There are some arbitrary points when we as human beings and horse breeders look backward and evaluate what has happened. Sometimes we learn from it.
The annual groups of freshmen sires over the past 20 years have proven the most popular subset of stallions to breed to because they have been the most commercially predictable and successful.
This preference for the stock by unproven sires is contrary to most commercial exhanges, which tend to value consistent performance as a benchmark of value, but is sometimes justified by saying that nobody “has ever had a slow one” when these sires’ offspring first come to the market.
But how reliable is this approach to selecting yearlings? The answer is “it depends.”
The freshmen sires from 1999, for example, included some pretty good animals, including Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat, Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch, Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin, 2,000 Guineas winner Mister Baileys, and some other talented racers like Devil His Due, French Deputy, Mr. Greeley, Numerous, and Valiant Nature.
Just from that list, you don’t need me to tell you which did and did not make the grade as stallions in Kentucky. Of those with the highest reputations, Thunder Gulch has done the best. His most famous racer, Horse of the Year Point Given, came in the stallion’s second crop, and his best daughter, BC Distaff winner Spain, was the major winner from his first.
The biggest disappointment of the top group was Tabasco Cat. A tall and quite scopy horse of immense charisma, Tabasco Cat was the most classic of Storm Cat’s sons and certainly one of his most beautiful. Breeders and buyers all jumped onto the Tabasco Cat bandwagon, with his first-crop yearlings selling for as much as $1 million.
Despite the influence of Storm Cat, who was a powerful force for early development and speed, the stock by Tabasco Cat needed time and showed better form with maturity. American breeders had gone cold on the stallion when Japanese buyers swooped in and picked him up from owners Overbrook Farm and David Reynolds.
Whereas the Tabasco Cat stock proved pretty useful, if given time and sometims turf, the utter disappointment of this group of freshmen from the commercial point of view was the stock by the Carson City stallion Boone’s Mill. A big, powerful sprinter who was fast and good at 2, Boone’s Mill produced big, bulky young horses that really caught people’s attention in the sales ring, and he proved a heinous dud.
In contrast, Mr. Greeley (one of the earliest sons of Gone West to make a mark at stud) earned the regard of buyers and sellers and has held it to this day.
In fact, of this group of freshmen, Mr. Greeley would be the most popular today, although several stood higher in regard a decade ago. Yet even at the time, quite a number of good horsemen, such as breeders Rob Whiteley and Tom Van Meter, really liked the stock by Mr. Greeley.
The early yearlings by the stallion were strong and good-looking, averaged nearly $100,000, and Van Meter said he liked the “speed and quality” he was seeing in them when the first crop was only yearlings coming through preparation for the sales.
Now the sire of such G1 winners as Finsceal Beo, Nonsuch Bay, El Corredor, Saoirse Abu, Reel Buddy, Whywhywhy, and Celtic Melody, Mr. Greeley stands for $50,000 live foal at Gainesway Farm and is one of the best-regarded stallions in the world.