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Japan’s stallions in 2023: freshman sires to watch, new North American influences and the Deep Impact dilemma

This week's Asian Bloodstock Report analyses Japan’s stallion landscape as the freshman sires that entered the breeding sheds in the immediate wake of Deep Impact’s passing will soon have their first runners.

Kitasan Black is a rising star among Japan's homegrown stallion ranks. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

There is no standing still when it comes to breeding thoroughbreds. The death of the great Deep Impact in July 2019 gave a jolt to the Japanese breeding industry, particularly after the pensioning earlier that year at age 18 of King Kamehameha, who would himself pass away just weeks after the horse that usurped him as champion sire. Soon after Deep Impact’s demise, the stallion masters were bringing in more new blood to augment the strong lines already within their barns.

In came the North American champions California Chrome, Animal Kingdom and Bricks And Mortar, plus the two-time Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow, all drafted to stand the 2020 season alongside Japanese freshmen including the classic winners Rey De Oro, Roger Barows and Al Ain, as well as the Group 1 winners Suave Richard, Cheval Grand and Moanin.  

They arrived into a pool of stallions that was still high on quality: King Kamehameha’s son Lord Kanaloa was emerging as a worthy heir having already produced the champion Almond Eye; Hearts Cry was maintaining his top three consistency; Deep Impact’s boy Kizuna had just nailed the first season sire title and the following year would see Duramente and the internationally renowned Maurice come through the freshman ranks with aplomb.

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Duramente has proven a significant loss to the Japanese breeding industry. (Photo by Getty Images)

Japanese shuttler Maurice at Arrowfield Stud. (Photo by Bronwen Healy)

Then Heart’s Cry was pensioned in 2021 and Duramente’s own untimely death that year already looks a big miss, given that the son of King Kamehameha’s three crops to have raced have given us the Group 1 winners Titleholder, Stars On Earth, Liberty Island and Dura Erede.

But Japan’s stallion ranks look deep despite the losses – the likes of Rulership, Daiwa Major, Orfevre, Henny Hughes, Harbinger and more still provide bolster – and one thing about the men making the plays is that they are never afraid to try a different tack.

Invigorating bloodlines

It is surely not coincidence that the leading first season sires in the past two years have been speedy North American bred and raced imports: Mind Your Biscuits and Drefong, who has already produced a classic winner in last year’s Satsuki Sho hero Geoglyph. Prior to Drefong’s title in 2021, the last imported sire to top the freshman list was the British racer Harbinger in 2014, following on from the Irish sprinter Johannesburg the year before.     

Japanese stud farms import new stallions every year, there is nothing out of the ordinary in that, but there seems to be a revisiting in the past five years of the idea that a dash of North American speed is needed to keep the strong Japanese arm of the breed invigorated.

And there is a whispered hope that while Contrail, who covered his first mares in 2022, might in time be the heir to Deep Impact, there is also a desire to find a North American stallion that could have an influence similar – dare it be said – to Deep Impact’s daddy, the great Sunday Silence.

Taking up the mantle

Deep Impact is a difficult act to follow with his 11 straight leading sire titles and a host of Group 1 winners including the champions Contrail – a Triple Crown winner just like his sire – Gentildonna and Gran Alegria. Then again, the same was said when Sunday Silence died after 13 years of dominance. With Contrail yet to have proven anything in the breeding shed the mantle looks set to pass initially at least to Lord Kanaloa, an exceptional sprinter-miler who has been second in the sires’ table for the last three years.

Superstar sprinter Lord Kanaloa. (Photo by JRA)

The 15-year-old is the current number one thanks to his prize money haul and has 25 wins on the board already this year, more than double the wins of any other sire. Weight of numbers has been his strength: last year he posted 453 wins from 586 individual runners who between them had 3,692 starts. 

Compare that to the champion Deep Impact whose progeny had 232 wins from 452 horses that had 2,322 starts. But Lord Kanaloa has covered significantly less mares than he had done previously, dropping from a peak of 307 coverings in 2018 to 181 in 2020 and 157 in 2021. That suggests an opening perhaps for a younger stallion to step up in the next couple of years.

On the rise

Coming along behind Lord Kanaloa is a young brigade headed by Maurice, a regular shuttler from Shadai Stallion Station to Arrowfield Stud in Australia, a champion at a mile and 2000 metres and now in his fourth year with runners. The son of Screen Hero ascended to seventh in the standings last year; this year he is fourth and has 12 wins on the board at a win strike rate of 15.9 per cent.

Deep Impact’s Derby-winning son Kizuna has also posted solid numbers since taking the freshman title in 2019. He had his best season yet in 2022 with 274 wins. He could be just the sort to fill the void created by the pensioning of Heart’s Cry, who posted 10 top five finishes in the stallion standings, and seven top three, all in Deep Impact’s slipstream. 

