By Andrew Caulfield
Very few stallions possess sufficient brilliance, soundness and versatility to sire winners of all three legs of the Triple Crown but Mr Prospector achieved this exceptional feat and so did his grandson Unbridled, even though Unbridled died at only 14 years of age.
Fortunately a colt from Unbridled’s first crop had already shown that he had the potential to fill the void left by his father’s demise – Unbridled’s Song – who produced a constant flow of high-class performers, with FIRST DEFENCE among them.
Following in his father’s footsteps has pretty much been the story so far for Unbridled’s Song. For a start, both he and his sire Unbridled inherited plenty of size and scope from Unbridled’s sire Fappiano, with Unbridled measuring 16.3 hands and his son a full 17 hands.
The comparisons continued during their racing careers, as both father and son triumphed in the Florida Derby and both landed one of the highly coveted prizes on Breeders’ Cup Day. The similarities have extended to their stallion careers. Both made a spectacular start, with a pair of first-crop G1 winners featuring a Breeders’ Cup winner. Unbridled ended up with an outstanding total of three Breeders’ Cup winners, thanks to the two-year-olds Unbridled’s Song, Anees and Halfbridled, and now Unbridled’s Song has matched his sire's total, thanks to the victories of his daughters Unbridled Elaine and Unrivaled Belle in the Ladies' Classic and of his son Midshipman in the Juvenile.
Unbridled’s Song’s extensive team of stakes winners shows his versatility as a stallion. Their stakes victories have come over a wide range of distances and on all types of surfaces – dirt, synthetic and turf. In other words, Unbridled’s Song could provide pretty much whatever you required, and FIRST DEFENCE’s background suggests he too will prove very versatile. Whereas he was very fast, his close relative Empire Maker won the Belmont Stakes. Indeed, with his exceptional bloodlines, FIRST DEFENCE is well qualified to develop into the next major stallion from this important male line. He has gotten off to the very best start - siring Eclipse Champion and five time Gr.1 winner Close Hatches from his first crop.
By Andrew Caulfield
When Chester House was retired to Juddmonte Farms at the end of 2000, this son of Toussaud was billed as “a genetic masterpiece.” The truth of that description was underlined by Chester House’s remarkable record in 2008, when he achieved a top-12 finish on the general sires’ table, despite having far fewer representatives than any other stallion in the top 20. From 103 runners, Chester House was represented by as many as 18 stakes winners, including the flying filly Ventura, her fellow Breeders’ Cup winner Muhannak, the Met Mile winner Divine Park, the high-class European ten-furlong colt Phoenix Tower and the G2 winners Spring House and Warning Zone.
Chester House’s death at the age of eight meant that he left only 216 named foals, but 29 of them became stakes winners. This equates to 13.4 per cent – a truly significant achievement in today’s industry.
FIRST DEFENCE also merits being described as a genetic masterpiece. No fewer than five of the six horses in the first two generations of his pedigree were Gr.1 winners, including his first two dams, Honest Lady and Toussaud. What’s more, Toussaud earned the title of Broodmare of the Year, thanks to her achievement of producing Graded stakes winners to five different stallions. Four of Toussaud’s foals won at the highest level and her sons Chester House and Empire Maker are both Gr.1 sires, with thirteen Gr.1 winners between them. Empire Maker’s achievements include the champion filly Royal Delta (Alabama Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic) and promising young sire Pioneerof the Nile. Chester House has also produced a good stallion son - Divine Park, the sire of 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies' Turf winner, Lady Eli.
FIRST DEFENCE’s dam Honest Lady is also upholding the family’s honor, to the extent that she has produced 3 stakes winners already. A fair idea of this family’s potential can be gauged from the fact that Honest Lady’s Storm Cat filly Honest Pursuit was the highest-priced broodmare of 2009, at $3.1 million.
Three of Honest Lady’s first six runners have become stakes winners, namely FIRST DEFENCE and his half-sisters Phantom Rose (by Danzig) and Honest Quality (by Elusive Quality). The ex-French Phantom Rose looked a tremendous prospect on her debut for Bobby Frankel, when she cruised home in an allowance, and she was on target for the Gr.1 La Brea Stakes when she met with a fatal accident.
It is a measure of Honest Lady’s reputation during her time with Bobby Frankel that she was included in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool in February 1999. At that stage she was unbeaten, having won over six furlongs at Hollywood Park on her only juvenile start before becoming a Gr.2 winner in the Santa Ynez Stakes over seven.
Frankel’s post-race comments made heady reading:
“She’s so talented, it’s unreal,” he said. “I think she’s a superstar. She’s the best filly I’ve trained by far. I hope to win the Kentucky Derby.”
It is worth adding that Frankel had trained the last three champion turf females, as well as the 1995 winner Possibly Perfect, so this was some compliment.
