Forty Niner – One That Got Away

Fort Niner 1

When well bred champions are retired from racing and enter the breeding arena, there is much expectation put on the horse to reproduce themselves at stud. Breeders can become anxious to the point of impatience when waiting for the progeny of said champion to strut their stuff on the track. Occasionally this impatience can lead to selling the stallion before his early get display their talent.

Forty Niner was sired by the outstanding Mr. Prospector, who by this point in time when his chestnut son Forty Niner went to stud, had established his credentials as a leading sire of champions. Mr. Prospector sons such as Fappiano were showing the way indicating that the sire of Forty Niner was becoming a sire of sires.

The dam of Forty Niner is File, a stakes winning daughter of champion race horse and classic winner Tom Rolfe, who was arguably the top sire son of the great Ribot. File was from the very consistent family of Courtesy, a daughter of the legendary sire Nasrullah. File’s dam was Continue by Double Jay, a well known sire of top producing broodmares. Within this family are multi stakes winners List, Forage, Knightly Manner, Yamamin, Chain Bracelet, Dignitas, Dancing Slippers and champions Shadeed and Swale.

Claiborne Farm bred Forty Niner in 1985. Also in this crop of Mr. Prospector offspring are Seeking The Gold, Blue Jean Baby and Classic Crown, multi graded stakes winners all. Seeking The Gold and Forty Niner would face each other in some very important races during their respective racing careers. Forty Niner raced in the colours of Claiborne Farm and was trained by none other than Hall of Fame legend Woody Stephens.

The wiry and precocious Forty Niner began his racing career in a six furlong maiden race at Belmont on July 17, 1987. He won the race by a three and one half lengths margin over Dynaformer, a horse who would make a profound impact in breeding later on. Following a ten length defeat to Crusader Sword and Tejano at Saratoga, Forty Niner would redeem himself two weeks later in winning the Sanford Stakes by three and one half lengths. This race was the first of a four race win streak that would propel Forty Niner to the Eclipse Award as the champion two year old in North America.

Victories in the Futurity Stakes at seven furlongs, the Champagnes Stakes at a mile and the Breeder’s Futurity at a mile and a sixteenth completed Forty Niner’s outstanding two year old season. He did not go to Hollywood Park for the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile as he had done enough to establish his credentials to claim the Eclipse Award, winning five of six races and earning $634,908.

Stephens rested his champion winter book favourite for the upcoming Kentucky Derby and mapped out his journey to the Run For The Roses. Forty Niner began his three year old season on February 3, 1988 in the seven furlong Hutchison Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Forty Niner finished second by a length to Perfect Spy and then twelve days later won the one mile and one-sixteenth Fountain Of Youth Stakes by a nose over Notebook. This was followed by a neck defeat to the very good Brian’s Time in the Florida Derby.

The road to the Kentucky Derby was full of high quality contenders in 1988 and Forty Niner was definitely in the mix. He won the Lafayette Stakes by five lengths at Keeneland and then in his final start before the main target, he finished second by a head to the outstanding Risen Star in the Lexington Stakes, giving that one a three pound weight advantage. Up next, the Kentucky Derby three weeks later.

The race attracted a quality field of seventeen challengers. The big grey filly Winning Colors gained the lead from the off and got loose on the front end, dictating the pace. Forty Niner lay back in fifth some seven lengths behind. At the top of the home stretch, Forty Niner under jockey Pat Day launched his bid. Winning Colors had plenty in reserve however and bravely defended her lead. The game and determined Forty Niner kept edging closer and closer to the big grey filly but could not get past before the finish line. At the finish line Forty Niner was a neck back of Winning Colors. Twenty yards beyond the line he was half a length ahead. Risen Star was three lengths behind Forty Niner.

The reigning two year old champion had run a gutsy Kentucky Derby but came up just short to a future Hall of Fame inductee who was masterfully ridden by Gary Stevens. The race had taken a lot out of Forty Niner which was confirmed in his Preakness Stakes performance. He ended up in seventh place some fourteen lengths back of Risen Star, with Brian’s Time second and Winning Colors third.

