THE HISTORY OF UNITED SPIRIT


THE CURRENT level of influence of Thoroughbred racing's first television hero, Native Dancer, could hardly have been predicted at his death in 1967. Forty-four years on, there are more male-line descendants of Native Dancer in the THOROUGHBRED TIMES Stallion Directory, mostly through his grandson Mr. Prospector, than of any of his contemporaries.

An undefeated two-year-old champion in 1952, Native Dancer raced into the nation's consciousness in his only losing effort, the 1953 Kentucky Derby. Short of work off a rushed preparation, he fell just a head short of catching the classy front-runner Dark Star after encountering minor traffic problems on the first turn.

In an age of grainy black-and-white television pictures, Native Dancer enjoyed the inestimable advantage of being the only gray horse in fields that otherwise looked like blurry, dark blobs. His visibility in an era when televisions were just becoming common household items in American homes made him the biggest equine hero since Seabiscuit.

Retired to his owner-breeder Alfred G. Vanderbilt's Sagamore Farm in Maryland with 21 wins in 22 starts, Native Dancer was a very good sire, especially considering his location far from the best Kentucky mares. His record of 43 stakes winners from 306 foals (two crops for some contemporary stallions), a 14.1% strike rate, stands comparison with the best stallions of his era bar *Nasrullah and Bold Ruler.

Native Dancer died the year after his son Kauai King won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes-two victories that came in the absence of the injured Buckpasser and Graustark-and the year before his son Dancer's Image became the only disqualified Derby winner. At that point in Thoroughbred breeding history, Native Dancer's good French-raced son Dan Cupid had already sired the greatest horse ever bred in France, *Sea-Bird, but Native Dancer's once-raced son Atan, who would get the outstanding sire Sharpen Up (GB) two years hence, was an anonymous nonentity.

Two years after Native Dancer's death, his fastest American son, the undefeated but unsound juvenile champion Raise a Native, sired a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner in Majestic Prince. A very good sire who passed on his own unsoundness with unfortunate frequency, Raise a Native is one of three stallions to sire three leading American sires, Alydar, Exclusive Native, and Mr. Prospector. (The other two are Fair Play and Northern Dancer.)

The male lines of Alydar, Exclusive Native, *Sea-Bird, and Sharpen Up all have faded over time, but the line of Mr. Prospector has thrived under modern conditions and spread worldwide.

Commercial star

Bred in Kentucky by Leslie Combs II, Mr. Prospector was the second foal of Gold Digger, by Nashua, a very good racemare who was a great-granddaughter of the Combs family's great foundation mare Myrtlewood, by Blue Larkspur. Champion sprinter and champion handicap mare of 1936, Myrtlewood produced champion Durazna and Kentucky Oaks winner Miss Dogwood (Mr. Prospector's third dam), and her extended family includes champions Seattle Slew, Myrtle Charm, Tudor Queen, Highest Trump, Typecast, Ajina, and Escena.

Just a few days before Mr. Prospector came up for sale at the 1971 Keeneland summer yearling sale, his year-older full brother, Search for Gold, ran second in the National Stallion Stakes. That made Mr. Prospector, a medium-sized, lengthy, beautifully balanced colt who turned out his right front leg slightly, a hot commodity. He topped the sale on a $220,000 bid from Abraham I. "Butch" Savin's Aisco Farm through trainer Jimmy Croll.

Unraced at two because of sore shins, Mr. Prospector was the sensation of the 1973 Gulfstream Park meeting, winning his first three starts. In his third start, he set a six-furlong track record of 1:074/5 that stood unmatched until his great-grandson Artax equaled it by running the same distance in 1:07.89 when he won the 1989 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1).

Mr. Prospector happened to come along in the year of Secretariat, but his attempt to meet the great one in the Kentucky Derby (G1) ended when he finished second in the Derby Trial. Ankle chips aborted Mr. Prospector's three-year-old season, but he returned at four to win four of nine starts, including the Gravesend and Whirlaway Handicaps, setting another six-furlong track record in the latter race at Garden State Park. His most revealing effort, though, was his second to the great Forego in the Carter Handicap (G2). That proved that Mr. Prospector was not as good as the two best horses in a great crop, but he was obviously a very fast horse worthy of a good chance at stud. Though he had offers from stud farms in Kentucky, Savin chose to stand him at his own Aisco Stud in Ocala.