The Blood-Horse report included the following telling paragraph:
“All you needed to see were the wide grins on Desormeaux and trainer Bobby Frankel to assess just how dazzling Honest Lady was in the Santa Ynez, as she covered seven of the most effortless furlongs you can imagine. Even Frankel couldn’t help entertain the thought of roses. That’s right – he’s talkin’ Derby.”
Although two defeats against the males ruled out the Derby, Honest Lady acquitted herself most creditably against the males later in her career. Only Yankee Victor proved too strong for her in the 2000 Metropolitan Handicap and she closed to within half a length of Kona Gold in a record-breaking Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The Blood-Horse report included the telling line: “The outcome may have been different had Honest Lady gotten through at the right time. Instead, Kent Desormeaux, unable to wait any longer, swung the Seattle Slew filly 10 wide at the head of the lane, obviously costing her precious ground.”
Honest Lady’s victories against her own sex included the Gr.1 Santa Monica Handicap. Five of her six successes came on dirt, the other on turf, so it is no surprise that FIRST DEFENCE also handled both surfaces well enough to win at Graded level. His three-parts-brother Empire Maker has Graded winners on dirt, turf and synthetic and FIRST DEFENCE is likely to prove equally versatile.
Most of Toussaud’s Graded winners were by stallions from the Mr Prospector line, Honest Lady – a daughter of the legendary Seattle Slew - being the notable exception. It is interesting that Toussaud’s Gr.3-winning sister Navarra visited Seattle Slew’s son A.P. Indy to produce the G.3 turf winner Indygo Shiner. This horse has made a sensational start to his stallion career in Argentina, where his second-crop three-year-olds landed the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and Oaks during the 2008-09 season.
Seattle Slew’s name also appears in the pedigree of Unbridled’s Song excellent son Midshipman, a dual Gr.1 winner in the Del Mar Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Midshipman is out of a Gr.2-winning grand-daughter of the 1977 Triple Crown winner, whereas FIRST DEFENCE is out of a Gr.1-winning daughter.
Seattle Slew’s many accolades included the titles of champion freshman sire, champion sire, champion sire of two-year-olds and champion sire of broodmares. Other notable horses with dams by Seattle Slew are Horse of the Year Lemon Drop Kid and Stormy Atlantic, a champion sire of two-year-olds.
First Defence’s second dam Toussaud was another with endless ability – something she inherited from her exceptionally talented sire, El Gran Senor. She retired a winner of seven of her 15 starts, winning the Gr.3 Criterion Stakes at Newmarket before moving to Frankel in California. There she won the Gr.2 Wilshire Handicap, the Gr.1 Gamely Handicap and the Gr.2 American Handicap. She was also fourth to Lure in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Mile, beaten about 4 lengths.
One of the hallmarks of Toussaud’s performances was her ability to produce an instant burst of acceleration. She probably inherited this priceless asset from El Gran Senor and she passed it on to Honest Lady.
By Andrew Caulfield
What do the likes of Galileo, Dynaformer, Street Cry, Dubawi, Stormy Atlantic, Rahy, Pulpit, Forestry and El Prado have in common? The answer is that they rank among the numerous successful stallions which have two Gr.1 winners as their parents.
FIRST DEFENCE is another whose parents both scored at the highest level and there are so many Gr.1 winners in the most recent generations of his pedigree that he could almost be said to be destined to become a Gr.1 winner. Destiny became reality at Saratoga when the son of Unbridled’s Song and Honest Lady lined up for the seven-furlong Forego Stakes on dirt at Saratoga. After duelling for the lead through the first six furlongs, FIRST DEFENCE drew clear to win by nearly seven lengths. “What a nice horse,” was the verdict of winning rider Channing Hill. “He went:44 like he was going :47. He just cruised around there. This was awesome.”
The Forego represented the second Graded victory – and third win - of 2008 for FIRST DEFENCE, whose record then stood at six wins and three seconds from 12 starts. He had earlier demonstrated his versatility in the Gr.3 Jaipur Stakes over six furlongs on his turf debut at Belmont Park.
Leading throughout in the hands of Javier Castellano, the four-year-old held on well over a course described as heavy and tiring.
In becoming a dual Graded winner, FIRST DEFENCE was fulfilling the potential he had shown from a very early stage of his career. His early work suggested that he was sound, intelligent and very naturally talented. He started to impress Bobby Frankel’s work riders in early summer but needed the experience on his Saratoga debut at the end of July. His next appearance, in a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Belmont, showed FIRST DEFENCE in his true light. In a race switched to the main track, he led every step of the way and had more than nine lengths to spare at the line.
FIRST DEFENCE faced a much sterner task when he tried two turns for the first time in an allowance at Churchill Downs in November, on his final juvenile start. Among the opposition was Zanjero, who was to run second in the Gr.2 Remsen Stakes later in the month, but FIRST DEFENCE went down by only a length.
