The next step in the evolution of a stallion's reputation, from becoming a leading freshman sire to a leading sire, is to become a leading sire of stallions.
Each step in a stallion's rise to prominence is challenging, the barriers to success increase in difficulty, and the outcome is not easily evaluated till years have passed. As a result, a stallion is often not truly appreciated until well into his stud career.
Examples such as Storm Cat and Tapit rise to mind of horses who started out with good support but no better than average interest from the movers and shakers of the commercial market.
So it is interesting to put a bit of thought into War Front and his sons who are still in the early innings of their time at stud.
Although not a top 2-year-old himself, War Front marked his stock from the beginning with the speed and versatility most remarkable in the Danzig line. I well remember the explosion of excitement that Danzig himself caused with his first crop of runners. They had been pleasantly received as yearlings, and yet as 2-year-olds, their speed and quality were the cause of amazement.
Nobody expected them to be that good.
The chubby bay stallion picked up winner after winner from that first crop, highlighted by champion Chief's Crown and Grade 1 winner Stephan's Odyssey. Both were homebreds, but their success shone a spotlight on the successive yearling crops by their sire that made him one of the most commercially successful stallions in history.
Then, toward the end of Danzig's stud career, after years of siring champions and classic winners, important stallions and broodmares, Danzig sired War Front, who was a useful racehorse and a near-clone replica of his famous sire.
So there he stands today at Claiborne Farm, like his sire before him, and there in the second generation of War Front's pedigree is none other than Northern Dancer, and this is as close to the great little bay as American breeders can get today.
Given this, the results of the sons of War Front have more than passing interest to the breeders of America and Europe, as well as to our sport's fans. So far, the results are quite limited but promising.
The first sons to stud in Kentucky were The Factor (winner of the Grade 1 Malibu and Pat O'Brien) in 2013 and then Data Link (G1 and two G2 victories) and Declaration of War (G1 Juddmonte International and Queen Anne Stakes) in 2014. The Factor got G1 winner Noted and Quoted (Chandelier) in his first crop, as well as 2017 Illinois Derby winner Multiplier. With their first crops now 3, Data Link has a stakes winner and pair of stakes-placed runners; Declaration of War has G3 winners Speed Franco and Actress and four other stakes horses.
Additional War Front sons Summer Front and Jack Milton entered stud in 2016 and have yearlings this year. And the two most prominent sons of War Front to enter stud in 2017 were European champion Air Force Blue and G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hit It a Bomb.
Bred in Kentucky by Stone Farm, Air Force Blue is out of the Maria's Mon mare Chatham from the family of champion Flanders and sold to Coolmore for $490,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Breeder Arthur Hancock said, “Air Force Blue was a 2-year-old champion, was very fast, was a grand-looking horse, and is out of what I think was one of Bill Young's best families. None of us know for sure, but I'd look for him to have a big chance.”
Having bred and sold the horse, Hancock sent a mare to Air Force Blue as part of the horse's first book and got a “really nice foal” that is one of the 25-30 so far on the ground from the first crop by Air Force Blue.
What breeders have seen so far is positive, and Hancock is planning to send more mares to the horse in 2018. He said, “I'm going to breed a couple more mares to him this year, based on what I've seen so far. As the man said, 'You pays your money and takes your chances.'”
Hancock acquired the dam of Air Force Blue out of the Overbrook dispersal because “Bill Young and I were friends,” he said, “and I knew how good they thought Flanders was, and this was a good-looking mare with speed. That was all the planning that went into the purchase, and I was very fortunate to get her.”
Chatham has proven herself a very good mare for Stone Farm, and she has a yearling full sister to the G1 Dewhurst winner “who's as good-looking as any horse on Stone Farm,” Hancock said.
Dermot Ryan of Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Kentucky, where Air Force Blue stands, said this of the young stallion: “Air Force Blue showed a huge amount of ability on the racetrack, he wasn't just a standout in his own year but he's right up there with the best 2-year-olds that have raced in Europe in recent years. Outside of Frankel he still has the highest Timeform rating as a 2-year-old in the last 20 years so he had serious talent and as far as his first foals go, the early reports couldn't be any better. We've already got about 10 of our own on the ground by him and I don't think we've ever had such a consistently good group of foals this early in the season. They are all exceptional lookers with loads of quality, correct legs and even at a young age you can see they are good movers just like he is.”
With more of the first-crop foals by Air Force Blue arriving weekly, breeders will be making their mating plans in accord with the quality they see in those foals.
Likewise, the good juvenile racehorse Hit It a Bomb is getting his first foals on the ground this year, and breeders feel positive about them also.
Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift Farm, which stands Hit It a Bomb, said “We've been very eager to get a son of War Front because we believe he has a great chance to be a sire of sires. And we wouldn't hesitate to add another one, if it was the right horse.”
In addition to winning the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland in 2015, Hit It a Bomb ran in the frame of a pair of group races in Ireland at 3 but didn't recapture his better juvenile form. In the meantime, however, the horse's full sister, Brave Anna, became a G1 winner in the Cheveley Park Stakes and was ranked the best juvenile filly in Europe.
So, in addition to the attention paid to sires of young stallions, Hit It a Bomb had other recommendations, and Toffey said, “This horse reminds me of Jimmy Creed: tremendous pedigree, good-looking horse, son of a really good stallion, and Grade 1 ability.”
The farms standing these young stallions are planning further support for them, and then only time will tell which of the War Front sons have the genetic and physiological traits that transmit consistently to the next generation.
Toffey said, “War Front's having too great an influence around the world not to see some of them emerging successfully.”
Ashford's Ryan added: “We are very high on War Front's prospects as a sire of sires. We've been very encouraged by what Declaration of War has achieved so far with two graded stakes winners from his first crop already and the reports on War Command and Air Force Blue's stock has been very positive. War Front is obviously an exceptional sire as he showed again last season with the likes of US Navy Flag and he is from such an influential sire line. You can really see the similarities between War Front and Danzig so it makes sense that War Front would pass that influence down the line through his sons. With the quality of colts War Front has in the pipeline we couldn't be higher on the future of his sons at stud.”
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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