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Twenty years after the death of Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled (by Fappiano), the influence of the towering bay stallion proliferates through the breed.

In the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar on Nov. 14, the trifecta all descend from the 1990 Kentucky Derby winner. The winner was the highly touted Messier (Empire Maker), now a winner in two of his three starts. Second was Forbidden Kingdom (American Pharoah, by Pioneerof the Nile, by Empire Maker), and third was Winning Map (Liam’s Map, by Unbridled’s Song).

Through Grade 1 winner Pioneerof the Nile, the sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and champion juvenile Classic Empire, Empire Maker would hold a moderate advantage as the most vibrant branch of the Mr. Prospector line through Fappiano. The other challenger from the Unbridled clan is the one from Unbridled’s Song, who has two useful sons at stud in champion juvenile Midshipman and in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map, sire of Grade 1 winners Juju’s Map (Alcibiades and second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies) and Colonel Liam (Pegasus Turf and Turf Classic) this year.

A tremendous talent on the racetrack, Empire Maker sired Kentucky Derby seconds Pioneerof the Nile and Bodemeister while standing at Juddmonte Farm, was sold to Japan, then was repatriated to stand in Kentucky again, this time at Gainesway Farm, where he sired recent graded stakes winner Messier. (Gainesway photo)

Empire Maker’s branch of Unbridled is much more classic and more consistent in aptitude with the great classic sire Unbridled than the branch from Unbridled’s Song, which flirted with levels of speed hard to believe and sometimes hard to keep sound as a result.

Breeders and buyers love both types, though.

The commercial market almost decided that Empire Maker was too classic for American racing, and then, just when the stallion was sold to Japan, Empire Maker enjoyed a resurgence in American racing and breeding with the classic aptitude of Pioneerof the Nile and his famous sons.

That brought Empire Maker back to Kentucky for the final years of his term at stud, and he has had some bright spots, both on the racetrack, as well as at the sales. Yet overall, students of bloodlines tended to love Empire Maker more than the intuitive match makers of big, beautiful yearlings.

In Messier, there is a pleasing match of pedigree elements which produced a good sales yearling. Bred in Ontario by Sam-Son Farm, Messier was sold as a yearling at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton select yearling auction for $470,000. That was a strong price for an Empire Maker yearling in 2020, and Messier has a profile in keeping with the best colts from this line: developing good stakes form late at two, before accelerating their improvement the next year to challenge for the classics.

This is the pattern of development that Empire Maker himself showed under the patient training of Bobby Frankel. After being third in the Remsen Stakes at the end of his juvenile season, Empire Maker progressed to win the G1 Florida Derby and Wood Memorial, and he was favored for the Kentucky Derby. In the classic itself, however, Empire Maker finished second behind Funny Cide, then came back in the Belmont to win at the classic 12-furlong distance.

Never out of the money in eight starts with winnings of nearly $2 million, Empire Maker possessed the racing class and physical quality and depth of pedigree to make breeders believe they could breed classic winners, and the only real knock against Empire Maker and his stock is that they are probably too classic for the American racing program, with its tedious over-emphasis on racing at distances from six to eight furlongs.

Even so, Empire Maker has sired 67 stakes winners, including 37 graded winners, and all those positive qualities attracted some splendid mares to Empire Maker, including stakes winner Checkered Past (Smart Strike), the dam of Messier.

Messier is the fifth generation of this family bred by Sam-Son Farm, including his third dam Catch the Ring (Seeking the Gold), who was champion 3-year-old filly in Canada and then the dam of Canada’s champion juvenile filly Catch the Thrill, a full sister to Messier’s second dam, Catch the Flag (both by A.P. Indy).

Sam-Son bred Catch the Ring, her two stakes-winning full siblings, and three stakes-placed racers from stakes winner Radiant Ring (Halo), winner of 11 races and $775,478. Radiant Ring was the best stakes winner that Sam-Son bred from the stakes-placed Gleaming mare Gleaming Stone, who was bred in Kentucky by Nuckols Bros. in 1976.

In addition to the stamp of the Sam-Son Farm breeding program, the other great influence on Messier is Mr. Prospector himself. Not only does the colt trace to the great stallion son of Raise a Native in the male line, but the colt’s broodmare sire is Smart Strike, a son of Mr. Prospector who led the national sires rankings twice. And the third dam is a daughter of the fine broodmare sire Seeking the Gold, whose daughters are more dominant in America but whose male line through Dubai Millennium and his classic son Dubawi is one of the most important in Europe.