Mon, 06/18/2018 - 14:57

By Chris McGrath – TDN 6/18/18

Here’s a Road that really is paved with good intentions. That, of course, is what they say about the one leading to hell–familiar, it might be said, to many who have tried to get a young stallion started. But Quality Road is taking his connections in entirely the opposite direction; to the breeding stratosphere, in fact.

And the marvelous thing is that those connections include the charitable foundation which, still more than his equine dynasties, must qualify as the greatest bequest of the late Edward P. “Ned” Evans. As a result, a sensational run for the Lane’s End stallion means that the philanthropist’s twin legacies–his passion for Thoroughbreds and the Edward P. Evans Foundation’s dedication to finding a cure for Myelodysplastic Syndromes–are dovetailing in the most uplifting fashion.

For while the final leg of the Triple Crown required top billing on the Belmont card, Quality Road’s third and fourth Grade I winners of 2018 volunteered a valid contender to fill the void left by the premature loss of Justify’s sire Scat Daddy.

Five stakes winners in 24 hours–crowned by Abel Tasman in the GI Ogden Phipps S., Spring Quality in the GI Manhattan S., and Paved in the GII Honeymoon S. at Santa Anita–attested not only to Quality Road’s potency but also to his versatility. They ranged from coast to coast; and from a turf sprinter at Woodbine to the dirt Classic model represented by Abel Tasman, winner of the Kentucky Oaks last year. This kind of diversity, equally associated with his late sire Elusive Quality, qualifies Quality Road to become a sire of truly international stature.

Even as it stands, halfway through the campaign he already peers down on the established supersires. His four individual Grade I winners in 2018, taking him to eight from his first four crops, at least double the tally of any sire in North America or Europe; and he also leads all North American stallions both by Black Type winners and graded stakes winners. On the transatlantic table of fifth-crop sires, a strong group, he is naturally leader on nearly every index; not least with prize money already exceeding $6 million.

“It’s particularly exciting because his 3-year-old crop was only 81 foals,” noted Bill Farish of Lane’s End. “So he’s doing all this with a relatively small book, by today’s standards. He has 117 2-year-olds coming along, and we’re already starting to see winners from that pipeline: just a couple of days ago he had first and second in a maiden race at Belmont. Here at Lane’s End, with A.P. Indy and Smart Strike and Kingmambo, we’ve seen how our best stallions have all had that moment when there was a bit of doubt. And then they came on like crazy, so it’s fun to see Quality Road doing the same thing. It’s unbelievable. He’s not only up with those [top] horses, in many respects he’s surpassing them.

“There’s nothing more fun, for those of us that do this, than when you’ve got a sire with his first 2-year-olds, and they start winning. But then when a horse starts doing what he’s doing, and really takes it to the next level, that really is so exciting. And we’re enjoying it immensely.”

Spectacular as his returns have been this year, Quality Road is only consolidating the breakthrough he made with two Eclipse Champions in 2017. His fee had duly doubled to $70,000; and you can be sure he will pretty soon be enrolled into the six-figure club.

In fact, for all the fluctuation in book sizes so common among young sires, he has scarcely missed a beat. The larger group of 2016 foals noted by Farish, for instance, reflects the fact that Quality Road’s debut crop not only made him leading rookie by gross receipts at the Keeneland September Sale, but followed through and made him champion freshman of 2014 as well. (Yes, he basically had to ride out 2015–but Klimt helped him bounce straight back to be leading third-crop sire.)

The trailblazer of his first crop was the Royal Ascot and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hootenanny (Quality Road). That precocious dasher might not have been the kind of horse expected from a sire who himself failed to meet his reserve as a yearling and made his only juvenile start in November. But while it augurs well for the continued progress of his racing stock that Quality Road himself thrived as a 4-year-old–it was at that age, for instance, that Illuminant became the second Grade I winner in his first crop in the Gamely S.–the fact remains that he was precocious enough not only to post a triple-digit Beyer in that single start at two, but then to break track records in both the GII Fountain of Youth S. and GI Florida Derby.

Derailed from the Kentucky Derby by a quarter-crack, he resurfaced at Saratoga (in the Pletcher barn; previously with Jimmy Jerkens) and promptly collected his next track record in the GII Amsterdam S. over 6 1/2 furlongs. Admittedly there was a debacle that fall when he refused to load for the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Farish stresses how out of character that was.

“I think a number of unfortunate things happened that day,” he said. “He was being rushed, he was the last to be loaded, they went right to the whip to get him in and it just blew his mind. It’s understandable when you watch a tape of it, but he’s not that way at all. He’s a very typical stallion in a lot of ways: not overly aggressive and not overly kind, either–he’s right down the middle.”

Watch a video about Bob Duncan of NYRA and his work with Quality Road here.

Everything fell into place the following February, anyhow, when Quality Road won the GI Donn H. by 12 3/4 lengths–again breaking the track record, this time one he had set himself in the Florida Derby, for a Beyer of 121. Two other Grade Is would follow, in the Met Mile and the Woodward.

So he retired to stud in 2011 with neon credentials. He was a brawny, tall, masculine specimen. And he had achieved far more on the track than his own remarkable sire, imposing himself in stallion-making races with a monstrous capacity to carry speed.

