In-depth Analysis

By Andrew Caulfield

Which is the most important branch of the Mr Prospector male line? If the criteria is Triple Crown success, one particular branch – the one descending from Fappiano – is in a league of its own. So far seven descendants of Fappiano have compiled a total of four victories in the Kentucky Derby, two in the Preakness and four in the Belmont Stakes. Foremost among them is Empire Maker's sire Unbridled.

Unbridled is the only member of the Mr Prospector male line to have matched Mr Prospector’s feat of siring a winner of each of the Triple Crown events. Unbridled, of course, won the 1990 Kentucky Derby in great style. He had been an accomplished two-year-old, earning an Experimental Free Handicap figure of 116 during a campaign which featured a 10-length debut win over 6 furlongs and a 5-length win in the What A Pleasure Stakes over a mile and a sixteenth. Unbridled continued to make great progress through the early part of his second season. Taking on a Florida Derby field which included three of those rated above him on the Experimental, Unbridled underlined his classic claims with a four-length victory.

Unbridled then suffered a defeat behind Summer Squall in the Blue Grass Stakes but it was the son of Fappiano who easily got the better of the argument when the two clashed again in the Kentucky Derby, with Unbridled coming from 12th place in a 15-horse field to beat Summer Squall by three and a half lengths. It was another six lengths back to the third-placed Pleasant Tap.

Unbridled enjoyed a successful conclusion to his three-year-old season. He easily won an allowance before being beaten by stable-mates in two Gr.1 races, including the Secretariat Stakes on turf. His run on turf was very respectable, as he was beaten only ¾ length, while giving 12lb to the winner Super Abound. But it was in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that we again saw the real Unbridled. After being held up in the rear, he came through to catch Ibn Bey close home. In the process he earned the title of champion three-year-old colt and also headed the Blood-Horse Free Handicap with 128lb, 1lb above Summer Squall. In rating him 13lb above Super Abound, the handicappers took the view that Unbridled had run nearly to his best form on turf.

Kept in training at four, Unbridled was fast enough to defeat Housebuster in the 7-furlong Deputy Minister Stakes and again ran well in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, finishing third.

Some impression of Unbridled’s record as a stallion can be gained from the fact that his fee on the open market had risen to $200,000 in 2001, the year of his death from colic. His last yearlings sold in 2003, with impressive results. No fewer than five of his sons and daughters achieved prices higher than $1,000,000, with colts selling for $2,800,000 and $2,700,000 and a filly for $2,400,000. With four Gr.1 winners in his first two crops, Empire Maker has every right to be considered his rightful heir.

Unbridled’s stallion career, which began with five years at Gainesway, could hardly have got off to a more impressive start. Unbridled’s Song gave a strong indication of what was to follow when he won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and the first half of 1996 saw Unbridled take the Florida Derby with Unbridled’s Song and both the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby with Grindstone. Subsequent seasons added to Unbridled’s reputation as a stallion capable of siring “the big horse.” The outstanding distaffers Banshee Breeze and Manistique emerged from his 1995 crop and his 59 named foals of 1997 proved to be a vintage collection, with six Graded winners among them, including Anees (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), Red Bullet (Preakness Stakes), Unshaded (Travers Stakes) and Broken Vow (Philip H. Iselin Handicap).

Exogenous, Empire Maker, Halfbridled, Eddington and Smuggler subsequently increased Unbridled’s number of Grade 1 winners from his ten crops to 12, with their triumphs including the Belmont Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Mother Goose Stakes and CCA Oaks.

Unbridled’s Song is following his sire’s example, with a Breeders’ Cup winner, Unbridled Elaine, in his first crop and 12 Gr.1 winners from his first nine American crops. Other sons of Unbridled which have already sired Graded winners include Broken Vow, a sire of two Gr.1 winners who headed the 2007 table of third-crop sires. With Empire Maker siring four Gr.1 winners in his first two crops, the chances are that there are going to be plenty more chapters to add to Unbridled’s story, with Empire Maker sure to be one of the prime movers.

As its roll of honor illustrates extremely well, it usually takes an exceptional producer to earn the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Broodmare of the Year award. Among the past holders of this title are such standouts as Personal Ensign, Slightly Dangerous, Fall Aspen, Glowing Tribute, Weekend Surprise, Courtly Dee and Best In Show, so Empire Maker’s dam Toussaud was in very good company when she received the award for 2002.

