which they justified to some extent. Regrettably their careers ran along similarly unfortunate lines, as they both managed only three starts.
Although Danzig was the son of a Kentucky Derby winner in Northern Dancer and Red Ransom was by the Derby-winning Roberto, these two Classic winners raced in an era when it was normal for potential Classic contenders to be thoroughly tested at two. Despite being a very late foal, Northern Dancer was successful in seven of his nine juvenile starts, whereas Roberto was an easy winner of his first three juvenile races, starting in July.
Danzig raced before the end of June as a two-year-old in a five and a half furlong maiden at Belmont Park, finishing more than eight lengths clear in a near-record time of 1:03.6. He had led through the first quarter mile in :22.2 seconds and a half mile in :45.2.
Although he looked destined for a sparkling juvenile career, this was denied him when bone chips were found in his near-fore knee and screws had to be inserted. Sidelined for 11 months, Danzig was just as impressive when he reappeared over six furlongs at Aqueduct in May 1980. He made all to win by more than seven lengths, again in a very fast time.
Danzig was back in action later in May, when he won a seven-furlong allowance at Belmont, once again scoring very easily after leading throughout. Regrettably, x-rays showed that Danzig was developing a slab fracture in his problem knee and his career was over before he’d had a chance to tackle stakes company.
A decade later it was Red Ransom’s turn to dazzle and the Danzig comparisons became inevitable. Bred and owned by Paul Mellon, Red Ransom made a spectacular debut at Saratoga in early August, 1989. Sensationally, he stopped the clock at :56.8 seconds at the end of five furlongs, setting a new record for the distance. Joe Hirsch, the greatly respected Daily Racing Form journalist, said that Red Ransom “showed as much potential at Saratoga… as any two-year-old since Seattle Slew.”
By the end of August, Red Ransom had won a six-furlong race at Belmont Park in a time of 1:09.8, but all the big two-year-old prizes went by without him. That didn’t stop him being the winter favourite for the Kentucky Derby.
He was sent to Florida to be prepared for the 1990 Triple Crown events and there were reports of some exceptionally impressive work by him. But then Red Ransom could finish only second in a seven-furlong allowance at Gulfstream Park and worse was to follow. Six days later he damaged a tendon sheath during a fast piece of work and he fractured a sesamoid in July, forcing his retirement.
Trainer ‘Mack’ Miller described Red Ransom as “the most talented individual I have ever trained,” even though Miller had previously handled many high-class performers, including the champion turf horses Assagai, Hawaii and Snow Knight.
It could be argued that Danzig and Red Ransom might have lasted longer had they been given more time or been sent to race on the more-forgiving turf courses in Europe. Certainly both excelled with their turf runners in Europe. Several of Danzig’s best European representatives, such as Green Desert and Danehill, showed none of their sire’s fragility and there is no reason to fear the worst about War Command, as his Grade 2-winning parents – War Front and Wandering Star – both proved much more durable than their sires. War Front raced 13 times over three seasons, whereas Wandering Star, a winner of the ten-furlong EP Taylor Stakes, raced nine times.
Red Ransom sired precocious two-year-olds and top-notch middle-distance performers, such as Casual Look and Electrocutionist. Coincidentally, two of his sons, Sri Pekan and Red Clubs, won the Coventry Stakes before going on to sire Group 1 winners.
War Command has already won over seven furlongs and his strong-finishing style marks him out as a possible winner of the 2,000 Guineas, a race which the Danzig male line has taken with Sea The Stars, George Washington and Rock Of Gibraltar.
Expect Iffraaj to be popular at the sales
When judging a young stallion in today’s industry, everyone has to be prepared to cut them some slack – if only because support tends to drift away from these unproven stallions until their first progeny pass the test either in the sales ring or on the racecourse.
Even though Iffraaj is part of the Darley team at Kildangan, he proved no exception to this rule. This late-developing sprinter had absolutely no problems in his first season, covering 144 mares at €12,000 in 2007. With his fee the same in 2008, the son of Zafonic wasn’t quite so busy, with a book of 120, and a reduction in his fee to €8,000 wasn’t enough to stop the slide, this time down to 88 mares.
By the end of 2009, Iffraaj’s first yearlings had reached the sales and, with some help from the Maktoum family, they achieved such prices as 140,000gns, 115,000gns and 70,000gns. These prices, combined with a further fee reduction to €6,000, helped restore demand for Iffraaj’s services, with a book of 139 mares in 2010. Another contributing factor to Iffraaj’s popularity that year was a spate of early two-year-old winners.
By the end of 2010, Iffraaj’s tally of first-crop juvenile winners had soared to 37, headed by the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner Wootton Bassett and the Group 3 winner Espirita. A further first-crop Group winner emerged when Stay Alive won the Group 3 Premio Regina Elena, but he was always going to find it hard to maintain that level of success. Sure enough, there have been no Group winners so far from Iffraaj’s second and third crops, just a handful of Italian Listed winners.
Signs are, though, that all is not lost. His fourth crop – the one sired at €6,000 – has made a bright start, thanks largely to Rizeena, the impressive winner of the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes.
It will be a surprise if this fourth crop doesn’t again produce a large number of juvenile winners, but the batch which should make or break Iffraaj is his current crop of yearlings. His feat of becoming leading freshman sire of 2010 bumped his fee up to €15,000 in 2011, when he covered 155 mares for a crop numbering around 120. We can expect some good prices at the forthcoming yearling sales.