Trying to predict the leading freshman stallions each year often seems little more than a crapshoot. For instance, who could have foreseen last year that Dialed In would eek out the title over the more fancied Union Rags and Bodemeister? Or that Henrythenavigator would lead the list in 2012 despite his exclusively non-dirt race record? Congrats in 2011 makes more sense in hindsight, but at the time he was a regional stallion standing in Florida. And Offlee Wild in 2009 would have been virtually impossible to tab as the freshman leader ahead of time.
But the difficulty in getting it right does not make it any less fun to take one’s best guess, which is what we’ll do below.
It is also important to remember that a stallion’s ranking on the year-end first-crop sire list does not necessarily correlate to his eventual success (or lack thereof) as a sire – for every Uncle Mo, Quality Road, Scat Daddy, Tapit and Street Cry who led the initial list and went on to a successful career, there is a Dunkirk, Henrythenavigator, Offlee Wild or Posse who were more like one-hit wonders before falling off the map (and often out of the country). Conversely, high-priced horses with big expectations like Curlin and Ghostzapper were nowhere near the top of their freshman sire lists, but with time have proven themselves to be, in fact, among the upper echelon of stallions.
For our money, it seems a virtual lock that Shanghai Bobby is going to lead the 2017 First-Crop Sire List.
He has just about everything going in his favor: (1) Shanghai Bobby broke his maiden on April 19th of his juvenile season, in the very first maiden race carded on the NYRA circuit that year, and went on to cap an undefeated, championship 2-year-old campaign with victories in the Grade 1 Champagne and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; (2) he is sired by Harlan’s Holiday, who finished #2 on the freshman list in 2007, before leading the juvenile sire list in 2012 (Shanghai Bobby’s year) when his progeny set a record for earnings; (3) Harlan’s Holiday has already sired Into Mischief, who was #3 on the freshman sire list in 2012 despite having half as many foals as each of the top two, and who was last year’s leading juvenile sire; (4) Shanghai Bobby stands at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud, home to four of the last six leading freshman sires (namely Uncle Mo, Dunkirk, Henrythenavigator and Scat Daddy); (5) he has 117 2-year-olds to his credit, third among all freshman sires; and (6) Shanghai Bobby’s first crop foals have gotten rave reviews from experts and buyers at every stage so far, with 70 of his yearlings having averaged $106,521 last year off of a $20,000 stud fee (which was down to $15,000 in 2016 before jumping to $25,000 this year).
Really the only two signs that don’t points straight towards Shanghai Bobby are that the CI and CPI of his first book of mares are not overly impressive compared to his peers’, and his first book of mares wasn’t an exceptionally precocious group (nor have their foals been). However, we don’t think that these points are enough to hold Shanghai Bobby back from topping the list at the end of the year, and we only wish that we had a mare that fit him so we could’ve bred to him this year before his stud fee goes through the roof in 2018.
There are two other stallions that we believe have a shot to lead this group if Shanghai Bobby falters, and they are both horses that we are breeding (or have bred) to: Declaration of War and Graydar (and just to clarify, our decisions to breed to those horses were made because we believe they will have success, and not vice versa!).
Declaration of War was unbeaten in a pair of juvenile starts in France for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget, prior to becoming a Group 3-winning sophomore and multiple Grade 1-winning 4-year-old for Aidan O’Brien. Moreover, he is a son of the top juvenile sire War Front, out of a half-sister to Union Rags, who was a Grade 1-winning 2-year-old and finished a close #2 on last year’s leading first-crop list.
Declaration of War has more first-crop 2-year-olds than any other stallion out there, with 134, and they sold very well as weanlings and yearlings. He ranks fifth by the CI of his first book of mares, and although only 23% of his mates’ foals to run have won at 2, the mates themselves had an average first-win age of 2.90, and 43% of his mares won at 2, which measures up well in this bunch.
The biggest detriment to Declaration of War’s chances to top the freshman sire list is the fact that he stood his first season at Coolmore in Ireland, and his progeny will be spread between Europe and the U.S. (and purse money in Europe lags behind that in America, generally speaking). But Henrythenavigator was able to overcome this handicap when he topped the 2012 list, so it’s more a case of improbability rather than impossibility. And the Declaration of Wars are in excellent hands, with several at Ballydoyle in Ireland, and others with top outfits in the States.
Unlike Shanghai Bobby and Declaration of War, Graydar didn’t race at 2. In fact, he didn’t make his racetrack debut until April 8th of his sophomore season (a winning effort), after which he was on the shelf until September of that year. But he is out of a mare by Champion 2-year-old Dehere, and is a half to a pair of Graded stakes-placed 2-year-olds. Graydar’s sire, Unbridled’s Song, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1. Unbridled’s Song has been well known for siring large offspring who show lots of ability early on, but often need time for their physiques to mature before reaching their best – with Graydar (a $260,000 2-year-old in-training purchase) being a prime example. Even with some of his eventual top runners suffering early setbacks, Unbridled’s Song is still responsible for the Eclipse Champion 2-year-old Midshipman, and another of his sons, Dunkirk, was the #1 freshman sire in 2013.
Graydar will have 103 juveniles ready to hit the track this year, and his first book of mares had extremely an strong CI and CPI – thanks in large part to the efforts of Twin Creeks, who campaigned Graydar and supported him heavily at stud. Twenty-six percent of the foals from Graydar’s first mates were winners at 2-years-old, which is close to the top of this group. His first weanlings sold very well, though his yearlings’ numbers were not as impressive – but some of the best-bred among his foals did not go through the sales ring because Twin Creeks bred them to race as homebreds. Furthermore, the Twin Creeks-raced and -supported Mission Impazible had a successful freshman sire season last year standing in New York, and he is also a later-maturing son of Unbridled’s Song – so we think that also bodes well for Graydar.
There are several stallions in the freshman class who we believe are going to end up being solid sires, and who could be near the top of the list if one of their later-maturing juveniles wins a Breeders’ Cup event, for example. But we think it much more likely that the first offspring by Orb and Violence, as well as Paynter and his close relative Oxbow (we like Paynter’s chances more), will be better in 2018 than in 2017.
Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom also look poised to eventually prove themselves to be solid stallions, but as turf runners who did their best racing as older horses (with pedigrees to match), we don’t expect them to be anywhere near the top of this year’s freshman list come December.
A few sleeper candidates who we think have the chance to surprise this year with their first 2-year-olds are Jimmy Creed and Flat Out, both at Spendthrift, and Data Link at Claiborne (another who we have bred to previously). The Justin Philip offspring have also sold surprisingly well, and we have clients breeding a mare to him this spring at Castleton Lyons.