by | 11.17.2010 | 12:48am

By Frank Mitchell

Where do the best young sires come from?

They don't come from the most insightful advertising, although it never hurts.

They don't always shine out of the sales results, although there sometimes is good support from perceptive buyers and a degree of positive response from the marketplace.

The proving ground for every sire is the racetrack, and the best young sires show what they can do from racing results around the world and from the successes of their offspring in the premium events.

A year ago, the result of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes suggested that Afleet Alex, sire of the winner, Dublin, might be a bright sire for the future, and the result of this weekend's G1 Travers firmly established that Gainesway Farm has yet another serious young sire on its roster.

From the standpoint of volume, the Travers seemed a success before the start because classic winner and champion Afleet Alex had three starters in the race. That, in itself, is testimony to the type of stock the horse is siring: they mature well, they can go a distance, and they have some class.

At the end of the 10-furlong event, Afleet Alex had the winner, Afleet Express, and the fourth horse, Afleet Again.

Bred in Kentucky by McMillin Bros. and James Devaney, Afleet Express sold for $245,000 as a Keeneland January short yearling in 2008, went through the ring at Keeneland September in 2008 with a hammer price of $185,000 and was retained, and now races for Gainesway Stable and Martin Cherry.

Devaney and the McMillin brothers have bred horses in partnership for approximately a quarter-century. The brothers – Robert, Pat, and Bruce – owned and operated McMillin Bros. Farm in Scott Country north of Lexington.

The eldest McMillin, Robert, died in 2006. His widow, Mary, said that the family still has the farm, although “we no longer have any horses in partnership.”

The McMillins bred “horses for the market,” she said, and “boarded horses for other people.” The partners sold all their yearlings, and Afleet Express was a foal-share with Devaney.

Devaney said, “After the colt was foaled, I sent the mare and foal to Lee McMillin (Robert's son). He brought this foal along through the weaning process, then Michael Hernon and Gainesway took great care of us through sales prep and the auction. It turned out great for everyone.”

Afleet Express is the second stakes winner out of the 13-year-old Expanse (by Distant View), whom Devaney purchased as a yearling. He paid $25,000 for the filly, raced her successfully (stakes-placed in the Ellis Park Debutante), and bred the mare's first five foals.

Devaney recalled that “we sold Afleet Express at the January Keeneland sale, and we were quite satisfied with the price. Then there was some interest in the dam, and we sold the mare later that year in foal to Tiznow (in a private transaction) to WinStar.”

Afleet Express has rewarded everyone who had faith in him and is rewarding his sire as part of the young stallion's overall success.

Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex is the leading second-crop sire in the country. Others in this group include Wildcat Heir, Pollard's Vision, freshman leader Roman Ruler, and Horses of the Year Ghostzapper and Saint Liam. A significant part of Afleet Alex's success is that he is getting class, with eight stakes winners making him the leading sire among the group to date, over Pollard's Vision in second with five stakes winners from stallions having first runners of 2009.

The surprising quality about Afleet Alex is how well his racers did last year and how much they have come along this season. Most sires get sprinters or stayers and specialize in that respect.

Most of the horses by Afleet Alex have some speed but carry it really well. And, with the exception of Dublin, who is on the sidelines after tackling the Triple Crown, the stock by Afleet Alex have shown considerable improvement through the year.

Chief among the improving 3-year-olds is Afleet Express, who was a winner in his only start last year, then fell ill back in the winter in Florida. Allowed time to recover and progress naturally, Afleet Express appears the late-coming star of the crop.

Devaney said, “They have managed Afleet Express so well, giving him time off when he needed it and letting him progress at his own pace, and they have been well rewarded.”

With the accelerating success of his runners this season, Afleet Alex, who stood for $15,000 this year, represents value for the breeders who went to him the last couple of years. Demand will be up for his stock, and the cost to breeders is notably less than for the horses produced during sunnier economic times.

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 a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.

Copyright © 2010, Frank Mitchell

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