Kizuna, a son of Deep Impact, winning the The Qatar Prix Niel at Longchamp in 2013. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst)

The great Deep Impact at Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

But the really interesting young gun is Kitasan Black, a son of Deep Impact’s full-brother Black Tide. He was fourth best of the freshman sires in 2021 behind Drefong but his stock is expected to improve with age. His second season saw him place 17th in the table with far less runners than any other horse in the top 20, his 609 making him the only stallion in the top 39 with less than 1000 starters, in fact. 

He has made a good start to this season and is currently ranked fifth, in large part due to his impressive three-year-old son Sol Oriens who landed the first Group 2 of the season last weekend. Kitasan Black is operating at an impressive 25 per cent win strike rate so far this year following an eye-catching 16 per cent rate in 2022.   

First season sires to watch

But what of the newest stallions on the block? The class of 2020 whose first two-year-olds will hit the racetracks this year are an interesting bunch.

Bricks And Mortar

Standing: Shadai Stallion Station

Registered first season foals: 107

It’s easy to see the appeal of Bricks And Mortar: not only is he a US turf champion numbering the Breeders’ Cup Turf among six Group 1 wins, but he is also a son of the European champion galloper and stallion maker Giant’s Causeway, known in his racing days as the ‘Iron Horse’.

Breeders' Cup Turf winner Bricks And Mortar has met with strong support at Shadai Stallion Station. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)

Giant’s Causeway was by the prolific Storm Cat, who also happens to be the dam sire of leading Japanese sires Lord Kanaloa and Kizuna. Bricks And Mortar has been well supported: his first season he covered the classic winning mares Sarafina, Reine Minoru and Soul Stirring, while his second crop of 129 registered foals features La Cressonniere, Queen’s Ring, Sarafina, Soul Stirring and Omega Fragrance, the dam of the dirt track star Omega Perfume.

Rey De Oro

Standing: Shadai Stallion Station

Registered first season foals: 128

Rey De Oro will attempt to expand King Kamehameha’s prodigious legacy this year when his first offspring head to the races. The 2017 Tokyo Yushun hero proved his merit beyond his classic year with a 2018 victory in the Tenno Sho Autumn and found solid support in his first two seasons at Shadai. His first season coverings included the Group 1-winning mares Lachesis, Marialite, Sinhalite and Verxina, while his second season bought the champion mare Buena Vista and two-time Queen Elizabeth II Cup heroine Lucky Lilac.

California Chrome

Standing: Arrow Stud

Registered first season foals: 98

California Chrome was sold to Japan after standing for three seasons at Taylor Made Stallions in Kentucky, during which time he also shuttled to Sumaya Stud, Chile. The son of Lucky Pulpit covered 473 mares in his first three Kentucky crops, having been a popular champion. The chestnut’s storied career featured wins in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Dubai World Cup.

Champion American racehorse California Chrome. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

His only Group 1 winner so far is the Chilean runner Chromium but he offers something different in Japan being a grandson of Pulpit from the AP Indy sire line tracing back to Bold Ruler. After producing 98 registered foals in 2021, that number rose to 110 in 2022.

Others to watch out for

The versatile Thunder Snow, a Group 1 winner on turf and dirt including two Dubai World Cups, gives Japan’s breeders something a little different to consider. He is by the top-class Australian miler Helmet and that brings the Exceed And Excel branch of the Danehill line to Japan. He had 92 registered foals from his first crop, rising to 107 in 2022.

Shadai’s New Year’s Day is another fascinating arrival from the US, having initially stood at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm from 2014 where he sired the Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security, until he was sold to Brazil to stand in 2018. He is by Street Cry who has also sired Street Sense and the champion mares Zenyatta and Winx.

Heart’s Cry’s sons Cheval Grand and Suave Richard both won the Japan Cup and will be pitching to fill the old man’s boots. The Derby winner Roger Barows has 61 registered foals from each of his first two crops and is another son of Deep Impact to join the stallion ranks, as is the Satsuki Sho winner Al Ain who sired 66 registered foals in his first crop.

Japan Cup-winner Suave Richard. (Photo by JRA)

Thunder Snow (blue silks) wins the 2019 Dubai World Cup. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

Cheval Grand defeats Rey De Oro and Kitasan Black in the 2017 Japan Cup. (Photo by JRA)

And another worth noting is the dirt track Group 1 winner Moanin, a son of Henny Hughes, who was well supported and produced 118 foals in his first crop and 111 in his second.

Meanwhile, Animal Kingdom, the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner is standing at the JBBA Shizunai Stallion Station. He first stood at Arrowfield in Australia and then at Darley’s US operation. But he has not set the world alight despite having an Australian Group 1 winner among his progeny, and his numbers in Japan dropped from 75 foals in 2021 to 51 in 2022.

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