Dream big. That’s the motto at WinStar Farm as well as a mantra for breeders worldwide. And, as WinStar celebrates its 20th anniversary, there’s plenty to keep that dream alive.
During those two decades, the stallion roster has grown from two to 19 – the venerable Distorted Humor, now 27, bridging the era of the Preston brothers’ ownership of the Bluegrass farm under its previous moniker of Prestonwood, to its present-day status as the bloodstock empire of Kenny Troutt.
As the Kentucky operation moves into its third decade it has welcomed two new names to its line-up for 2020: the Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Audible, a son of the newly crowned American champion sire Into Mischief, and the dual Grade 1 winner Yoshida.
As the latter’s name suggests, he originates from the east but one doesn’t need to look too far back in his pedigree to find names with which breeders in the west, particularly in the US, will be more than familiar.
There’s always a risk involved when naming a horse in honour of a person, but it worked for Frankel and it has also worked for Yoshida, who is by Sunday’s Silence’s increasingly prevalent son Heart’s Cry.
In the case of the new WinStar stallion, his name comes from his breeder, Katsumi Yoshida of Japan’s Northern Farm, but it could equally apply to Katsumi’s father, Zenya Yoshida, the founder of Shadai Farm who was responsible for arguably the most significant chapter in the history of Japanese thoroughbred breeding when importing Sunday Silence in 1991.
In hindsight, it seems extraordinary that the 1989 Horse of the Year ended up heading to the Shadai Stallion Station only because he was given such a lukewarm reception by breeders in Kentucky.
Mind you, Sunday Silence’s breeder, Arthur B Hancock III, had been unable to sell the son of Halo as a yearling and as a two-year-old and ended up racing him in partnership with Dr Ernest Gaillard and trainer Charlie Whittingham.
Zenya Yoshida bought a quarter-share in Sunday Silence during his four-year-old season and, after Hancock was unable to sell more than a handful of shares in him despite his first-class racing record, the Japanese breeder bought out his partners and took his new stallion home.
Neither he nor his sons Katsumi, Teruya and Haruya will have regretted that move. Sunday Silence led the Japanese sires’ table from 1995, when members of his first crop turned three, consistently through to 2007, five years after he had succumbed to laminitis. His legacy is immense.
“In American bloodstock, if you look back over the last several decades, I think the one horse every American thinks ‘damn, we let him get away’ was Sunday Silence,” says WinStar’s Director of Bloodstock Services Sean Tugel.
It’s easy to see why. Following Sunday Silence’s dominance, his son Deep Impact has written his own important chapter in Japanese breeding and was crowned champion sire for the ninth year running in 2019, five months after his death. In second place last year was Heart’s Cry, who, at 19, is no spring chicken, but is stealthily compiling his own impressive stud record.
Yoshida was an important international Group/Grade 1 winner for him, along with Japan’s current Horse of the Year, the Cox Plate and Arima Kinen winner Lys Gracieux, and the late Caulfield Cup winner Admire Rakti. Heart’s Cry’s good season was also boosted by a second winner of the Japan Cup, Suave Richard.
“We’ve all seen what Sunday Silence and his sons did for the Japanese market – we’ve certainly had our share of very good stallions here, such as Storm Cat, but it is very exciting to bring this horse here,” adds Tugel of Yoshida.
“It was a little bit of a challenge when we first retired him, to educate the American breeders about Heart’s Cry, but he is an incredible son of Sunday Silence, who was a champion sire and who was by Halo, who was a champion sire. But I think what really separates Yoshida from a lot of other horses who have been born or run overseas is his dam.”
Yoshida’s dam Hilda’s Passion was not only a multiple graded stakes winner herself over seven furlongs but her record as a broodmare continues to grow. Bought by Katsumi Yoshida for $1,225,000 at Keeneland, she produced Yoshida, the winner of the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes on dirt and Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic on turf, as her second foal, while her fifth, the three-year-old Deep Impact filly Sanctuaire, won the Grade 3 Sho Shinzan Kinen at Kyoto on January 12.
“Having that American mare, that dirt speed, that really is what people crave here, and having been a track record-setter and Grade 1 winner at Saratoga is what gets us most excited,” Tugel notes.
“Once people have come out to see this horse and they see what sort of an athlete he is, he’s a horse who has been very well received since retiring.”
Also on Yoshida’s side is the fact that he raced in Group/Grade 1 company 11 times over three seasons, travelling to Royal Ascot, where he was only just over a length behind Accidental Agent when fifth in the Queen Anne Stakes, and to Dubai for the World Cup. His fellow retiree Audible was with him at Meydan, finishing one place ahead in the World Cup in fifth.
The previous season Audible had gone into the Kentucky Derby on the back of his victories in the Florida Derby and Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes. His eventual third-place finish at Churchill Downs was behind Justify, en route to Triple Crown glory.
