Mick Goss Summerhill Stud
There’s something romantic, in the Hollywood sense, about the notion of casting off the corporate shackles of an existence dictated by the ticking wall-clock for a life governed by the sun and the stars and the seasons.
— Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO

The city boy turned cowboy, freed from the daily grind. The Diagonal Street hotshot that replaces the stock market with the market garden. Guinea fowl and dogs in the backyard. A few apple and lemon trees, perhaps. A vegetable garden to put food on the supper table and a couple of coins in the pocket. A hand-to-mouth lifestyle that recalls a country ideal of the previous century. If that sounds like us, you’re probably right, except for the Diagonal Street bit. More like the robes and bibs of the courthouse. The one thing I did think I’d find some time for in the activity shift though, was a few chukkas of polo. But Summerhill would have none of it. At one point not so long ago, there were 300 acres of maize here yielding more than 3000 tons a year; another 100 acres under a bounty of soya; a smorgasbord salad of cocks foot, fescue, clovers and sweet lupins, stretching across 5kms of the best land in Africa, 400 plump Aberdeen Angus steers and more than 750 thoroughbreds. A Christmas bonus payroll embracing 325 souls, the housing, educational, leisure and sporting facilities of a mission station; you might’ve thought we’d be crying for our mothers!

But here we are, 40 years on, still plumbing the rich vein of those pipes that churn up the stallion gems, as sure as we’ve ever been about finding the “right one” in a game that’s the “unsurest” of them all. Which brings me to my topic: Taking Stock: Stallions by Non-Elite Sires, which was the subject of recent debate in the United States.

Dynasty / Ridgemont Highands (p)

Dynasty / Ridgemont Highands (p)

Before I cite their observations though, there may be value in reflecting for a minute on our own examples of stallions that’ve shone in South Africa in spite, you might say, of their so-called pedigrees. Multiple Champion sire and one of the best of our time, Foveros was a son of Averof who failed in England, banished by the Australians and didn’t make it here. Besides himself, there wasn’t another Black Type horse in Foveros’ pedigree in 4 generations at the time of his acquisition. Harry Hotspur, perennial Champion producer of juveniles, was the son of a horse who at one stage was acquired for R2,000 as a teaser at a fat stock sale in Beaufort West. Silver Tor, another top sire of juveniles, carried the rather ominous “O” sign alongside his name, denoting “not eligible for the Stud Book”. The great Jet Master was by the regally-bred but somewhat underperforming Rakeen from a female family that grew up at Summerhill and boasted only a single small Black Type filly in the third generation at the time of his conception. And finally, we’re reminded of the tragic passing this very week of the excellent stallion, Dynasty, who while he was the son of the great Fort Wood, if memory serves, he was from a daughter of the lamentably bad Commodore Blake, the mare herself at one time holding the pretentions of a riding pony for Mary Slack’s daughters. Or so legend has it!

Terrance Millard / Sporting Post (p)

Terrance Millard / Sporting Post (p)

So, one more word before we test the Americans. Very late one night and on the back of a good few drams of Bells, I asked one of our Legends what he believed constituted a “good pedigree”. To which Terrance Millard responded “For more than 50 years, I’ve been asking myself the same question. And I’ve come to the conclusion, a good pedigree belongs to a good horse”. Simple as that. Which begs the question, when and what is a “non-elite sire?” By definition, you’d have to think that a previously “non elite” stallion who begets a top sire would have to qualify himself as an “elite” sire, notwithstanding his pedigree or performance. Or not!

And so to America, where the topic was sponsored recently by Sid Fernando. “There's been a bit of a trend lately for farms to stand accomplished horses by stallions that aren’t ‘big names.’ WinStar's Tiznow (Cee's Tizzy, by Relaunch) and Lane’s End’s Candy Ride (Arg) (Ride the Rails, by Cryptoclearance, by Fappiano) are older successful examples of this, but recent ones include Taylor Made’s California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit, by Pulpit) and Hill ‘n’ Dale's Bayern (Offlee Wild, by Wild Again). Accelerate fits with this group.”

