A recent winner at Hamilton (Scotland, not NZ or Vic) might have caused a few eyebrows to be raised: the existence of an Irish-bred three-year-old gelding named Star Kingdom poses the question of just how much does a horse have to achieve before he gains sole rights to his name. In the authorities’ defence, of course, is the fact that the Irish-born stallion named Star Kingdom who arguably still ranks as the greatest sire ever to stand in Australia was, of course, named Star King prior to his export down under. (But, having said that, an Irish-bred six-year-old called Star King ran twice over jumps in England last year, so maybe the authorities shouldn’t be let off the hook after all!). Confusingly, it remains common for the names of successful stallions to be re-used. Arguably the most glaring example is the fact that two O’Brien-trained Ballydoyle inmates called Yeats have retired to stud in recent years - and let’s hope that the more recent one does as well as his predecessor, who sired a Cox Plate winner (Our Poetic Prince)! Recently the writer of this column found himself training a British-bred chestnut mare called Hotfoot, who definitely wasn’t the British-bred dark brown stallion called Hotfoot who finished second in the 1969 Irish 2,000 Guineas before siring the Classic runners-up Tachypous and Hot Grove. On a similar note, one has to remind oneself that the US-bred Posse, sire of this month’s Del Mar Futurity winner Rolling Fog, is not the US-bred Posse who chased home Nureyev and Known Fact in the 1980 2,000 Guineas before enjoying a successful stud career in Britain and Japan, writes John Berry.
Ogden Mills Phipps, a former Chairman of The Jockey Club and of the New York Racing Association, was no doubt slightly surprised to find that the American authorities had decided that his Posse had not done enough to secure exclusive rights to his name. Having finished third in the 2,000 Guineas (and been subsequently promoted to second on the disqualification of Nureyev), Posse went on to win the St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in Phipps’ colours before retiring to Derisley Wood Stud near Newmarket, where he started a stud career which saw him sire the European Group One winners Sheriff's Star and Sally Brown as well as the dams of several Group One winners including Bigstone and, in Japan, Shinko Lovely. However, the year 2000 (in which Posse would have been 23 had he not died prematurely in Japan aged only 14) saw Robert and Lawana Low breed a colt by Silver Deputy who was given the name Posse. The consolation for Phipps (and for all the many others who still held very fond memories of the previous Posse) was that this reincarnation also turned out to be a very good horse.
The current Posse joined Steve Asmussen’s stable as a yearling towards the end of 2001 and it didn’t take long for the trainer to find that he had a precocious two-year-old on his hands. Racing for Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt’s Heiligbrodt Stables, the colt made his debut early in April 2002, tackling a 4.5-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland. Ridden by Donnie Meche, Posse won impressively in the quick time of 51.43 seconds. As the colt was clearly finding things quite easy, Asmussen understandably elected to press on along the path of Kentucky’s best early-season juvenile races. Having been placed in the Three Chimneys Juvenile Stakes at Churchill Downs on the same day that War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby, Posse landed his first stakes victory on his third start, taking the Grade Three Kentucky Breeders’ Cup over six furlongs at Churchill Downs towards the end of May, again ridden by Meche.
Disappointingly, Posse failed to build on this promising start as the year progressed. He was placed in his next two starts when second to Lone Star Sky in the Grade Three Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs and fourth behind Whywhywhy in the Grade Two Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, but he failed to progress as summer turned to autumn. If, however, Posse had the profile of a horse whose principal asset was his precocity (which he did), that impression was proved to be false the following year: during his three-year-old season, Posse proved that he was tough and progressive rather than merely precocious, winning five races in 2003 headed by the Grade Two Riva Ridge Breeders’ Cup Stakes over seven furlongs at Belmont Park in which, ridden by Corey Lanerie, he got home by a nose from the Bobby Frankel-trained favourite Midas Eyes. That success was one of four stakes victories which Posse posted during the year, the others being the Grade Three Lafayette Stakes at Keeneland over seven furlongs, the Matt Winn Stakes (Listed) over six furlongs at Churchill Downs and the Thanksgiving Handicap over six furlongs at the Fair Grounds. That latter victory was his second win of the year at that track: he had kicked off his year with victory in a five-furlong allowance race there. In a busy year in which he ran 11 times, Posse also showed high-class form when finishing second to Midas Eyes in the Grade Three Swale Stakes over seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park, third to Ghostzapper in the Grade One Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont and fourth to Cajun Beat in the Grade One Breeders’ Cup Sprint over six furlongs at Santa Anita.
At the end of the campaign, Posse could boast highly commendable figures of seven wins, two seconds and two thirds from 18 starts and, while he was clearly an exciting prospect for racing in America’s top sprints at the ages of four and beyond, he was also an exciting prospect for stud. Vinery Stud had bought into him and that sealed his future: he retired to the prestigious Kentucky stallion station in advance of the 2004 breeding season.
