After a near monopoly of standing recent North American 2-year-old champions at Ashford in Kentucky, Coolmore’s streak was stopped when Darley nabbed 2015 champion Nyquist, but the Irish conglomerate was undeterred. It has sent two juvenile champions from abroad to stand the 2017 season at Ashford to keep the mojo alive, and one of them, Air Force Blue, a son of War Front, is the focus here. The other, Vancouver, will be discussed at a later date.
Bred in Kentucky by Arthur Hancock’s Stone Farm and sold for $490,000 to M.V. Magnier as a Keeneland September yearling, Air Force Blue won four of his five starts at 2 in Europe and was the champion of his generation in England and Ireland and very highly acclaimed at that. His sire needs no introduction, except to say that he’s turned into Danzig’s best son at stud in North America and is the most sought-after stallion on the international market next to Galileo, and the second-most expensive stallion at stud in North America after Tapit.
Air Force Blue is from the Maria’s Mon mare Chatham, who was purchased by Hancock for $190,000 at the Overbrook dispersal at Keeneland in 2009. W.T. Young, master of Overbrook, bred Chatham, as well as her dam, Circle of Gold (by Seeking the Gold), and granddam, Starlet Storm (by Storm Bird). Young had purchased Starlet Storm’s dam, Cinegita (by Secretariat), a mare bred by Nelson Bunker Hunt, and had developed the family from the early ’80s, getting, among others, 1994 champion juvenile filly Flanders — a sister to Circle of Gold — along the way.
Young established Overbrook in the early ’70s when Secretariat was a dominant 2-year-old and iconic 3-year-old and it’s not surprising that he chose to acquire Secretariat’s daughter Cinegita — Air Force Blue’s fourth dam — and the Secretariat mare Terlingua at around the same time in partnership with his then advisor, Dr. William Lockridge. Both were Graded stakes winners trained by D. Wayne Lukas for his clients Barry Beal and L.R. French, Jr., and Lukas would go on to train many members of their respective families for Young.
Lockridge and his partner Robert Hefner owned Ashford Stud and played a role in the first matings of both Cinegita and Terlingua, both of whom were bred to Lyphard in ’81 in partnership with Ashford. Both mares were then covered by Ashford’s Storm Bird in ’82 and the resulting foals in ’83 were bred solely in the name of W.T. Young Storage Inc., after Young bought out his partners, who by this time were in financial trouble. Those foals were Starlet Storm — Air Force Blue’s third dam — for Cinegita, and Storm Cat for Terlingua.
Storm Cat was a G1 winner at 2 and just missed in the BC Juvenile. He didn’t do much at 3, went to stud inexpensively at Overbrook, and in time became one of the great North American stallions of the last 50 years, and one heavily patronized by Coolmore, who stands his best son, Giant’s Causeway, at Ashford. Storm Cat’s race career was somewhat similar to his sire’s, in that Storm Bird, a son of Northern Dancer in whom Lockridge and Hefner had purchased a significant interest from Robert Sangster, was also a 2-year-old who didn’t do much at 3 (for various reasons, but isn’t that always the case?). In fact, Storm Bird was an outstanding juvenile, taking all five of his starts for Vincent O’Brien at Ballydoyle, and was the champion colt of his generation, winning, among other races, the G1 Dewhurst and the then-G2 National Stakes.
Air Force Blue, trained at Ballydoyle by Aidan O’Brien, also won the G1 Dewhurst and the now-G1 National, and therefore comes to Ashford with the same credentials of his illustrious predecessor. Like Storm Bird and Storm Cat, Air Force Blue wasn’t a top 3-year-old, either, but don’t hold that against him because it didn’t stop the other two from attaining success at stud — just as it hasn’t Ashford’s outstanding young horse Uncle Mo, who already has a Kentucky Derby winner from his first crop .
War Front, as emphatically shown this year, is a top-class sire of European 2-year-olds, and Air Force Blue is his best juvenile. As noted earlier, Air Force Blue is also from the immediate family of the outstanding 2-year-old Flanders, and his broodmare sire, Maria’s Mon, was also a juvenile champion, in 1995, when he won four of five starts, including the G1 Champagne and Futurity Stakes. Maria’s Mon, like Storm Cat, Storm Bird, and Uncle Mo, wasn’t a great 3-year-old, either, but like them he became a top stallion and got two Kentucky Derby winners, Monarchos and Super Saver.
Coolmore, as it did with Storm Cat, was quick to see and exploit the potential of War Front and has patronized the Claiborne sire heavily. With Coolmore’s familiarity with Air Force Blue’s family and its Overbrook roots, with Air Force Blue’s precocious race record, and with the early development markers in his pedigree, the farm felt he was ideal for the North American marketplace despite already having War Front’s middle-distance son Declaration of War on the property at Ashford. Coolmore was right, because Air Force Blue has the credentials to succeed and promises to be one of the most popular of the new sires entering stud in 2017. His fee is $25,000 live foal. In many ways, he’s emblematic of the new internationalization in racing and bloodstock that began the Ashford era for Coolmore in 1984 when the Irish farm of John Magnier and partners took over the Lockridge property and made it its own brand under the then-fledgling career of Storm Bird.