Settle in, stay a while.
Over the past month, we’ve taken a look at stallions whose roots are firmly planted in central Kentucky, and ones who will be looking to set those roots in the years to come, but in this final installment of the All-Value Sire Team, we’ll be looking at that group in the middle: Stallions just on the other side of the fourth-book swoon, whose roots have just sunk into the ground with the aim of building on early crops.
This can be a tense time for a Kentucky stallion standing for $20,000 or less. Stallions whose first crop or two lit up the board are often seeing their fees rise above that level, while those who didn’t could be fighting for their long-term careers in the Bluegrass State. Our job today is to find the special ones who look like they have a long-term commercial future at a major Kentucky stud farm that has priced their stallion with a degree of restraint. There is still a lot of story to be written for this class of stallions, and a top-flight runner or two could change the ending drastically.
This time around, we’ll also look at standout regional sires. All but a select few stand below the $20,000 Mendoza line outside of Kentucky, but the value comes in improving those regional mares to compete within their home state and beyond, and hopefully making it worth a breeder’s time to put them through the sales ring. Appealing to the commercial market outside of the Kentucky stronghold can be difficult, but sometimes the results speak for themselves.
If you missed out on any of the previous installments, you can get caught up here.
The Future Star: A stallion with two to four crops of racing age in 2023.
First Team: Runhappy
B. h., 2012, Super Saver x Bella Jolie, by Broken Vow
Standing at Claiborne Farm, KY, $15,000
My, how things can change.
After the champion sprinter’s freshman sire season in 2020, where he finished on the fringe of the top 15 by progeny earnings with no stakes winners, Runhappy looked sunk as a serious Kentucky sire. From there, his first crop got better as it aged, and his second crop got good quickly, repairing his reputation from those early hiccups.
Breeders have shown they’re willing to put the past behind them, as well. Runhappy saw the second-highest year-over-year gain in mares bred among North American stallions from 2021 to 2022, jumping by 88 mares from 56 to 144.
The commercial market has picked back up on Runhappy as well, improving his yearling average to $57,198 in 2022 after finishing at $47,663 a year earlier. If he keeps popping up with winners and solid graded stakes horses at the rate that he has, that number could continue to rise steadily and create a nice payday in a few years for breeders that got in at this price point.
As a high-achieving sprinter, it’s no surprise that many of Runhappy’s top runners have earned their stripes around one turn. Of his 10 progeny stakes wins, the scales tip heavily toward the sprinters, including G2 Vosburgh Stakes winner Following Sea, but he’s proven that he is by no means one-dimensional at the sport’s highest levels.
Runhappy sent a runner from his second crop to this year’s Kentucky Derby, Smile Happy, off a win in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes around 1 1/16 miles, and runner-up efforts in the G2 Risen Star Stakes and G1 Blue Grass Stakes going as far or longer. Following Sea, for all the success he had as a sprinter, also picked up a Grade 1 placing in the Haskell Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.
Those two runners, along with Grade 2-placed stakes winner Joyful Cadence, have given Runhappy three earners of $500,000 or more from three crops of racing age. Runners like those helped bump his average progeny earnings to $54,062, which was on the higher end among stallions eligible for this divisional honor.
Looking at his rank and file, Runhappy gets 67 percent of his foals to the races, and they win 16 percent of their starts, which both contend with the best in this division.
I saw a lot of Runhappy’s foals before I got out to Claiborne to look at the stallion himself for the first time, and working backward like that helped me better understand the source. The Runhappys are sturdy, and they got his shapely rump en masse, but with enough length of leg where they don’t fit the cannonball-build stereotype that sprint-leaning stallions can impart upon their runners. The results show he’s probably going to get you a sprinter, but his frame suggests he can get you whatever you want if you pair him with the right mare.
After really coming into his own in 2022, both on the racetrack and in the breeding shed, Claiborne Farm raised Runhappy’s fee from $12,500 to $15,000; nothing drastic, but a little marker that the stallion’s stock is rising. Now that he’s got the long-term pipeline to back him up, it just might continue to rise.
Second Team: Cupid
Gr. or ro. h., 2013, Tapit x Pretty ‘n Smart, by Beau Genius
Standing at Ashford Stud, KY, $5,000
The only stallion that saw a bigger year-to-year gain in mares bred in 2022 was Cupid, who rose by a whopping 97 mares from 77 to 174. Does the stallion have momentum? Yes he does.
For what he can offer a breeder or end-user, Cupid represents incredible value at a $5,000 stud fee. From two crops of racing age, Cupid has proven himself able to get graded-caliber runners over a variety of surfaces and locales, and his low entry price allows for some commercial wiggle room, even if you’re not going to find the down payment on your next yacht selling them.
Cupid’s resume is as two-turn as it gets, both in his own form – winning four graded stakes races from 1 1/16 miles to 1 ¼ miles including the G1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes – to his black type-heavy female family. His best runners have been two-turn types, as well, including G2 Santa Anita Oaks winner Desert Dawn and Prince of Wales Stakes winner Duke of Love.