Posse has done very well at stud. That will have come as a surprise to nobody, other than to those who cling to the notion of the importance of a ‘stallion’s pedigree’. Posse is related to plenty of good winners, but to no notably successful stallions. In fact, he is related to very few stallions at all, successful or otherwise. He had a Grade Two-winning half-brother at stud called Green Fee, while his next closest male relative to have retired to stud was perhaps Pre Emptive Strike (a stakes-winning son on Blushing Groom and Posse’s third dam Queen Maud) who went to stud in Australia but cut very little ice there. Fortunately, though, American breeders seem less pre-occupied than their European counterparts with the idea that good stallions have to be closely related to other good stallions, instead working on the sensible idea that good racehorses, and particularly sound ones, are likely to make good stallions. Posse’s sire Silver Deputy, a horse from one of the few branches of the Northern Dancer sire-line (that descending from Vice Regent) to have done particularly well on dirt, has sired plenty of very good racehorses (headed arguably by the outstanding filly Silverbulletday) without establishing much of a reputation as a ‘sire of sires’; but Posse alone has done enough to give Silver Deputy some sort of standing in this regard.
Posse got off to a very good start thanks largely to the fact that his first crop included Kodiak Kowboy. One of America’s best sprinter/milers of his generation, Kodiak Kowboy won at Grade Two level at both two and three before really blossoming as a four-year-old in 2009, when he landed Grade One victories at six (Vosburgh Stakes), seven (Carter Handicap) and eight (Cigar Mile) furlongs. Kodiak Kowboy’s successes as a two-year-old helped Posse’s stud fee to rise from the $10,000 at which he had started out, so that he stood for $30,000 in 2008, having been America’s leading freshman sire of 2007. One might have thought that the continued success which Kodiak Kowboy enjoyed might have consolidated Posse’s position, but that appeared not to be the case: the fee was dropped to $20,000 for 2009, while the surprising consequence of Kodiak Kowboy’s annus mirabilis in 2009 was that for the 2010 breeding season Posse was sent off to stand in New York state at a fee of $10,000. While this appears at first sight to have been rather strange, the reason was that Kodiak Kowboy had retired to Vinery, so it made sense to send his father elsewhere, rather than have the two horses standing alongside each other and in competition with each other.
Posse spent his first season in New York at Empire Farm, but the past two years have seen him holding court at Vinery’s New York division, still at $10,000. This fee does not look at all expensive for the most successful stallion in the state, particularly since it has been shown that the production of Kodiak Kowboy was not a fluke: Kodiak Kowboy can arguably no longer be regarded as Posse’s best son, that honour being held by Caleb's Posse, who was conceived in 2007 before Kodiak Kowboy had started racing. Caleb’s Posse, now aged four, won two Grade One races last year (the King’s Bishop Stakes over seven furlongs at Saratoga, beating Uncle Mo by a nose, and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs, beating Shackleford by four lengths). He has failed to add to his tally this year, but his last two starts have each seen him beaten a nose in Grade One company, going down firstly to Jackson Bend (who was receiving 2lb) in the Carter Handicap over seven furlongs at Aqueduct and then to Shackleford (who was receiving 2lb) in the Metropolitan Handicap over a mile at Belmont. The merit of this form has been further franked by the Metropolitan third-placegetter To Honor And Serve (who was receiving one pound from Caleb’s Posse that day) most recently winning the Grade One Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.
In addition to siring two top-class horses, Posse has also come up with plenty of lesser stakes winners including the graded stakes winners Lantana Mob and No Advantage from his first crop, Comedero from his third crop and now Rolling Fog from his sixth. Rolling Fog, of course, is Posse’s third Grade One winner, although only time will tell whether he truly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Kodiak Kowboy and Caleb’s Posse. Ironically, the season (2008) in which Posse stood for $30,000 has yet to yield a graded stakes winner (the members of that crop, of course, currently being aged three) – but that, of course, was not known until long after Posse’s fee had been dropped and he had been sent off to New York. In general, it is fair to say that Posse has proved himself very good at siring horses like himself: fast and tough.
The future of Vinery Stud appears currently to be up in the air, but it has plenty of valuable assets. The excellent More Than Ready, of course, heads its Kentucky division (where Kodiak Kowboy is also on the roster) but Posse provides a very good back-up in New York. Posse, who is still only aged 12, seems sure to continue to thrive – and thus to create further confusion as the second good American-bred Posse of the modern era. It would be interesting to see Posse cover a daughter of Posse, which ought to be feasible as there should be a few such mares still alive. Such a mating would certainly produce confusion, but it might also produce a nice horse!