The Grey Panel


WILD RUSH: Rushing Wild

The well-deserved Japan Cup victory of was a pleasure to see, this splendid mare passing the post in front in this race for the second consecutive year and thus making up for the misfortune of her demotion in last year's race. Seven days on, Japanese racegoers were privileged to see another case of deja vu, with the admirable repeating his success in last year's Japan Cup Dirt. He has had no problems with stewards' enquiries in the process, so now stands as a dual winner of this competitive race. As such, he can be hailed clearly as the best horse which his sire has produced since the Japanese phase of his stud career began in 2004, writes John Berry.

Bred by Ward C. Pitfield, Wild Rush was born in 1994, a son of the inaugural Breeders' Cup Classic winner , who had landed the first running of what has become America's biggest race in 1984. With the Breeders' Cup only a recent innovation, Wild Again has to be regarded as a horse of the modern era, but already he seems to have belonged to a different age, as does his sire . Being by Nearctic from a Native Dancer mare, Icecapade was bred on the same cross as . Both were top-class racehorses (Northern Dancer won the Kentucky Derby, while Icecapade was a record-breaking sprinter) and both became very successful stallions. However, while Northern Dancer broke all the records at stud and has single-handedly ensured that the Nearctic male-line will, presumably, last forever, Icecapade's influence is looking far more transient.

As the sire of the inaugural Breeders' Cup Classic victor, Icecapade might have been expected to make an indelible mark on the breed. A very well-bred horse (not only was he bred on the same cross as Northern Dancer, but he was also a half-brother to one of the greatest fillies in history, ) Icecapade did indeed turn out to be a very good stallion. However, of his many good sons, only Wild Again and graduated to significant success at stud. Of this pair, Wild Again has proved the better sire of sires, most obviously courtesy of (sire of the 2010 Grade One winner ), (sire of the 2009 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner ) and Wild Rush. Of these, Wild Rush has so far compiled easily the most solid record. , Wild Again's 2002 Belmont Stakes-winning son who stands at stud in Florida, has yet to make much of an impact, although he has been represented by , a Grade Two winner in California early this year.

While one could say that Wild Rush came from a sire-line which has rather gone out of fashion, one could make a similar observation about his family, which has not thrown up many notable horses recently. However, a couple of decades ago it was a reasonably fertile source of good horses, one of whom was Wild Rush's dam , a daughter of the Ribot-line stallion . Rose Park's dam had finished third in the Grade One Frizette Stakes at Belmont as a two-year-old in 1979, and Rose Park also made the frame in a Grade One race, finishing fourth in the CCA Oaks at Saratoga ten years later. Her good runs that year also included victory in the Selene Stakes at Woodbine. She clearly retired to stud (in 1991) as an appealing broodmare - as did her half-sister , a Listed place-getter for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum as a two-year-old in England in 1990. Futuh proved to be a good broodmare for Sheikh Hamdan: her first foal, born in 1993, was (a two-year-old winner at Ascot in 1995 who eventually went on to run second in a Grade Two race at Saratoga as a five-year-old) while two years later she produced , who landed a shock Group One victory as a two-year-old in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket in 1997.

Wild Rush's pedigree, therefore, was reasonably in vogue when he was foaled in 1994. He was duly recruited by a leading owner (Frank Stronach) and joined the stable of Richard Mandella. He made an impressive winning debut late in his two-year-old season before confirming himself a potential top-liner by taking the Illinois Derby the following May. That win came over nine furlongs, emboldening connections to let him take his chance over a mile and a half in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. That distance (unsurprisingly, in retrospect) proved to be way beyond him: he crossed the line with only one horse behind him, many lengths behind the principals , and . However, he finished much closer to Free House when dropped back to nine furlongs in Grade Two company in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park the following month, giving a clue as to where his forte lay.

Wild Rush's four-year-old season in 1998 proved to be a very productive one. Mandella elected to train him as a sprinter/miler, and the results were excellent. He posted his best performance yet on the first weekend of May 1998 when winning the Grade One Carter Handicap at Aqueduct, and then bettered that run three weeks later when landing another Grade One, the Metropolitan Handicap over a mile at Belmont, running 1:33.50. In the Carter Handicap, Wild Rush had given three pounds and beaten him by a neck; in the Metropolitan, he gave that horse four pounds and beat him by two lengths. Later in the season Wild Rush was able to stretch his speed out farther still: in the Grade Two Kentucky Cup Classic over nine furlongs at Turfway Park in September he and Silver Charm treated the crowd to a magnificent duel, passing the post inseparable, seventeen lengths clear of the third-placed . Unfortunately, the decision to drop Wild Rush down to six furlongs for the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs (by which time the horse's training had been taken over by Patrick Byrne) did not pay off: Wild Rush started favourite but finished last behind . He put that disappointment behind him, though, by ending the year on a better note, finishing a good third behind his old rival Silver Charm in the Grade Two Clark Handicap over nine furlongs at Churchill Downs.

