This American foundation mare had a nice produce record, but it was her "grandfoals" that really made her name. She was the second dam of stallions who won a total of eight sire championships in England, France and the United States. Who was this matriarch, and who were the grandsons who spread her genes far and wide in the Thoroughbred?
The 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale is now in the books, and sale officials are reporting pleasure with the results. To be sure, they deserve some credit. A concerted effort to attract and recruit buyers in North America and in the international Thoroughbred community helped create a strong market for yearlings that ticked off all the boxes.
Nonetheless, there are causes for concern. In spite of its strength at the top, this appears to be a highly risk-averse market. Even among the elite youngsters---those accepted into Book 1 on the strength of their pedigrees and conformation---there were half a dozen that changed hands for US$20,000 or less, probably as the result of suboptimal veterinary reports. Many others were either RNAs or were sold at prices that would not have recouped the stud fees. As the sale progressed through later books, the same selectivity remained marked.
The irony is that the Thoroughbred industry is by its very nature a high-risk, high-reward enterprise, and some of the people who chose to take chances on youngsters with less than perfect vet profiles will undoubtedly be rewarded. Just as the results of spinal X-rays in human medicine often have little correlation with patients' reports of pain and disability, radiographs and scoping do not always distinguish between horses whose imperfections may preclude a successful racing career and those whose flaws will never cause them any problems. Any sale so large as Keeneland's is bound to have its bargains, and this one will probably contribute a few of its own to racing lore.
A more concerning statistic is the decline of the median sales price---the figure at which half the yearlings sold for more and half sold for less---from US$50,000 to US$40,000. This is troubling because it essentially represents a drop in the number of yearlings that were sold for even a modest profit on stud fees and the costs of producing and rearing them, and is not good news for small breeders. We will learn next year whether this is reflected in fewer mares being bred, a contraction not likely to be welcomed by a racing industry which already has problems enough with short fields.
This Pennsylvania Derby winner hated running by himself and was often erratic if alone on the lead. After opening up a five-length lead in the PA Derby, he blew the turn, nearly hit the outside rail, threw away about 10 lengths---and still won the race, going away. Who was this talented if zany runner?
With Books 1 and 2 of the Keeneland September yearling sale concluded, the sale has so far shown solid gains over last year's edition. For stallion managers and breeders playing at the top of the market, that's certainly good news. Nonetheless, the real test of the health of the domestic market is now starting, and it remains to be seen whether the picture is nearly so rosy in the middle and lower strata of the marketplace as it appears from the top.
Keeneland is really two sales in one: a glittering showcase of select yearlings that appeal to the tastes and purses of moneyed international buyers and the high-end players of the American turf, and everything else. The difference is as striking as going from Madison Avenue and Rodeo Drive to the Mall of America, and just as the businesses in the latter are much more sensitive to the ups and downs of the overall economy than are the shops catering to the top one percent among "the one percent," the later stages of the Keeneland sale more accurately reflect what's going on at the levels of the American breeding industry where the majority of yearlings are produced. This level doesn't usually get the headlines, but it's the level on which the bulk of day-to-day racing depends, as well as many businesses that cater to the horse industry---think feed stores, tack shops, farriers and so forth. The middle market is especially crucial, as in good years, this is the segment that has extra money to put into expanding and upgrading their own businesses and into buying goods and services from others; it's also the segment most likely to attract new money and new players. When times are harder and the middle market contracts, it creates an undertow that, left unchecked, can collapse a bubble at the top end of the horse market---a lesson that investors learned to their cost in the late 1980s.
Thus, before getting overly optimistic over the early good results from the Keeneland sale, it may be wise for stallion owners and other players to pay attention to how the rest of the sale plays out. If it follows the lead of its opening week, well and good. If, on the other hand, it parallels the results from other yearling sales catering to the domestic market, it may be wise to avoid speculative moves and stick to more conservative courses aimed at staying alive and healthy in troubled times.
