American Pharoah conformation

Taking Stock: American Pharoah Alone At Top

by Sid Fernando, Courtesy of the TDN, 8th November 2019

Coolmore is a stallion maker, and its American division at Ashford Stud has a specialty for minting leading first-crop sires. Over the last nine years, this includes Scat Daddy (2011), Henrythenavigator (2012), Dunkirk (2013), and Uncle Mo (2015). There’s every chance that Triple Crown winner American Pharoah will become the Irish-based global operation’s fifth champion North American first-crop sire in the last 10 years.

Back on June 28 in this space, I wrote about first-crop sires and American Pharoah’s placement on the list at the time: “The Triple Crown winner, the most expensive sire to enter stud in 2016 with a listed fee of $200,000, currently sits at number seven with three winners, but he’ll have action on Saturday and the next six months to launch his expected move to the top of the list with well-bred runners in North America and Europe.”

That happened, but not without a tussle from WinStar’s Constitution (Tapit), whose son Tiz the Law won the prestigious Gl Champagne S. at Belmont and assumed a leadership role among juvenile colts. Constitution has since added another promising colt to his record with Glll Nashua S. winner Independence Hall.

Three weeks ago, I wrote here: “As of Thursday, Constitution was ranked second behind American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) on the first-crop sire list with less than $25,000 separating the two as the high-dollar and game-changing Breeders’ Cup races loom in a few weeks…”

Through Wednesday, days after the Breeders’ Cup, American Pharoah led the freshmen sires’ list by winners (20), black-type winners (4, co-tied with Constitution, Competitive Edge {Super Saver}, and Race Day {Tapit}), black-type horses (9), graded stakes horses (7), Grade l stakes horses (3), and progeny earnings ($2,374,844). Constitution, who leads by number of graded stakes winners (4, one ahead of American Pharoah), is still in second place by progeny earnings, but that $25,000 difference between the two has widened to almost $750,000 in American Pharoah’s favor, with seven weeks to go to the end of the year. But if this was an election, it would probably be safe to call it for the Triple Crown winner at this point.

American Pharoah sits alone at the top because his sons and daughters arrived at the Breeders’ Cup and performed. Four Wheel Drive won the Gll Juvenile Turf Sprint as the favorite, with Another Miracle third in the same race at 19-1, cumulatively collecting $640,000 in purse money for their sire. And Sweet Melania was third in the Gl Juvenile Fillies Turf, pocketing another $90,000. Part of the battle for athletes is to get to the main event healthy, and the other part is to perform when they get there. Like their sire, the American Pharoahs didn’t choke on the big stage, but unlike him, they did it on grass. In fact, American Pharoah, surprisingly, has many more winners on turf than dirt, including all four of his black-type winners: Four Wheel Drive, Another Miracle, Sweet Melania, and Maven.

Breeze Easy LLC’s Four Wheel Drive, a $525,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling and a $825,000 Fasig-Tipton March 2-year-old RNA, won the Juvenile Turf Sprint over five furlongs in impressive style, leading throughout to finish three-quarters of a length in front. Trained by 2-year-old turf specialist Wesley Ward, it was his third black-type win in three starts. Four Wheel Drive’s dam is the fast and precocious More Than Ready 2-year-old black-type winner Funfair, who won her debut at Belmont Park over six furlongs on turf and followed that effort with a win in the Listed Colleen S. at Monmouth over five furlongs on grass. This colt is very much his dam’s son by aptitude, but his sire might have something to say about how he progresses next year. Funfair made only one start at three. And you already know what American Pharoah did.

Bred by Irishman Ciaran “Flash” Conroy’s Glenvale Stud, Four Wheel Drive had been purchased as a yearling by the partnership of Breeze Easy and Hartley/DeRenzo to pinhook at two. “They defended him pretty well [at the 2-year-old sale],” said Alan Porter, a pedigree advisor to Breeze Easy. “Hartley/DeRenzo and the Breeze Easy team liked him physically, we liked the pedigree. The mare was really fast, and there’d been a Pioneerof the Nile horse–Grade lll winner Vinceremos–who was from a More Than Ready mare. Wesley Ward had trained Shang Shang Shang (Shanghai Bobby), who’d won the G2 Norfolk at Royal Ascot for Breeze Easy, and he trains [current 2-year-old] stakes winner Karak [Karakontie (Jpn)] for them, too, so they were prepared to race him if he didn’t sell.”

