The leading freshmen sires of 2018 were notable on a couple of counts, and not the least of these is that the leader is the Unbridled's Song stallion Cross Traffic, sire of the likely juvenile champion filly Jaywalk and the first son of his fabled sire to lead a national sire list in North America.
Winner of the 2013 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, Cross Traffic is a gray like his sire but is notably closer to average in size and much more elegant in build. Unbridled's Song was a towering figure, literally in the flesh and figuratively in his eminence at the sales.
Despite that, none of his many good sons had made the ultimate grade as a sire, until now. On the basis of his first crop's outstanding performances: 91 foals, 47 runners, 18 winners, five stakes winners and three stakes-placed horses for gross earnings of slightly more than $2.1 million, Cross Traffic will stand the 2019 season at Spendthrift Farm for a fee of $25,000 live foal.
Cross Traffic was more than $700,000 clear of his nearest freshman rival, the Into Mischief stallion Goldencents, who likewise stands at Spendthrift Farm. Spendthrift not only took the top two spots on the freshman list but also stands Itsmyluckyday (Lawyer Ron) in 19th; Can the Man (Into Mischief) 26th; and Shakin It Up (Midnight Lute) 27th.
Along with Can the Man, Goldencents is the first important son of Into Mischief at stud, and the results of that pair, especially two-time Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents, is a massively positive result for the young son of Harlan's Holiday because it appears the sons of Into Mischief have inherited some of the magic genetics of their overachieving sire.
This is not a knock on Into Mischief. He's a first-rate sire. Period. But he was nothing like that dominant as a racehorse. Good horse certainly, perhaps a very good horse as a racer, but he has been a revelation of superior performance at stud.
And from the performance of his first pair of stallion sons, Into Mischief appears to be the opposite of Unbridled's Song in getting stallion success from sons.
In fairness to Unbridled's Song, most sires do not get more than one or at most two good sons. And if this crop of freshmen had come from the early crops of Unbridled's Song, we would be singing his praises because he not only had the leading freshman sire, but fifth on the list is 2013 champion 3-year-old colt Will Take Charge, winner of the Travers and a gorgeous chestnut very much in the mold of his famous sire.
A massively constructed horse with the glamor and good looks of a movie star, Will Take Charge had taken the yearling sales by the scruff of the neck and given them a good shake when his first yearlings came to market in 2017. They have followed through acceptably with their first season of racing, and from 104 foals and 44 starters, Will Take Charge had 14 winners, one stakes winner, and five stakes-placed racers. As big as some of them are, should we expect they will improve with age and that some of those stakes-placed horses and maiden winners will progress to greater things in the future?
The stallion who challenged Will Take Charge among the sires of first-crop yearlings was the Pioneerof the Nile stallion Cairo Prince, a high-class juvenile from the first crop of his now-famous sire. Winner of the Nashua Stakes and the narrowest of seconds to Honor Code in the Remsen at 2, Cairo Prince progressed so well in the early months of his 3-year-old season that he was the subject of enormous offers that ended with a majority interest in the gray being sold to Darley. The horse then fell victim to injury, never raced again, and went to stud at Airdrie.
The quiet end to his racing career proved the opposite to the opening of his stallion career, with first-crop yearlings selling for an average of nearly 14 times the horse's stud fee, and with a median price of nearly 10 times the stud fee. Nearly every one made a profit, and that prompted a rise of Cairo Prince's stud fee to $25,000.
In the early days of the freshman sire race, Cairo Prince was nowhere. Couldn't find him with a map. Then, he started picking up a winner or two. There were a rash of maiden special winners in the last three months of the year that propelled him to 19 winners from 61 runners out of 120 foals. From those, the pick was Cairo Cat, winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on Sept. 15, and Giza Goddess, winner of the Blue Norther Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 30, plus Pakhet, who was second in the G2 Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 10. All these black-type races were at a mile or mile and a sixteenth.
More clearly than a trail of bunny tracks through the snow, the stock by Cairo Prince are improving with age and distance and maturity. And better things will be coming their way.
On Jan. 5 at Gulfstream, the freshly minted 3-year-old Mihos (Cairo Prince) won the Mucho Macho Man stakes at a mile after winning his maiden at six furlongs on Nov. 24 at Aqueduct. The horse for whom that stakes is named is also a freshman sire of 2018, and he finished 9th on the list, just behind the well-respected Fed Biz (Giant's Causeway) and Verrazano (More Than Ready) and just ahead of the lamentably deceased Tritap, a son of Tapit who stood in Maryland and proved the great surprise of the top 10, with 10 winners from 17 starters and 34 foals for earnings of $591,049.
The only other non-Kentucky stallion among the top 10 freshmen is New York-based Central Banker (Speightstown), who stands at McMahon Thoroughbreds of Saratoga and upstaged some quite pricey young sires with 10 winners from 36 starters out of 75 foals. He has two stakes winners and year earnings of just more than $1 million. A salty start for a young horse standing for $7,500 live foal.
The remaining stallion in the top 10 is number six, the English-bred Noble Mission, who is a full brother to superstar racer and sire Frankel and who has begun his stud career here in the dirt-track world of Stateside racing with the best freshman effort ever for a son of the great sire Galileo.
The stock by Noble Mission are virtually guaranteed to improve at 3, when they will also encounter greater opportunities for turf racing. Maturity and longer distances should aid some other stallions, like Cairo Prince, Cross Traffic, and Will Take Charge, and the performances of the two sons of Unbridled's Song should hearten the breeders using Liam's Map and Arrogate, a winner of the Whitney Stakes (and the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile) and a winner of the Travers and champion 3-year-old like Cross Traffic and Will Take Charge.
Liam's Map will have his first racers in 2019, and the first foals by Arrogate will arrive this year.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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