On a sweltering day that had more in common with summer than early fall, lovely Ashford Stud opened its gates to welcome Horse Country visitors—one of many that have filled the tours to sold-out capacity over the next few months—as the farm has been home to Justify for the past couple of weeks, the second Triple Crown winner they are standing.
Tour guide Nathaniel said he has settled in well, going by the same routine as the other stallions in the barn. He appears to take all in stride, just as he did during his run through the Triple Crown. He gleamed in the sunshine, and mostly stood patiently for photos. His stall is the one formerly occupied by Giant’s Causeway and next door to him is Classic Empire.
The tour then passed by headstones of former stallion barn residents, as a brief biography of each was presented.
Storm Bird, interred there, was a stallion that essentially started off the farm in America for Coolmore, being available for purchase the year after they had planned to import Shergar, who was notoriously stolen during a time of great turmoil in Ireland in the 1980s, with the details surrounding his disappearance still an unsolved mystery.
Storm Bird had, in fact, been considered to have the makings of another Shergar, and so Coolmore did jump at the opportunity to buy him.
The Kentucky branch of the farm got its name from Ashford Castle in the west of Ireland, a place and name that had enchanted John Magnier when he spent time there on a vacation.
The property that become Ashford started as a parcel of around 500 acres and was a cattle farm prior to acquisition by Magnier and in his hands it grew to 2,000 acres as surrounding property was also added in and numerous top stallions joined the roster and left their mark, including several that eventually led to Justify. Most notable of those is his sire Scat Daddy, still a tremendous influence as a sire around the world, even for having lived a relatively short life.
Newly arrived Mo Town, a son of Uncle Mo, was being shown to breeders as the Horse Country group went through the barn where Uncle Mo himself resides. He has a lot of presence, and the success he found early in his stud career was not with the top-notch group of mares that now fill his book, so he should only get even better runners now.
Fusaichi Pegasus occupies the stall next to Uncle Mo, and in a flashback to when I first visited him years ago, he charged at his slightly open stall door with ears bared, making the description of him as “anti-social” seem like a mild way to describe it. He did stay near his stall door, giving the opportunity to take photos, for a few moments before wandering back to look out the window open to the outside at the back of his stall.
Interestingly, he is now primarily (or entirely) being bred to Standardbred mares, as he had only a few grade 1 winners early in his stud career and then his top runners tapered off significantly. I had not heard of Thoroughbred stallions being bred to Standardbred mares before, and it did raise the question if they could be registered to race. Our tour guide was not sure, but his theory was that Thoroughbred blood appealed and Fusaichi Pegasus specifically had durability to contribute, appealing for a breed that races often. Nathaniel, the guide, thought that perhaps they hoped for fillies to pass on Thoroughbred qualities.
Air Force Blue was in the barn across from Uncle Mo and Fusaichi Pegasus, along with Cupid.
Air Force Blue’s first foals were described as spectacular, so spectacular that Nathaniel had bred his own mare to him. He said it can be a hard sell to get a sire considered to have a turf pedigree off the ground in America, although Air Force Blue does seem to have dirt credentials on the top and bottom in his pedigree.
Speaking of turf sires, as the tour wrapped up he mentioned what drives shuttling certain stallions to various locations, and that Australia is all turf racing. Considering American Pharoah is there now as he has been for several seasons and based on other things I’ve read recently, it is intriguing to see if a turf preference will come to the fore in his foals as Coolmore is sure it will. But I recall Afleet Alex had quite a few successful runners on turf to my surprise, so versatility is certainly on the table, even with sires that didn’t run on turf to be able to gauge how they would have done on the surface.