Toussaud surely ranks among the very best of these mares, having produced four Gr.1 winners and a Gr.2 winner. What makes her record all the more remarkable is the fact that her five Graded winners are by five different stallions. In addition to Empire Maker she is the dam of Chester House (by Mr. Prospector), Honest Lady (by Seattle Slew), Chiselling (by Woodman) and Decarchy (by Distant View).

Quite a few of the Broodmare of the Year title holders were also considerable achievers on the track, and Toussaud was one of the best. Never worse than fourth in any of her 15 starts, this daughter of the brilliant El Gran Senor gained her first stakes success in the Gr.3 Van Geest Criterion Stakes over 7 furlongs in England. Toussaud was soon switched to the U.S., where she developed into one of the best older females as a four-year-old. Her excellent acceleration brought her four consecutive stakes victories, ranging from the Autumn Days Handicap over 6½ furlongs to the Gr.1 Gamely Handicap and Gr.2 American Handicap over 9 furlongs. She ended her career with a neck second to Flawlessly in the Gr.1 Matriarch Stakes and later finished runner-up to the same mare in the Eclipse balloting for the Turf Female award.

Toussaud also ran very well in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Despite being bumped on the first turn, she recovered well enough to finish fourth of 13 to Lure, missing third by only a head in the process of beating such as Barathea, Bigstone, Johann Quatz, Paradise Creek and Flawlessly. Her first two foals also ran very well on Breeders’ Cup Day. Chester House immediately found himself nearly 20 lengths behind the leader after missing the break in the 1999 Classic but ran on so strongly in the final half mile that he was beaten only 3½ lengths into fourth place.

It was Honest Lady’s turn in the 2000 Sprint. Only 11th of 14 after the first quarter, this daughter of Seattle Slew still had five in front of her entering the stretch. Producing the burst of speed which has become the hallmark of the best members of this family, she failed by half a length to become the only horse to beat Kona Gold during the 2000 season. Honest Lady is now passing on her speed, the best of her three stakes winners being the Gr.1-winning sprinter First Defence (by Unbridled’s Song).

Next came Decarchy, winner of the Gr.2 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap and Gr.3 Tanforan Handicap; Chiselling, successful in the Gr.1 Secretariat Stakes and Gr.3 Lexington Stakes; and Empire Maker.

In assessing why Toussaud has proved so effective, the role of her sire El Gran Senor mustn’t be underestimated. This son of Northern Dancer was brilliant on the track, his official rating of 138 placing him among the all-time superstars of European racing. El Gran Senor would have retired unbeaten after eight starts except for his short-head defeat in the 1984 Derby and he also proved fairly invincible as a stallion, despite being considerably handicapped by less-than-perfect fertility. He built up a total of 55 stakes winners from 398 named foals, which equates to a magnificent 14%. His 32 Group/Graded winners represented 8% of his output, a figure which puts him in the Storm Cat class.

Empire Maker’s family came into the Juddmonte stud book with the purchase of his second dam, Image of Reality, for 500,000 dollars at the 1987 Keeneland November Sales. Image of Reality’s appeal was twofold. Firstly, she had been a very talented racemare. As a four-year-old in 1980 she had earned a rating of 118 on the Blood-Horse Free Handicap for older females, thanks to victories over 8½ furlongs in the Gr.2 Milady Handicap and the Santa Lucia Handicap. She was also third to the champion filly It’s In The Air in the Gr.1 Vanity Handicap and showed her versatility by finishing third on turf in the Gr.2 Gamely Handicap.

Image of Reality’s other attraction was that her pedigree was free of Northern Dancer and Native Dancer blood. Her pedigree suggested she was an ideal mate for Northern Dancer line stallions and she turned theory into reality with each of her three foals by sons of Northern Dancer, principally through Toussaud and her sister Navarra. Navarra’s wins included a Gr.3 success in the Vineland Handicap over 9 furlongs and she is the dam of Indygo Shiner, an A.P. Indy colt who won the Gr.3 Jefferson Cup Stakes. Indygo Shiner is now making a considerable impact on Argentina’s classics with his southern hemisphere stock.

Toussaud’s third dam, Ortalan, produced Walker’s, winner of the Sanford Stakes as a juvenile. Ortalan was a half-sister to the very smart Irish colt Hail The Pirates, who went on to win the Gr.1 Gulfstream Park Handicap, and to the high-class American juvenile filly Candalita. Remarkably, Toussaud’s fourth dam Bravura is also the fifth dam of Funny Cide, the gelding who beat Empire Maker into second place in the Kentucky Derby. This female line traces back to the celebrated English racemare Teresina, one of the Aga Khan’s foundation mares. Teresina’s son Alibhai finished second on America’s leading sires’ list on three occasions and sired a Kentucky Derby winner, so Empire Maker is bred for stallion success on both sides of his pedigree.

