Born to greatness, he will be remembered as a special racehorse and a magnificent stallion.
On the southeastern edge of Lexington's blue grass country, there is a dark bay horse strolling his hillside three-acre paddock. His name is Storm Cat. For most of the past 15 years, he had been the most valuable horse in the world.
Simply put, Storm Cat had the knack of siring "the big horse" year in and year out. In 2000, it was Europe's Horse of the Year, Giant's Causeway, a multiple group stakes winner who just missed winning the Breeders' Cup Classic. He also sired the 1994 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat.
Storm Cat's progeny in the yearling market frequently were the subjects of intense bidding wars between Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley organization and rival Coolmore Stud of Ireland. Among his top-priced horses at auction were $9.7 million Jalil in 2005, $8 million Mr. Sekiguchi in 2004, $6.8 million Tasmanian Tiger in 2000, $6.4 million Van Nistelroy in 2001, and $6.3 million Objectivity in 2005. Another yearling, $4.4 million Moon's Whisper, set a world record price for a filly in 2000 at the Keeneland September sale.
After 20 years as a stallion that produced about 1,400 offspring, Storm Cat was pensioned on May 13, 2008 because of a decline in fertility.
Foaled in PA
The late Marshall Jenney's Derry Meeting Farm in Cochranville, Pa. was Storm Cat's birthplace-- foaled February 27, 1983 for breeder W. T. Young of Kentucky. During his brief racing career the powerful colt won the Young America Stakes (Grade 1) at The Meadowlands, and finished second by a nose in that year's championship deciding race, the 1985 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Sired by Storm Bird, and out of his dam Terlingua (a daughter to Secretariat), Storm Cat earned $570,610 before being retired to Young's Overbrook Farm. When Storm Cat's progeny hit the racetrack they tended to be not only swift and powerful, but courageous as well. His colts and fillies have earned nearly $114 million at the track. Kevin Stephens, a stallion groom at Overbrook Farm, once summed it up like this: "he's like winning the lottery every year."
Storm Cat-- Stormy to his handlers-- at his peak was North America's most expensive stallion, commanding $500,000 a pop from 2002–2007. His harem of top-flight mares numbered 100-120 a year. During his prime Storm Cat earned his owners an estimated $233 million, or nearly $39 million per year from eager breeders looking to cash in on his proven genetic strength.
Few stallions have fit the modern commercial market better than Storm Cat. Seven times he was the leading sire of juveniles. He regularly produced quick, precocious runners, yet demonstrated that with the right mare, he could throw a horse capable of getting the American classic distance of 10 furlongs. Storm Cat tended to stamp his foals in his own image: well balanced, muscular with good shoulders, strong hips, and an indomitable will to win.
Will to win
Born a dark bay with white spats on both left legs and a white streak between his sharply keen eyes, the original intention called for Storm Cat to be shipped from Kentucky to England. There he would race as a turf runner, conditioned by Ian Balding, trainer to the Queen and Paul Mellon. However, after an equine herpes virus outbreak occurred in Kentucky and the colt was exposed, he wasn't allowed to travel overseas. So Storm Cat came to Jonathan Sheppard's Ashwell Stable near Unionville, Pa.
"I got the call from Mr. Young, but I'd never even heard of him, so I said let me think about it," recalled Sheppard with a laugh. "I remembered his dam Terlingua very well when she raced in California. She was kind of built downhill with high hindquarters and a neck like a greyhound. She was remarkably fast. I thought what a thrill to be offered to take something out of her."
By the autumn of Storm Cat's two-year old season, the head-strong colt was known for rearing and bolting after pulling up in morning training.
"He would try to bite my pony's neck , so one day I snapped him on the nose with a short whip," recalled Sheppard. "‘Oh, you want to fight.' He reared up and started trying to box me. So I decided that wasn't such a good idea."
After the 1985 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Storm Cat raced only twice more at three, winning once before knee injuries ended his career. Two years passed between his final race and the start of his stud career. In 1986 new tax laws and an economic downturn popped the breeding industry's bubble.
"Soundness (leg injuries) issues did him in," related Sheppard. "He had so much fire and spirit and he passed that along to his offspring throughout the world in a big way."
