In today’s racing world, it’s become commonplace to retire horses after their three year-old seasons, and some even before that. These precocious wonders go to stud and, very often, produce horses that win Grade 1s at two and three and retire soon after, most in peak condition. In the past decade, six of ten Kentucky Derby winners retired to stud after their three year-old seasons (the two intact males that went on to race as older horses were Animal Kingdom and Giacomo; Mine That Bird was a gelding and Barbaro broke down in the Preakness, never seeing a breeding shed).
This trend, however, is not followed by everyone. Several horses who found success racing after their three year-old season went on to thrive as stallions. Some are even among the best in the business; the most sought after sires by breeders. The list below consists of six stallions in the top quarter of America’s leading sire list in 2013 who particularly excelled as older males.
Awesome Again (Deputy Minister – Primal Force, by Blushing Groom)
Born 1994, entered stud 1999, position on 2013’s leading sire list: #9
This blue-blooded bay colt didn’t set foot on a racetrack until he was three years old, but he made the wait worthwhile. He won Canada’s prestigious Queen’s Plate before capturing the Jim Dandy and finishing third to Deputy Commander and Behrens in the Travers of 1997. A win in the Queen’s Plate might have been enough to retire many sophomore colts to stud, but Awesome Again’s success wouldn’t end there. He rattled off graded stakes victories at Hawthorne, Churchill Downs, and Saratoga, and was entered in the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Facing what is considered by some as one of the greatest fields ever assembled for America’s richest horse race, Awesome Again defeated horses like Silver Charm, Skip Away, and Touch Gold in a thrilling finish that came down to the wire. He has since sired four Breeders’ Cup winners, three of them older horses. His Classic-winning son Ghostzapper is featured further down this list.
Elusive Quality (Gone West – Touch of Greatness, by Hero’s Order)
Born 1993, entered stud 1999, position on 2013’s leading sire list: #23
Although he was from a precocious male line, Elusive Quality was merely a multiple allowance winner until the age of five. His biggest highlight as a younger horse was a second to Honour and Glory in the King’s Bishop Stakes (then a Grade 2), where he finished ahead of fellow top sire Distorted Humor. At five years old, he won two graded stakes races on the turf at Belmont, including the Grade 3 Poker Handicap, where he set the world record for a mile on turf. He holds that record to this day. Elusive Quality is about as versatile a sire as you can get, his offspring ranging from dual classic winner winner Smarty Jones, sprinters like Sepoy and Maryfield, and Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Raven’s Pass. You can find Elusive Quality’s scintillating Poker Handicap here.
Ghostzapper (Awesome Again – Baby Zip, by Carson City)
Born 2000, entered stud 2006, position on 2013’s leading sire list: #18
The lightly-raced Ghostzapper might now be considered in the ranks of the all-time greats if he had been able to withstand a sturdier career. Nevertheless, he flashed brilliance in his eleven starts, winning nine of them. His four year-old season was the best, although his Met Mile victory at five was equally impressive. Four graded stakes wins went his way in 2004, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he set the stakes mark of 1:59.02 that still stands today. Ghostzapper was not only fleet-footed but incredibly game as well. In the 2004 Woodward, he endured an extended battle with Saint Liam to finally pull ahead by a short neck. Saint Liam would later go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2005. It took a little while for Ghostzapper to get going as a sire, but he is starting to really shine with graded stakes progeny like Starship Truffles, Moreno, and recent Dubai winner United Color.
Lemon Drop Kid (Kingmambo – Charming Lassie, by Seattle Slew)
Born 1996, entered stud 2001, position on 2013’s leading sire list: #24
Best known for picking up the pieces in the 1999 Belmont Stakes while an injured Charismatic staggered home in third, Lemon Drop Kid exceeded his two Grade 1 wins at three with another two Grade 1 wins, plus a couple more graded stakes victories, at four. He won the Whitney and the Woodward at Saratoga, as well as the Suburban and Brooklyn at Belmont Park, and finished a valiant third in the Pimlico Special (then a Grade 1) behind Golden Missile. His efforts in 2000 were enough to land him the Eclipse award for champion older male. Since then, Lemon Drop Kid has become a handy sire at Lane’s End, with runners like Richard’s Kid, Citronnade, and Cosmonaut atop the ranks of his offspring.
Speightstown (Gone West – Silken Cat, by Storm Cat)
Born 1998, entered stud 2005, position on 2013’s leading sire list: #2
This burly chestnut stallion was bred to excel at a young age, by the great Gone West out of a champion two year-old filly. But by the end of a five year-old career, with only 10 races under his belt, Speightstown had only earned a little over $200,000 in five wins, and he hadn’t even won a stakes race. That would all change in 2004. He took the sprint division by storm, winning 5 of 6 races, all of them stakes. He topped his incredible year off with a sizzling win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint; only six other Sprint winners have run faster than he did that day. Speightstown has stamped his foals like he ran: they are quick, game runners like Dance to Bristol, Reynaldothewizard, and Munnings. He is now one of WinStar Farm’s greatest assets, alongside sires like Distorted Humor and Tiznow. Only Kitten’s Joy was ahead of Speightstown on last year’s leading sires list.
Street Cry (IRE) (Machiavellian – Helen Street, by Troy)
Born 1998, entered stud 2003, position on 2013’s leading sire list: #20
Street Cry’s name is now known throughout the racing world for his prowess as a sire. There is Zenyatta, who became a legend amongst her multitudes of admirers, and Street Sense, the two year-old champion who would come out on top in the Kentucky Derby as well. Those are just two of the many champions Street Cry has been siring since his first crop was born in 2004. But before he even set foot in a breeding shed, he was a top-notch racehorse. He was third to Macho Uno and Point Given in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and won the UAE 2000 Guineas in 2001. In his four year-old season, he was a winner of the Stephen Foster Handicap and second to Left Bank in the Whitney, but the highlight of Street Cry’s 2002 was the lucrative Dubai World Cup, where he blew away world-class competition like Sakhee and Agnes Digital by easy open lengths.