Although there is still quite a bit of purse money to race for in the coming 30-odd days of 2022, the freshman sire list has firmed up considerably. Atop the rankings is the juvenile Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro (by Medaglia d’Oro). If the bay colt retains his position, he will become the first son of Medaglia d’Oro to lead a sire list and the first descendant of the Sadler’s Wells branch of Northern Dancer to lead a sire list in the States since Kitten’s Joy in 2018.

On Nov. 26, Bolt d’Oro’s son Instant Coffee became the stallion’s fifth stakes victor with a 1 1/4-length success in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Instant Coffee is his sire’s third graded winner, and the sire has nine racers who are stakes-placed.

Unhurried early behind slow fractions, Instant Coffee came strongly through the final three-sixteenths to win as the 1.54-to-1 favorite over Curly Jack (Good Magic), who was the second choice, had won the previous G3 Iroquois Stakes, and is one of five stakes winners by freshman sire and Eclipse champion juvenile Good Magic (Curlin), who is second to Bolt d’Oro on the freshman sire list.

If $100,000 in earnings represents a length, Bolt d’Oro is currently about three-quarters of a length ahead of Good Magic, and Justify (Scat Daddy) is about 1 ¾ lengths back in third. Then, Army Mule (Friesan Fire) is 3 ¼ lengths back in fourth, with a length on Sharp Azteca (Freud) in fifth.

Clearly, this is no 2021, when Gun Runner won the freshman sire contest by a pole, because even now there is significant room for competition among the leading cadre, and less than two lengths covers the next quartet: Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), Girvin (Tale of Ekati), Oscar Performance (Kitten’s Joy), and Mo Town (Uncle Mo).

Other points of importance to consider among the freshmen sires is that numbers matter. Of the 73 stallions with first-year starters, only 10 had more than 100 foals. Five of those fill the top six positions, and all 10 rank among the top 18. Only Army Mule (93) broke through the barrier of the most popular stallions, and he’s not far from 100 first-crop foals.

Oscar Performance has the smallest number of foals (72) among the stallions in the top 10, and three in the top set have more than double that number: Mendelssohn (152), Bolt d’Oro (146), and Good Magic (145). In contrast, the stallion with the fewest foals among the top 20 is 12th-place Awesome Slew (Awesome Again), with 36. Yes, some of the stallions have crops exceeding his by more than 100.

Awesome Slew stands at the O’Farrell family’s Ocala Stud in Florida, and Girvin also stood there until the exploits of his first crop racers, notably four stakes winners, including G2 Saratoga Special winner Damon’s Mound, propelled a transfer to Airdrie Stud in Kentucky.

Two of the stakes winners by Girvin won restricted races in Florida, parts of the Florida Stallion Stakes Series, and the chief winner by Awesome Slew, Awesome Strong, won the In Reality and the Affirmed divisions of the stallion stakes.

Although both of those young sires benefited somewhat from standing in a regional market, that fact also circumscribed their opportunities to a degree because there are not as many mares elsewhere as in Kentucky, nor all of an equal quality.

One such good, young, well-pedigreed mare beginning her producing career is the dam of Instant Coffee.

Bred in Kentucky by Sagamore Farm LLC, Instant Coffee may be the last horse bred by Kevin Plank’s Maryland-based operation that was dispersed in 2018. Hunter Rankin, who was president of Sagamore, said that Instant Coffee’s dam, the Uncle Mo mare Follow No One, “didn’t sell at the Keeneland November sale as a broodmare prospect, and Kevin did a deal with my parents [who own Upson Downs Farm]. That’s why Sagamore is listed as the breeder. She and the foal were both at Upson Downs all along.”

Rankin also bought the mare for Sagamore as a 2-year-old in training. He said, “Gatewood Bell had bought her as a yearling for $20,000 at the September sale, sent her to Eddie Woods as a 2-year-old, and I bought her for $100,000 at the April sale.” Still noticeably immature by the time of the sale, Follow No One showed some athleticism while working a quarter on synthetic in :21 1/5.

“Eddie thought she’d run through her conditions,” Rankin continued, “maybe get black type – which is exactly what happened [third in the Alma North Stakes at three]. She had some little things to work through, but she had some talent. It’s really exciting to have her get a really nice colt as her first foal.”

Upson Downs consigned Instant Coffee for Sagamore at last year’s September sale, and the dark brown colt brought $200,000 from Joe Hardoon, agent, and races for Gold Square LLC. “He won his maiden at Saratoga the week before the September sale,” Rankin recalled, which advertised the upside potential of his year-younger half-sister, a filly by Frosted (Tapit). Upson Downs sold their filly at the 2022 Keeneland September sale for $160,000 to HR Bloodstock.

Follow No One slipped to Speightstown (Gone West) but is in foal to Maclean’s Music (Distorted Humor) for 2023. A mate for next spring hasn’t been chosen.