The Legacy Of Visionary Breeder ‘Ned” Evans Is Burning Brighter Than Ever

The following was written by Nancy Sexton

As the ultimate American racing showpiece, the Breeders’ Cup can be relied upon to provide its share of threads for discussion.

That is especially true from the perspective of those in the bloodstock industry, who walked away from this year’s event having seen it again pay tribute to More Than Ready, the sire of two winners in Roy H (Sprint) and Rushing Fall (Juvenile Fillies’ Turf), as well as Clarkland Farm’s wonderful producer Leslie’s Lady, the dam of Into Mischief and Beholder, whose latest 2-year-old, Mendelssohn, enriched the mare’s stud record yet further by landing the Juvenile Turf.

It was also a meeting of which the late Edward P. ‘Ned’ Evans, former chairman of Macmillan publishing, might have been particularly proud.

Evans bred over 100 stakes winners at his Spring Hill Farm in Virginia from 1969 to 2010, including Horse of the Year Saint Liam, multiple G1 winner Quality Road and Irish champion Minstrella, the controversial 1986 Cheveley Park Stakes winner who was the highlight of his period dabbling in Europe.

Many were the products of families integrated into Spring Hill over an extended period, and the subsequent cultivation and level of investment was such that today a Ned Evans family – among them those descending from Christmas Bonus, Execution, Flight Dancer, Intentional Move and Prayer Bell – remains easily recognisable and highly sought after. Nowhere was that more evident than the Evans dispersal sold at Keeneland through Lane’s End Farm after his death in 2010, which turned over $62,347,000 for 220 horses sold.

Gun Runner: furthering the influence of one of Ned Evans’ outstanding families. Photo by Ting Shen/Eclipse Sportswire

Intuition and intellect

“Mr Evans had a very long-term view,” says Chris Baker, manager of Spring Hill Farm for 11 years, “and the sole metric he used to measure all decisions was racing performance. He loved depth of pedigree, but performance was of paramount importance.

“He cultivated numerous families. All had specific traits for temperament, maturation rates, distance and surface aptitude – over time you learn how to accentuate the positive in all of them to maximize the chance for racing success.”

He adds: “He never bred commercially. His long-term view underlined his belief that racing performance was the best way to create commercial value and he was proven and is still being proven to be correct in his assessment. This philosophy, along with his intuition and intellect for breeding, racing and business in general, made him successful.”

Six years on following his dispersal and the Evans name continues to burn bright through the deeds of Quality Road, one of his last big runners, who is gaining real traction at stud at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky, and Gun Runner, a product of Evans’ outstanding Flight Dancer family, also responsible for Saint Liam. Both did their bit to ensure an Evans flavour at Del Mar’s Breeders’ Cup; Gun Runner’s romp in the Classic will live long in the memory, while Quality Road was represented as the sire of Juvenile Fillies’ heroine Caledonia Road.

Confidence in Quality Road

Bred by Evans out of Kobla, Quality Road had stood just one season at Lane’s End when Evans died in December 2010, aged 68. It says much for the power of the breeding operation at Spring Hill that the son of Elusive Quality went on to owe a lot of his early success to foals out of mares hailing from the Evans dispersal, among them Prix Morny runner-up Hootenanny (bred by Barronstown Stud out of More Hennessy, bought out of the dispersal for $360,000), G2 winner Blofeld (bred by Keats Grove Farm out of Storm Minstrel, bought for $150,000) and the G3-placed Seve’s Road (bred by WinStar Farm out of Silk Road, bought for $435,000).

Today, he is the sire of six G1 winners from four crops of racing age, among them this year’s Kentucky Oaks heroine Abel Tasman, the aforementioned Caledonia Road and Del Mar Futurity winner Klimt, who is about to start his own stud career at Darby Dan Farm. Three of them came in the past year, and as a result Quality Road is due to stand the 2018 season at $70,000, up from $35,000.

“Mr. Evans always had the utmost confidence in Quality Road to be the horse in racing and breeding that would finally make sense of the longstanding commitment he made to playing at the top of the game,” says Baker. “Given what Quality Road has done, I am confident that if Mr. Evans were still alive to be a part of his success he would in essence ‘double down’ and invest further to pursue his passion for racing.”

