The leading sire in America for 2017 is Pioneerof the Nile. The sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah had a good year with runners in 2016, but anyone counting crops, like me, knew that the stallion’s third-crop 3-year-olds were on deck last year, with the 2-year-olds coming from Pioneerof the Nile’s fourth crop.
Those third- and fourth-crop foals are normally from smaller crops than the preceding two, reducing the chance of striking the steel for that living spark to light another bonfire of success. Pioneerof the Nile, however, did just that.
In the last quarter of 2016, Classic Empire came to the fore of the juvenile crop with a pair of Grade 1 victories in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Now the champion pro-tem among the 2-year-old colts, Classic Empire is a well-regarded prospect for the classics of 2017.
Before the arrival of Classic Empire, one of the stallion’s first-crop performers, G1 winner Midnight Storm, admirably filled some of the gap last season left by American Pharoah, and Midnight Storm again did the honors on the first day of the New Year, putting his sire atop the leading sires table with a front-running victory in the G2 San Pasqual Stakes.
Moreover, Midnight Storm has won five of his last six starts: a G1, a trio of G2s, and a G3. His only loss came in November’s G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which he was third behind Tourist (by Tiznow) and champion filly Tepin (Bernstein), winner of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile when held at Keeneland.
Midnight Storm and Classic Empire are the two U.S.-raced G1 winners in 2016 by Pioneerof the Nile. The stallion’s third G1 winner of last year is La Alpujarra, winner twice at the premium level in the Clasico Hipico Nacional and the Clasico Cruz de Avila, both at La Rinconada in Venezuela.
Midnight Storm and La Alpujarra come from the first crop by their sire, who went to stud in the dark depths of the Great Recession, and that first crop is also represented by graded stakes winner Cash Control, who most recently won the G3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs in November.
They are evidence that the stock by Pioneerof the Nile possesses some excellent qualities for sturdiness and longevity in their racing, and the better ones are also noteworthy for their good looks.
I will never forget the first time I saw Pioneerof the Nile led out of his stall. His head and neck came out, then his shoulders, then the dark horse’s dark midsection, and finally the horse’s great length of hip went past. It was more like being passed by a ship than a horse. Pioneerof the Nile is a big boy.
Then, as the sizable colt stood quietly in the half-light of the Vinery stallion barn, his near-black coat gave off gleams like highly polished mahogany. He was a memorable sight. His length and height, scope and length of rein, and depth of hip and shoulder fitted together so perfectly that there was no indication of his size till standing next to him, and the horse’s good manners were an indication that he put his energies into racing.
Winner of the G1 Hollywood Futurity at 2, the Santa Anita Derby at 3, then second in the Kentucky Derby, Pioneerof the Nile possessed a high degree of precocity and speed, stamina and class.
He has passed on these qualities to his best progeny. The most notable of them is American Pharoah, who was never better suited than in his races for the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, when he was allowed to power along with an enterprising ride that put his large stride and metronomic cadence to best effect.
That same approach to racing fits Midnight Storm equally well, and he has employed his speed and maneuverability to great effect. He has controlled the lead in each of his five victories mentioned above, and in his only loss, the third to Tourist and Tepin, Midnight Storm tracked the flaming pace (:21.81, :44.61, 1:08.59) and was pegged back to third in a final time of 1:31.71.
The good-looking Midnight Storm had his most impressive victory in the G3 Native Diver Stakes, which was less than a month after the BC Mile and preceded the San Pasqual. Racing nine furlongs on a “good” surface that looked a bit tiring, the son of Pioneerof the Nile powered away from his opponents to win by 7 ¾ lengths.
A May foal, Midnight Storm has strengthened and improved throughout his 5-year-old season, and he may be one who finds his true medium is racing nine furlongs or longer under testing conditions that put a premium on stride, sturdiness, and a game attitude.