Quality Road also had a classy and interesting family behind him. Evans bought his dam Kobla (Strawberry Road {Aus}) as a 4-year-old for $1,050,000 at the 1999 Keeneland November Sale. Having never won a race herself, she owed that pricetag to the exploits of her full-sister, Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Ajina (Strawberry Road {Aus}). Both had been bred and raced by Allen Paulson; likewise, their Grade II-winning dam Winglet (Alydar).

Winglet was a half-sister to the dam of Bahri (Riverman), the sire of Sakhee (Bahri). Overall, this is a copper-bottomed family, tracing through Myrtlewood–who appears as fourth and fifth dam respectively of Mr Prospector and Seattle Slew–and Frizette.

Throwing the robust flavours of Strawberry Road into this mix completes a pretty rugged foil to the trademark speed of Elusive Quality. Having raced until he was seven, the globetrotting Strawberry Road was only 15 when he died. If he was not adequately mourned, despite producing stakes winners to foals at a clip better than one-in-ten, that probably reflects his challenging antecedents. He combined an anonymous New Zealand family with the high blood and relatively low performance of Whiskey Road, who was by Nijinsky out of champion Bowl Of Flowers (Sailor), a half-sister to the mighty Ribot pair Graustark and His Majesty.

Strawberry Road again had the Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner a year after Ajina, in Escena (Strawberry Road {Aus}), but was unsurprisingly also able to produce a classy grass performer like Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Fraise (Strawberry Road {Aus}).

One way or another, his background entitles European breeders to curiosity about the potential of Quality Road to produce Classic types on turf as well.

After all, his sire produced an elite sprinting juvenile in Europe from his first crop, in G1 Prix Morny winner Elusive City (Elusive Quality); and a Kentucky Derby winner from his second, in Smarty Jones (Elusive Quality). Then came Raven’s Pass, who seized the moment to win a Breeders’ Cup Classic on a synthetic track (and is a far better sire than is generally allowed). In other words, Elusive Quality was one of those stallions who defied the prescriptive view of racing surface that has so held back the sport in recent years.

If he came a very long way for the winner of two Grade IIIs on turf, he had deep seams of class across his pedigree. His dam, indeed, ultimately descends from Frizette–meaning that the great matriarch lurks on both sides of Quality Road’s family tree.

For many breeders, Elusive Quality appealed purely as a conduit of Gone West’s Mr. Prospector speed. Elusive Quality set a world record for a mile on turf, for instance, while in his most resonant performance divided Honour And Glory (Relaunch) and Distorted Humor (Forty Niner) in the King’s Bishop (then still only a Grade II, if not for long). But remember that Gone West also produced turf champions like Zafonic, Da Hoss and Johar.

Quality Road came up with Hootenanny from a mare by Hennessy, sire of a massive “crossover” influence in Johannesburg. Given a Deputy Minister mare, on the other hand, he produced Abel Tasman–who helped him add leading fourth-crop dirt sire to his 2017 accomplishments.

Farish is excited by the new horizons that may beckon the horse.

“I think for instance Galileo (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells) might work really well with him, if some good mares are sent to him,” he said. “There’s no limit. There’s not much of that Gone West branch of Mr Prospector; it opens him up to a lot of things. He’s inbred 4×4 to Raise A Native, but other than that it’s free rein.

“We saw Kingmambo get Classic winners in Japan, France, England and the U.S. It’s incredible how international he was, and it just vaults a horse to a whole other level in terms of popularity. Because there are just so many more mares in that international pool than there are strictly for a dirt horse in America. So I’m really anxious to see how some of those crosses work.”

Farish sees twin assets in Quality Road: the Classic dirt hallmark of carrying speed, but also versatility.

“He gets sprinters, he gets stayers; a little bit like Smart Strike he can get you just about anything, depending what you breed to him,” he said. “I do love that he’s a stretchy kind of horse, and he does have the ability to get you a Classic winner. That’s what it’s all about here. Really he just hasn’t had enough of those kind of mares to get over to Europe. But I think they’re coming. We’ve seen that pick up this year, and I think it’ll pick up noticeably more.”

Further down the line, moreover, sons of Elusive Quality may well prove potent broodmare sires. Elusive Quality has one of the all-time distaff influences, Somethingroyal (Princequillo {Ire}) as the cornerstone linking his sire and dam, whose respective damsires are her son Secretariat and grandson Sir Ivor. Elusive Quality’s daughters have produced elite sprinters on both surfaces in No Nay Never (Scat Daddy) and Roy H (More Than Ready).

In terms of legacy, however, all this pales next to that of Ned Evans–who died just a couple of months before Quality Road began his stud career.

“His foundation still holds eight shares in the horse,” Farish explained. “So the charities that it supports are now reaping the benefits of his escalating stud fee and share price. The rules give you a certain grace period, but we had to be down to 20% [or eight of 40 shares] by the end of last year. While we played it pretty well, his share price has certainly vaulted from those [original] levels; in the last year it has tripled.

“It’s a great tribute to what Ned was trying to accomplish. It’s quite possible that if he hadn’t died when he did, he’d have had this horse as well as Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}). So it’s just incredible, what’s coming from all those horses from that dispersal. The trustees of the foundation have been adamant they wanted to keep that relationship, because it was so important to Ned. And the shares just keep appreciating, and the stud fees keep going up. It’s very exciting.”