Woody Stephens gave Forty Niner a rest. The colt was not seen on the track until July 16 at Monmouth in a one mile allowance race in which his jockey for the day Julie Krone eased him as he crossed the finish line seven lengths ahead of his nearest challenger. The race was a tune up for the grade one Haskell Invitational two weeks later.

Laffite Pincay had the reigns for the nine furlong Haskell and kept Forty Niner close to the pace, making his move around the far turn and then hold off the fast closing Seeking The Gold to win by a nose. Brain’s Time finished third another four lengths back. The time of 1.47 3/5 indicated the good determined effort put forth by the two sons of Mr. Prospector.

Next up for Forty Niner was a trip to beautiful Saratoga and entry in the prestigious, and historic, Travers Stakes. Forty Niner and Seeking The gold would re-enact their exciting Haskell stretch run, with similar results. Forty Niner by a nose over Seeking The Gold with Brain’s Time again third, but a bit closer. The race was run in 2.01 2/5, which is a very respectable time on the notoriously deep Saratoga track.

Always the sportsman, Stephens tested his gallant three year old against older grade one winners and chose the Woodward Handicap at Belmont in four weeks. Drawn in for the race was the red hot four year old Alysheba and the classy Waquoit. Forty Niner took the lead at the break but Waquoit passed by and led the field into the back straight, with Forty Niner stalking in second and Alysheba an unconventional, for him, third.

Waquoit held his advantage into the far turn. Forty Niner came to that one’s flank and then press for the lead, actually putting his head in front at the top of the home straight. Alysheba was outside of Forty Niner and launched his attack. The three waged a battle for the ages down the stretch, never more than a half length separating them. Alysheba won by a neck over the game Forty Niner, with Waquoit third another neck length behind. The time was a sizzling 1.59 2/5 for the ten furlongs.

Forty Niner made two more starts, winning the NYRA Mile in 1.34 flat and then finished fourth by five and three-quarter lengths to Alysheba in the Breeder’s Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. The final race record for Forty Niner was nineteen starts, eleven wins and five second place finishes. He won $2,726,000 in his career.

Retired to stand at Claiborne beginning in the 1989 breeding season, Forty Niner was given an quality book of mares to begin his sire career. The impeccable pedigree and impressive race record ensured Forty Niner of such a well supported start. He was seen as the heir apparent to Mr. Prospector, who was also at Claiborne. As it would eventually turn out, the original prognosticators were not far off their assessment.

The first few crops sired by Forty Niner did not support this lofty expectation however. Although he was the leading first crop sire in 1992, the get of Forty Niner were slow to mature, as opposed to Forty Niner being a fast developer who became a champion as a two year old. As breeders became impatient, he began to fall out of favour. There were thirteen stakes winners from the first three crops of foals sired by Forty Niner. Many of these did not win stakes races until their three year old campaigns.

Among the top get from Forty Niner’s first three crops were End Sweep, Twining, Announce and the only grade one winner from the first three crops in the filly Nine Keys (Apple Blossom Handicap). The natives were getting restless, or in this case the breeders. The third crop of Forty Niners were three year olds in 1995 when in July of that year Claiborne accepted a $10 million offer from the Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan to buy the stallion, and off he went to the land of the rising sun.

The 1993 crop however were just coming to the races. This Forty Niner foal crop contained some stars. Editor’s Note won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, finish second to fellow Forty Niner son Ide in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and then third to Unbridled’s Song and Hennessy in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile. The following year as a three year old Editor’s Note captured the grade one Super Derby and the classic Belmont Stakes defeating Skip Away in the latter. He was also second to Unbridled’s Song in the Florida Derby, again finishing ahead of Skip Away.

From this same crop came Roar (Jim Beam Stakes, Swale Stakes), Gold Fever (NYRA Mile, Discovery Handicap, Riva Ridge Stakes, Perpetuate Stakes), and Distorted Humor (Screen King Stakes, Salvator Mile, Commonwealth Breeder’s Cup Stakes). The latter has become an outstanding sire to establish a prosperous branch of the Mr. Prospector tail male line. The aforementioned Ide won five stakes races in total, including four graded stakes.

Distorted Humor began his stud career at Prestonwood Farm and then stayed when the property became known as Winstar. To date Distorted Humor has sired one hundred and thirty stakes winners including champions Funny Cide (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Dominion Day Stakes), Pathfork (Vincent O’Brien National Stakes) and Regal Ransom (U.A.E Derby).