There are at least 20 Kentucky-based stallions entering stud this year or with first foals no older than two that fit this pattern and except for California Chrome ($35,000 fee in 2019) and Accelerate ($20,000), none of them stands for more than $15,000. Most are Grade I winners and physical standouts, and they offer value because their sires don't have the elite names that would jack up a stud fee. Based on past history, some of them may make it as stallions. For example, Tiznow, who stands as a Taylor Made/WinStar venture, started out at $30,000 and is a good comparison to California Chrome, while Army Mule (Friesan Fire) at $10,000 is a comp to, say, Candy Ride, who started out at $10,000 at Hill ‘n’ Dale, where Army Mule stands.

There are too many successful examples of this type of stallion - and some of their sires may have been top horses who died young or were exported - to list them all, but here's a random group from both here and abroad going back some 50 years: Dr. Fager (Rough’n Tumble), Damascus (Sword Dancer), Ack Ack (Battle Joined), Seattle Slew (Bold Reasoning), Blushing Groom (Fr) (Red God), Vaguely Noble (Ire) (Vienna {GB}), Caro (Ire) (Fortino {Fr}), Sharpen Up (GB) (Atan), Linamix (Fr) (Mendez {Fr}), Pivotal (GB) (Polar Falcon), Maria's Mon (Wavering Monarch), Lord At War (Arg) (General {Fr}), Meadowlake (Hold Your Peace), Holy Bull (Great Above), Indian Charlie (In Excess {Ire}), Kantharos (Lion Heart), Scat Daddy (Johannesburg), Harlan’s Holiday (Harlan), Yes It’s True (Is It True), Midnight Lute (Real Quiet), and Le Havre (Ire) (Noverre).

The legendary Dr. Fager, carrying a sensational 134 lbs, absolutely ROMPS under a hand ride to the world record mile on dirt that still stands. The great Phil Georgeff with the call.

Icons such as Dr. Fager, Damascus, and Seattle Slew were always going to get their chances at stud at the top end of the game, but some horses, like Linamix - a leading sire in France - and Lord At War, an influential import, succeeded primarily because of the backing of their owners. That’s a valuable clue sometimes when deciding whether to back a horse like this.

Linamix was a homebred for Jean-Luc Lagardere and won the G1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains, the French 2000 Guineas equivalent, in 1990.

He had the race credentials but ostensibly not the right sire to make it. The owner engineered the stallion’s success by buying American mares specifically handpicked for his horse. Linamix, who traced back to outstanding sire Lyphard through his sire Mendez and grandsire Bellypha (Fr), was, during his time in the limelight, the last major sire of the Lyphard line in the Northern Hemisphere (Lyphard's son Ghadeer {Fr} was an iconic stallion in Brazil).

He was an unlikely candidate to carry the Lyphard line forward - as Indian Charlie, to use a recent example, was for the Caro line in North America - but sometimes the race record and physicality of the horse and the wherewithal of the owner backing him can trump the sire or the sire line. That was also the case with Lord At War. Bred in Argentina by Peter and Diane Perkins at the couple's Haras San Francisco del Pila, Lord At War was a member of an even more obscure sire line than Linamix. Like Forli (Arg) before him and Candy Ride after, Lord At War was an undefeated champion in his native land, where he won the important Group 1 Gran Premio Joaquin S. de Anchorena before coming to the States. Based in California here, he was a multiple Grade l winner for the Perkinses before entering stud at Walmac International in the mid 1980s. After a moderate start at stud, he was moved to his owners’ Wimborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky, where the Perkinses orchestrated a successful career for the son of the little-known sire General (who, I believe, the owners stood at stud in Argentina). General was a European Group 3 winner by the top racehorse, but mediocre sire Brigadier Gerard (GB) (Queen’s Hussar {GB}), whose own sire wasn't a major stallion, either. This obscure line was kept alive internationally through Lord At War, whose influence nowadays is in the interior of pedigrees through his daughters, who have produced such as War Emblem and Pioneerof the Nile.

Indian Charlie / Airdrie Stud (p)

Indian Charlie / Airdrie Stud (p)

Certain stud farms - Brereton Jones’s Airdrie and John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale are notable examples - have also been associated with similar types. Airdrie stood Indian Charlie for an initial fee of $10,000 in 1999 and saw the California-bred great-grandson of top sire Caro scale the heights before his premature death at 16. Indian Charlie left behind Uncle Mo, one of the top young sires in North America and an even better sire than his own sire. Hill ‘n’ Dale currently stands two successful horses that fit this profile: Midnight Lute, who started off at the farm, and Kantharos, who came to Kentucky after making his name in Florida.

