It’s early days, but the Freshman Sire Crop of 2021 has already proved to be an historic one in at least one respect, runaway leader Gun Runner surpassing the earnings record set by Uncle Mo in 2015. Gun Runner might not have been expected to make his mark quite so early, but that he would do some at some point seemed almost inevitable given his credentials: a Horse of the Year, he is the extremely successful sire, Candy Ride, out of a graded stakes winning half-sister to Horse of the Year Saint Liam, and was extremely well-supported in his early years at stud.
A little further down the lists, however, were some notable performances from some far less heralded prospects, and ones that have had far less initial opportunity. Here we focus on a regional quartet that made impressive beginnings from first crops that – according to The Blood-Horse Freshman Sire list – had crops that numbered 30 or less foals.
Top of the four by earnings at years end was Neolithic (Harlan’s Holiday – Swingit by Victory Gallop), who retired to stand at Pleasant Acres Stallions, Morriston, Florida. He started only 12 times over three seasons in training, and although he won three races, none of those victories came in black-type events. That bare statistic is rather misleading, however, as it conceals the level of talent that Neolithic showed at his peak. For example, the second of his wins came in nine lengths victory in a Gulfstream Park allowance, where he score in a time just 0.61 off the 8½ furlong track-record. He followed that effort by thirds in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), behind Arrogate and Shaman Ghost, and the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), where he defeated all but Arrogate and Gun Runner. Back from his Dubai expedition, Neolithic took a Saratoga allowance, took third in the Woodward Stakes (G1), again behind Gun Runner, and second in the Fayette Stakes (G2).
By Harlan’s Holiday, notably sire of the all-conquering Into Mischief, Neolithic is out the multiple stakes winning Swingit, also dam of the multiple graded stakes winner Travel Column. He also also owns an intriguing pedigree pattern. Firstly, Harlan’s Holiday is by Harlan, who is a Northern Dancer/Halo cross, as is the dam of Neolithic’s broodmare sire, Victory Gallop. Secondly, Harlan’s Holiday’s dam is by Affirmed, who is by Exclusive Native out of a Crafty Admiral mare, an identical pattern to the one that produced Our Native, the sire of Neolithic’s second dam. Given that he has a later maturing background, Neolithic was out of the gate remarkably quickly. He already has a pair of stakes winning colts in Cattin (out of a mare by Indian Charlie son, Adios Charlie), successful in the Inaugural Stakes, and Make It Big (out of a mare by Congrats), who captured the Ocala Stud Juvenile Sprint, then took a first step on the Triple Crown trail with a success in the Remington Springboard Mile.
Second by earnings is El Deal (Munnings – Spirit of Walea by Out of Place), who is at Red River Farms, Coushatta, Louisiana. The first grade one winner for his sire, El Deal won six times a two, three and four, taking his first four starts, including a black-type tally in the Gold Fever Stakes at Belmont Park at three. His career-defining season, however, came at five, where he stormed to an astonishing eight lengths triumph in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes (G1) and also took the Decathlon Stakes at Monmouth Park, and claimed second, beaten just a length in the Vosburgh Stakes (G1). In taking the Vanderbilt, El Deal achieved the grade one victory that eluded his sire, Munnings. A son of Champion Sprinter, Speightstown, Munnings started off at a relatively modest stud fee, but has steadily charted an upward course through the stallion ranks, and stands at $85,000 in 2021. El Deal's dam is half-sister to a pair of stakes winners, including the multiple grade two winning and grade one placed Choctaw Nation. From 29 foals, El Deal was represented by 13 starters and six winners, three of whom earned black-type. Free Like a Girl (out of a Flashy Bull mare, and inbred 4x3 to Munnings’ broodmare sire, Holy Bull), started ten times, winning five of the last seven, and taking the D.S. Shine Young Futurity, Louisiana Jewel Stakes, My Trusty Cat Stakes, and the Louisiana Futurity, which she took by 6¼ lengths. The colt, True Deal (out of a mare by Big Brown), annexed the Louisiana Cup Juvenile Stakes, and another son, Charco (out of a mare by Tale of the Cat), was twice stakes placed, including when second in the colts and geldings division of the Louisiana Futurity.
Going head and head with El Deal in Louisana is Iron Fist (Tapit – Successful Outlook by Orientate), who stands at Whispering Oaks Farm, Carencro, Louisiana. He is another to show promise early, and to really fulfil that promise with that maturity. He was graded stakes placed at two, three and four, including a third to American Pharoah in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), and a second to Frosted In the Pennsylvania Derby (G2), but really cut loose at five, when he captured five stakes events, including the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3). From just 23 foals, Iron First had 15 stakes winners, eight winners, and two stakes winners. They were the filly, Buckley Bunny (out of a Grand Slam mare), who progressed through the course of a six race season to take the Louisiana Champions Day Lassie Stakes on her final juvenile start, and the gelding, Fiesty Fist (dam by Roman Ruler), who took the colt and gelding division of the D.S. Shine Young Futurity. Another who looks likely to be collecting black-type in the near future is Brian’s Iron Make (dam by Ghostzapper), who finished third on his debut, but has gone three-for-three since.
In California, one who made his mark last year from limited opportunities is Straight Fire. Although he only campaigned at two, Straight Fire left little doubt about his racing class. He impressively broke his maiden over 6½ furlongs at Del Mar, then took second in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and third in the FrontRunner Stakes (G1). Straight Fire is by the Smart Strike horse, Dominus, himself something of an over-achiever from limited opportunities. His dam is an A.P. Indy half-sister to the speedy Confide, and from the same branch of the famed Shy Dancer family as Champion Two-Year-Old Filly Heavenly Cause (dam of a smart sire in Two Punch, whose offspring included Champion Sprinter Smoke Glacken).
Now standing at Legacy Ranch, Inc., Clements, California, and with only 26 first crop foals on the ground, Straight Fire had 13 starters last year, and no less that ten of them won at least one race, giving him the impressive statistics of 77% winners to runners and 38% winners from foals - gaudy numbers for any first crop stallion. His runners are headed by Straight Up G (out of a mare by Sky Mesa; thus inbred to A.P. Indy), a 3½ lengths winner of the King Glorious Stakes. While the bulk of his runners have appeared in the ultra-competitve California racing circuit, we should also mention the promising Fourteeneightyfour (dam by Gone Astray, a son of Dixie Union), who is two-for-two, the second win coming by way of 6¼ length romp in an allowance/optional event at Delaware Park. Given his immediate pedigree is laden with horses like Smart Strike and A.P. Indy it would come as no surprise if he emerged from California as a premier sire for that state.