Kentucky breeders and racing fans everywhere have been slammed over the past week or so with the deaths of champions and leading sires. Both Gulch (age 32) and Kingmambo (26) died full of years and honors; they will be missed, but the time comes for us all.
Champion sprinter Gulch was bred and raced by Peter Brant, was trained by LeRoy Jolley, then Wayne Lukas. Jolley once noted that Gulch was the “toughest horse in the world,” which was high praise from an old-style trainer who did not value weakness in man nor beast.
A source of soundness and miler class, Gulch was a significant sire, and his best offspring included Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Thunder Gulch, 1,000 Guineas winner Harayir, and Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Court Vision. In all, Gulch has sired 75 stakes winners, including a stakes winner last year.
A son of Mr. Prospector like Gulch, Kingmambo was a stallion of even greater international acclaim. The sire of Eclipse Award winner Lemon Drop Kid, Japanese Horse of the Year El Condor Pasa, European highweights Henrythenavigator and Divine Proportions, as well as classic winner King’s Best, Kingmambo has sired 95 stakes winners to date. Kingmambo was the best racehorse and sire from his dam, the exceptional racehorse and broodmare Miesque (by Nureyev), and among Kingmambo’s sons at stud, Lemon Drop Kid in the U.S. and King Kamehameha in Japan have earned the most recognition.
Although Gulch had been a pensioner and great fan favorite at Old Friends, both he and Kingmambo spent their years at stud in the stallion barns at Lane’s End. Therefore, the deaths of these top horses were felt particularly at Lane’s End, as well as at Claiborne Farm, where the twin losses of the important sire Arch and the champion racemare Storm Flag Flying were tough spots in an unforgiving week.
Seth Hancock, on behalf of Claiborne and Adele Dilschneider, had purchased Arch as a yearling out of the King Ranch consignment of breeders Helen Alexander and Helen Groves at the Keeneland July sale for $710,000. Claiborne raced the near-black colt in its gold silks, then retired him to a successful career at stud.
The sire of 58 stakes winners, including 11 G1 winners, Arch is best known for champions Blame (Breeders’ Cup Classic) and Arravale (Del Mar Oaks), as well as such major winners as Les Arcs (July Cup), Hymn Book (Donn Handicap), Pine Island (Alabama), and Grand Arch (Shadwell Turf Mile).
Claiborne’s Bernie Sams noted: “Anyone who had anything to do with Arch, from Helen who raised him, to people who had the yearlings, bred mares to him, or who had some of his daughters at stud, knew what a class horse he was, and so many people did well with him.
“Arch was just a really solid sire, getting racehorses with class year after year, and they stayed sound. He remained popular to the end because he hadn’t bred too many mares, and a lot of people still wanted to have one.”
Simply on the practical side, Arch was still an active stallion with a sizable book of mares, and the 21-year-old stallion was in good health. After covering 67 mares in 2015, he was already booked to 60 mares for this year. The best son of his sire at stud, Arch was also one of the last surviving sons of the Roberto stallion Kris S. and was a star choice for many breeders looking for a handy outcross or a stallion virtually certain to get a two-turn performer with potential for racing on turf.
With the horse’s sudden death, however, breeders have been in a mad scramble with those mares booked to Arch because there are so few stallions between the six-figure stars like Tapit, War Front, American Pharoah, and Distorted Humor and the nice prospects who haven’t made it yet at stud. And many of the mid-range stallions with proven ability can be hard to get a season for, especially at this time of year.
Of course, the saddest deaths were the broodmares: champion Storm Flag Flying (Storm Cat) in Kentucky and G1 winner Somali Lemonade (Lemon Drop Kid) in England.
A shooting star on the racecourse, Storm Flag Flying was unbeaten as a juvenile and was the dominant figure of her division, winning the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Frizette, and Matron. Limited to only a pair of starts at 3, Storm Flag Flying came back at 4 to win the G1 Personal Ensign named for her granddam and the G2 Shuvee, and she finished second in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Odgen Phipps, third in the G1 Beldame and Go for Wand.
Storm Flag Flying has not produced an athlete of her own exalted class from five named foals of racing age, and while that may change, the racecourse performances of Storm Flag Flying and Somali Lemonade will stand as the testament to their class and courage.