The following post first appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.
In the great test of the racetrack, one thing is certain. Speed kills the opposition, and a stallion or broodmare who consistently transmits speed, whether quality front-running speed or powerful finishing speed, has a license to become a major influence in the breed.
Over the past 30 years, one of the most consistent sources of first-rate speed for front-running or finishing has been the great Northern Dancer stallion Danzig. An unbeaten and relatively untried racer, Danzig secured a place at stud through the confidence of the great horseman Woody Stephens and the faith that Claiborne Farm’s Seth Hancock had in the wisdom of the trainer of classic winners and champions.
Stephens brought Hancock together with Danzig’s owner Henryk de Kwiatkowski for lunch at Belmont Park, where the principals wrote out the syndication agreement on a napkin, and the rest is history.
Based at Claiborne for his entire career, Danzig became a sensation from his first crop of juveniles to race, which included 2-year-old champion colt Chief’s Crown, as well as Grade 1 winner Stephan’s Odyssey.
The dark bay horse with the white blaze slanting down his face became a sire of international renown with classic winners and champions, and over the past 20 years, Danzig has been the leading sire of stallions all around the world.
Now Claiborne Farm is standing the last internationally important son of Danzig, as the young stallion War Front has gone from strength to strength with his racing stock and appears to have caught the attention of breeders everywhere in a fashion similar to his famous sire.
And the reason for War Front’s transcendence in the world of breeding is speed. From the stallion’s early crops have come major winners like The Factor, who possessed the kind of speed that nearly burnt up the racing surface, and Declaration of War, a G1 winner in England with a furious finishing run who managed a close third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
An excellent example of the kind of speed that War Front can impart can be seen in the race his son Summer Front ran in the G2 Ft. Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After a toddling first quarter-mile in :25.19 and a half in :49, the contenders began to speed up, and the final five-sixteenths went in :29.92 for a good mile and a sixteenth time of 1:42.24.
Normally, good horses can’t finish that strongly if they have raced fast fractions during the first half of the race, and the race profile of the Ft. Lauderdale on turf resembled most races on that surface: moderate early, quickening late.
That is directly opposite the way most dirt races are conducted, with horses going fast early, then the winner slowing down the least in the final stages.
Much of the difference in the way races generally work out on dirt and turf is in the nature of the surface. Dirt is a consistent, durable material that will allow continued racing for weeks on end, but it will break away from a horse with great power. We can see this most often at the start, when horses with great power can sometimes push so hard that they cause themselves to stumble as the ground breaks away from them.
So the ideal dirt horse has power, but not too much of it, and also has great stride extension and rhythm that allows him to bowl along at a sharp pace.
In contrast, turf holds when a horse pushes against it, and the more power a horse has, the more he can accelerate. This allows the great change of pace we see in turf racing that is not usually possible with dirt racing.
So which kind of speed does War Front impart?
Like his sire and grandsire Northern Dancer, War Front can get both types of speed. Some of his offspring are notable for their smooth, efficient action; others are even more gifted with power. A good racer by War Front typically has a strongly muscled hindquarter, along with the length of body and hefty body that allows him to stretch out and cover the ground.
Those assets, allied with soundness and a great attitude for racing, have made War Front the next important American stallion to reckon with at the highest level of racing.
As evidence of both the demand for seasons to War Front and their lack of availability from his syndicate, the price of a 2014 season to War Front is $150,000 live foal. A sire generating this kind of interest is also sending sons to stud, such as The Factor at Lane’s End in Kentucky and Soldat in Florida. Now, Data Link, a G1 winner of $831,335, will be standing his first season at Claiborne this year for $7,500.