May 20, 2022

Gun Runner in elite Horse of the Year sires’ club

Gun Runner and jockey Florent Geroux win the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park on January 27, 2018 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography/Viola Jasko

The hottest young sire in America is undoubtedly Gun Runner, who last season set an all-time North American record of more than $4 million in progeny earnings for a freshman sire.

Gun Runner’s group of juveniles included Echo Zulu, the likely two-year-old filly champion, Hopeful (G1) winner Gunite, and Grade 2 winners Pappacap (who placed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile [G1]) and Wicked Halo.

Last season was simply the first chapter in the story of Gun Runner’s first crop. It’s entirely possible more champions and Grade 1 winners could emerge from it, perhaps even a classic winner.

Gun Runner’s immediate success got me thinking: Which other Horses of the Year got their stallion careers off to fast starts with their first crops? The criteria used in making such a determination can vary, but generally having at least one champion or classic winner, like Gun Runner has, is definitely one.

Comparing stallions of today with those of yesteryear is in some ways an apples and oranges debate. Decades ago, when owner-breeders dominated the business, stallion books rarely exceeded 40 mares per year. Most crops included at most a couple dozen progeny that actually made it to the races. Far fewer still became stakes winners or performers of note.

With that disclaimer noted, here are some of the best Horse of the Year stallions based on first-crop results in the last century, as well as some honorable mentions. All information is derived from Brisnet.com’s pedigree database.

Man o’ War (1920)

Bred almost exclusively to mares also owned by Samuel J. Riddle, Man o’ War didn’t necessarily have access to all the quality broodmares he could have. The success of his first crop, therefore, is astounding. From nine starters, five became stakes winners.  

Of the stakes winners, American Flag was generally judged the leading three-year-old colt of 1925 with victories in the Belmont S., Withers, and Dwyer. The fillies Maid at Arms and Florence Nightingale were also best of their division at three, collectively taking events such as the Alabama, Coaching Club American Oaks, Pimlico Oaks, and Maryland H.

Tom Fool (1953)

Amazingly, Tom Fool had an even smaller number in his first crop make it to the races than Man o’ War. However, three of his four starters from that first group became stakes winners.

Among these was Tim Tam, the champion at three who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before suffering a career-ending injury in his bid for the Triple Crown at Belmont. More precocious was Jester, who won the Futurity at Belmont when that was one of the richest races in the country.

Bold Ruler (1957)

Bold Ruler dominated the stallion lists throughout the 1960s, and beyond following his premature death in 1971. He had eight stakes winners from 14 first-crop starters. The most significant of these was the ill-fated Lamb Chop, the three-year-old filly champion of 1963.

Seattle Slew (1997)

Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew’s second career couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. The brilliant but ill-fated Landaluce was champion juvenile filly in 1982, while Slewpy was another Grade 1-winning two-year-old.

The crop got better. Slew o’ Gold was a champion at three and four and later inducted into the Hall of Fame, while Adored was a multiple Grade 1-winning older mare.

Sunday Silence (1989)

America’s loss was Japan’s gain as Sunday Silence struck immediately as a stallion in the Land of the Rising Sun. His first crop of Japanese performers included the champions Dance Partner, Fuji Kiseki, and Marvelous Sunday, as well as classic winners Genuine and Tayasu Tsuyoshi.

Honorable Mention

In chronological order, here are other noteworthy first-crop sires among the Horse of the Year set.

Blue Larkspur (1929) sired the Hall of Fame filly sprinter Myrtlewood from his first crop, as well as Broodmare of the Year Bloodroot.

Gallant Fox (1930), a Triple Crown winner, famously sired another Triple Crown winner, Omaha, in his first crop.

Although not known as a prolific sire, Triple Crown winner Citation (1948) got off to a fast start when Fabius won the 1956 Preakness.

One of only two stakes winners from the first crop of Native Dancer (1954) was Dan Cupid, who in turn sired the immortal European champion *Sea-Bird II.

Hailing from the first crop by Swaps (1956) was Primonetta, a stakes winner every year she raced and a champion at four. She was also voted Broodmare of the Year in 1978.

Round Table (1958), a three-time grass champion, sired Baldric, who won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1964.

Among the first-crop progeny of Buckpasser (1966) was Numbered Account, the champion juvenile filly of 1971.

The first generation of foals sired by Ack Ack (1971) included Youth, who in 1976 won the French Derby (G1) and secured champion turf horse honors in the U.S.

Black Tie Affair (1991) was far from prolific as a stallion, but his best offspring came from his first crop. That was multiple Grade 1 winner Formal Gold, a near champion older horse in 1997.

Although the first crop by A.P. Indy (1992) didn’t dazzle as two-year-olds, that changed when they turned three. Pulpit was among the exciting colts of his generation, while the fillies Royal Indy, Runup the Colors, and Tomisue’s Delight all won Grade 1s in 1997.

The first crop by Tiznow (2000) included the juvenile filly champion Folklore and Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Well Armed.

The only crop from Saint Liam (2005) yielded Havre de Grace, who in 2011 was voted Horse of the Year.

The first crop of dual Horse of the Year Curlin (2007-08) included Palace Malice, the 2013 Belmont S. (G1) winner and arguably the best older horse on dirt the following year.