Walking in the footsteps of giants as Justify half-brother heads for auction
Michele MacDonald speaks to Triple Crown-winning breeder Tanya Gunther
Pointing to her right arm, Tanya Gunther can’t help smiling even though she is talking about where she has been bitten by the big chestnut colt standing behind her.
“I’ve got one here and one here,” Gunther says of the noticeable welts on her skin from the nips. “And he got my finger the other day.”
But these are not bites from just any horse. The striking colt who left these marks is the first yearling sibling of a Triple Crown winner to come to a public marketplace outside of Japan in more than three decades, following world record-setting $13.1-million yearling Seattle Dancer.
Catalogued as Hip 443 in the Keeneland September yearling sale from the consignment of Glennwood Farm, owned by Gunther’s father, John Gunther, the colt is from the second crop of champion Will Take Charge and is a half-brother to the undefeated phenomenon Justify, as well as to Grade 3 winner The Lieutenant.
Knowing that Justify was also a biter who left his teeth marks on her arms when she was raising him and readying him for sale, Tanya Gunther looks on the bright side.
“Justify got me a number of times as well, so I see a similarity,” she says, laughing. “They’re easy to handle, but when they go to bite, they’re very quick.
“This one,” she adds, pointing to the yearling, “does it with a smile on his face, whereas Justify was like ‘Ha! I got you!’”
The comparisons don’t end there.
First, there is the basic fact that both Justify and the yearling colt are chestnuts with blazes, as is their dam, the Grade 3-placed Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic. The yearling is even more flashy than Justify as he has white markings on three legs and white under his chin, and part of his blaze extends across his forehead and over his left eye.Justify has always been a robust specimen. Gunther said that, just before he was shipped to Keeneland, the Will Take Charge colt tipped the scales at 1,125 lb, although she couldn’t remember his exact weight in the previous month.
Justify weighed 1,050 lb as a yearling in August, according to farm records reported during the colt’s Classic campaign. While a three-year-old in May this year, Justify weighed 1,280 lb, trainer Bob Baffert said.
Gunther credits Stage Magic with passing along her determination, in addition to her color, to her sons.
“I think she throws a bit of tenacity; they know what they want,” Gunther says. “She has a strong personality and she’s throwing that to her foals. I see a little bit of similarity among them all. They are strong characters, mostly in a good way.
“They do need to have determination and tenacity in racing. I think Justify showed tremendous heart in his races. If a mare is throwing that, to me it's like gold dust,” she adds. “I love a mare who is throwing heart. Hopefully she can keep throwing that personality into her foals.
The Gunthers are hopeful that the yearling will gain his share of attention from buyers who know that Justify bounded from a maiden race to sweeping the Triple Crown in an unprecedented 112 days. However, since Will Take Charge’s first progeny are just beginning to race, they have tempered expectations.
“He’s a hard one to value because he's by a basically unproven stallion out of a mare that has produced a Triple Crown winner,” Gunther notes. “He’s a very nice physical, a nice horse, but it does make him hard to value because there aren’t a lot of comparables out there. But he matches up on the physical side of it, so we’re excited about that.
“Fingers crossed. We really like him,” she adds.
To date, Justify is the most expensive of Stage Magic’s foals to be sold; the son of Scat Daddy was acquired by China Horse Club and WinStar Farm-affiliated Maverick Racing for $500,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September sale.
The Lieutenant, a son of Street Sense and the mare’s first foal, sold for $50,000 as a yearling in 2014. The mare’s two fillies to sell as yearlings were Holiday Music, by Harlan’s Holiday, who sold for $60,000 in 2015 and Egyptian Storm, by Pioneerof the Nile, who sold for $230,000 last year.
Of course, all those prices came in the era before Justify earned the distinction of becoming American racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner and only the second in history to run through the series without ever being beaten.
Stage Magic, who was bred by John Gunther and went on to carry his silks after being listed as a $70,000 RNA at the 2008 Keeneland September sale, produced a colt by Pioneerof the Nile on April 19 this year and is back in foal to Quality Road. Plans are for her to visit Curlin in 2019.
Looking back in history, the last yearling sibling to a Triple Crown winner to come to market in America was Seattle Dancer, who set a world record when sold for $13.1m to a partnership including Coolmore, Robert Sangster and Stavros Niarchos at the 1985 Keeneland July sale.
By Nijinsky II, Seattle Dancer was a half-brother to Seattle Slew and he went on to be a multiple Group winner and Group 1-placed in Europe prior to a stud career.
In Japan, Tosen Laurence, a half-brother to Japanese Triple Crown winner Deep Impact, was sold as a foal for ¥165m (£1.344m/€1.501m) to Takaya Shimakawa at the 2009 Japan Racing Horse Association Select Sale. By Daiwa Major, Tosen Laurence did not race, according to the Japan Bloodstock Information System.
At the 2011 JRHA sale, the foal half-brother to Deep Impact by Neo Universe, later named Monde Chat Luna, was sold to Globe Equine Management Co. for ¥250m (£2.359m/€2.634m). Monde Chat Luna won a minor stakes in 2014.
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