Not long ago, being a turf horse was nearly the equivalent of being a gelding as a gauge for a racehorse’s prospects as a stallion in Kentucky or the primary regional markets.
A farm simply could not stand one and have any reasonable expectation of support from breeders.
This state of affairs always seemed strained to those of us with some knowledge of the breed’s history. Most horses run on turf; a lot of them even eat it. Several of the greatest sires never raced on anything else.
For instance, Nasrullah and Nijinsky were exceptional sires, stallions who sire stakes winners and champions on all surfaces. Numerous others, such as Lyphard, Blushing Groom, and Vaguely Noble, come to mind as superior sires who were turf racers and yet got stock with versatility.
But the perception – and perception was a firmer barrier than reality – was that “turf horses don’t make good sires.” Like glaciers thawing in the Arctic sun, however, that perception seems to be changing.
Spendthrift Farm General Manager Ned Toffey said, “Synthetic racing opened the door for some sires that were a little more turf-inclined, and although some of those surfaces are being replaced by dirt, there’s more and more turf racing all round. It’s different out there than it was years ago when people wouldn’t even look at a turf sire.”
And we’re going to “blame” this improving state of affairs on Lane’s End.
The Farishes’ farm just outside Versailles, Ky., stood the tremendous international sire Kingmambo (by Mr. Prospector) at a time when he was practically the only “turf horse” breeders could make money on at the sales. Then, the operation stood turf champion English Channel (by Smart Strike) and had success with him. They persevered and acquired Frankel’s full brother Noble Mission (Galileo), and the foals from his first crop have brought an average of $77,800 on a $25,000 stud fee, with a high price of $210,000.
So, the perceptions of negativity connected to turf sires appear to be breaking up like ice for the spring thaw, and it is opportune because more farms are standing turf performers.
For instance, Claiborne has Grade 1 winner Data Link (War Front); Airdrie Stud has Summer Front (War Front); Crestwood has Jack Milton (War Front); and Ashford has Declaration of War (War Front) and Air Force Blue (War Front).
And it does appear that War Front is significantly responsible for breaking up the logjam that was holding back the waters of reality and keeping “turf horses” from getting a chance at stud here in Kentucky.
That, at least in part, is surely due to the fact that War Front’s first two major performers – The Factor and Soldat – showed graded stakes-winning form on dirt. They were fast, versatile, and good-looking. The Factor, who stands at Lane’s End, has a G1 winner from his first crop, now 2, and that has not hurt the momentum for these horses, either.
Ashford is adding Air Force Blue, G1 winner on turf, to their roster for 2017, and Spendthrift Farm is also getting a son of War Front for next season with G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hit It a Bomb.
Ned Toffey said, “War Front is a $250,000 stallion. He’s a really good horse and really popular in America and Europe. So, we’ve been looking for the right son to stand. You’d love to stand a horse whose accomplishments had come on the dirt. But conformationally, Hit It a Bomb is not a horse who indicates ‘turf,’ and my sense is that he would have made a very nice dirt horse if given the opportunity.
“As his Breeders’ Cup victory at Keeneland showed, this horse was so precocious and so talented, with an incredible turn of foot, that we thought he would be a serious prospect. He isn’t a horse who couldn’t cut it on the dirt.
“We were approached by an international agent who understands the kind of horses we’re looking for,” and the deal was completed shortly thereafter.
Europe’s top 2-year-old last year, Air Force Blue, will be wholly owned by Coolmore, but Spendthrift typically opens up access to its stallions through programs like the “Share the Upside” arrangement where breeders acquire a breeding right in a horse, usually by sending a mare to the horse in each the first two years and paying those stud fees.
“Normally, we think in terms of about half the horse for breeding rights,” Toffey said. “The numbers will vary with different horses, but with Hit It a Bomb, we’d be somewhere in the neighborhood of 70.” The bloodstock leviathan, which currently has the largest stallion roster (27) in Kentucky, then sells seasons to supplement the stallion’s book.
Toffey added, “Recently, we have discussed backing down the size of our books in an effort to create more value for breeders.”
Scarcity does increase value as we have seen with the closely held seasons to leading sire War Front, the son of Danzig standing at Claiborne Farm who is responsible for much of this increasing interest in turf-performing bloodstock. And if only a couple of his sons produce high-class racers with regularity, we will be seeing more interest in horses of this type and aptitude.