Twenty years ago, my brother bought his first USTA Sires and Dams book, a volume that in large measure introduced me to what would become a life-long pursuit - study and research in the realm of Standardbred bloodlines.
I spent many hours and days pouring over the contents of that 1977 Sires and Dams, initially looking up mares in which I had an interest, and seeing how they had produced ... and later comparing the statistics of various stallions. One pacing stallion - Albatross - stood out far beyond the rest in virtually every statistic. I marvelled at how from just two crops his 92 pacers included 36 in 2:00 and 81 in 2:05. He had followed up a first crop of 7 in 2:00 with an even better showing of 13 2:00 2-year-olds in his second offering.
By comparison, Most Happy Fella boasted only 44 in 2:00 from 197 starters (four crops) ... Race Time 86 from 474 pacers ... and Meadow Skipper himself only 132 from 416 performers. It was clear in my mind in 1977 that the pacing world was about to be revolutionized by Albatross. And since that time, I have waited - sometimes with little patience - for another stallion to "walk in his shoes". I believe the successor has arrived, and his name is ... Artsplace.
The Racing Years
I know that it is a bold - and some would say foolish - endeavour, to try to predict the future in virtually any field. We all remember the first two crops of Niatross, and how he went for a tailspin as a sire thereafter. Many sires have left their marks in a very pronounced way early on, only to fall off the end of the world in coming years. Oil Burner, B.G.'s Bunny and Nero are a few that come to mind. But Artsplace is a very different kind of animal, and is destined to carry on where his maternal grandfather, Albatross, left off.
As a racehorse, Artsplace was truly remarkable. I doubt that anyone who saw his Breeder's Crown win at two will ever forget it. The 1:51.1 mark at Pompano is still the fastest 2- year-old mile on any size track. In all, Artsplace won $1,180,271 that year, included victories in the Metro Pace and Governor's Cup as part of his 15 11-3-0 summary - and was named 2-year-old pacing colt of 1990.
In 1991, Artsplace had the misfortune to meet up with one of the sport's greatest sophomore crops ever, featuring the likes of Precious Bunny and Die Laughing. Still, the great son of Abercrombie paced to a summary of 18 10-4-1 and earned $972,487 in a year which saw him win the Dancer Memorial, American National and the Gaines Memorial, and finish second in the Meadowlands Pace, Adios Final and the Cleveland Classic.
As a 4-year-old, Artsplace returned with a vengeance. Under the tutelage of master conditioner Bob McIntosh, Artsplace lead McIntosh's "Dream Team" (also Odds Against and Camluck) on a romp through the aged ranks. In the end, Artsplace won all 16 of his encounters, lowered his mark to 1:49.2, won in 1:52 or faster eight times (including four times on 5/8 mile tracks), and added another $932,325 to his bankroll. These exploits led Artsplace to Aged Pacer, Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year for 1992.
Artsplace entered the breeding shed with a lifetime summary of 49 37-7-1 ($3,085,083), retired as the second-richest pacer of all time, and was the author of at least one world record in each of his three years of competition. It will be a while yet before we see his p, 2, 1:51.1f record equalled.
The First Year
One would expect that a sire of the stature of Artsplace would attract the very best in broodmares, and this was of course true. In fact, the response was so great that literally hundreds of mares were turned down by the Artsplace Syndicate. The first crop of Artsplace was absolutely astounding. From a total of 141 foals, Artsplace produced 55 in 2:10 (9th leading %-age sire) ... 53 in 2:05 (7th %-age sire) and 43 in 2:00 (2nd behind Jate Lobell as %-age sire). Even more remarkable, though, is the fact that Artsplace produced 16 freshmen in 1:55 (11.3%), and that six of these were fillies !!
There have been some great first-crop sires over the years, but only Jate Lobell (8 in 1:55 - 11.7% - 1991) has come close to producing this kind of early speed. Other notable first-croppers have been No Nukes (5 in 1:55 - 4.6% - 1986) ... Precious Bunny (4 in 1:55 - 4.5% - 1995) and Die Laughing (5 in 1:55 - 3.8% - 1995).