Other major stakes winners by Distorted Humor are Drosselmeyer (Breeder’s Cup Classic, Belmont Stakes), Flower Alley (Travers Stakes), Hystericalady (Distaff Stakes) Commentator (Whitney Handicap twice), Boisterous (Man O’ War Stakes), Any Given Saturday (Haskell Invitational, Brooklyn Handicap), Awesome Humor (Spinaway Stakes), Fourty Niner’s Son (Clement Hirsch Memorial Turf), Aesop’s Fables (Prix Jean Prat), Rinky Dink (Australian Oaks), Jimmy Creed (Malibu Stakes), and Cursory Glance (Moyglare Stud Stakes). Distorted Humor is only one of a handful of sires today that is operating at a better than 10% stakes winners from total foals ratio.

After Forty Niner left Kentucky for Japan, his get would continue to score in many top class races in North America. Coronado’s Quest won the Remsen , Cowdin and Nashua Stakes at two. At three he took first place in the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes, just as his sire had, and also the Dwyer and Riva Ridge Stakes races. His sire record was not stellar but his daughters are responsible for the likes of Mani Bhavan, Kodiak Kowboy and Boys At Toscanova.

Ecton Park from the final North American crop sired by Forty Niner won $1.5 million which includes the Super Derby and Jim Dandy Stakes. Marley Vale captured the grade one Test Stakes. Golden Temper, Move and Banker’s Gold are additional top class stakes winners sired by Forty Niner before he relocated to Japan.

The arrival of Forty Niner was warmly received by his Japanese admirers and he became quite successful in his new home. He sired such excellent horses as Admire Hope (Zennippon Yushun), Biwa Shinseiki (Katitsubata Kinen), Meiner Select (JBC Sprint Cup, Tokyo Hai), Utopia (Nambu Hai Mile twice, Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun), Vaincre Tateyama (Hokkaido Sprint Cup), and Tagano Forty (Fukuryu Styakes, Nigawa Stakes, Oasis Stakes).

Including the outstanding Distorted Humor, the descendants of Forty Niner have been very noticeable in breeding. End Sweep led all first crop sires in North America in 1999 and sired major winners around the globe such as Admired Moon, Dark Ending, Admired Main, Sweep Tosho, Trippi, Swept Overboard and Clean Sweep. End Sweep died in 2002 at the age of eleven. Trippi has been a top class sire in South Africa.

Multi stakes winner Jules died at the age of nine but left grade one stakes winner Peace Rules (Haskell Invitational, Blue Grass Stakes, Suburban Handicap), Luhuk sired Calidoscopio (Breeder’s Cup Marathon) and Avanzado (Ancient Title Handicap), and Roar would be the champion sire in Argentina in 2005 and is the broodmare sire of the great Rachel Alexandra.

While one half of the legacy of Forty Niner channels directly through Distorted Humor, with some notables coming on the distaff side through his sons and daughters, the other half of his legacy is one of patience. One wonders how well Forty Niner would have fared had he stayed in North America and serviced the gene pool his sons had after his sale to Japan.

Claiborne Farm cannot be blamed for this aspect. They have an incredible history of excellence in breeding and are rightly considered as one of the finest breeding establishments in existence. They have held this lofty perch for over one hundred years. However, a breeding farm, even one as large as Claiborne, is still a business and must be run as such in order to survive. When breeders began to ignore Forty Niner, they had no choice but to accept the generous offer from Japan. No one can see the future, not even Claiborne.

Forty Niner was retired from breeding in 2007 due to declining fertility. He still roams his paddock today at Shizunai, at the lofty age of thirty. He was the third leading sire in North America in 1996, the year after he went to Japan. He established a viable tail male link to Mr. Prospector and taught a lot of breeders to be patient and give a young stallion a thorough chance to prove himself.

Forty Niner was a great horse. He was also the one that got away.

(Photo courtesy of Claiborne Farm)

One comment

  • Very interesting article. Seems to me that greed and impatience still rule. To bad to admit for some. I wish some of the breeders today learn from the mistakes of the past. Imagine what more Forty Niner could have accomplished had he stayed in Kentucky

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