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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Predicting a Stallion's Success

VFTRG contributor Joe F. offers his thoughts on whether or not you can accurately predict a stallion's success in the breeding shed.

After his colt, Smilin Eli, finished a well beaten second to Royalty For Life in the Hambletonion, owner Nick Cimino said in part, “We got beat by a very good horse today, but we’ll get our revenge in the breeding shed. When it comes to that he’s the crème de la crème….” This brand of revenge would be served cold and stale as with the Gural rule in place it will be five years before we get even a glimpse of what these two are capable of as stallions. (Why not exact his revenge a week from Saturday in the Colonial? Both colts are staked to it.)

Regardless, that quote plays into the question of whether or not siring success can be predicted based on some sort of algorithm tied to performance, pedigree and conformation. Mr Cimino may view RFL as a freak who overcame his pedigree, while he sees Eli as a trotter living up to his lineage and simply doing what he’s supposed to do. Much of the time and effort sifting through sale catalogues is devoted to the bottom line. New stallions are a crap shoot and those that have been around for awhile are what they are. 

Eli’s daddy is the very productive stallion, Muscles Yankee, who has kept us waiting for a viable extender and seems to have already swung and missed in a big way with Dewey. On the other hand, judging by his initial two-year-old crop, Muscle Hill appears to be a stallion on the come, and he may fill that role.

Eli’s dam, Gerri’s Joy, was an excellent race mare and won both the Merrie Annabelle and the Moni Maker. She’s from the Miss Copeland family, which is better known for top tier pacers of late but has given us plenty of talented trotters along the way: Titan Hanover, Speedy Rodney, Pomp, Flirth, Madison Avenue and Glidemaster, to name a few.

Shortly after the race ended Hanover sent out a congratulatory tweet, pointing out that Royalty For Life was the eighth Hambo winner from Super Bowl’s sire line. So while RFL is by the marginal ten-year-old Credit Winner stallion RC Royalty, he does trace back to Stars Pride on top—not Meadow Skipper the way that genuine freak, Googoo Gaagaa, does. RC Royalty won the Valley Victory at two. He took a :55 mark and earned 665K. His oldest are four-year-olds and his opportunities have been limited. His sire stands 17.1 hands and the dam sire, Balanced Image, was a 16.1 hands brute. Size, strength and endurance went out with Speedy Scot. This guy is something of a throw back. Folks say Bee would crush all the boys; I don’t know that she’d run this one down.

Royalty For Life’s dam, Bourbon N Grits, took a mark of 2:04 and certainly didn’t win the Merrie Annabelle or the Money Maker, although her own dam was a productive stakes winner. Bourbon N Grits is from the Belle Lupe family which has not been very productive in NA.  Still, on the bright side, this mare is by Donerail and his daughters have conceived the likes of Pampered Princess, Enough Talk, Broad Bahn, Dejarmbro, Magnum Kosmos, and now, Royalty For Life.

RC Royalty’s oldest are four-year-olds. He stands in New York, keeps a low profile and is marketed as a regional stallion. Muscles, who is now in Pennsylvania, has been aggressively supported and he has capitalized on his opportunities. When it comes to extending himself, Muscles failed to get that done early the way most top stallions do. Mr Muscleman was an outstanding member of his first crop , but he’s a gelding. Tom Ridge has been ordinary at best; Dewey has been a disaster; Muscle Massive’s first crop sells this year with Hanover squarely behind him. Muscle Hill, on the other hand, has that look of success. Muscles is not a sire of sires at this juncture.

Credit Winner is Muscles junior by two years. He has no Muscle Hill in waiting. Crazed, who is having some success in the NYSS, now occupies the Stars Pride Chair at Hanover. Chocolatier has been exported. Here Comes Herbie has Mister Herbie but not much else. Archangel and Dejarmbro are just getting started. 

Is there such a thing as a sire of sires? Murray Brown says no. He has written that, “Having a great sire is just a freak of nature.” Brown asks, “Was Worthy Boy a sire of sires? Yet he sired Stars Pride. Was Dale Frost a sire of sires? Yet he sired Meadow Skipper.” He then goes on to cite Napoleon Direct, the sire of Billy Direct, Oil Burner, the sire of No Nukes and Silent Majority, the sire of Abercrombie. One can’t argue with this: all of the above are one-offs. Napoleon Direct, Oil Burner and Silent Majority have no other siring sons worth mentioning. The NYSS stallion, Sharpshooter, was the second best trotting stallion by Worthy Boy. He gave us Gunner (g) and Fine Shot, and was no sire of sires. And after Skipper, Dale Frost’s best was Fulla Napoleon, the sire of Tijuana Taxi, Golden Fulla and Momentum. Sorry. Dale Frost’s second best siring son was the sub-regional stallion, Mountain Skipper, whose claim to fame was siring the dam of Presidential Ball. 

 These examples are all from well in the past. Billy Direct was born 79 years ago; Stars Pride 66 years ago; Meadow Skipper 53; Abercrombie 38; and No Nukes was born 34 years ago. Kadabra, a 14-year-old son of Primrose Lane, and the sire of Bee A Magician, is a modern stallion fitting this profile. Bob Marks also includes SBSW in this category. 