While speed may be a good indicator of siring ability, other considerations come into play when searching for a measure for greatness. Among these ... durability, soundness, heart and desire, classic race winners, the ability to produce top individuals from a variety of broodmare sires etc. etc. Artsplace has exhibited these traits - and more. For illustration, take a look at the accompanying chart:
Artsplace First Crop Performers
|Michelle's Jackpot (f)||1:54.4f||$ 548,975||B.G.'s Bunny|
|Stienam's Place (f)||1:53.4||505,268||Nihilator|
|Decor (f)||1:54||319,664||Jate Lobell|
|Tallulah Belle (f)||1:54.2||188,422||Nihilator|
|Tsunami Hanover (f)||1:53.4||159,658||Big Towner|
|Park Place||1:54.3f||128,274||Most Happy Fella|
|Fanciful Hanover (f)||1:55.3f||127,217||Tyler B.|
|Artistic Pleasure (f)||1:55f||124,576||Ralph Hanover|
|Cohiba Mary (f)||1:56.3f||81,373||Niatross|
|Dream Away||1:52.2||63,087||Forrest Skipper|
|Armbro Peachie (f)||1:55.4||54,193||Oil Burner|
|Da Big Man||Q1:56.4||49,438||Distant Thunder|
|Art In The Park (f)||1:56.4||48,245||No Nukes|
There are a number of observations that stand out among the first crop of Artsplace. First of all, his fillies were absolutely dominant among his performers. Michelleís Jackpot was a walk-over for 2-year-old Filly Pacer of the Year in 1996, and Stienamís Place also earned more than $500,000. Fully 10 of his top-15 money earners were fillies. And, the 15 performers were out of 13 different broodmare sires - one of the hallmarks of a great sire. Some will say that The Artsplace / Nihilator cross is "Golden", given that three of the top performers were out of Nihilator mares ... but I think we should wait a while before jumping too quickly onto that band-wagon.
By the end of 1996, the first crop of Artsplace had propelled him to seventh among the sires of juvenile performers - this from only 89 starters. This year, we will be tallying the earnings of those performers, and the Artsplace 2-year-olds of 1997. And, what a tally that will be!!
The Second Year
In 1997, Artsplace offspring have been nothing short of awesome. This was never more aptly illustrated than during the last month of racing at the Meadowlands. First, Dream Away won the Meadowlands Pace in 1:50.2, boosting his lifetime earnings to close to $650,000. (Dream Away has since finished second in his elim of the Adios, and won the final, only to be disqualified - a decision that is being appealed). Arturo has won over $500,000 as of this writing ... Park Place over $200,000 and JK Outlaw over $100,000.
Then, there was "Million Dollar Baby" week in early August. In the $604,800 Sweetheart Final, Natchitoches (Artsplace / Cajun Towner / Big Towner) was second to stablemate Clover Hanover in 1:52.2, and has since boosted her earnings to close to $300,000 on the young year. Three Artsplace fillies had qualified for the Sweetheart Final.
Two days later, Real Artist (Artsplace / Rodine Hanover / Big Towner) won the $765,750 Woodrow Wilson Final in 1:52, and now sports $400,000 in earnings after four starts.
To add the icing to an already very impressive cake, the $346,750 Mistletoe Shalee Final featured six Artsplace fillies (from six different broodmare sires), and was won in 1:51.2 by Stienam's Place, bumping her earnings to $750,000 lifetime. Five of these six fillies have earned over $100,000 already this year, and the aggregate total for just this group is $800,000 at this writing!!
Summary - for now...
Clearly, Artsplace is setting a standard that has been a long time coming for the world of Light Harness Racing. In a sport that has featured such perennial top sires as Cam Fella, Abercrombie, No Nukes and Jate Lobell (among others), Artsplace has - in my mind at least - accomplished what no sire has done since the incomparable Albatross gave us his first two crops 20 long years ago ... Artsplace has climbed to the top of the sport in all four possible categories - 2 & 3-year-old pacing colts & fillies!!
One can expect that the Artsplace offspring will continue to make their marks in the aged ranks in years to come. I don't think this to be a risky statement, for a number of reasons. First, his get have returned to the top of the 3-year-old class, even after racing with the elite of last year's freshmen ... thus exhibiting speed, durability and soundness. Second, Artsplace himself was one of the greatest ever aged pacers, and history has shown this to be a factor in siring such performers (Abercrombie, Cam Fella, Direct Scooter, Albatross). And finally, with his close connections to Abercrombie and Albatross, we should find in the Artsplace performers the combination of soundness, ability and heart necessary to achieve success against aged warriors.
In summary, Artsplace has given us top performers in every possible category over his first two years at stud. He has been a top percentage sire, has sired performers from a wide array of broodmare stallions and has produced multiple successful performers in each class. I do not believe this to be an anomaly. Artsplace has served notice that he is here to stay, and that he intends to make the pacing world ..... Artsplace.