The stallion accounts for only a share of Evans’ posthumous influence, however. The 51 yearlings that grossed a total of $6,527,000 came to include G2 winner Valid (bought for $500,000 by John Ferguson), G3 winner Code West (bought for $340,000 by Ben Glass) and minor stakes winners Mail (bought for $470,000 by Mike Ryan) and Maleeh (bought for $350,000 by Shadwell Estates).

The mares were an altogether more explosive affair. Offered alongside the weanlings and horses of racing age, they were led by the G1 Ashland Stakes winner Christmas Kid, who commanded $4.2 million from Aisling Duignan on behalf of Coolmore while in foal to Bernardini.

The foal she was carrying at the time turned out to be Father Christmas, third in the 2015 G2 King Edward VII Stakes for Aidan O’Brien, and was followed by the Galileo colt Black Sea, successful in the 2016 Leopardstown 2,000 Guineas Trial. Coolmore also came away with the mare’s Elusive Quality weanling Michaelmas, a $525,000 purchase through Timmy Hyde who went on to be G3-placed.

Emerging force

Yet not every buyer needed deep pockets. Three Chimneys Farm paid $75,000 for Elusive Raven, subsequently the dam of G3 winner Lost Raven, while James Keogh as agent for N. L. P. Racing paid $100,000 for Here Music, dam of this year’s G2 Fair Grounds Oaks runner-up Wicked Lick.

Perhaps the real winner, however, was Benjamin Leon’s Besilu Stables, then a rapidly emerging force in the American market, who paid $11.4 million for six lots, the majority of whom represented Saint Liam’s family.

Top of the list was Saint Liam’s Giant’s Causeway half-sister Quiet Giant, a three-time stakes winner herself that year, who commanded $3 million. Leon also came away with two of her half-sisters in Dance Quietly, another young stakes winner who cost $2 million, and a Medaglia d’Oro weanling filly, Miss Besilu, who cost $2.6 million and later ran third in the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks and G1 Alabama Stakes. Completing the spree was Saint Liam’s dam Quiet Dance herself; then aged 18, she joined Besilu on a bid of $800,000.

“At the time of the dispersal, I strongly believed that the next ten years were going to be filled with greater racing and breeding accomplishments than the previous ten years for Mr. Evans and Spring Hill Farm,” says Baker. “Based on the performance of Gun Runner, Unified, Valid and many, many more at the races and Quality Road at stud, it looks like I might have been correct.”

There is a sadness that Saint Liam only lived long enough to sire one crop of foals at Lane’s End Farm, especially as one of that 98-strong group became Horse of the Year Havre De Grace. Another is So Sharp, the dam of recent G1 Cigar Mile winner Sharp Azteca.

However, his Flight Dancer family now has another high-profile shot of furthering its influence via a male in Gun Runner, bred by Leon out of the aforementioned Quiet Giant. The son of Candy Ride, who races for the partnership of Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, is the first foal out of Quiet Giant and followed by the placed Malibu Moon filly Quiet Flirt and a pair of fillies by Tapit.

Throwback to a former age

Evans purchased Flight Dancer, a granddaughter of champion Gallorette who ran third in the Queen Mary Stakes, during the 1970s. Her best foal was Minstrella, the Irish champion 2yo filly of 1986, although it is one of her lesser fillies, Misty Dancer, who features as the dam of Quiet Dance.

Top-class and durable, Gun Runner has packed in a career for Steve Asmussen that is almost a throwback to a former age. Third in the Kentucky Derby to Nyquist, he signed off his busy 3yo campaign by winning the G1 Clark Handicap and returned this year to run second in the G1 Dubai World Cup before sweeping the G1 Stephen Foster Handicap, G1 Whitney and G1 Woodward Stakes en route to his romp in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Plans now call for a career swansong in the Pegasus World Cup, after which he is scheduled to retire to Three Chimneys Farm at a fee of $70,000.

“Mr. Evans would have been extremely proud of how all of his families have carried on, especially Gun Runner’s accomplishments to date in racing and Quality Road’s accomplishments at stud,” says Baker.

“Quality Road was certainly a favourite horse but the development over generations of so many G1 winners and the way in which we were involved in every step of the process from matings to raising them to initial training then racing management and back to the farm as broodmares or stallions made the sense of engagement and accomplishment greater than I have ever seen elsewhere.”