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By Amy Nesse
On the morning of June 13th 2017, it was officially announced that 3-year-old Mastery, the undefeated G1 winning son of Candy Ride was to be retired to stud at Claiborne Farm. He had suffered a condylar fracture to his left front leg after impressively winning the G2 San Felipe Stakes in March.
In his brief career, Mastery was nothing short of brilliant. In 4 career starts came 3 graded stakes wins. He sensationally captured the G1 Los Alamitos Cashcall futurity, the G3 Bob Hope Stakes, and the G2 San Felipe Stakes and became the clear favorite for the Kentucky Derby as he crossed the wire in the San Felipe, but fate stepped in and it was not to be. And now only time will tell if his offspring will later carry on his short lived success on the track.
The brief, yet brilliant career and untimely retirement of Mastery reminds me of another bay colt who also retired to Claiborne Farm after just 3 career starts, but later became nothing short of a Thoroughbred legend in the breeding shed, his name was Danzig.
Like Mastery, from the beginning, Danzig was a promising prospect. He was sired by the Canadian Champion and legendary sire, Northern Dancer and was out of the stakes winning Admiral’s Voyage mare, Pas de Nom. Bred by Marshall Jenney’s Derry Meeting Farm and William S. Farish, he was born on February 12, 1977 in Pennsylvania.
Though perhaps on the smaller side, Danzig caught the eye as a promising colt with quality and charisma. As a yearling the small bay colt was bought for the considerably high price of $310,000 at the 1978 Saratoga yearling sale by Calumet Farm owner, Henryk de Kwiatkowski.
The Polish-born businessman named the bay colt Danzig, which is the German name for the city of Gdańsk in Poland. From there, Danzig began training under the tutelage of legendary trainer Woody Stephens. Stephens took an immediate liking to the colt, and he quickly began to discover the young colt’s talent.
Danzig made his career debut as a 2-year-old in a Maiden Special Weight at Belmont Park. He won unchallenged, winning by 5 lengths, finishing just 3/5ths off the track record for 5 ½ furlongs and immediately caught attention.
Danzig did not make another start as a 2-year-old due to bone chips in his knee. His next start came as a 3-year-old in an allowance race at Aqueduct and 2 weeks later an allowance at Belmont Park. He won both in almost track record time and with spectacular ease.
But to the devastation of Woody Stephens, Danzig’s hard, bounding stride took it’s toll on his young legs and he was plagued by unsoundness with bone chips and soreness throughout the entirety of his career which constantly was preventing him from working and making more starts.
Woody Stephens and Henryk de Kwiatkowski made the difficult decision of retiring the young colt. Stephens, who was convinced the colt had more unseen brilliance, knew he had significant potential as a sire. Syndicated for $80,000, Danzig entered stud at the prestigious Claiborne Farm, with the bloodlines and track record indicating he was an exceptional new member to their roster. The stout son of Northern Dancer, soon proved he was.
Danzig started off his second career with a bang, rising to the top of the freshman sires list by progeny earnings and that year’s sires of 2-year-olds list. In his first crop came 3 Grade 1 winners including Contredance, Stephan’s Odyssey, and 2-year-old Champion Chief’s Crown, who won the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Danzig quickly became a popular name in the breeding industry and he was just getting started.
Danzig became the first stallion since Claiborne’s Bold Ruler in the 1960s to head the sires list three consecutive years in 1991, 1992, and 1993. He ranked among the top 10 American sires on 5 other occasions. He also made it to the top 10 American broodmare sires 3 times.
For Claiborne Farm, Danzig was living royalty. As a stallion he resembled his sire, at full maturity he stood at just 15.3 hands high. Though stout, he had brilliant quality with magnificent scope and balance and was very pleasing to the eye. Although some of his knee issues had a tendency to pop up in his offspring, he made up for it by passing on his superb balance and quality.
Over the course of his long career at stud, Danzig would go on to sire an amazing 687 winners (62.5%) and 198 stakes winners (18.0%) 107 graded stakes winners,and 10 champions from 1099 named foals. To list off most of his impressive runners would take up the entirety of this column, but some of his most notable progeny include Lure, Dance Smartly,War Chant, Pine Bluff, and European champions Dayjur and Anabaa.
Danzig made an even further impact as a sire of sires producing major sire Danehill, who became the first Thoroughbred in history to sire over 300 stake winners. He also sired Canadian Champion Langfuhr who, in turn, sired the Canadian Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year, Wando and Green Desert, who produced champions Oasis Dream, Ouija Board, Sea The Stars, and Kingman amongst his descendants.
Danzig also made a mark as a broodmare sire with his daughters producing horses like Fusaichi Pegasus and Dancethruthedawn among many others.
To fully describe Danzig’s lasting impact at stud would be a task indeed, but to put it simply, his legacy continues to run fluid through his offspring and will likely last for centuries more.
Claiborne’s beloved Danzig stood at stud there for the entirety of his breeding career until the decision was made to pension him in 2004 due to declining fertility. He lived on happily at Claiborne and was regularly visited by many until his last days. The mighty stallion was put to rest at the ripe old age of 29 in 2006 due to the infirmities of old age. It was the passing of a legend. Though he never proved it through stake wins, championship titles, or track records, he blessed us with his glorious bloodlines and continues to do so through his sons and daughters.
Sometimes fate steps in and a thoroughbred champion’s destiny lies elsewhere than the track. Danzig, among others, is a perfect example of that. Though we would be unwise to expect such promise from Mastery as a stallion, his retirement, though unfortunate, brings glimmers of hope and anticipation for the young phenomenon. Will he further prove his brilliance through his offspring? Time will tell, but it’s something I looking forward to finding out.
“Pick 6 King Jonathan Stettin saw Danzig race in person, he was one of his faves and agrees he could have been any kind!”