At the end of January, chestnut champion California Chrome closed out a career, and a week later, a fresh classic prospect with a touch of ‘chrome’ upended the form in the toughest 3-year-old contest of the new season with a victory in the G2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The winner of the Holy Bull was the unbeaten Irish War Cry (by Curlin), and the two most impressive things about the performance were, first, the way the chestnut colt won by open lengths after leading the whole way, and second, the depth of competition in the race where he defeated last season’s 2-year-old champion Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile) and the highly rated colt Gunnevera (Dialed In).
This commendable effort does not make him a ready-made classic winner, but it is a heck of a step forward to that goal.
Furthermore, the prospects for Irish War Cry in the classic distance races later this year are improved by his sire, a two-time Horse of the Year and probably the most classic American sire active today.
In addition to winning a Preakness, a Breeders’ Cup Classic, a Dubai World Cup, two Jockey Club Gold Cups, and more than $10 million, Curlin proved that he was a rock-solid 10-furlong performer on racetracks around the nation and in Dubai.
The brawny chestnut son of Smart Strike (Mr. Prospector) reveled in the distance, improved through his 3-year-old season and into his 4-year-old form. There was absolutely nothing about Curlin that said “sprinter.”
And in marked contrast to the contemporary breeding norms that make early-maturing, short-distance horses the most commercial prospects for stud, Curlin retired amid plenty of acclaim on the cusp of the Great Recession. He was so wildly popular that the plans were to stand him for $100,000, the same as classic winner Big Brown, but the deepening morass of economic collapse caused a revision to both stud fees down to $60,000 their first season.
Stud fees fell precipitously in the ensuing years, not just for Curlin or Big Brown, but for practically all stallions, and many sires had to leave Kentucky for homes far away where there were breeders eager to breed to them.
Most of the stallion prospects for the entering class of 2009 that included the two stars mentioned above are now gone from Kentucky. Even Big Brown stands in New York.
Curlin, however, stands for $150,000 live foal in 2017. He does not earn that kind of stud fee because of good looks, a rich pedigree, or even his exalted race record. The robustly made son of Smart Strike is in that kind of demand because of the results that Curlin gets on the racetrack.
From his first crop onward, Curlin has shown the ability to sire horses who can win the most important races in the country over a distance of ground, and breeders want to produce the stock that could become the home-run horse. Buyers want to purchase the yearlings and 2-year-olds who can win G1 stakes, classics, and championships.
And stallions who can deliver on classic potential and championship caliber are in the highest demand worldwide.
Curlin’s first crop included Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, and the third included Keen Ice (Travers). Last season, the stallion had five G1 winners, including Exaggerator (Preakness, Haskell), Off the Tracks (Mother Goose), Stellar Wind (Zenyatta, Clement Hirsch), Connect (Cigar Mile), and Curalina (2015 Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks, 2016 La Troienne).
Curlin has continued his impressive pace of success into this year, and Irish War Cry is carrying his sire’s banner high.
Bred in New Jersey by Isabelle de Tomaso, Irish War Cry goes back in the female line to stakes winner Irish Trip (Saint Crespin), who is the Holy Bull winner’s third dam, and the extended family goes through the Dormello Stud-bred Italian 1,000 Guineas winner Dagherotipia (Manna), thence to the marvelous Pretty Polly (Gallinule).
More to the point, Irish War Cry is the sixth foal of his dam, Irish Sovereign, a good winning daughter of Polish Numbers (Danzig). Polish Numbers is the sire of California Chrome’s second dam and is becoming a sire of considerable appeal in the bottom half of pedigrees.