By Frances J. Karon
It’s always a success story when a horse retires to stud at his birthplace, particularly when that farm is Claiborne. Ironicus, bred by longtime client Stuart Janney III, is the second stallion in his immediate family born at Claiborne who went to stud there. Flatter (A.P. Indy) is the other, and they are connected through the Northern Dancer mare Wild Applause, a G2SW who is the second dam of Flatter and third dam of Ironicus.
But history and sentimentality don’t often translate to appropriate appreciation in the present: Ironicus sired 34 foals in his first crop, 3yos of 2021. The lack of buzz had less to do with his pedigree — he’s a son of Distorted Humor out of the stakes-placed A.P. Indy mare Meghan’s Joy, the dam of six SWs — and, likely, more to do with his late-maturing and turfy race record. Unplaced in one start at two, the Shug McGaughey-trained Ironicus hit the board in all four of his 3yo starts, winning once to break his maiden. He went on to become a two-time G2SW winner at four and a multiple G1-placed G3SW at five, ending his career with a record of six wins, six seconds, a third, and nearly $1.15 million in earnings, with wins over distances of between 8-9 furlongs and a G1-placing over 10 panels.
And then there’s Distorted Humor, the sire of 159 SWs — and still going strong at the age of 28 — whose major sons Drosselmeyer, a Belmont Stakes winner; Flower Alley — sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another; Any Given Saturday — Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday is among his foals; and Sharp Humor had stood in Kentucky before being eventually whisked away to other countries. Some of the shine had worn off, despite the successes of less heralded Distorted Humor sons such as Maclean’s Music (sire of Preakness winner Cloud Computing in 2017, from his first crop) and Alternation, whose Serengeti Empress won the Kentucky Oaks in 2019. And Jimmy Creed is doing well, too, part of a resurgence of Distorted Humor sons in Kentucky.
So late-maturing turf horse Ironicus, who also claims G1SW Eastern Echo, G2SW Roar (a son of Distorted Humor’s sire Forty Niner, and he’s the broodmare sire of Rachel Alexandra), Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, G1SW Hero’s Honor, multiple G1SW Elate (a Medaglia d’Oro daughter of a SW by Distorted Humor), G2SW Congrats, and many other quality horses in his immediate family, was not hugely supported, despite an attractive introductory stud fee ($7,500) and pedigree that all but ensured he would be able to deliver nice horses if given the opportunity.
That opportunity presented itself via Thundering Emilia (Thunder Gulch), who made a name for herself on the racecourses of Peru, where she was a G3SW, like her dam, the Peruvian-bred Saint Emilia (Saint Ballado). Thundering Emilia’s form translated to Listed success in the U.S., where her sole win in 13 starts was the John W. Rooney Memorial Stakes on turf for Michael Matz at Delaware in 2012. She earned $140,000 total.
Thundering Emilia had been a $15,000 yearling, when co-breeder Teneri Farm bought out foal share partner Ashford Stud. As a broodmare, her second foal was the G3-placed Mighty Scarlett (Scat Daddy), immediately followed by Southern Hemisphere foal/G1SW Emilia’s Moon (Malibu Moon), a Classic winner in Peru. Thundering Emilia’s fourth foal is the horse who prompted this post, Helium, a $55,000 Fasig-Tipton October yearling, bought from the Taylor Made consignment by Cool Hill Farm.
Racing for D.J. Stable and trained by Mark Casse, Helium is now the undefeated winner of three races, with a maiden special weight and the Listed Display Stakes, both on the all weather at Woodbine, on his juvenile resume, and now the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, which he won by 4 1/4 lengths. What’s more, the colt is now a GSW on dirt, a surface on which his sire ran just once, when he was 12th of 13 runners at Aqueduct as a 2yo.
The cross that produced Helium — Distorted Humor/sons over Thunder Gulch/sons — is a good one, rated A+ on eNicks. In addition to Helium, the breeding is represented by G2SW Hillaby (Distorted Humor), a Canadian champion, and G3SWs Five Iron (Sharp Humor) and Really Sharp (Sharp Humor), plus two other unrestricted SWs.
Ironicus, who by the way is the spitting image, in gray, of his sire, has a smaller second crop of foals, with just 22 or so 2yos to represent him this year. His stud fee dropped to $5,000 in his second season, and it remains at that price this year. Unfortunately, he’s got a small 2020 crop and will have another small one in 2021, so he will suffer the vagaries of the breeding game, but he doesn’t deserve to. He’s already sired the quality of horse his pedigree suggests he should, and he’s affordably priced in a market that often overlooks horses like him.
We have one suggestion we’d love to see: Ironicus bred to Flatter and Congrats mares. Not only is it a A+++ eNick that emulates the Distorted Humor/A.P. Indy cross of Ironicus himself — it would result in 3×3 inbreeding to A.P. Indy — but it duplicates the great broodmare Wild Applause, who Claiborne’s Seth Hancock bought (with Roar in utero) out of the Rokeby dispersal for $1,025,000, 4×4.
The Wild Applause influence was on full view on March 6th, the day that Helium won the Tampa Bay Derby and Ironicus’ relative and stud-mate Flatter got a pair of his own SWs, with Panadol winning the Al Bastakiya in Dubai and Search Results the Busher Invitational at Aqueduct. Meanwhile, Flatter’s full brother Congrats (a WinStar stallion), was represented on that date by Last Judgment, winner of the G3 Challenger Stakes on the Tampa Bay Derby undercard.