At 19 years old, Awesome Again still looks spectacular as the elder statesman at Adena Springs in Kentucky (Photo courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog).
Fifteen years after Awesome Again won arguably the toughest Breeders’ Cup Classic of all time, the stallion is still making an impact on the sport. But one must look at his race record to see exactly where the prolific stallion’s story began.
Raced by breeder Frank Stronach, Awesome Again was well into his third year when he finally hit the racetrack in 1997. After a failed first start at seven furlongs, in which he finished third, Awesome Again rebounded when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles. The colt ran away with the win, beating the rest of the field by six lengths at Hollywood Park.
Awesome Again then shipped to Canada to take on a field of 13 other Canadian-breds in the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s version of the Kentucky Derby. Awesome Again outclassed the field, winning easily by 3 ½ lengths before taking on all comers in the Jim Dandy Stakes and again easily beating the field by three lengths.
In the final two races of his 3-year-old season, Awesome Again suffered defeat at the hands of Deputy Commander when he finished a well-beaten third in the Travers. A month later, he finished off the board for the first time in the Super Derby, bringing an end to his year.
When Awesome Again returned in May of the following year, he was ready to fly. In a one-mile allowance race that was his first start for new trainer Patrick Byrne, he scorched the field by seven lengths before heading back up to stakes competition. His connections didn’t waste any time throwing him to the wolves, as he met the previous year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm in the race. If people weren’t sure of Awesome Again’s talent before the race, they definitely were after the Stephen Foster. He beat Silver Charm by a length with the rest of the field 5 ¼ lengths behind the top two.
Awesome Again won his next two races by a combined margin of six lengths, including his first Grade 1 win in the Whitney Handicap, before heading to the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap as a prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The race was nothing more than a paid workout as he was ridden out to an easy 1 ¾-length victory.
His next race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, was an all-star affair. It was the highlight of the year for racing fans, attracting a field of nine horses, including eight Grade 1 winners.
Even though Skip Away went off as the 1.90-to-1 favorite, it was anyone’s game with seven horses going off at 8.80-to-1 or less. Awesome Again was second to last during the early stages of the race and seventh with only a quarter-mile remaining. He rallied to fourth in early stretch and from there it was a four horse race to the finish. Awesome Again split horses in the closing stages and powered to the front for a win that left many breathless. The top five horses were all within about two lengths of each other, showing just how competitive the race was.
Courtesy of Breeders' Cup
There would be no return for the Classic winner as Awesome Again was retired a week after the Breeders’ Cup to Stronach’s Adena Springs for a fee of $50,000. Even though he had a standout year, Awesome Again lost out champion older male and Horse of the Year Eclipse Awards to Skip Away. Awesome Again retired $4,374,590 richer than when he hit the track with nine wins from 12 starts, the 11th richest Thoroughbred to race in North America at the time.
As a stallion, the impact Awesome Again has had on the farm since he retired is obvious to visitors as soon as they drive through the gates.
When one walks into the office attached to the stallion barn, they literally are walking into the barn that “Awesome” built. Inside the main set of doors is a portrait of the stallion looking over anyone that sits in the waiting area, while photos of his Breeders’ Cup Distaff-winning daughter Ginger Punch, a champion, adorn the wall. When one goes to the stable, visitors aren’t only greeted by Awesome Again, but also by his son Ghostzapper, who was the stallion’s first big horse.
In his first year at stud, Awesome Again hit a home run when Ghostzapper was conceived. Five years later in 2004, Ghostzapper went on to be the only Breeders’ Cup Classic winner sired by another Classic victor. He won Horse of the Year honors that year and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2012.
Awesome Again’s early successes led to increased popularity with breeders, first as a sire of fast racehorses and today as a high-profile sire of sires and coveted broodmares.
“He’s really gained [popularity] from the standpoint of him now starting to get this tag of possibly a sire of sires. It started relatively slow with Toccet, but even his horses did kind of come around and now you look at Awesome of Course who has done extremely well siring horses such as Awesome Feather,” said Eric Hamelback, Adena Springs’ General Manager.
“[Awesome Again’s] really become a breeder’s consideration from the standpoint of they’ll look at colts now at the sales in a little bit different light because if they have a strong female family, you’re all of a sudden not only looking at a good racehorse but a sire as well. There are several horses that are starting to get that relevance, and he himself, along with El Prado, getting that sire-of-sires look.”
As a sire, Awesome Again has produced two champions and countless stakes winners, including intensely popular geldings Game On Dude and Awesome Gem. Looking at his top 20 best progeny, nearly every racing age crop is represented on the list. The sire stands in the seventh spot on this year’s Leading General Sires list with Game On Dude contributing the most to his progeny earnings.
In 2013, Awesome Again has again had a standout year with Oxbow winning the Preakness Stakes and finishing second in the Belmont Stakes. He also made headlines as the sire of 2012 Haskell Invitational winner Paynter, who returned from a life-threatening illness to finish second in a Grade 2 race in July 2013 at Del Mar.
Awesome Again is 76th in the Broodmare Sire rankings this year, but Hamelback has seen an increase in his success on that end over the past few years with those outside the farm now seeing his daughters’ successes as well.
“Our statistics have shown that as a broodmare sire, he has really come on, and of course we kind of equate that to the Northern Dancer influence along with Touch Gold, both being by Deputy Minister,” Hamelback said. “We have seen that for the past few years now, and it’s starting to hit the mainstream as well.”
As a broodmare sire, Awesome Again can boast that his daughters have produced 237 winners, including millionaire and multiple graded stakes winning-mare Awesome Maria, for an outstanding win rate of 64-percent with just a few crops to race.
His sons also are keeping their end of the bargain with Ghostzapper leading the charge by sitting 21st on the Leading General Sires list and Awesome of Course producing Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Awesome Feather.
Even with all of his successes, Awesome Again is still the laid back horse he was on the track, making him a pleasure to be around for everyone involved in his care.
“He is about as laid back as a horse as you can find,” Hamelback said. “He very seldom gets upset, he’s one that’s very easy to be around, very easy to work with, which is a good thing. … At the end of the day, you can almost guarantee that nothing is going to disturb him, which is certainly good for his age and makes him a pleasure to be around for everybody.”
For Hamelback, the success that Awesome Again is having both as a sire and grandsire is something he expects to see for years to come.
“I think he will have a great effect on both the breed and the sport,” he said. “The breed because continually what we see is his toughness, his heart and his fire that continues that continues to get passed on from generation to generation. His average earnings per starter is amazing. When you look at that, that’s what we’re in this game to do, to produce racehorses. So as far as the breed, we certainly think that’s going to continue on.
“And his popularity as a fan, it comes back to that Breeder’ Cup Classic and how tough those last few races [were] in all graded stakes. I think for me, mostly I’m very happy that long after he’s gone, his stamp on the breed will be around.”
Looking at Awesome Again’s impact on the breed, it’s not hard to see what Hamelback sees regarding the horse’s future. Awesome Again not only made an impact on fans while he was racing, but he continued that impact through his foals when he hit the breeding shed.
Few other Breeders’ Cup Classic winners have been able to carry their momentum into retirement, with those rare stallions turning out to have a bigger impact on the breed than anyone could have imagined.