Hope and realism as Clarkland Farm offers 'best pedigree in the catalogue'
Michele MacDonald speaks to the vendor of Mendelssohn's half-brother
Ever since he was born at Clarkland Farm outside Lexington last spring, the leggy bay colt by Medaglia D’Oro stood as one of the most promising members of the entire 2017 foal crop in North America.
Yet just two months ago, Clarkland’s Fred Mitchell was pondering scratching the youngster from the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Clarkland’s rollercoaster ride with the colt, who will go on to Keeneland as hip 120 – although best known as the half-brother to champion Beholder, top sire Into Mischief and Grade 1 dirt and turf performer Mendelssohn – provides a glimpse of the nerve-wracking uncertainty commercial breeders often experience.
Mendelssohn topped the 2016 Keeneland September sale for Clarkland on a $3 million bid from Coolmore’s MV Magnier, so the stakes and corresponding hopes have always been high for this year’s yearling with that precedent in his family.
In the hot afternoon sun at the farm on Wednesday, Mitchell said he would prefer to have more time for the son of Medaglia D’Oro, America’s current leading sire by yearling sale average, to fully blossom into his growing frame, which already extends to 16 hands.
Even without any extra days, however, it doesn’t take much imagination to visualise how imposing the colt could look next year, and Mitchell said he has made rapid progress during the last phase of sale preparation.
“He’s a big, strong colt who is just starting to mature, and in about four to five months, he’ll be a grand-looking horse,” Mitchell said. “He’s a beautiful moving colt out in the field – he just covers so much ground so easily.”
From the day he was delivered on April 4 last year by 2016 American Broodmare of the Year Leslie’s Lady, the colt tended to appear lanky and immature.
“When you looked at him earlier this spring, he looked like a malnourished kid. And that’s what he looked like as a foal,” Mitchell recalled with a wry laugh. “I was so disappointed when he was born. I said, ‘My gosh, look at the stud fee I put into this old mare and look at the individual I got.
“Sixty days ago, I was thinking about scratching him from the sale, but he’s really made a turn around,” he related. “He’s a wholly different-looking horse now.”
Mitchell said he has learned from other breeders that the young offspring of Medaglia D’Oro, who stood for an advertised fee of $150,000 when the colt was conceived and now commands $250,000, can be slow to grow into the substantial and attractive bodies they typically possess as older racehorses.
And that’s been the story for the colt, whose path in early life has diverged when compared to the other progeny of Leslie’s Lady, although each raised on Clarkland was notable in his or her own way.
“Probably Beholder was the quickest, fastest-moving filly that the mare ever had. We loved her,” said Mitchell of the four-time champion by Henny Hughes who was foaled four years after Clarkland bought Leslie’s Lady from the estate of James Hines jnr for $100,000 at Keeneland in 2006. “Beholder could really get low and just take off across the field.
“Mendelssohn, when he was growing up, didn’t really mature until we started prepping him for the sale,” added Mitchell of the son of Scat Daddy, who was produced after Leslie’s Lady absorbed an earlier foetus by the late Coolmore stallion during the 2014 breeding season. Once Mendelssohn arrived at Keeneland, he proved adept at showing himself to potential buyers and sparked a bidding war won by Magnier.
Into Mischief was bred by Hines in 2005 and was later acquired and raced to Grade 1 success by Spendthrift Farm, where he is flourishing as a sire.
Leslie’s Lady, now 22, produced a filly by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in late April and subsequently was bred back to Not This Time. The American Pharoah filly “might be the best she’s ever had at this stage of development,” Mitchell said.
But the Medaglia D’Oro colt is the one in the spotlight now, and, despite earlier concerns, Mitchell is decidedly impressed by how much he has evolved.
“I watch him move and I probably like him as much as anything we’ve had out of the mare," he said. "He’s a different mover from Beholder – he just gets over so much ground. And he’s so fluid. He’s close in front, but when he’s running, he’s nice and wide enough.
“He still needs to fill out. He’s probably about five months behind the other yearlings.”
A candid, practical horseman, Mitchell said he anticipates some buyers will critique the colt when he arrives with nine other Clarkland Book 1 yearlings at Keeneland on Friday and begins showing later that day. The boutique farm’s consignment includes hip 174, an American Pharoah filly out of Grade 1-placed Maybellene; hip 634, an Into Mischief half-sister to three stakes winners, and hip 774, a Pioneerof The Nile colt out of Grade 2 winner Ciao Bella Luna.
Yet Mitchell also knows that the Medaglia D’Oro colt will be inspected by virtually all serious buyers, and with market conditions strong, he is hopeful of what may happen when hip 120 is called to the auction ring on Monday.
“I really won’t know until we start showing him whether [buyers] are going to overlook his faults or not. He’s not a perfect horse. Mendelssohn was almost perfect when you looked at him, but the pedigree has improved since he was sold [and became a Grade 1 winner in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf].
“So, anyone who wants a stallion prospect should be looking at the Medaglia D’Oro colt,” Mitchell said. “If he was as good as Mendelssohn as an individual, he’d bring a lot more than Mendelssohn did. Hopefully he gets close to what Mendelssohn brought, but I have no idea what the market will be.
“The only thing I know is that he’s out there for sale,” he added. “To me, it’s the best pedigree in the catalogue, so he’s going to get plenty of lookers. Whether they like him or not, that’s up to them.”