Given time to strengthen, FIRST DEFENCE was back in action in a seven-furlong allowance at Belmont Park in May 2007, when he led most of the way for an easy victory. That victory had FIRST DEFENCE in excellent shape when he made his stakes debut in the Long Branch Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Monmouth Park in July. Trying two turns for a second time, he coped very well with the extra yardage and improved his record to three wins and a second in his last four starts, scoring by more than two lengths.
“I thought we would be second early, but my horse was so sharp,” winning jockey Javier Castellano reported.
“When the gate opened, he got a good jump and when I opened my eyes he was on the lead. I didn’t want to fight with him, so I just let him go."
“He is a good horse,” Castellano added. “I really liked him at the beginning, and I always had a lot of confidence in him.”
The next step for FIRST DEFENCE was the Gr.1 King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga, in which he faced a truly formidable opponent in Hard Spun, who had found only one too good for him in the Kentucky Derby and Haskell Invitational.FIRST DEFENCE proved to be the only one capable of staying with Hard Spun when the Derby runner-up started to turn the screw rounding the final bend. To his credit, FIRST DEFENCE drew alongside and gamely managed to get his head in front in mid-stretch, but Hard Spun’s greater experience proved decisive in the final sixteenth.
By Ercel Ellis
2015 began with the acclamation of Close Hatches as Champion Older Female in the United States, thus giving FIRST DEFENCE the distinction of having sired an Eclipse Award winner in his first crop. It was an award well deserved as Close Hatches was the only older distaffer to win three Gr.1 stakes during the year. Her victories in the Gr.1 Apple Blossom, Gr.1 Ogden Phipps, and Gr.1 Personal Ensign were preceded by wins in the Gr.1 Cotillion, Gr.1 Mother Goose, Gr.2 Gazelle, and Gr.2 Azeri with seconds in the Gr.1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Gr.1 Acorn. Close Hatches concluded her career with earnings of $2,707,300. She has been examined in foal to Tapit and her two year old full brother is now in training with Bill Mott.
Spring saw the emergence of more runners by FIRST DEFENCE. Irish Jasper, after winning the Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa as a two year old last year, has won the Gr.3 $150,000 Victory Ride Stakes at Belmont, the Gr.3 $150,000 Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, the $100,000 Belle Harbor Stakes at Aqueduct, and six of her nine career starts for earning of $312,800.
Another three year old, Fame and Power, has won the $150,000 Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico, finished second in the Gr.3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs, and third in the Gr.3 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.
Yet another sophomore, Tombelaine, began the year with a victory in the Tetrarch Stakes in Ireland after running second in a pair of Graded stakes as a two year old, the Gr.3 Tyros Stakes and the Gr.3 Juvenile Turf Stakes, both in Ireland.
Also competing abroad is Dundonnell, like Close Hatches, a member of the first crop by FIRST DEFENCE. Dundonnell began his racing career in England and while there won the Gr.3 Acomb Stakes and the King Charles II Stakes L. , with a second place finish in the Gr.2 Champagne Stakes and a third in the Gr.3 Craven Stakes. He also ventured to the U.S. and finished a very credible fourth in the Gr.1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Stakes. Now competing in Hong Kong, Dundonnell has won the Sprint Cup there this year to become the second millionaire from the first crop of FIRST DEFENCE.
The first starter from FIRST DEFENCE’s current two year old crop of two year olds is Known Defense. Out of a stakes class producing half-sister to Wiseman’s Ferry, a multiple graded stakes winner of $777,000, Known Defense won his career debut in impressive fashion at Santa Anita.
There are more well-bred two year olds by FIRST DEFENCE on the way, a group highlighted by Primo Rivera, a full brother to Close Hatches and Timeslot, a three quarters sister to Emollient. Emollient was a four time Gr.1 winner who triumphed in the Gr.1 Ashland Stakes, the Gr.1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes, the Gr.1 American Oaks, and the Gr.1 Rodeo Drive Stakes, amassing earnings of $1,350,400.
Other current two year olds by FIRST DEFENCE a half-brother to Gr.1 winner Splendid Blended and Graded stakes winner Richly Blended; a full sister to New Line, who himself was stakes placed at Belmont; a filly out of a full sister to the outstanding Gr.1 winner and Gr.1 sire MIZZEN MAST; and another filly out of a daughter of multiple Gr.1 and Kentucky Oaks winner Flute.
FIRST DEFENCE has demonstrated his ability to sire superior runners and the mention of a few of his current two year olds is in no way complete. The quality of mares sent to his court over the past several years virtually ensures his future success at stud.
FIRST DEFENCE possessed brilliant speed, winning Gr.1 stakes sprinting, yet he has proven his ability to sire classic performers. He is by Unbridled’s Song, a highly successful son of classic sire Unbridled, out of Gr.1 winner Honest Lady, by Seattle Slew. His second dam is famed Gr.1 winner and Broodmare of the Year Toussaud, dam of five Graded stakes winners, four of them Gr.1 winners including the successful sires Empire Maker, paternal grandsire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and Chester House.