I always forget how big Cupid is until I see him in person again. He’s got more height than a typical son of Tapit at stud, but he’s so well put together that it’s not glaringly obvious until you step up to him. In terms of his curves and proportions, he really just reminds me of Tapit himself, but the next size up.
Stud farms with less self-control would be well within their right to stand Cupid for more than his current advertised fee, but Ashford Stud’s commitment to keeping him at $5,000 leaves the door wide open to come out ahead, especially on the racetrack, where his average progeny earnings are over $48,000.
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The Regional Star: A stallion of any age or surface preference who stands outside of Kentucky.
First Team: Central Banker
B. h., 2010, Speightstown x Rhum, by Go for Gin
Standing at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, NY, $7,500
Earlier this year, I tabbed Central Banker as the centerpiece of my Regional Sire Expansion Draft, so it would be no stretch of the imagination that he’d end up on a list like this.
Simply put, the Central Bankers go out there and make money. His average progeny earnings of $76,574 puts him in the top 10 among all North American stallions standing for $20,000 or less in 2023, owing in large part to the lucrative New York-bred program. He has one millionaire, five earners of $500,000 or more, and at least 12 runners that have cleared $250,000 or more, and almost all of them are black type earners at New York tracks.
However, this does not mean Central Banker can only beat up on other New York-breds. Bankit, his top earner at over $1.2 million, is Grade 3-placed in New Jersey and Arkansas. Morning Matcha is a stakes winner in Pennsylvania, and she finished second in the G1 Cotillion Stakes, while Bank on Shea won the listed Pelican Stakes earlier this year at Tampa Bay Downs. The money for a New York-bred is often best in New York, but the best of them have shown they can hang with the locals wherever they enter the gate.
What’s interesting about Central Banker is that his pedigree, physical and race record heavily suggest he’d throw nothing but sprinters, but two of the three aforementioned runners competed at high levels as routers. His New York-based runners can win at whatever distance they need to run, as well.
Central Banker is exactly what one would expect to see from a son of Speightstown at stud: All power, from the way his neck ties into his body to the way his strong rump leads into an ample leg with plenty of bone. Central Banker was a Grade 2-winning sprinter during his time on the racetrack, and he looks like it.
At auction, Central Banker does better than most standing outside of Kentucky, and better than quite a few within those state lines. His average yearling sale price finished at $33,423 this year, which marked a $12,296 gain from his yearling average in 2021.
At this year’s Fasig-Tipton New York-Bred Yearling Sale, Central Banker’s average price of $68,500 trailed only stalwart Freud (who’d have run away with this division if his fee hadn’t been moved to “Private” for 2023) and Destin (who was sold to stand in Saudi Arabia) among stallions based in the Empire State. That slate of offerings included a $140,000 filly sold to Saratoga Race, which is an incredible day at the office at that stud fee.
A good state-bred in a good state-bred program can quickly make multiples on their early investment. Central Banker puts New York breeders in a great position to achieve that goal.
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Second Team: Sir Prancealot
B. h., 2010, Tamayuz x Mona Em, by Catrail
Standing at Rancho San Miguel, CA, $10,000
Every November, Europe sends over a posse of runners to rough up our best turf horses during the Breeders’ Cup, and then they usually go home. The offspring of Sir Prancealot ignored the second part of that story to such a degree that the sire himself came over to make himself comfortable after starting his Northern Hemisphere career in Ireland and shuttling from Australia.
Though his North American ranks have comprised just a handful of runners, their achievements have been extraordinary, including Grade 1 winner Lady Prancealot, four-time Grade 2 winner Beau Recall, two-time Grade 2 winner Madam Dancealot, and stakes winner Ginger Nut. Miss Amulet also finished third in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Keeneland. All of those have come over the past five years, and they don’t include a few other North American stakes-placed runners, as well. There are stallions that spend many more years at stud and send many more horses to the races who don’t achieve a fraction of what Sir Prancealot has done without a single U.S.-sired crop. His first North American 2-year-olds will hit the track in 2023.
Now that he’s here, the question will be whether he can elevate books of largely regional-quality mares whose pedigrees might not be as turf-focused as his other stops on the road. Many a buzzed-about international stallion has seen his record brought back down to earth when mixed with the American broodmare population.
I feel good about Sir Prancealot’s chances to buck that trend, mostly because he’s starting with such a solid foundation. He gets 78 percent of his foals to the races, and an outstanding 50 percent winners from horses of racing age. Those numbers put him right in the mix with late turf titans English Channel (79 percent starters, 58 percent winners), and Kitten’s Joy (77 percent starters, 54 percent winners. Even if he ticks down a bit with a different kind of broodmare population from what got him here, he’ll still be doing a fine job.
Realistically, any turf-leaning sire is going to have a ceiling in North America. They don’t run the classics on the grass here, and people shop accordingly. Regardless, we’ve only gotten a taste of what Sir Prancealot can do in North America, and it’s mighty impressive. If his first crop of U.S.-sired runners can carry that momentum next year, we might have something special on our hands.