Storm Cat's ongoing influence was again in evidence at the 2009 Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita Park. He sired Ladies' Classic winner Life Is Sweet; was the grandsire of sprint winner Dancing in Silk, Marathon champion Man of Iron, and four other top-three finishers; and the broodmare sire of Juvenile winner Pounced.
Among Storm Cat's top stakes winners over the past 15 years were Storm Flag Flying, Sweet Catomine, Hold That Tiger, One Cool Cat, Forest Wildcat, Stormy Atlantic, Forestry, and Bernstein.
The 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale featured his last full crop, and marked Storm Cat's departure from the commercial scene. Even in a dreadful economy the big players turned out and snapped up his yearlings, starting with the sales-topper-- a leggy, well-built colt at $2.05 million. Storm Cat's final three foals were born last year.
In a seriously contracting thoroughbred market, at the 2009 Keeneland yearling sale breeders Frank and Jane Lyon confessed to being "terrified" that their gorgeous colt would morph from a home run into just another 2009 bargain.
Not to worry, the PA-bred stallion delivered once more. The Lyons' star Storm Cat colt (out of champion mare Fleet Indian) sold for $2.05 million to agent John Ferguson on behalf of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed.
"It was a little scary," said Jane Lyon of Georgetown, Ky. "We felt he was a superb colt, but we didn't know if there would be the kind of money for him at this sale as there was at Saratoga. Apparently there was, and we could not be more thrilled."
Ferguson was more than pleased by the purchase. "He was very athletic, a great mover and has a great pedigree," he noted. "Hats off to Summer Wind Farm."
Storm Cat also lit up the board at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale last August. His Saratoga average, $1,037,500 from four yearlings sold, was well above the runner-up's average of $635,000. He produced the sale-topper, a colt that fetched $2.8 million.
That's a far cry from 1988 when Storm Cat stood for $30,000, before dropping to $20,000 in his third season.
"I'm not sure many would have predicted him to have any level of success as a sire because he was not popular with breeders when he was first retired to stud," said Ric Waldman, stallion consultant at Overbrook.
But Storm Cat quickly proved that he was a stallion worth reckoning when he got 18 winners from 44 named juveniles from his first crop. Eight runners from that crop won stakes. Storm Cat chalked up progeny earnings of $3 million in 1992 when his oldest foals were three-year olds. He hit $5.3 in 1994, $9 million in 1998 and $12.2 the following year when he topped the general sire list. The gold rush was on.
Through 2009 Storm Cat has produced 180 stakes winners-- more than any other living North American stallion and the fourth highest total in history. His 170 black-type stakes winners (12%), include 13 champions. Ten percent of stakes winners to foals historically is considered the benchmark for a top stallion.
Storm Cat is also showing strength as a broodmare sire, currently ranking eighth in that department; to date, his daughters have produced 111 stakes winners. All four of his 2009 stakes winners are graded winners, including grade I winners Life Is Sweet and Mr. Sidney.
Considered North America's current premier sire of sires, Storm Cat is represented by such sons as Giant's Causeway, Tale of the Cat and Stormy Atlantic-- all three rank in the top seven in 2009 by progeny earnings. Plus, this year's top two freshman sires, Roll Hennessy Roll and Lion Heart, are grandsons of Storm Cat.
Storm Cat was especially popular at Keeneland's 2009 September sale, siring seven of the ten highest priced horses in the sale's history. He has topped the sale seven times by average. His 2005 average, $1,766,731, remains a sale mark with three or more yearlings sold. That figure eclipsed the former mark, $1,756,538, one he set in 2001.
Storm Cat's last full crop (27 yearlings) at the 2009 Keeneland September sale are either out of or are siblings to champions or Group or Grade 1 winners. They include a half brother to champion Dreaming of Anna and current standout miler Justenuffhumor, and the first foal out of champion top racemare Fleet Indian.
Enjoying his retirement at Overbrook Farm Storm Cat seems to sense his exalted status, says stallion manager Wes Lanter, who claims to have spent more time with the horse than with his own family.
"For years Storm Cat has been very aware of who he is," said Lanter. "I've been fortunate to work around a couple of really great horses. I think the top ones kind of have that attitude in them that says, 'I am the best.' And I think part of that attitude is imparted on their progeny, and that, as much as good conformation, ability, tenacity and desire, is key to the success of a horse."