Mr. Prospector became the prototypical Florida sire, getting a passel of fast two-year-olds in his first crop, led by 1978 champion two-year-old filly It's in the Air (out of A Wind Is Rising, by Francis S.). Both It's in the Air and other runners from his subsequent Florida-conceived crops soon proved he was much more than a regional sire, and by the time his son Conquistador Cielo won the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Horse of the Year honors in 1982, Mr. Prospector had been re-syndicated and moved to Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky.

With the better mares available to him at Claiborne, Mr. Prospector became one of the two or three best sires in the world, leading the American sire list in 1987 and 1988 and ranking among the top ten sires on nine other occasions. A prolific and long-lived sire who covered mares through 1999, Mr. Prospector eventually sired 181 stakes winners from 1,195 foals (15.1%), 16 champions, seven international highweights, and 47 Grade 1 or Group 1 winners.

Mr. Prospector also ranks as one of the great broodmare sires of all time. He led the American broodmare sire list by worldwide earnings for ten consecutive years (1997 to 2006). His daughters have produced a record 383 stakes winners through November 30, including 17 champions, and many are still in production.

Many branches

Mr. Prospector's male line lives on through both his Florida-sired and Kentucky-sired progeny. The horse that put Mr. Prospector on the map, though, as a sire of sires was Fappiano (Killaloe, by Dr. Fager), winner of the 1981 Metropolitan Handicap (G1). Fappiano's best son, Unbridled, has also become a force in the breeding industry and is already a successful sire of sires. Fappiano and Miswaki (Hopespringseternal, by Buckpasser) were perhaps Mr. Prospector's best-bred Florida-conceived sons.

Conquistador Cielo (K D Princess, by Bold Commander), perhaps along with Fusaichi Pegasus, still ranks as Mr. Prospector's most talented son. Winner of the Metropolitan Handicap five days before the Belmont, Conquistador Cielo was syndicated for a then-record $36-million. An effective stallion though never really a top sire, Conquistador Cielo sired 72 stakes winners from 926 foals (7.8%). Conquistador Cielo still has descendants at stud, primarily through his good son Marquetry.

Crafty Prospector (Real Crafty Lady, by In Reality), from the same crop as Conquistador Cielo, never won a stakes race, but he proved his ability with a close second in the 1983 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1). Like his sire, he started his stud career in Florida, but quickly earned promotion to Kentucky. A consistent sire that rarely sired really top-class horses, Crafty Prospector accumulated 93 stakes winners from 1,092 foals (8.5%), including Japanese champion Agnes Digital, perhaps his best son at stud. The better mares available to Mr. Prospector in Kentucky predictably led to an even higher profile, both on the sire list and commercially. Mr. Prospector was especially effective with mares by the great Claiborne sire Buckpasser, and two sons from that cross, in addition to Miswaki, exerted a long-term influence.

Woodman (Playmate, by Buckpasser), a $3-million purchase at the Keeneland July sale of selected yearlings, won his three starts at two in Ireland and was named champion Irish juvenile, despite defeat in his only start in England. Woodman raced only once at three, but his sensational first crop made him an international star and confirmed Mr. Prospector's reputation as a sire of sires. American champion three-year-old male and dual classic winner Hansel, English champion two-year-old male Mujtahid, and French highweight Hector Protector gave Woodman top first-crop runners in the three most important Northern Hemisphere racing venues.

Woodman subsequently sired tip-top runners such as Bosra Sham, Hawk Wing, and Timber Country, but, while covering huge books of mares in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, proved an inconsistent sire from an overall statistical standpoint, with 111 stakes winners from 2,025 foals (5.5%). He has few male-line descendants at stud, but is also an outstanding broodmare sire.

