Bloodlines Presented By The Virginia Thoroughbred Association: American Pharoah Off To Soaring Start

by | 01.07.2020 | 9:43am
Four Wheel Drive, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., wins the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint on Breeders’ Cup Championship Friday at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California on November 1, 2019. John Voorhees/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders’ Cup/CSM

What seemed a certainty in the last weeks of the 2019 racing season is now official: Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (by Pioneerof the Nile) is the leading freshman sire in North America. The bay champion is also ranked second overall among all sires of 2-year-olds behind only the overall leading sire of 2019, Into Mischief (Harlan's Holiday).

From the initial efforts of the first racers by American Pharoah, it was obvious that many of them had athletic talent, and the stallion's tally of winners grew throughout the season to 27 by the season's end, and he was tied with Constitution and Tapiture (both by Tapit) for the greatest number of winners by a freshman sire last year. In fact, except for the arrival of 'The Pharoah,' the big story of this year's freshman crop would be the dominant importance of Tapit as a sire of young sires. Clearly in the performance of the juvenile stock by Constitution, the sire of five stakes winners, including four graded winners, Tapit has a son of eminent ability.

As good as Constitution proved with his first crop, the key to American Pharoah's success at the top of the freshman sire standings was the consistent quality of his offspring. Last year, four of his first-crop racers won stakes and three won graded stakes, including Four Wheel Drive, winner of the Grade 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, and Sweet Melania, winner of the G2 Jessamine Stakes. Furthermore, the sire has a half-dozen stakes-placed horses, including Monarch of Egypt, second in the G1 Phoenix Stakes in Ireland, and American Theorem, second in the G1 American Pharoah at Santa Anita.

The most surprising aspect of American Pharoah's stud career to date is that all his stakes winners showed their form on turf, with only stakes-placed American Theorem getting a premium placing on dirt. This may mean relatively little in the long run, but the obvious fact that the horse's stock race well on turf has elevated his profile among breeders and buyers in Europe and Australia, where nearly all the racing is on turf. That is going to make the American Pharoah stock all the more popular around the globe, especially if they progress as expected into their second season of racing.

On New Year's Day, Prince of Pharoahs ran second in the Jerome Stakes on dirt, and many of the sire's offspring seem certain to improve notably at 3. Aside from the fact that many showed turf form, the American Pharoah stock surprised just a bit by being quite so precocious.

As a racehorse, American Pharoah was notable for the effectiveness of his stride, and the dominant factor in his superiority to his contemporaries was the horse's ability to stride out and maintain that stride and high cruising speed over a distance of ground. While nobody was interested in testing the classic colt against specialist sprinters, the divisional champion at 2 and 3 would have made such horses earn their hay if he'd been thrown in against sprinters at their preferred distance.

Setting one's sights on the classics, however, was the route to equine greatness, and American Pharoah obliged with the first Triple Crown in 37 years. There is, furthermore, every reason to expect that some of his stock will find greater success over classic distances, whether in America or Europe.

In terms of pedigree, this line descending from Unbridled (Fappiano) has shown consistent improvement in its stock from 2 to 3 and from a mile to longer distances. Unbridled himself won the Kentucky Derby and was second in the Preakness; Empire Maker was second in the Kentucky Derby and won the Belmont; and Pioneerof the Nile was second in the Kentucky Derby, finishing second to Mine That Bird.

Phenotypically, some of the quicker juveniles by American Pharoah were noted for being rather different than their sire, but the ones making the greater impression later in the season were individuals with many of the characteristics of their sire. They tend to be good-size, rather scopy, horses with good length through the body and good muscling to the shoulder and hindquarters. They are not, however, apt to be confused with sprinters; these are horses that want to go at least a mile, probably somewhat farther.

Getting a classic winner from his first crop would seem to be expecting rather too much, but American Pharoah has obliged by getting attractive and athletic-looking stock, which were appreciated by the commercial market, and by getting effective racers that have elevated him to leading sire among his contemporaries. Ranking second in the overall standings of juvenile racers, American Pharoah is lodged between a pair of powerhouses: Into Mischief in first and Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) in third. That is elite company, indeed, and if the promising young sire continues to excel, the sky is the limit for his stock and his eventual impact on the breed around the world.

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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