This champion sold not once but three times for prices of less than $10,000 at auction as an unraced youngster. She proved a great bargain, winning 25 stakes races. Who was she?
Named for a form of poetry, this excellent broodmare is one of the few to number two champions among her foals and is also the dam of a champion sire. Who is she?
Every great sire line waxes and wanes over time. Most become victims of their own success as the available breeding pool becomes saturated with a great progenitor's sons and grandsons, all in competition with one another for those good mares that are not daughters or granddaughters of their illustrious forefather. Eventually, even the greatest sires of sires usually see their male lines diminish into one or two branches, and another male line comes to the forefront.
In North America, the male lines of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector have been dominant both on the racetrack and in the sale ring for several decades, and both are in the process of paring down to a few strong branches---a process hastened in Mr. Prospector's case by his great prowess as a broodmare sire and the fact that many of his good sons have also proven fine sires of broodmares. Ironically, this is actually strengthening Mr. Prospector's position as a great genetic influence on the breed, as inbreeding to him through both male and female sources is becoming quite commonplace among top-quality stock. In the meantime, however, another sire line is rising to a dominant position that might have seemed unthinkable a decade ago---that of A.P. Indy, who 10 years ago took the second of his two American sire championships. He is now pensioned, but he has five sons and two grandsons among the top 20 American general sires as of today.
A look at Saturday's racing results serves to illustrate the impact that A.P. Indy's male line is having. His grandson Tapit, currently well on his way to a third consecutive title as America's champion sire. is the sire of the dead-heat winners of the Spinaway Stakes (USA-G1), Pretty City Dancer and Sweet Loretta, as well as Woodward Stakes (USA-G1) third Frosted, already a multiple Grade 1 winner this year. The Spinaway third-place runner Cherry Lodge? She's by A.P. Indy's son Bernardini. Pulpit, the sire of Tapit and paternal grandsire of California Chrome, is also the sire of Miss Chatelaine, third in the Glens Falls Stakes (USA-G3). A. P. Indy's daughter Secret Someone won the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Stakes (USA-L), and A.P. Indy's son Malibu Moon sired La Lorgnette Stakes (CAN-L) winner Moonlit Promise. That's quite a good showing just for one Saturday's graded and listed stakes.
Ironically A. P. Indy's sire line is getting a lot of help from Mr. Prospector, who is the broodmare sire of A.P. Indy's important sons Pulpit, Malibu Moon, Mineshaft, Congrats and Flatter and is the male-line ancestor of the broodmare sires of Tapit and Bernardini through his son Fappiano. This is contributing to an ever-greater divergence between American and European bloodlines, as both the Mr. Prospectors and the A.P. Indys have as a group been extremely effective on dirt but not so much on turf (though the Machiavellian and Kingmambo branches of Mr. Prospector are important exceptions), and I expect to see this divergence extend to Argentina (where dirt racing is a major part of the calendar, and where the Mr. Prospector line has already enjoyed great success) and Brazil (where most of the prestige events continue to be contested on turf). Northern Dancer isn't going away anytime soon, of course, but a similar dirt/turf split is evident between those lines that have been highly successful in North America and those predominant in Europe.
It will be interesting to watch the evolution of the A.P. Indy male line over the next couple of decades as the slew of high-class grandsons and great-grandsons of the old monarch take their turns in the breeding shed. Most likely, the line will pare down to one or two major branches as another male line begins its run at the top, but not before A.P. Indy joins that handful of great progenitors whose names are so widely dispersed in pedigrees that they are all but universal in American breeding.
The only stakes winner by a sire who won only one race and out of a dam who failed to place in her only start, this rags-to-riches hero was trampled by another horse as a foal, changed hands twice for less than US$3,000, and ran in claiming races for tags as low as US$1,500 before becoming a champion. Name him.
I'm Avalyn Hunter, an author, pedigree researcher and longtime racing fan with a particular interest in Thoroughbred mares and their contributions to the history of the breed.