The star quality which was to bring Empire Maker three Gr.1 victories was apparent to the Juddmonte team from a very early date. “He was just an outstanding foal, a great physical specimen,” said Dr. John Chandler prior to the Kentucky Derby. And farm manager Garrett O’Rourke explained after the Belmont that Empire Maker had gone “from strength to strength when we were breaking and training him. So we thought ‘this could be the one.’ We’ve been lucky enough to have magnificent horses over the years to compare him to, and to me he was the best we ever put out.”

Consequently, expectations were very high when Empire Maker made his debut in a maiden race at Belmont on October 20, 2002. He didn’t disappoint, blowing past his rivals to win going away by more than three lengths under Jerry Bailey. The ease of his victory meant that Empire Maker still had plenty to learn when he stepped into Gr.2 company six weeks later in the Remsen Stakes. Even with the Gr.1 winner Toccet among the opposition, Empire Maker started a short-priced favorite but his race was as good as over when he stumbled out of the stalls, dropping back to last on a speed-favoring track.

After a second-place finish in the Sham Stakes, Frankel decided that the time had come to help the colt focus his considerable talents. He therefore equipped Empire Maker with blinkers when the son of Unbridled attempted to emulate his sire’s success in the Gr.1 Florida Derby.

“I think it will make a big change,” Frankel predicted. “In his past races he hasn’t really jumped into the bridle and taken hold the way I would have liked. With the blinkers he should be right into it from the start.”

The prediction proved spot on. Although the opposition included Trust N Luck, fresh from his success in the Gr.1 Fountain of Youth Stakes, Empire Maker dominated the race to such an extent that his winning margin of nearly ten lengths was the longest in the Florida Derby’s history of over 50 years. After changing leads in mid-stretch, he lengthened his lead with each stride, to prove that his reputation was fully deserved.

Bailey was much more conservative when Empire Maker went in search of further experience in the Gr.1 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct three weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Up against a tough gelding called Funny Cide, Empire Maker appeared to be easing to another comfortable success when he moved ahead near the eighth pole, but tended to idle in the lead.

“I didn’t want him to draw off by nine today and tried not to hit him when we were going by Funny Cide,” Bailey reported. “I didn’t want to be sorry three weeks from now in the Derby. I just tapped him here. He put that horse away on his own. I didn't ask him for much.

“He always has a tendency to get distracted. If I hit him, he would have gotten back into it, but I let him goof off a little bit.”

Everything seemed to be going to plan for the Derby, but it was announced towards the end of April that Empire Maker had been battling a minor foot bruise since his victory in the Wood Memorial.

Because the track was sealed for the Wood, several horses came out of their races with bruises, Frankel explained. “When he first arrived here, he had a little pulse in his right front foot, and blacksmith Steve Norman put on a three-quarter shoe to relieve some of the pressure.”

While his connections weren’t prepared to make this bruise an excuse for his defeat by Funny Cide in the Derby, it should be remembered that this was the only time that Funny Cide beat Empire Maker in his three meetings with the Juddmonte color-bearer. The betting suggested that others were worried about how the bruise would impact on Empire Maker’s performance: having been 6-5 morning line favorite, he started at 5-2.

It was soon announced that Empire Maker would bypass the Preakness, to wait for the Belmont. Then, with atrocious weather making it difficult for horses to train, Frankel made the surprising announcement that Empire Maker was a possible for the Jersey Derby. However, the colt didn’t need to race because Belmont opened its inner turf course for works and Empire Maker breezed 5 furlongs in 1:02 3/5 on a yielding surface.

The scene was therefore set for a fascinating rematch between Empire Maker and Funny Cide in the Belmont. Funny Cide’s legions of supporters knew their fate with more than half a mile left to race. Whereas Jose Santos was already beginning to push on the Derby and Preakness winner, Jerry Bailey was sitting motionless on Empire Maker. Then, with a move which gave every sub-editor the chance to proclaim The Empire Strikes Back, Empire Maker cruised alongside Funny Cide rounding the turn and quickly moved ahead. Ten Most Wanted was hot in pursuit of the first two by this time and the future Travers Stakes winner got a chance to draw closer when the crowd’s roar reached deafening proportions with a quarter mile left to run.