Mr. Prospector's two best colts from his 1985 crop, both foaled at Claiborne, were virtually equal in ability. Forty Niner (File, by Tom Rolfe) twice defeated Seeking the Gold (Con Game, by Buckpasser) by a nose, in the 1988 Travers (G1) and Haskell Invitational (G1) Stakes, but Seeking the Gold finished in front of his rival when second to Alysheba in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).

Gone West (Secrettame, by Secretariat) was another high-priced yearling, going for $1.9-million to Mr. and Mrs. James P. Mills' Hickory Tree Stable at Keeneland July in 1985. Gone West's branch of Mr. Prospector appears to be proliferating as rapidly as any other and he is also a successful sire of sires.

Two of Mr. Prospector's best-bred sons who raced in Europe, Kingmambo and Machiavellian, have also established thriving male lines. Mr. Prospector's only son to lead the American sire list, Smart Strike, is also in the midst of a hugely successful career at stud in Kentucky.

Global success

As shown in the accompanying table, so many sons of Mr. Prospector have achieved success at stud that it is impossible to do justice to each and every one. The popularity of champion sprinter Gulch (Jameela, by Rambunctious) has waxed and waned over a long career, despite his 75 stakes winners from 1,100 foals of racing age (6.8%). As perhaps befits a horse who both won the Breeders' Cup Sprint over six furlongs and ran third in the Belmont Stakes over twice that distance, his progeny have won good races over all distances.

Gulch's best son, 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch, was leading sire by North American earnings in 2001, when his son Point Given captured the Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont on the way to Horse of the Year honors. Point Given has not made a big impression at stud, however, so it is unclear whether Thunder Gulch's line will live on. Gulch's second-best son, Nayef, however, has made an impressive start in England and may yet salvage the Gulch branch of Mr. Prospector.

Canadian Horse of the Year Afleet (Polite Lady, by Venetian Jester) has been a good sire both in America and after his export to Japan, with 66 stakes winners from 1,373 foals of racing age (4.8%). His multiple Grade 2-winning son Northern Afleet appears to be making the most of his transfer from Florida to Kentucky after champion Afleet Alex emerged from his third Florida crop. Afleet Alex has made a promising start at stud with his first crop, which includes 2010 Travers Stakes (G1) winner Afleet Express, 2009 Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (G1) winner Dublin, and 2011 Breeders' Cup Marathon (G2) winner Afleet Again.

So many other sons of Mr. Prospector have been at least good sires that it is impractical to try to cover all of them in one article. Nearly 100 of his sons have sired Grade 1 or Group 1 winners somewhere around the globe. Like every great sire of sires, many sons who were not quite so accomplished on the racetrack have thrived in regional or foreign markets. Horses like Silver Ghost, Jade Hunter (sire of the great mare Azeri and leading Chilean sire Stuka), Regal Search, Two Punch, Allen's Prospect, and Not For Love have carved out memorable careers without necessarily making national headlines.

Mr. Prospector and his sons have sired leading sires in a remarkable number of countries around the globe.

After Northern Dancer's death, Mr. Prospector moved to the top of the commercial market, heading the list of leading sires by yearling average six times. Mr. Prospector sired 47 seven-figure yearlings over a 19-year span, from 1983 through 2001, the longest span between first and last $1-million or more yearlings in Thoroughbred history. That list includes the $3.6-million filly Born Perfect, who remains among the most expensive yearling fillies ever sold at public auction.

Mr. Prospector lived to the grand old age of 29 and was a great sire almost to the end of his career. Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus (Angel Fever, by Danzig) emerged from his 22nd crop and champion sprinter Aldebaran (Chimes of Freedom, by Private Account) from his 23rd. Neither appears likely to establish a long-lived branch of Mr. Prospector's male line, though Fusaichi Pegasus was leading general sire in 2010.

That task has been taken care of more effectively by a dozen or so other sons. No one can know which branches will still be around 20 years hence, but it is a very safe bet that the Mr. Prospector male line will still be a powerful influence in Thoroughbred pedigrees in 2030.