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Overbrook sale evokes memories of Storm Cat

"THE retirement of Storm Cat ended a phenomenal era at Overbrook." So said Bill Young jnr, son of William T Young, the late founder of Overbrook Farm, upon giving word that the farm's bloodstock will be completely dispersed in autumn.

Storm Cat did not so much leap to fame as stealthily stalk his way there, after being retired to stud in 1988 in the midst of a collapsed bloodstock bubble. He was retired from stud last year, just before the subsequent bubble burst.

Giant's Causeway stallion

Giant's Causeway: one of the best sons of Storm Cat

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker  

Within that 20 year span, a new bloodstock era rose spectacularly. Much of it was centred on Storm Cat, as the previous bloodstock era had beenbased on his grandsire, Northern Dancer. His stud fee ($30,000 in 1988, soon lowered to $20,000) rose to half a million dollars, where it remained for six years.

Without him, and with the general economic collapse on top of the bloodstock market slump, it is easy, if sad, to see why Overbrook's good time might end.

I have my own memories of Storm Cat. I was the workrider of a two-year-old from his first crop, a colt out of Country Romance. The mare was by Halo; in Charlie Whittingham's barn, we used to get a lot of Halo's runners, and they were tough horses, so we attributed the colt's characteristics to his dam. As it turned out, he was pretty typical of the sire.

Harlan was like a big black bull, all shoulder and brawn. He liked to put his head down and run, which was fine on the track – once he was in high gear, he steered well and would go any pace you wanted.

The trouble came afterwards. On the way home, down would go his heavy neck, leaving nothing but those powerful shoulders and a big patch of ground in front. You could almost hear the roar as he hit a flat out run, and the steering wheel went out the window.

We have outriders in California for such situations, but Harlan had no respect for them. He ran off with riders, hotwalkers, and ponies. Bits and lip chains meant nothing to him. Eventually he joined D Wayne Lukas's barn and won the Vosburgh Stakes, becoming one of two Grade 1 winners from Storm Cat's first crop.

Later I was involved peripherally with another of Storm Cat's runners – Sharp Cat. She was a phenomenal filly and also tough as nails, winning seven Grade 1s at two, three, and four. She was understandably a great favourite of her owner, the late Prince Ahmed Salman, for whom I worked at the time at yearling sales.

I like to walk fast, and a princely entourage does not move fast. So the prince (who never did know my name) called me Sharp Cat, "because you are always out in front".

The inner circle would retire to the prince's suite in the hotel, while the drivers and I spent a lot of time hanging out in the bar (I know, a strange place for designated drivers). Years later, I spotted one of them in a crowd. "Sharp Cat!" he yelled, pumping my hand in delighted recognition.

Then there were the public memories – the record yearlingprices. Looking back, they were all the more extraordinary, given that Storm Cat never enjoyed the racecourse dominance of his contemporary, Sadler's Wells.

While Sadler's Wells led the British and Irish prize-money tables for 14 seasons, and is in fifth place today, Storm Cat is currently ranked number 76 on the North American earnings chart. He was ranked number 75 in 2008, 34 the year before and 14 a year earlier. Although he was fourth in 2004 – the last year Sadler's Wells led the British/Irish charts – he was ranked 51, 14 and 28 in the three preceding years.

Of course it was all about making stallions, and for years Storm Cat was Coolmore's great hope for a new Northern Dancer branch. He has obliged them to some extent with Giant's Causeway, but not to the extent his stud fee and yearling prices suggested.

It was 2006 before Storm Cat had a top-ten sire on the general North American progeny earnings list, although lastyear he had three – Giant's Causeway, Stormy Atlantic and Tale Of The Cat. Two of those remain in the top ten today. Scattered further down the sire standings are many more of his tail-male descendents, ensuring a broad if not dominating legacy.

Ironically, it is Grindstone, Overbrook's homebred Kentucky Derby winner (2009 fee: $3,500) who stands as the grandsire of two of this year's three Triple Crown race winners. Funny how legacies work out.

But it was a phenomenal era, Storm Cat. Thanks for the memories.

 

 

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