By Andrew Caulfield
With its 13 Grade I events, there were so many stories to be told following Keeneland’s Breeders’ Cup that it’s just as well that last week’s lull allows me a second bite of the cherry.
One story which deserves special mention concerns La Affirmed, whose family has made an impact on the Breeders’ Cup virtually from the word go. When this revolutionary concept got under way at Hollywood Park 31 years ago to the day, the Juvenile Fillies fell to Outstandingly. This Harbor View homebred went on to take the Hollywood Starlet S., plus the Eclipse Award, and later finished third in the 1986 Distaff before selling for $1,150,000 as a 6-year-old.
Outstandingly was a daughter of Exclusive Native, but her dam La Mesa had gone on to produce two fillies by Exclusive Native’s Triple Crown-winning son Affirmed. The younger, named Lovelier, became a Grade III winner at two but the elder, La Affirmed, never made it to the races.
Outstandingly’s name cropped up again this year, this time in Europe in connection with another high-class juvenile filly. She is the fourth dam of Lumiere, a Shamardal filly who proved too fast for some accomplished rivals in the G1 Cheveley Park S.
However, of these three closely related daughters of La Mesa, it has been the unraced La Affirmed who has left the richest legacy. La Affirmed’s direct contribution comprised the handsome total of four graded winners–one by Danzig (Della Francesca) and three by Storm Cat (the fillies Caress and Country Cat and their brother Bernstein). She also produced a Silver Deputy filly called Emmaus, who never raced.
Caress and Emmaus each produced a son which proved good enough for a stallion career. Caress’s son, the Pulpit colt Sky Mesa, arguably had the highest profile of the three, retiring to Three Chimneys at a fee of $30,000, having won all three of his juvenile starts, including the GI Hopeful S.
However, it has been La Affirmed’s son Bernstein and Emmaus’ son Wiseman’s Ferry which have impacted the Breeders’ Cup in general, and the Breeders’ Cup Mile in particular. You will hardly need me to remind you that Wiseman’s Ferry’s son Wise Dan triumphed in the Mile in 2012 and 2013, on his way to Horse of the Year honors. Then Bernstein took over. It was his Japanese-foaled son Karakontie –now a Gainesway stallion–who pounced late to take the 2014 Mile and then, 10 days ago, Bernstein’s daughter Tepin made it four consecutive Mile victories for horses by La Affirmed’s descendants.
The one downside to the wins by Karakontie and Tepin is that they are members of the penultimate crop by Bernstein, who was still only 14 when he had to be euthanized in October 2011, following complications of colic. Coincidentally, Bernstein had been sent over from Ireland in the hope of contesting the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2000, only to fail to make the cut. Instead he contested the GIII River City H., but could finish only fifth on what proved to be his final appearance.
That disappointing display at Churchill Downs can’t have helped when Bernstein retired to Buck Pond Farm at a fee of $10,000. His résumé was also missing that all-important Group 1 victory during a career which briefly promised a lot more than it actually delivered.
Bernstein has been the centre of attention virtually from the moment this son of Storm Cat had become the highest-priced weanling of 1997 by a margin of $250,000, when Demi O’Byrne bid $925,000 for him at Keeneland. Bernstein had also passed through the Keeneland ring a year earlier, this time in utero, when La Affirmed was bought by Brushwood Stable for $1,900,000–the second-highest price for an American broodmare in 1996. In addition to La Affirmed’s own achievements as a broodmare, she had the distinction of being a grand-daughter of Finance, a half-sister to the celebrated Buckpasser. This of course meant that the female line traced to none other than La Troienne.
When Bernstein made his racecourse debut in a six-furlong maiden at the Curragh in May 1999 his reputation was such that he started at 1-3. He added to the hype with a five-and-a-half-length victory which had Aidan O’Brien drooling.
“Even to get horses to lead him in a canter at home is a big problem. We have to use a 4-year-old,” O’Brien explained. “I’m not ruling out Royal Ascot for him, but it is a long year and he is a big colt so we might take things slowly with him in the immediate future.”
After choosing Fasliyev as his contender for Royal Ascot’s Coventry S., which Fasliyev won impressively, O’Brien targeted the G3 Railway S. with Bernstein. The Storm Cat colt was again quickly in the lead before cruising to another wide-margin success.
Michael Tabor, a part-owner of both Bernstein and Fasliyev, was asked which colt he would be tempted to back for the following year’s 2,000 Guineas. He added fuel to the fire by opting for Bernstein, who was made a clear favorite for the classic, at odds as short as 7-1.
The bubble burst nearly three months later, when Bernstein started a very hot favorite for the G1 National S. Trying a new distance of a mile and new ground conditions, Bernstein raced too freely and tired badly in the closing stages.
Bernstein’s 3-year-old career suggested that he was possibly more of a sprinter than a miler, his victories coming in a valuable six-furlong contest and the G3 Concorde S. over seven furlongs.
Understandably, breeders weren’t queueing up to use this turf horse in his early years in Kentucky – to the extent that he had only 160 named foals in his first four crops. However, three Graded winners from a first crop of 37 changed all that. His initial success led to a change of location and his fee, which had been as low as $7,500, was to rise as high as $30,000.
In addition to his Breeders’ Cup Mile winners, Bernstein enjoyed GI success with Dream Empress and Miss World – one of Dream Empress’ best efforts being her second to Stardom Bound in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. It mustn’t be forgotten that Bernstein also sired numerous top performers during his days as a shuttle stallion to Argentina, where Storm Mayor and Savoir Bien were multiple GI winners.
In winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Tepin became only the sixth filly or mare to do so (though, with help from those brilliant French mares Goldikova and Miesque, the females have now won nine of the 32 editions). Tepin could be considered a little unfortunate not to be unbeaten in seven starts in 2015, as her two defeats were by only a nose and a head, after leading close home.
Her owner Robert Masterson refreshingly explained that “she was a gorgeous filly, and we took a shot on an individual. It wasn’t a lot of brains. We didn’t try to overthink it. We just picked out one we thought looked like a runner, and we got lucky.”
If he had investigated the finer points of her pedigree, he would have discovered a few interesting facets. She is inbred 4 x 4 to both Northern Dancer and Round Table. It is a reminder of days long gone that this pair jointly compiled a record of 84-57-10-7, with Round Table supplying roughly three-quarters of those 84 starts.
By the time of Tepin’s purchase as a yearling in 2012, her dam, the unraced Life Happened, had been sold three times, for $50,000 in 2006, $30,000 in 2007 and then for as little as $4,500, to Machmer Hall Thoroughbreds, in 2008. She was carrying a colt by Bernstein when bought in November 2007, and her purchaser recouped his outlay when the colt sold for $55,000 as a foal. However, he must have suffered that dreadful sinking feeling when the Bernstein colt returned to Keeneland as a yearling in 2009, selling for $475,000. The colt, named Prime Cut, was placed in a couple of Graded stakes.
Life Happened has since proved a bit of a star. Her 2010 son by Into Mischief was Vyjack, a dual GII winner whose earnings exceed $1.1 million, and next came Tepin.
I would be tempted to attribute Life Happened’s prowess as a broodmare to the presence in the third generation of her pedigree of two closely related producers from the exceptional Rough Shod family. These are Special and Moccasin, with Special being a daughter of Moccasin’s influential sister Thong. Between them, Special and Moccasin produced 11 stakes winners.
Special’s contribution included Nureyev and the dam of Sadler’s Wells, while Moccasin’s sextet was led by the top-class Apalachee. Another of the four mares in Life Happened’s third generation is Prospector’s Fire, a mare with a pair of G1 winners to her credit, so there is no shortage of quality here.