Classic Bases Loaded for Sire On The Up

By Chris McGrath, Thoroughbred Daily News

Nobody has missed the explosive impact of Not This Time’s second crop of sophomores on the Classic trail this year. But the fact remains that it’s actually another stallion in his own intake that we find flirting most plausibly with an elusive distinction, with a chance of joining King Alfonso (1885), McGee (1918), Bull Lea (1952) and Native Dancer (1966) in siring the winners of both the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Kentucky Oaks.

Okay, so we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. With nearly two months to go, it would be quite something just to get Zandon and Kathleen O into the gate with as feasible a chance as they appear to have right now. But whatever happens from here, I think we need to salute the work of their sire in getting that pair even this far, while standing at just $10,000.

His name, of course, is Upstart–and a clever name it is, too, for a son of Flatter out of the Touch Gold mare Party Silks. And now it’s proving a very apt one, as well, with Upstart showing a real flair for upward mobility.

His third crop of juveniles, now on the launchpad, graduate from a book of just 38 covers. We all know how childish is the attention span of commercial breeders, but this was still a pretty ridiculous drop after he had opened with 146 mares–which, on a farm as exemplary as Airdrie, absolutely represented full subscription.

From the moment he could be judged on his own merits, however, Upstart has decisively reversed that customary drift. His first yearlings averaged more than six times his fee, promptly renewing traffic to 90 mares the following spring. And then, sure enough, they went out and showed that they can run: initially as a knockout pinhook medium, his first two crops averaging $107,791 and $113,250 at the 2-year-old sales; and after that–as could be anticipated from his own record, dual Grade I-placed in three consecutive campaigns–when permitted to stretch their capacity for a bullet breeze to a more meaningful span.

Kathleen O. herself is a perfect example. She was discarded to Shooting Star Thoroughbreds for just $8,000 as a weanling, having been acquired in utero with a mare whose principal appeal to her purchasers, Gainesway and Bridlewood, was evidently to assist the launch of Tapwrit. The following fall Kathleen O. was back under the hammer, advancing her value to $50,000, sold by Stuart Morris to Aurora Bloodstock at the OBS October Sale. Returning to the same ring last April, however, she had blossomed so athletically (blasted a quarter in 21-and-change) that Shug McGaughey gave $275,000.
“Niall Brennan had told us a month or two before how much he loved his Upstart filly,” recalls Bret Jones of Airdrie. “And then when I saw that Shug had signed the ticket on her–as we know, Shug doesn’t sign too many auction tickets–I took that as another very encouraging sign. It’s been a lot of fun watching it play out the way we sure hoped.”

Yes, it has. Racing in the silks of debut owner Pat Kearney’s Winngate Stables, Kathleen O. retains an immaculate record: pouncing late for an Aqueduct maiden on debut; then romping by over eight in the Cash Run S. at Gulfstream; and now, off a lay-off, wrecking the unbeaten record of Classy Edition (Classic Empire) in the GII Davona Dale S. over the same track last weekend.

Young stallions are under enormous pressure to deliver, in the narrowest of windows, and Upstart has unequivocally seized his chance. From the outset, he has achieved terrific yields at ringside and then shown why on the track. He was admittedly unlucky with his flagship Reinvestment Risk, who made good money for investors twice over as a $140,000 Fasig-Tipton July yearling and then a $280,000 OBS March 2-year-old, duly romping on debut at Saratoga before then finishing second in consecutive Grade Is. After disappointing at the Breeders’ Cup, he made a single sophomore start and it was only last month that he resumed with a 103 Beyer on his comeback at Gulfstream–a performance that clearly sets him up for a return to elite company this summer.

“As a 2-year-old Reinvestment Risk had the bad luck to chase Jackie’s Warrior through two very fast Grade Is,” Jones remarks. “I think his numbers would have won just about every other early graded 2-year-old race that year. So, while he didn’t get that level of win, I think just about everybody shared the opinion that he had that level of talent.”

In his absence, Upstart’s debut crop found a new focus in Masqueparade. Having raised $100,000 as a weanling and $180,000 as a yearling, he won the GIII Ohio Derby before finishing a good third to Essential Quality (Tapit) in the GII Jim Dandy S.

“Masquerade is also on the comeback trail,” Jones notes. “I spoke with Al Stall when I was down at the Fair Grounds and they’re very bullish on what kind of 4-year-old he could be. He’s big, beautiful and always seemed destined to be a good older horse. If you go back to his race on Kentucky Derby day [won optional allowance by a dozen lengths], he ran a very similar if not slightly faster Ragozin number than the best horses in the Derby.”

