Quality back in the big time after quiet year
Quality Road: has a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender in Guest Suite
PICTURE: Lane's End Farm Quality back in the big time after quiet year By Nancy Sexton 11:06AM 26 JAN 2017
IN A WORLD where a stallion's performance is either feted or damned with alarming alacrity, the stud career of Quality Road serves as a good reminder of how fortunes can change from one year to the next.
Quality Road was part of a strong intake of stallions to stud in Kentucky for the 2011 season alongside the likes of Blame, Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky and Eskendereya. All bar Super Saver were priced in the $30,000-$35,000 range and despite the resulting competition, each attracted a strong book of mares.
Quality Road's fee of $35,000 set by Lane's End Farm was reflective of a brilliance that had manifested itself in victories in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, Metropolitan Handicap, Woodward Stakes and Donn Handicap, which was won by almost 13 lengths and in track-record time.
While brilliant over a mile, the son of Elusive Quality also won the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes over six and a half furlongs and ran second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup over 1m2f in the same season. He duly attracted 149 mares in his first season, including 32 belonging to the estate of his late owner-breeder Edward Evans, who had died just weeks following Quality Road's retirement.
He hit the ground running when his first crop of juveniles contained Hootenanny, the apple of Wesley Ward's eye in Europe during the summer of 2014, and Grade 2 winner Blofeld. Quality Road is a big, strapping horse who developed into an excellent three and four-year-old, so the fact that he was able to end 2014 as America's leading first-crop sire naturally suggested greater things were in store. They were – but not before his supporters had watched a whole year go by with only a single stakes winner to his name.
The horse in question, Overprepared, won the Listed Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct on January 16, 2015. By the end of that year, Quality Road had sired 53 winners in North America, among them the Grade 3-placed In Equality, as well as the earners of $3.25 million to hit the top five leading American second-crop sires. Yet there wasn't a single other stakes winner besides Overprepared until January 16, 2016 when Frank Conversation began his productive year with victory in the Listed California Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
What a difference a year can make. Frank Conversation's win that day in California opened the floodgates for an excellent 2016. Illuminant, a member of his first crop, took the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes in May and two-year-olds Abel Tasman and Klimt staked Classic claims when successful in the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes and Del Mar Futurity.
Blofeld also returned to form to win the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, while Frank Conversation remained the highlight of his second crop with victories in the Grade 2 Twilight Derby and Grade 3 El Camino Derby.
In all, the year yielded more than $6.4m in progeny earnings, enough to crown him the leading North American third-crop sire of 2016. It also stamped him as one of the better sons of Elusive Quality at stud, a group that so far has been more disappointing than successful.
While this rollercoaster was playing out on the track, the market actually kept faith. Quality Road has been relied upon to throw strong, scopey horses attractive to the commercial market and in line with a stud fee that has never wavered below $25,000, his Keeneland September yearling average has remained above $95,000 throughout his stud career.
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Now he has another legitimate Kentucky Derby contender in Guest Suite, who splashed his way through the slop at Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Saturday to run out the authoritative winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes. Previously third in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs, he boasts a progressive record of three wins from five starts.
The Neil Howard-trained Guest Suite is the third Graded stakes winner to emerge out of Quality Road's third crop after the aforementioned Klimt and Abel Tasmen. The crop numbers 101 foals, an increase upon the 67 sired the previous year during his second season.
Few stallions escape the dreaded drop-off in popularity in the years after their opening season and in Quality Road's case, the drop from 149 mares to a book of 91 in his second year may have been exacerbated by the 2011 dispersal of the Edward Evans estate, which had supported him so aggressively in his first. By 2013, his fee was down to $25,000, which seemingly prompted an upsurge in interest.
The Evans dispersal, which was completed at Keeneland in November 2011, did mean that a number of well-connected Quality Road foals ended up in good hands. Indeed, Evans mares accounted for three of the stallion's first-crop standouts in Hootenanny (bred by Barronstown Stud out of More Hennessy, bought for $360,000), Blofeld (bred by Keats Grove Farm out of Storm Minstrel, bought for $150,000) and the Grade 3-placed Seve's Road (bred by WinStar Farm out of Silk Road, bought for $435,000).
Similarly, Will Farish has provided effective backing in his role as owner of Lane's End Farm by breeding Overprepared as well as Guest Suite.
In Guest Suite's case, he is a member of Lane's End's powerful Weekend Surprise family. His dam, Guest House, was a minor winning daughter of Ghostzapper, who is rapidly emerging as a broodmare sire of note through recent Grade 1 performers such as Drefong and American Gal, and the Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes winner Welcome Surprise. In turn, she was out of Weekend Surprise, long immortalised in thoroughbred breeding as the dam of A. P. Indy and Summer Squall. Both won legs of the American Triple Crown (Summer Squall was also trained by Neil Howard) before producing American Classic winners during their time at Lane's End Farm.
Guest Suite has a fair way to go to add to the family's Classic record but he seems to possess the profile to continue progressing with time and greater distance. Unfortunately, however, a stud career at Lane's End will never beckon since he is a gelding.
Quality Road was a true dirt performer but he is a son of Elusive Quality and therefore was always likely to attract some attention from Europe. Hootenanny, who captured the Windsor Castle Stakes and ran second in the Prix Morny en route to winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, got the ball rolling in that respect and since then, his yearlings have sold for up to €260,000 in this part of the world.
Illuminate is also proof of his ability to throw a top-class turf runner, all of which continues to make Quality Road an interesting American option for European breeders.
QUALITY ROAD FACTFILE
2006 Elusive Quality-Kobla (Strawberry Road)
Stands: Lane's End Farm, Kentucky, for $35,000
GRADED STAKES WINNERS 2016-17
ABEL TASMAN (14 f ex Vargas Girl by Deputy Minister) won Starlet Stakes-G1
ILLUMINANT (12 f ex Sparkling Number by Polish Numbers) won Gamely Stakes-G1
KLIMT (14 c ex Inventive by Dixie Union) won Del Mar Futurity – G1, Best Pal Stakes-G2
BLOFELD (12 c ex Storm Minstrel by Storm Cat) won Gulfstream Park Handicap-G2
FRANK CONVERSATION (13 c ex Rushen Heat by Unusual Heat) won Twilight Derby-G2, El Camino Real Derby-G3
GUEST SUITE (14 g ex Guest House by Ghostzapper) won Lecomte Stakes-G3
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