The freshmen sires of 2021 are pipping like chicks ready to break out of their shells. They’ve incubated long enough, and breeders, owners, and stallion managers are ready to see the results, as well as the racing public. After a year for gestation and a further two and half years of growth and preparation, the first-crop racers by these new sires are coming to the races, and some are getting their pictures taken.
Nine freshmen sires have had a black-type winner so far. Ashford’s formerly Irish-based Caravaggio (by Scat Daddy) leads the group with three stakes winners, and Horse of the Year Gun Runner (Candy Ride) leads by earnings with a pair of stakes winners from his base at Three Chimneys. Unified (Candy Ride) stands at Lane’s End and is in the mix with a pair of stakes winners also.
Practical Joke (Into Mischief; Ashford), Mohaymen (Tapit; Shadwell), Shaman Ghost (Ghostzapper; Adena Springs North), Bal a Bali (Put it Back; Calumet), and Eagle (Candy Ride; Valor Farm) each have one black-type winner, and Gormley (Malibu Moon; Spendthrift) is the latest to join the group of stakes sires after his High Oak won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special by 4 1/4 lengths over Gunite (Gun Runner) on Aug. 14.
Bred in Kentucky by Catherine Parke, High Oak is the fifth named foal and first stakes winner for his dam, the Elusive Quality mare Champagne Sue. Parke said, “When you get a super good-looking colt, and it goes to a trainer like Bill Mott, the sky’s the limit,” and High Oak came along just when his dam needed the boost from a high-class stakes winner.
“This is such a good-looking, strong mare. She’s a full 16.1 with a big, strong hindquarter, and she reproduces those looks. She’s had several nice-looking foals,” Parke said, “including her first,” a Mineshaft colt who sold for six figures as a yearling and a 2-year-old, then won four races in Japan and earned $428,185.
Aside from that, Champagne Sue might be thought a hard-luck mare. “She had a barren year, then lost a foal,” Parke recalled. “We had a couple of years when I’d have given up on her, but for that pedigree.”
Champagne Sue is a half-sister to G3 Affirmed winner Golden Itiz (Tiznow) and G2 Prioress winner Sapphire n’ Silk (Pleasant Tap).
The latter is the dam of two stakes winners, and all told, the second dam, Golden Tiy (Dixieland Band), has five daughters who have produced stakes winners. Most importantly, one of the winning half-sisters is Silk n’ Sapphire (Smart Strike), whom Parke bought in 2008. The mare produced Grade 1 winner Shared Account (Breeders’ Cup Filly Turf) and Grade 3 winner Colonial Flag (Pleasant Tap).
Parke bought Champagne Sue in 2010 and sold High Oak as a foal in 2019 for $37,000, the fifth-highest price for a weanling by Gormley. The colt resold as a yearling at Keeneland September for $70,000, the ninth-highest of 75 Gormley yearlings. Champagne Sue is back in foal to first-season sire Instagrand (Into Mischief).
Winner of the G1 FrontRunner in 2016 and the G1 Santa Anita Derby in 2017, Gormley covered his first book of mares in 2018 at Spendthrift and was immensely popular with breeders, many of whom scooped up seasons that gave them a lifetime breeding right in the horse. To secure a breeding right, mare owners had to sign up to breed a mare to the horse at a stud fee of $12,500 for the first two seasons. Of those, 57 completed the program and now own a lifetime right in an upwardly mobile freshman sire. Typical of the A.P. Indy sire line, Gormley is a sizable, lengthy horse who performed best at a mile and up, and a large part of his foals seem to be cast in this type with good size and scope.
High Oak won the Special going 6 1/2 furlongs and looked stronger at the end than at the midpoint of the Saratoga Special, which suggests he could improve when racing at longer distances.
In addition to Gunite’s second in the Saratoga Special, champion Gun Runner is one of three freshmen sons of leading sire Candy Ride with a stakes winner. Both Unified and Gun Runner have a pair of stakes winners. Eagle is the third son of Candy Ride, and he stands in Texas at Valor Farm. His daughter Eagle Express won the Pan Zareta division of the Texas Stallion Stakes at Lone Star. Eagle has eight foals in his first crop, whereas Gun Runner has 103 and Unified has 88.
Unified’s daughter Behave Virginia won the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 26, with Gun Runner’s daughter Wicked Halo third. Unified added his second stakes winner on Aug. 15 when Roger McQueen won the Ellis Park Juvenile, and Gun Runner’s son Costa Terra was third.
Last weekend, Gun Runner had his first two stakes winners when both Wicked Halo and Pappacap won. At Saratoga on Aug. 8, Wicked Halo won the G2 Adirondack Stakes by 3 ½ lengths, and the previous day, Pappacap won the G2 Best Pal at Del Mar by 4 3/4 lengths. Thanks to this positive stakes activity, Gun Runner sits atop the freshman sire standings with $802.863.
While Candy Ride is riding high with three well-regarded freshmen, both Tapit (Mohaymen and Divining Rod) and Malibu Moon (Gormley and Stanford) have two sons each in the top 15 at this point.
The lengthening distances and increasing competition will continue to illuminate the merits of the sires and their offspring, while providing fascinating racing in the coming months.