As noted earlier, Candy Ride began his career at the farm, and in the wings are Army Mule ($10,000), Bayern ($15,000), and Secret Circle (Eddington) ($5,000). All three are accomplished Grade l winners that would have stood for far more had their sires been big names, but Sikura, more than anyone else in Kentucky these days, it seems, has made a career going against the grain - something borne by necessity instead of preference, I’m sure. It takes a lot of money to chase the most desirable stallion prospects with the “right” sires affixed to them, but Sikura’sMoneyball” approach and track record makes this trio worth the play at the stud fees. Sikura also started off the once-raced Maclean's Music (Distorted Humor) at Hill ‘n’ Dale, and that sire's first-crop GI Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing entered stud at B. Wayne Hughes’s Spendthrift this year for $7,500, along with Mor Spirit (Eskendereya) ($10,000). The farm also stands Danza (Street Boss) ($3,500), whose first crop races this year.

Karakontie / Gainesway Farm

Hughes has experience making inexpensive stallions. He started off the non-stakes winner Malibu Moon (A.P. Indy) for $3,000 in Maryland and Into Mischief (Harlan's Holiday) for $7,500 at Spendthrift and now stands both for $75,000 and $150,000, respectively. The latter was part of Spendthrift'sShare the Upside” program that allowed breeders to get a free lifetime breeding right to Into Mischief by breeding to him in his first two years, and that has obviously paid a huge dividend to those that participated. Into Mischief’s sire Harlan's Holiday, by the way, was made at Airdrie before moving to WinStar, and he was the only notable stallion for the inexpensive Storm Cat horse Harlan - another unlikely link in carrying this illustrious sire line forward. The Storm Cat line has another surprising link in Gainesway's Karakontie (Jpn) (Bernstein) ($10,000). Under John Gaines, Gainesway stood Vaguely Noble, Blushing Groom (Fr) and Sharpen Up, and in Karakontie, the farm now stands another European-raced import without an elite sire. He not only has the support of owner Antony Beck, but also of the horse's breeder and owner, the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings. His first foals will race this year and with the rising number of turf races in North America, he’ll have domestic opportunities that his illustrious predecessors at Gainesway didn’t have, plus Europe, where Flaxman primarily races.

Like Flaxman, Karel Miedema client, Canadian Chuck Fipke is an owner-breeder, and he has two new homebred sires at stud at Darby Dan in 2019, Bee Jersey (Jersey Town) ($5,000) and Tale of Verve (Tale of Ekati) ($2,000). Both are by Fipke homebreds, too. Fipke has a powerful broodmare band and will support both horses—which is a positive for anyone else who wants to ride along - and his track record of making noise with his own horses speaks for itself. His current star, Seeking the Soul, is a son of his homebred Grade I winner Perfect Soul (Ire) (Sadler's Wells), and before that, Fipke had the gumption to support Perfect Soul’s unraced brother Not Impossible (Ire) (Sadler's Wells), who delivered Queen’s Plate winner Not Bourbon for him. Bee Jersey, particularly, is an exceptional physical, the winner of the GI Metropolitan Handicap, and from the family of A.P. Indy. Fipke turned down a significant offer from Japan to roll the dice with him here because he thinks that much of him.

Accelerate / Lane’s End (p)

Accelerate / Lane’s End (p)

Bill Farish, who stands Candy Ride at Lane’s End, is a pragmatist and will readily admit that Accelerate would stand for twice the fee if he’d been a son, and not a grandson, of Smart Strike, who, importantly for Farish, was a top stallion who’d been made at Lane’s End. But he believes that Accelerate’s sire Lookin At Lucky, a champion racehorse, is underrated. The farm at one time also stood the Smart Strike stallions Curlin and English Channel, and Accelerate, aside from his physique and race record, is bred on the exact pattern of Curlin: Smart Strike/Deputy Minister.

The bottom line is that these types of stallions offer Grade l race records and top physicals with discounts on stud fee, and history has shown that shrewd breeders can take advantage of price and sometimes go to the bank with them.

Food for thought!

Extracts from Thoroughbred Daily News