“Certainly it looks like Into Mischief could be the next breed-changing sire,” says Tugel. “The early success of his son Goldencents is another boost when you get to retire a Grade 1-winning son of Into Mischief. Audible was a $500,000 two-year-old bought at the Fasig-Tipton Miami sale and he won one of the fastest Florida Derbys for a long time.
“With Into Mischief, a lot of times you question if his offspring can stretch out. Audible, like Goldencents, was very effective around two turns, but he also had the speed and hopefully he can be that son of Into Mischief who can get you a Classic type of horse.”
The world of bloodstock has shrunk significantly during the rise of WinStar Farm. Its President and CEO Elliott Walden has been at the vanguard of the increasingly prevalent ‘power partnerships’ formed by an amalgamation of leading breeding operations, usually with the aim of buying potential stallion prospects internationally during their yearling days. In the case of Yoshida, Audible and Justify, WinStar has owned all three horses with a variety of partners, including China Horse Club, SF Racing and Head of Plains Partners.
“Our original relationship was with SF Bloodstock,” Tugel explains. “Tom Ryan of SF Bloodstock was over in Japan with Elliott and bought Yoshida at the Select Sale, and our relationship with China Horse Club has really expanded. It’s a little bit of the Australian model being brought to us, and we are focusing on buying colts and in the long term having them come to the stallion barn.
“Audible, like Goldencents, was very effective around two turns, but he also had speed”
“If you can show up and buy 25 very well-bred colts at an average of maybe $350,000 and spread it out over those numbers, you spend the same amount of money that you would do if you had to put all your eggs in one basket. It certainly helps us to be able to home-grow stallion prospects, and that initial investment into that stallion has been much less substantial than if you have to buy the proven product. It works well for us and it works well for the partnership. We also partner in Australia with Newgate Farm and China Horse Club.”
With 19 stallions on the roster, clearly they will be at varying stages of their careers. While hope springs eternal every time a new sire walks through the door, nerves can start to jangle as their first yearlings head to market and later to the racecourse.
Any such tremors have been quelled in the case of WinStar’s young son of Tapit, Constitution, whose first runners took to the track in 2019 and helped their sire to second place in the freshman table behind Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, a son of the late WinStar resident Pioneerof The Nile.
Constitution’s 29 winners – two more than American Pharoah – include five black-type winners led by the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes hero Tiz The Law.
Tugel says: “Constitution entered stud at a respectable $25,000 and was well supported early on, but obviously when a horse’s first two-year-olds hit the track you’re always holding your breath a little bit.
“Through the two-year-old sales he was a horse who made a lot of people take notice but then he just kept proving himself last year all the way through to the end. He has three or four very legitimate colts for the Derby trail from his first crop so it’s very exciting.”
As his name suggests, the Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz The Law is out of a mare by another WinStar stalwart, the dual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, while Constitution is himself out of a daughter of Distorted Humor.
Tugel adds: “Constitution almost has a similar profile to Distorted Humor, who was kind of the blue-collar kid. Nobody really put him on a pedestal before he had runners but then he came out flying with his first crop of two-year-olds and just climbed the ladder. Constitution’s progeny winning at the racetracks they are winning at, he’s kind of saying, ‘Everybody watch me’.”
Another young stallion which the WinStar team hopes will be emitting a similar message is the homebred Speightster, who joined his sire Speightstown on the roster and has his first runners this year.
“More Than Ready, Tiznow and Distorted Humor are all elite stallions that we’ve been lucky to have at Winstar and Speightstown is another,” Tugel says. “He’s a perennial top-ten sire and his sales averages are excellent.
“Our entire crop of two-year-olds are broken and pre-trained here”
“The great thing about him is that five of his 15 Grade 1 winners have won at a mile and a quarter and he was a champion sprinter. He can do anything and he has had four sons so far to produce Grade 1 winners, which gives a lot of confidence for Speightster.”
A number of the younger WinStar stallions, and indeed many other stakes winners, have benefited from the dedicated training facility which neighbours the breeding farm in Versailles.
Former trainer Walden has been WinStar’s Racing Manager since 2005, a role he now combines with being CEO and President. He is assisted on the racing side by Tugel, who says: “Our entire crop of two-year-olds are broken and pre-trained here. We have a seven-furlong oval and two turf gallops, as well as an uphill dirt gallop.
“Justify did all his pre-training here and we have lots of clients who have been very generous with supporting our programme. We get the horses going for three-eighths or even half-mile breezes here on the farm before we send them to the trainers, and by then you get a pretty good idea of what kind of horse they are.”
He adds: “It’s all contained right here and the communication is easy. A lot of these are homebreds and I think it helps to be able to see any idiosyncrasies. A mare may be passing on certain traits and that helps you know what you need to do in adjusting your breeding programme. I think it helps the overall operation, the more knowledge you have of all your bloodstock.”