City of Light's dominant victory in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes was the kind of effort that can fill a stallion prospect's first book in a hurry, but the heavy lifting was already long since finished by the time the horse set foot on the sandy loam of Gulfstream Park.
The son of Quality Road already had a full book of 165 mares on his dance card before retiring to Lane's End following the Pegasus, and Lane's End's Bill Farish said the farm had to turn away so many mares, they could have filled his book again.
This is unquestionably a ringing endorsement from the bloodstock community for a horse. The way he got to that full book, though, shows City of Light's respect from breeders goes still another level deeper.
City of Light will be one of three incoming stallions on the Lane's End roster in 2019, joining champions Accelerate and West Coast. Following the Breeders' Cup, Accelerate and West Coast vanned from Churchill Downs to Lane's End for inspection by prospective breeders during the fall mixed sale season, when a large chunk of the Thoroughbred breeding population descends on Central Kentucky. City of Light went back to the Southern California barn of trainer Michael McCarthy and never set foot on the Lane's End property until after the Pegasus.
Even without the benefit of having a physical product to see at the end of the shank at Lane's End, the requests rolled in.
“Obviously, he had a reputation,” Farish said. “He was a $710,000 yearling, and the people that had seen him, or talked to people that had seen him, gave glowing reports because he's such a gorgeous horse. I think in most cases, it would have been tough [pitching the stallion to breeders], but his reputation and what he'd done on the racetrack, made it easy. We were completely crushed with requests.”
For Adrian Gonzalez of California-based Checkmate Thoroughbreds, the line to get into City of Light's book began well before his Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile triumph in early November.
“I had no idea what his fee was going to be, but I started campaigning to get into him around September,” Gonzalez said. “Poor Jill McCully (of the Lane's End stallion seasons and sales team), I was sending emails to her non-stop about trying to get in over there, and she said, 'We don't have a fee set. It's a little early,' but in my experience, I'm always getting turned away because it's too late, so I figured it couldn't hurt to try.
“I nominated probably all of my mares,” he continued. “I sent a list of 10 or 12 mares to them, and said, 'If you can get them all spots, I'll take them. If I can only get one, that's great.”
Gonzalez got one mare into City of Light's book; the Grade 1-placed stakes-winning Storm Creek mare La Nez.
John Mulholland of Mulholland Springs in Lexington, Ky., was another betting heavily on City of Light's potential, nominating five mares to the stallion and getting three into the book: the Exchange Rate mare R Naja, the Blame mare Blame It On Alphie, and the Rockport Harbor mare Grace's Treasure. All three mares are stakes-placed or better.
“I think it's a natural thing for commercial breeders,” Mulholland said. “It's the sire line that you want, the race record that you want, and that stud fee range is right in that wheelhouse of what we're looking for. It was a natural one for us to go to.”
Previously a supporter of City of Light's sire Quality Road, a fellow Lane's End resident, Mulholland said the elder's ascension into the six-figure stud fee stratosphere was a big factor in looking at the younger horse as an option. City of Light's advertised fee is $35,000, compared with Quality Road at $150,000.
Still, Mulholland was encouraged by the massive demand for City of Light and the commercial implications it could have down the road.
“You want to be going to something that everybody's after – supply and demand. I want to be going to something some people can't get to,” he said. “That sounds to me like something that if I sell a mare in foal to him, or the foal, that he'll be very sought after.”
For both Mulholland and Gonzalez, City of Light's reputation as a high-priced yearling went a long way in basing their decisions to send mares to him. City of Light was consigned by Lane's End at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, where he brought $710,000. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid for a Quality Road yearling.
Gonzalez was familiar with City of Light's conformation from inspecting him as a yearling. He has followed the horse closely through photographs and seeing him at the racetrack in California, but he hasn't gotten a stand-up look at City of Light in-person since the horse matured into an adult.
“At that time, Quality Road was a sire with some respect, but he wasn't what he was now, so for him to bring what he did as a yearling, I figured his conformation had to be flawless because that was a big price to pay at the time for a Quality Road,” Gonzalez said.
Mulholland caught glimpses of City of Light a few times over the years, including at Churchill Downs prior to his start in the Dirt Mile. The logistics of the Pegasus World Cup extending City of Light's racing career beyond the typical “retire after the Breeders' Cup, show during the November sales” model typical of many elite stallion prospects caused him to operate outside of his comfort zone.
He had to lean into what he knows about Thoroughbreds and the Thoroughbred industry. Using that criteria, City of Light was a leap of faith he was willing to make.
“We are typically the type of breeders who go look at studs more than once, sometimes multiple times, but that's an odd situation with the Pegasus,” he said. “It's hard to recommend to yourself, let alone your clients, to breed to something if you haven't actually seen it, but you have to go with your gut instinct. He wouldn't have brought $710,000 if he was back at the knee, or crooked, or small, or whatever it may be.”
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