Marks emphasizes that there is no simple answer to this question. He cites Western Ideal and the fact that “he sired two great sires in his first crop, Rocknroll and American Ideal.” He’s also taken note of what Always a Virgin is accomplishing in Indiana. He points out that predicting siring prowess is difficult because there are so many “transmittable attributes” such as gait, desire and soundness, or the lack of it, that come into play. I’m sure Marks would not dispute the serendipitous success of the “freaks” cited by Murray Brown, any more than Brown would dispute the dizzying array of factors that Marks says must be considered when recruiting a stallion. 

Adios was a sire of sires wasn’t he? It took Henry T to extend the line through Silent Majority, but c’mon, the sons of Adios filled out cards from coast to coast from the 50s through the 70s. Dancer Hanover, Bullet, Adios Butler, Bret Hanover, Lehigh, Greentree Adios, Airliner, Baron, Shadow Wave, Majestic Hanover, Meadow Gene….

Can one say MHF was not a sire of sires? He produced Cam Fella, the sire of Cam’s Card Shark—Bettor’s Delight-- Camluck, Cambest, Camtastic, Precious Bunny and Village Jove. Not all top tier stallions, but overall, a very productive group. MHF also gave us Tyler B, the sire of Dragon’s Lair and Cole Muffler. And Oil Burner, the sire of No Nukes, who in turn produced Jate Lobell and Die Laughing. MHF also left us Happy Motoring, the sire of OTRA. Then throw in Precious Bunny, Smooth Fella and Troublemaker for good measure. And he was only 17 when he passed.

Western Hanover has provided the pacing gold standard in recent years, but stallion wise it’s the aforementioned Western Ideal and all the rest. The Panderosa, Western Terror, Badlands and If I Can Dream just don’t compare to what Western Ideal has produced. Actually, although Western Hanover’s nemesis Artsplace has no answer to Rocknroll, his overall resume is admirable. Art Major is a top tier stallion and his son Art Official shows promise. (Santana BC-- not so much.) Grinfromeartoear’s son Mister Big is impressing us with his first crop, and Grin also has Mr Feelgood. Artiscape has Yankee Cruiser, who is credited with Sweet Lou and…..? Then there’s Astreos, Real Artist, Stonbridge Regal and Art’s Chip. And Sportswriter is about to go online. Stallion wise Western Hanover without Western Ideal is something like Skipper without MHF.

Meadow Skipper gave us MHF as well as Albatross, who was a successful sire, even though his sons didn’t extend him. On the other hand, a barrel of money and plenty of good mares were wasted trying to duplicate the success of Most Happy Fella with the likes of Nero, Governor Skipper, Slapstick, Trenton, Ralph, Senor Skipper, Land Grant and all the rest. Plenty of full page ads were purchased to tout unraced sons of Meadow Skipper on the basis of top line lineage alone, as well as unraced siblings that coulda, shoulda, woulda. French Chef produced Beach Towel and he in turn gave us Jenna’s beach Boy, but that proved to be the exception. Most of the accomplished sons of Skipper were unsuccessful stallions.

The trotting side is just as unpredictable. Castleton bought Bonefish for a million dollars before the 1975 Hambletonion and he nosed out the lightly regarded Yankee Bambino in that race. And while Bonefish wound up being Nevele Pride’s top siring son, Yankee Bambino, whose sire Hickory Pride didn’t produce any sons one would consider to be successful stallions, went on to a very ordinary career in that capacity. However, he had one outlier, Photo Maker, out of a mare by the obscure stallion, Farong. Photo Maker’s extender was SJs Photo, out of a Kawartha Mon Ami mare. And he in turn created SJs Caviar with the TV Yankee mare, Spawning. Not exactly a trail of blue blood here. And a few days ago, on Hambo Day, the fast and rugged gelding  Sevruga, a son of SJs Caviar, wired the field in the Cashman. Meanwhile Bonefish was a non factor as a sire of sires in NA from day one. Why does this happen? Why has Yankee Bambino hung on so long? It’s a mystery that sticking your nose in a pedigree book will never solve.

Look at Garland Lobell, a $7,000 yearling by ABC Freight, who was so lightly regarded that they barely staked him to anything. ABC was spirited off to Sweden after only four years at stud in NA. Garland served a less than stellar array of mares in Quebec until Alan Leavitt rescued him. He resurrected the Victory Song line running through Noble Victory. Who knew? Dream Of Glory is another. By the less than fashionable, Speedy Count, and out of a nondescript mare, DOG miraculously rose above his surroundings as the owners son Pius Soehnlen sat behind him like a bag of potatoes and made it a point to avoid the rail whenever possible, which was always. Staked? To practically nothing. The family bred him to the mares around their Ohio farm between races. He eventually escaped the Soehnlen’s and made his way to the Armstrong Brothers’ spread in Canada, where he was much more successful than anyone expected. 

So will Mr Cimino’s classically bred Smilin Eli wind up looking down his long nose at Royalty For Life the same way Super Bowl did with that pest Songcan, or will RFL prove to be still one more freak who rises up out of Massachusetts and secures the future for Super Bowl and Stars Pride? I have no idea. But just to guarantee a shot at redemption, I’d have Eli ready to roll in the Colonial eleven days from now.

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