Wesley Ward

Having Wesley Ward in your corner, as Coolmore does, is a potent weapon for any global commercial stud farm, in part because Ward’s program famously includes European raids, particularly at Royal Ascot and mostly with early 2-year-olds. Ward played an important role in bolstering Scat Daddy’s reputation by training Stonestreet’s European champion Lady Aurelia (Scat Daddy) to win the 2017 Group 1 King’s Stand S. at Royal Ascot, one year after she had won the G2 Queen Mary S. at the same venue and the G1 Prix Morny at Deauville. For Coolmore specifically, Ward also trained Scat Daddy’s Acapulco (Queen Mary S.) and No Nay Never (G2 Norfolk S. at Royal Ascot and the Prix Morny), the latter in partnership with Ice Wine Stable; and the Quality Road colt Hootenanny (Gl Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf).

Ward doesn’t have any American Pharoahs for Coolmore at the moment, but he did breed five mares to the horse when he initially went to stud, and aside from Four Wheel Drive, he currently has four others, including Maven, who won the G3 Prix du Bois at Chantilly June 29, one day after the column I wrote that mentioned that American Pharoah was poised to take flight. And Ward has now trained two of American Pharoah’s first four black-type winners.

Maven was bred by Ward and races in the name of his partner Richard Ravin, but Four Wheel Drive was the colt Ward wanted at the Fasig-Tipton March 2-year-olds in training sale. “That was my pick. I trained his brother [3-year-old Born Great, an unraced son of Scat Daddy who is a lay-up at the moment]; I loved his brother, so the Breeze Easy guys, with the success we had with Shang Shang Shang, were going to give me my pick. Their consignors, Hartley/DeRenzo, were kind of pushing them to sell, because that’s what they do. They want to make a profit for them. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to fruition for them, but, fortunately for me, I got him. I loved the colt. I really thought a lot of him, and I loved his brother, who could really run. His brother was plagued by some shins, and when we sent him home he did something in the stall there, so he has yet to make it.”

Four Wheel Drive, likewise, had shin issues, Ward said. “Many of them do, coming out of the 2-year-old sales,” Ward noted, but his patience with the colt has paid dividends all around, including for Coolmore, because Ward had the colt healthy and at the top of his game when it counted.

Ward is tight with the Coolmore crew, including Paul Shanahan, a good friend, but it was Bob Baffert, he said, that convinced him to breed to American Pharoah. “I had a conversation with Bob Baffert when the horse went to stud about what he thought about him being a grass sire,” Ward said. “He said that’s the one thing he said he wished he had done, that he wished he had run him on grass. For him to say that, you know, he knows what he’s doing, and there was no reason for him to be selling me on the question I was asking, so I thought he gave me a truthful answer. And the [horse] has really stepped it up on being a turf sire, that’s for sure.”

Northern Dancer and Sunday Silence are two breed-shaping Kentucky Derby winners that established themselves as premier turf sires. It’s way too early to associate American Pharoah’s name with theirs or to pigeonhole the horse as strictly a turf sire–one son, American Theorem, is Grade l-placed on dirt–but the horse’s lop-sided success on turf to date is intriguing for an Unbridled-line stallion. However, American Pharoah’s sire was a Grade l winner on all-weather, sired some good turf runners, and has another son, Cairo Prince, who’s also sired some turf black-type winners. And American Pharoah has been bred to quite a few mares that performed on turf or are by sires or from families with strong turf backgrounds.

Maven, for example, is from the stakes-winning turf sprinter Richies Party Girl, and Another Miracle is out of Canadian juvenile all-weather stakes winner Retraceable. But Sweet Melania, who won the Gll Jessamine S. on turf at Keeneland, is from dirt stakes winner Sweet N Discreet.

Turf or dirt, Ward thinks we haven’t seen the best of the American Pharoahs yet. He’s got a homebred filly from Judy the Beauty named Wish Way that could be any kind, he said, while watching her train at Turfway on Thursday. Coolmore said they have a few “dark horses” at Ballydoyle that are potential Guineas runners, in addition to the exciting Saint-Cloud maiden winner Ocean Atlantique with Andre Fabre in France. And Baffert said, “I have one” that’s outstanding–and chances are, he means on dirt.

He can’t be crowned just yet with the first-crop championship, but American Pharoah is delivering on the promise he took to stud for Coolmore–and in a surprising way, too.