That renowned judge Mike Ryan had found Reinvestment Risk for the Chad Brown barn and the same pair returned to Upstart’s second crop for Zandon, homebred from an unraced Creative Cause mare by Brereton C. Jones/Airdrie, as a $170,000 Keeneland September yearling. Zandon won a Belmont sprint on debut before losing out by a nose in the GII Remsen S., many being perplexed that he was not awarded the prize after being baulked late by Mo Donegal (Uncle Mo). On his return, he shaped really well against the flow of the GII Risen S., rank in the rear after a clumsy start but retaining enough energy to circle the field for third.

So anyone can see that we’re already looking at a pretty impressive body of work for a horse standing for this kind of money. But there’s something else I want to highlight that really sets Upstart apart. We’ve seen that he can look after breeders commercially; and we’ve seen that he can reward investors in the next cycle with real quality on the racetrack. But what I really like is that he’s such a cast-iron source of “run”.

By the end of 2021, with a second crop of juveniles up and running, Upstart had managed to put no fewer than 114 of 149 named foals onto the track, including 65 winners. Those respectively represented 77% and 44% of his output. Compare those ratios with the handful who banked more prizemoney last year. Not This Time had 66% starters to named foals, and 35% winners; Nyquist, 61 and 26 %, respectively; Frosted 71 and 30%; Runhappy, 55 and 28%; and the lamented Speightster, 66 and 33%.

Those stats speak for themselves. Yet all bar one of these rivals, Runhappy, were working from books so much bigger than those assembled by Upstart that even their markedly inferior conversion rate–in terms of racetrack action–left them more starters. So his five stakes winners in 2021 stacked up admirably against all bar the freakish 13 assembled by Not This Time: Speightster had three, while Runhappy, Frosted and Nyquist had six apiece. We have meanwhile lost poor Speightster, but the fact remains that Upstart remains a lower fee than all the others.

This evolving trademark makes a lot of sense in a horse that showed up so reliably through three campaigns in the best company. Forward enough for a 102 Beyer at two, surely unique in a son of Flatter, Upstart started out winning a maiden and then a stake at Saratoga before placing in the GI Champagne and GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; he then beat Frosted by five in the GII Holy Bull S.; and matured to a supporting role in races like the GI Haskell, GI Met Mile and GI Whitney.

Jones is duly unsurprised by Upstart’s excellence in literally getting you a runner. “He was a very sound horse himself,” he stresses. “He was an early-developing 2-year-old of Grade I caliber, even though his pedigree may not have screamed that. Then as a 3-year-old, he was one of the best Derby hopes on the East Coast before training on to be right there in very big races at four. With that stout Flatter-A.P. Indy blood behind him, there were a lot of reasons to hope that he could get sound horses that would keep getting better with age. And that does seem to be the case.”

This profile is underpinned by a pedigree that has plainly imparted both precocity and refinement to the kind of rangy, two-turn physique associated with the sire-line. Touch Gold is indeed gold as a broodmare sire, combining Deputy Minister and another legendary distaff brand in Buckpasser; and Upstart’s third dam is by another copper-bottomed such influence in Drone. Beyond that, the family was cultivated through four generations by Federico Tesio himself, rooted in his foundation mare Tofanella (GB) (to whom Upstart’s fifth dam is inbred 3 x 3).

Though Upstart’s dam was unraced, her half-sister won the

GII Raven Run S. during an 8-for-27 career spread seamlessly across four campaigns. And his third dam, herself a graded stakes-placed half-sister to a multiple Grade I performer, also produced a graded stakes winner plus the mother of a top-class Japanese sprinter in Nobo Jack (French Deputy).

Despite his name, then, it seems as though Upstart has been an aristocrat all along. Both Zandon and Kathleen O., remember, are the very first foals out of their respective dams to make the racetrack–and Upstart, straight off the bat, is moving them right up in the world.

“We love that these Upstarts can make money for their breeders, then can handle the 2-year-old sales and go on to be early horses that train on,” Jones observes. “That’s not an easy combination to pull off, but he’s giving us a lot of reasons to believe that he can. He has a chance to be that great blend: the stallion that can get you a runner, as well as an expensive sales horse. Hopefully, he will now keep developing that commercial profile, as these horses continue to run fast.”

Certainly Jones expects Upstart to be back to a full book this year, a vivid measure of the way he has seized the fleeting chances he was given. Those who can get aboard this spring, then, will surely be ahead of the game by the time they come to sell the resulting foals. After all, he has come up with Zandon and Kathleen O. from a phase when he was, relatively speaking, marking time. And pending the next cycle we can expect his stock, thriving with maturity, to keep his name in lights.

“We got 86 mares to him the second year,” Jones says. “And from those 86 mares bred, he has these two really outstanding 3-year-olds. So, he’s shown that he doesn’t need the big numbers to have success. And now that he’s finally going to have that opportunity again, now that you can add the kind of quality and numbers we think are in his future, then there’s a real pipeline taking shape behind him. To us, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Upstart.”