“[The noise] was unbelievable,” Bailey reported. “It really threw him back and got him out of his rhythm.”

But Empire Maker’s tremendous talent goes hand in hand with a generous measure of courage. Although Ten Most Wanted nearly pulled back the deficit, Empire Maker refused to give in and quickened again to win by three-quarters of a length. “He’s the best three-year-old I’ve ever been on,” was Bailey’s tribute to the winner, but Frankel was convinced that Empire Maker still had improvement in him.

Unfortunately, the colt was able to race only one more time. Carrying top weight, he failed by a neck to reel in the front-running Strong Hope in the Gr.2 Jim Dandy Stakes. While this race was expected to have him in perfect shape for the Travers, Empire Maker was found to have mucus in his throat and had to be withdrawn. Then a recurrence of his foot problem forced him out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup and a decision was taken to retire him.

“We weren’t within ten lengths of seeing this horse’s best race,” Frankel told the Blood-Horse. “With his prospects as a sire, considering his exceptional talent, extraordinary pedigree and incredibly good looks, I want to be remembered as the trainer of Empire Maker in the same way that Horatio Luro is attached to Northern Dancer or Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons with Bold Ruler.”

It didn’t take long for Empire Maker to draw attention to himself as a stallion. A filly from his first crop topped the 2006 Saratoga Sale at $1,600,000 and his sales yearlings achieved an average of nearly $380,000.

The filly Miss Red Delicious became Empire Maker’s first stakes winner in August of 2007, and his total of first-crop stakes winners has since risen to nine. One of the first was the Saratoga sale-topping filly, Mushka, who became a Gr.2 winner in the Demoiselle Stakes at two. She later confirmed that she had been a sound investment, when sold for $2,400,000 at three and has gone on to become a Gr.1 winner at four. Mushka had made her debut in the same race as another Empire Maker filly, Country Star, who was so impressive in winning the Gr.1 Alcibiades Stakes on her next appearance. Country Star then lowered the track record when taking the Gr.1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes.

Interestingly, Country Star is out of a mare by Seattle Slew’s son Metfield, whereas Mushka’s second dam is by Seattle Slew. It therefore looks as though Empire Maker is going to prove ideally suited to mares with the 1977 Triple Crown winner in their pedigrees. This ties in with the fact that Empire Maker’s half-brother Chester House sired stakes winners from daughters of Seattle Slew and A.P. Indy and has others with Seattle Slew mares as their second dam. It was also Seattle Slew who sired Empire Maker’s very fast half-sister Honest Lady (who produced the very talented First Defence to Unbridled’s Song).

Empire Maker has also shown himself to be well suited by Danzig’s daughters. Acoma, a Graded winner on dirt and turf in 2008, is out of a daughter of the great Claiborne stallion and so is Deal Making, a Gr.2-placed stakes winner.

The smart performers from Empire Maker’s first crop also include Icon Project, the runaway winner of the Gr.1 Personal Ensign Stakes on dirt at four. Icon Project is out of a Lord At War mare and so is Pioneerof The Nile, who put himself on the Kentucky Derby trail with his 2008 victory in the Gr.1 Cashcall Futurity. Pioneerof The Nile continued in great form in the first part of 2009, adding the Gr.1 Santa Anita Derby to his stakes victories before matching his sire's second place in the Kentucky Derby. Charity Belle, another member of Empire Maker's second crop, won the Gr.3 Prix de la Nonette to confirm that his progeny can also shine on European Turf. Charity Belle is out of an A.P.Indy mare, so is another with Seattle Slew in her pedigree.

Empire Maker’s third crop yearlings achieved such good prices as $1,700,000 and $950,000 to average over $250,000. The winners are already flowing from this crop, including Gr.1 placed Nonna Mia. Empire Maker was a top 12 stallion in terms of 2009 yearling average, with his fourth crop.

Although Empire Maker has shown himself adept at siring two-year-old stakes winners – six in his first two crops – there are also strong reasons for thinking that some of his stock are going to improve with age. Empire Maker’s half-brother Chester House achieved sensational statistics in 2008 with his four-, five- and six-year-olds. His final figures stood at 18 stakes winners from 103 runners and among those 18 were two Breeders’ Cup winners in Ventura and Muhannak, the Met Mile winner Divine Park and the Group/Graded winners Spring House, Phoenix Tower, Hostess and Warning Zone. No wonder Empire Maker had two four-year-old Gr.1 winners in 2009.