By Frances J. Karon
On February 2nd, I tweeted this observation:
“…Japanese-bred Power Gal, who won the Martha Washington at Oaklawn today, is by Empire Maker out of a mare by High Yield, whose broodmare sire was Forty Niner. Those genes traveled a long way to produce a black-type winner in Arkansas.”
The product of an international effort, Power Gal — a GSW in Canada bred in Japan by Irishman Harry Sweeney’s Paca Paca Farm, trained by an American and owned by a South African — fell off the radar for a little while after the Martha Washington, her first attempt at stakes company. She didn’t follow through on the promise of that win, running seventh in the G3 Honeybee at Oaklawn in March and third in the Star Shoot, a Listed stakes at Woodbine in April, until last weekend, when she rebounded with a score in the G3 Selene, also at Woodbine, starting off a very good day for her owner Gary Barber and trainer Mark Casse. Barber and Casse teamed up later that afternoon for the Preakness win with War of Will.
Power Gal, whose dam is a G1-placed daughter of High Yield (Storm Cat), is bred on a “power” cross, Empire Maker over Storm Cat — an A to A+++ eNick, depending on the source of each contributor — so it’s never a surprise to see one like her jump up and win a big race. Other GSWs by Empire Maker out of Storm Cat-line mares are G1SW Bodemeister, G1SW In Lingerie, and G2SW Magical Feeling. Continuing the cross with Storm Cat through the next generations, Empire Maker’s son Pioneerof the Nile has Horse of the Year American Pharoah and 2yo champion Classic Empire (raced by Barber and trained by Casse), and from Pioneerof the Nile’s young son Cairo Prince comes G3SW Cairo Cat. (Three of Cairo Prince’s four SWs to date are out of Storm Cat-line mares; the fourth has a third dam by that sire.)
“There is a fine line between success and failure at stud,” I wrote in the tweet thread mentioned above. Two of Power Gal’s immediate ancestors — Empire Maker and Forty Niner — serve to illustrate this point. Both began their careers at their breeders’ farms in the U.S. — Empire Maker at Juddmonte and Forty Niner at Claiborne — where they were immediately influential before being sold to Japanese interests…and they struggled to produce top horses in that environment. Japan is a market that produces world-class, competitive racehorses, which Empire Maker and Forty Niner are capable of siring, but they just didn’t click with the bloodlines and/or type of racing in that country. Had they only stood there, they would be long-forgotten names, found in the pedigrees of precious few black-type horses.
Fortunately, that was not the case. Empire Maker had all the credentials to become a top sire when he retired to Juddmonte. His dam was the farm’s treasured G1SW Toussaud (El Gran Senor), who’d been named Broodmare of the Year even before Empire Maker was a SW, as the dam of G1SWs Chester House, Honest Lady, and Chiselling, and of G2SW Decarchy. And he’s a son of Unbridled, whose male line is known in part for its ability to get classic horses in the U.S. A Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner in his championship year, Unbridled got a Triple Crown (of sorts) with sons Grindstone (Kentucky Derby), Red Bullet (Preakness), and Empire Maker (Belmont). Classic winner Birdstone (Grindstone) and his sons Mine That Bird (Kentucky Derby) and Summer Bird (Belmont) further contributed to the classic success of the sire line.
Empire Maker doesn’t have a classic winner of his own yet, but to say anything less than that his influence on North American classics has been extraordinary doesn’t do him justice. Pioneerof the Nile was second in the Derby and sired Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Bodemeister was second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and like Pioneerof the Nile, got a classic winner in his first crop, when Always Dreaming won the Derby. And anyway, a stallion’s career is not judged on classic wins alone; Empire Maker has three-time Eclipse Award champion Royal Delta among the 30 GSWs sired in his North American crops. In stark contrast is his record of two GSWs, one of which is the exclusively N.A.-raced Power Gal, from five Japanese crops. (He does have G3SWs Federalist and Ijigen in Japan, but they’re from his Juddmonte crops.)
Thanks to Gainesway Farm and partner Don Alberto Corp., Empire Maker was repatriated to the U.S. and, at the age of 19, is represented this year by his first crop of U.S. 2yos since his return. (34yo Forty Niner, by the way, is alive and well tended in retirement at Shizunai Stallion Station.) We can’t say exactly what is to come from Empire Maker, but it will no longer be a question of wondering what we’re missing out on. He’ll have plenty of access to the bloodlines that should suit him best, such as Storm Cat, and that’s enough to be excited about looking ahead. Pioneerof the Nile died unexpectedly this year, so it is even more special to have Empire Maker as an active stallion, and we are fortunate, too, to have sons Bodemeister (WinStar), Sky Kingdom (Darby Dan) and grandsons Always Dreaming (WinStar), American Pharoah and Classic Empire (Ashford), Cairo Prince (Airdrie), and Midnight Storm (Taylor Made) at stud in Kentucky.
As we wait for his 2yos to prove themselves on the track, Gainesway will appreciate that Power Gal is keeping Empire Maker’s name active on this side of the world.