Wild Rush duly took up stud duties at Adena Springs Stud in Kentucky in the spring of 1999, having won eight of his 16 races and having earned over $1.3 million. He was not an instant success as his first crop produced no particular stars, its best member not landing her best victory (in the Grade Three San Gorgonio Handicap) until she was a five-year-old. However, his second crop proved far more productive: remarkably, it contained no fewer than seven graded stakes winners. The first of these to emerge was , a Grade One winner as a two-year-old in the Hollywood Starlet Stakes. Hollywood Story went on to prove herself a very special filly indeed, winning a graded stake in each of her first four seasons in training, including landing the Grade One Vanity Invitational Handicap as a five-year-old. She was the first of two Grade One winners in Wild Rush's second crop, the other being , winner of two Grade One races (the Mother Goose Stakes and the Gazelle Handicap) at three and a third one (the Ruffian Handicap) as a four-year-old. The other stars from this terrific crop included , the champion two-year-old in Canada in 2003 and a Grade Three winner at three, four and five; and , who each scored in Grade Two company at three, the former landing the Louisiana Derby; , a dual Grade Two winner as a four-year-old; and the durable , who retained his form until he was aged seven, winning the Grade Two Play The King Stakes in 2008.

More pertinently, perhaps, a member of Wild Rush's second crop had been exported to Japan. Having been sold relatively cheaply at the 2002 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for $57,000, , a half-brother to the Peruvian Grade Two winner and to the US stakes-placed fillies and (a daughter of the Icecapade stallion Clever Trick), proved himself a real star in Japan. He was one of Japan's best three-year-olds in 2004, winning the Grade One Derby Grand Prix over 2000m on the dirt at Morioko and generally doing enough to merit the honour of being sent back to America to contest the Breeders' Cup Classic at the end of the year, in which he finished a good sixth of 13 behind , and , ridden by Frankie Dettori.

Perhaps prompted by the promise shown by Personal Rush, Arrow Stud in Japan agreed a deal to take Wild Rush to Japan in advance of the 2004 breeding season. While Wild Rush's first crop had been relatively disappointing, it did not take long for it to become clear that Arrow Stud had selected wisely. The Wild Rush horses in America kept winning good races, with more good horses emerging from his third, fourth and fifth crops (ie his final US-conceived crops). His third crop contained the dual Grade Two winner and the dual Grade One place-getter , while his fourth crop contained , twice runner-up as a three-year-old in Grade One races. His fifth crop contained arguably his best US-conceived child, with his daughter enjoying a great three-year-old campaign in 2007, when she won two Grade One races (the Prioress Stakes and the Test Stakes) as well as posting some very good minor placings, including when second in the Acorn Stakes.

Since his arrival in Japan, Wild Rush has continued to throw some very good horses, with Transcend, a member of his second Japanese crop, being clearly the best so far. However, he is effectively fighting with one arm tied behind his back there: the Icecapade sire-line has shown itself far more effective on dirt than on turf, and Wild Rush seems no exception. In Japan, therefore, a country where nearly all the best races are run on grass, he is unlikely to be seen to best advantage. Last year he finished third in the sires' table judged on results on dirt, but in the General Sires' Table he is likely always to struggle to make much of an impact.

Wild Rush, then, is clearly a very good stallion who would surely have continued to produce a solid flow of high-class stakes performers had he remained in America. As it is, he is instead doing well in Japan, but he cannot be said to be in his most suitable environment. However, while there remains scope there for top-class dirt horses such as Transcend to thrive, he clearly has plenty to offer Japanese breeders. And, it should be pointed out, he has been represented by one graded winner on turf in Japan () - and one should mention that two of his 25 north American graded stakes victories have come on turf, one from the Canadian Grade Two winner and one from Dream Rush, who complemented her Grade One dirt victories with an easy Grade Two success in the Nassau County Handicap on the turf at Belmont Park.

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