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Pedigree Insights: Air Force Blue

Andrew Caulfield, TDN

When Air Force Blue (War Front) quickened impressively to take the Keeneland Phoenix S., this son of War Front provided trainer Aidan O’Brien with his 14th winner of this Group 1 contest in the space of only 18 years.

With a sample of this size, it is inevitable that not all of the previous 13 enjoyed further Group 1 glory. Indeed the last four–Alfred Nobel, Zoffany, Pedro The Great and Dick Whittington–have failed to win a race of any sort after the Phoenix (though in Zoffany’s defence, he was a close second in a pair of Group 1 events at three).

I suspect, though, that Air Force Blue will have far more in common with some of O’Brien’s earlier Phoenix winners. They amount to a highly accomplished bunch, so much so that you’ll need a good deep breath to get to the end of the list, which began in 1999 with Fasliyev (Prix Morny). Then came Minardi (Middle Park S.), Johannesburg (Morny, Middle Park and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), One Cool Cat (National S.), George Washington (National S., 2,000 Guineas, Queen Elizabeth II S.), Holy Roman Emperor (Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere) and Mastercraftsman (National S., Irish 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace S.).

Air Force Blue’s rider Joseph O’Brien, who seems to be developing into an essential cog in the O’Brien training machine, had commented before the race that:

“[Air Force Blue is] a lovely, big horse and he’s improving all the time–whatever he does this year is going to be a bonus. I think he’s the classiest horse of our three [contenders] and there’s no doubt in a year’s time he’s going to be the best horse. My only worry is if the race is coming a bit early in his career, as he has a bit of progression to come yet.”

What Joseph didn’t mention was that Air Force Blue has a May 2 birthday, which made him the youngest in the seven-horse field and two months younger than the hot favorite Buratino. In other words, this big, scopey individual can be expected to become even more effective as he fills into his frame.

Air Force Blue, a graduate of Stone Farm, cost $490,000 as a yearling. It is worth reminding everyone that War Front’s current crop of 2-year-olds, which numbers 66, was sired when the Claiborne stallion’s fee was officially no higher than $60,000. That represented a $45,000 advance on the previous year. This substantial rise was fuelled by some very classy 3-year-olds from War Front’s first crop, such as The Factor, Summer Soiree and Soldat. It is going to be fascinating to see how War Front progresses over the next few years, when he will be represented by an $80,000 2014 crop, followed by two conceived at $150,000.

In reality, the son of Danzig will be hard pressed to improve substantially on his achievements so far, so good have they been.

Thanks partly to Claiborne’s restrained approach when it comes to the size of a stallion’s book, War Front is credited with no more than 400 foals of racing age, even though his current juveniles come from his sixth crop. That’s an average of 66 foals per crop. His 20 Graded/Group winners represent an impressive 5%– a figure made all the more impressive by the fact that more than 320 of the 400 were sired at fees between $10,000 and $15,000. Air Force Blue is his ninth Group 1/Grade I winner (there is also a winner of a local Group 1 in Hong Kong), and his total of 38 stakes winners looks sure to rise when more of his current 2-year-olds are given more chances to prove themselves.

For example, George Patton improved his record to two from two at Deauville on the same day as the Phoenix, and there have also been recent French successes for Omar Bradley and the dual winner Camp Courage, while Air Vice Marshal has already underlined his stakes potential by finishing a length second in the G2 Superlative S. Aidan O’Brien also has some so-far-unraced War Front juveniles, which should prove worth watching out for. They include Schubert, a May 17 foal bought for $1.3 million; Long Island Sound, bought for $800,000 as a weanling; and Black Hawk War.

Joseph Allen’s continued association with his former color-bearer means that there is also a strong team of War Front juveniles in training in France with Jean-Claude Rouget and Andre Fabre. In addition to George Patton, Camp Courage and Omar Bradley, they include the unraced colts Allied Command, Front Page Story (a brother to Declaration of War, from the family of Union Rags), House of Dixie (a daughter of the French Group 2 winner Homebound), Revolutionary War (a three-parts-brother to the smart U S Ranger) and War Flag (a sister to Group 1 winner Lines of Battle). Several other leading owners, such as Shadwell and the Niarchos Family, also have War Front juveniles in France, so a sizeable proportion of his crop is in Europe.

Air Force Blue’s year-older sister Bugle improved her record to 6-2-3-0 when she won a 1 1/16-mile turf allowance at Churchill Downs in June. She had earlier scored over nine furlongs on turf, which bodes well for Air Force Blue’s prospects as a potential 2,000 Guineas winner.

Rather surprisingly, War Front was never tried on turf, even though his dam Starry Dreamer had spent much of her 31-race career contesting turf stakes. Starry Dreamer’s smart Pulpit colt Ecclesiastic also did most of his racing on turf, winning two editions of the GIII Jaipur S.

Air Force Blue is the latest in a lengthy line of very talented turf performers by War Front. Indeed only two of his nine highest-level winners–The Factor and Peace And War–gained an important victory on dirt.

I would certainly expect Air Force Blue to be suited by a mile as a 3-year-old. Although his dam Chatham did her winning over sprint distances, she is a daughter of Maria’s Mon, sire of the Kentucky Derby winners Monarchos and Super Saver, as well as that very good filly Wait A While, who shone at around a mile and a quarter.

Seeking The Gold, the sire of Air Force Blue’s second dam Circle of Gold, also stayed well for a son of Mr. Prospector, as he showed with his win in the Super Derby and his close seconds in the Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Circle of Gold never raced but she had the distinction of being a sister to Flanders. You may remember that Flanders ran away with the 1994 Eclipse Award for two-year-old female, gathering every single vote from each of the three voting organizations. She earned this tribute largely via her wonderfully courageous display in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, in which she managed to edge ahead of Serena’s Song even though she had suffered fractures in her right foreleg.

Flanders had earlier gained other Grade I victories in the Spinaway S and Frizette S. Although she was unable to race again, she has continued to make her mark, principally through her champion Seattle Slew filly Surfside, a four-time Grade I winner. Three of her daughters and granddaughters have so far produced Graded/Group winners, one being last year’s smart French filly High Celebrity (out of a daughter of Surfside).

Sunday, Curragh, Ireland
KEENELAND PHOENIX S.-G1, €250,000, CUR, 8-9, 2yo, 6fT, 1:11.88, yl.
1–#@&AIR FORCE BLUE, 129, c, 2, by War Front
1st Dam: Chatham (MSP-US, $156,431), by Maria’s Mon
2nd Dam: Circle of Gold, by Seeking the Gold
3rd Dam: Starlet Storm, by Storm Bird
($490,000 Ylg ‘14 KEESEP). O-Susan Magnier,
Michael Tabor & Derrick Smith; B-Stone Farm (KY);
T-Aidan O’Brien; J-Joseph O’Brien. €145,000.
Lifetime Record: GSP-Eng, 3-2-1-0, $212,956.