Why Storm Cat was so special

Even at $500,000 per cover there were hundreds of takers for the stallion who, uniquely, could guarantee outstanding performers on dirt and grass

At the end of 1985, Storm Cat’s first season in training, it was possible to believe that he had the potential to carve out a successful career as a stallion. In 1988, when he finally retired to stud, the odds against that eventuality had lengthened considerably.
As it turned out, first impressions were correct, as the horse who was put down in April at the age of 30 became a phenomenon, the outstanding commercial sire of his era, leaving a legacy that will endure for generations to come.

There had been plenty to like about the two-year-old Storm Cat. He had won three of his six races, including the Grade 1 Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands, and he had opened up a clear lead on the turn for home in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Aqueduct, only to be deprived of victory by Tasso in the last stride. The official handicapper did not flatter him by ranking him 2lb below joint-champions Tasso and Ogygian, some authorities believing that he was actually the best of his generation. In addition, he was by Northern Dancer’s European champion son Storm Bird, who was already making a mark on both sides of the Atlantic, and he was out of Terlingua, Secretariat’s fastest daughter.

Storm Cat got 91 million-dollar yearlings, 108 stakes winners and 12 champions

With such performance and pedigree credentials, he promised to prove attractive to leading breeders. But Storm Cat lacked the crucial element of soundness. He had offset knees and trainer Jonathan Sheppard had a tough job getting him fit enough to race. He made it to the track on only two occasions as a three-year-old, his win over six furlongs in allowance company at the Meadowlands doing nothing to enhance his reputation. He needed to do more, so was kept in training at four, but it was to no avail. Sheppard was unable to bring him back to the races that year.

Owner-breeder William T Young did not lose faith in Storm Cat, sticking by his original plan to stand him at his Overbrook Farm in Lexington, but at the start of the 1988 breeding season the form that had made him seem a good proposition for stud was well over two years in the past; there was no prospect of being able to syndicate him. Young would have to retain sole ownership, support him with his own mares, and trust his pedigree consultant Ken McLean to procure suitable mates from other breeders. And that would not be easy, given that many regarded his initial $30,000 fee as steep for a somewhat under-sized, unsound individual.

Slowish burner

The charge for Storm Cat’s services was down to $20,000 by the time his first crop reached the races and the hoped-for breakthrough with success at the track did not happen immediately. None managed a Graded victory at two, but November Snow came good at three, collecting Grade 1 victories in the Test and Alabama Stakes, and in that season (1992) the second-crop juveniles helped to raise his profile, with two Graded winners at home and another in Italy. For the first of seven occasions, he ranked as America’s leading sire of two-year-olds.
The auctioned yearlings from his most cheaply conceived crop averaged more than five times his fee, breaking the $100,000 barrier for the first time. Commercial breeders recognised that here was a horse who represented an opportunity to make serious money, and as his runners earned ever-increasing distinction, thriving on dirt and grass, it became clear that he would never want for patronage again, and indeed would always be able to count on quality books and the support of private breeders as well.

Storm Cat’s 1991 crop numbered only 49, but among them were seven future Graded winners and a Group 2 scorer in Germany. Sardula excelled among the fillies with her top-level triumphs in the Hollywood Starlet Stakes and Kentucky Oaks, while Tabasco Cat, homebred by Young, notched a Classic double in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. There would be no looking back after that.

Hopeful Stakes victor Hennessy helped to ensure Storm Cat’s third title as leading sire of juveniles in 1995 and in the following crop came Sharp Cat, a multiple Grade 1 winner in each of her three seasons and earner of over $2 million. It was in 1995 that he first covered for a six-figure sum, and at $100,000 he still represented a bargain, the yearlings auctioned from the ensuing crop of 70 averaging in excess of $500,000. Ten from that group achieved success at Graded or Pattern level, led by Aljabr, a Group 1 winner in Europe at two, three and four, and Cat Thief, whose second top-level triumph came in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Cat Thief was the principal contributor as Storm Cat gained the first of two consecutive North American sire titles in 1999, and when he repeated that feat in 2000 he was also runner-up to Sadler’s Wells in the Anglo-Irish table, owing his prominence in these parts chiefly to the so-called ‘iron horse’, Giant’s Causeway. Now generally recognised as the best of all his sire’s sons, Giant’s Causeway collected a nap hand of Group 1 scores that year, in the St James’s Palace, the Eclipse, the Sussex, the Juddmonte International and the Irish Champion.

Different class

In 2001 Storm Cat had another winner of the St James’s Palace in Black Minnaloushe, who added that Ascot triumph to a previous top-level score in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. He came from the first crop to average upwards of $1m as yearlings, the unprecedented demand reflecting the fact that he was the one stallion in the world who could be depended upon to get outstanding performers on both dirt and grass. For all his lengthy dominance in Europe, Sadler’s Wells was never able to achieve any impact with his runners on dirt, not that there were many of them.

Storm Cat’s stars kept coming, Hold That Tiger, Storm Flag Flying and Nebraska Tornado among the 2000 crop conceived at $200,000; Denebola, One Cool Cat and Good Reward from the 2001 crop conceived at $300,000. For six seasons from 2002 the asking price was $500,000 – with always more than 100 breeders keen to invest at that level. It continued to make sense, as his yearling average was routinely in seven figures, peaking at $1,763,750 for the 28 through the ring in 2005.

Storm Cat covered at $300,000 in 2008, the year when, aged 25, he was finally retired from service because of declining fertility. He remained in honourable retirement at Overbrook, where he had been born and which was his base throughout his stud career, while his descendants continued to enhance his standing, both at the track and in the breeding population.

The outstanding commercial sire of all time, Storm Cat got 91 million-dollar yearlings. He sired a total of 108 stakes winners, 35 of them at Grade 1 or Group 1 level, including 12 champions. In addition to his two general sires’ titles and seven juvenile sires’ titles, he achieved distinction as a sire of sires, represented by such as Hennessy, Tale Of The Cat, Stormy Atlantic and most conspicuously by Giant’s Causeway, the last-named emulating his sire by delivering quality products adept on both dirt and turf. Sons of his sons, such as Johannesburg, Shamardal and Footstepsinthesand, have also made their mark, and he is three generations removed from Scat Daddy, a young horse with a rising reputation among Kentucky sires in 2013. Last year his daughters earned him the title of champion broodmare sire in North America.

Storm Cat was certainly a special horse. While he is commonly regarded as yet another example of the outstanding Northern Dancer line, it should perhaps be noted that he was the only son of Storm Bird to make a wide-ranging and enduring impact. It may well be that the influence of his speedy dam, Terlingua, was a significant factor in the success he achieved.

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