first yearlings by triple crown winner american pharoah continue the sire’s contribution to the commercial marketplace

Heeee’s back! The first crop of colts and fillies by 2015 Horse of the Year American Pharoah are already yearlings of 2018, and a wee sampling of them were cataloged for the Fasig-Tipton July sale on July 10.

During the horse’s first breeding season in 2016, the 2015 Triple Crown winner covered 208 mares, got 178 in foal, and has 163 yearlings, according to statistics from the Jockey Club online database. In addition, the bay son of Pioneerof the Nile (by Empire Maker) is expected to be the year’s leading sire of yearlings by average and gross, just as he was the leading sire of weanlings when his first foals went through the ring last season.

In 2017, 10 weanlings by American Pharoah sold for an average price of $445,500 and a median price of $387,500. The most expensive of those was a half-sister to Kentucky Derby second Bodemeister (Empire Maker) and thus more desirable for being bred on that same male line. She brought $1 million from Narvick International, agent, at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale.

Nine months farther along, there were a pair of fillies cataloged for the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale, although one was scratched from the offering. The filly set to sell was Hip 131, a Kentucky-bred born on Feb. 3 out of the Yonaguska mare Yong Musician.

This filly is a half-sister to a pair of stakes horses, G1-placed Kingdom Road (Bellamy Road) and G3-placed Co Cola (Candy Ride). The dam is a half-sister to Canadian champion Kimchi (Langfuhr), two stakes-placed performers, and to the dam of multiple G1 winner Mind Your Biscuits.

Like American Pharoah, 2015 champion older horse Honor Code (A.P. Indy) went to stud in 2016, was the second-leading sire of first-crop weanlings in 2017, and has a strong representation of first-crop offspring that are now yearlings. And like the son of Pioneerof the Nile, Honor Code had a single yearling, Hip 264, in the July sale at Fasig-Tipton.

This filly is an Arizona-bred is out of the Buddha mare Hisse, a multiple stakes winner of seven races and  $435,681. Hisse is one of three stakes horses out of her dam, including stakes winner Ahead of Her Time (Leestown), winner in seven of nine starts.

Both Honor Code and American Pharoah earned and received large books of high-quality mares. They are apparently siring stock that has considerable appeal to buyers of racehorses, as well as to their agents and advisers. And we can look forward to seeing many more of the yearlings by these young sires in the upcoming sales at Saratoga and at the Keeneland September auction.

As an indicator of the volume of young stock by these first-crop yearling sires, American Pharoah was bred to 214 mares during the 2017 breeding season, and the results of those matings will be known in coming months. The Triple Crown champ covered another large book of mares at Ashford this season and is in quarantine for transport to Coolmore Australia for the 2018 breeding season in the Southern Hemisphere.

Note: Hip 131 sold for $200,000 to JJ Crupi, agent, and Hip 264 sold for $100,000 to Quarter Pole Enterprises.


insurance to offset the risk of first-year infertility in stallion prospects may be getting more expensive outside kentucky

Stallion farms based outside of Kentucky will no longer easily be able to purchase first-year infertility insurance on stallion prospects that are “lesser-priced horses,” according to well-placed sources with connections to the insurance agencies and stallion operations.

Although not something that’s obvious to the general public, insurance against infertility is one of the nearly invisible layers of business that allows the great bloodstock machine to work smoothly year after year by protecting the investment and confidence of stallion operations and their syndicate members.

First-year infertility insurance is a policy written to protect a farm or buyer “in case you’ve syndicated a horse for major money that somehow has a congenital problem,” said Lynn Jones of Equus / Standardbred Station insurance. “These policies are written so that if a stallion isn’t able to get 60 percent of his mares in foal, then the farm or syndicate isn’t left holding the bag.”

Instead, by going through an insurance agent and underwriter, stallion buyers spread the risk of loss from that inevitability: the subfertile or infertile stallion. To arrange for a policy, Jones said, “You want a qualified vet to do the initial examination. They will measure the testicles, run a blood test, and the result is a huge protection device. But you can’t collect him or have a semen evaluation. Everyone goes in blindfolded, so to speak. It’s so commonplace that it’s now a built-in cost of the acquisition.”

The principal underwriters of insurance policies for horses, whether for accidental death (AD&D) or first-year infertility, are Lloyd’s of London, Great American, and NAS Swiss Re. These are giant international risk underwriters that back the insurance policies that local and national agents sell to farms or individuals.

One agent in Central Kentucky who preferred not to be named said that “Horse insurance, as a percentage of their equity underwriting, doesn’t amount to a rounding error to these major underwriters. But they perceive an elevated risk in regional markets relative to Kentucky and are being more selective.”

None of the selectivity applies to stallion operations in Kentucky because “we can be a little bit spoiled by the horse market and general environment here in the Bluegrass,” one agent said. “This is the epicenter of the stallion market. In regional markets, you can find variation in horsemanship – both in stallion and mare management, as well as in the availability of world-class veterinary facilities and specialists.”

As a result of this change of availability for first-year stallion fertility insurance, some regional breeders will have to make hard decisions about adding stallions to their rosters.

One regional breeder already has collided with this unexpected situation. He said, “Late last year, I bought a stallion prospect off the racetrack, called my Kentucky agent to get a quote for infertility insurance, and was told – eventually – that they had found an underwriter to cover it, but the rate was more than double what I would have paid the previous year.”

A well-known Kentucky agent said “it is likely to be more difficult for farms to insure stallions in the regional programs, but we can still get deals done. They might be more expensive, however, but if underwriters get a run of several years that do not generate claims, then they might change their views.”

One option for farms is to self insure, which essentially means to play the odds that your horse will have normal fertility. And Mark Toothaker of Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky said, “Spendthrift doesn’t insure any of its stallions against fertility loss. We don’t have a single horse on the farm insured. So far, we haven’t had a loss.”

And, despite the reluctance among some underwriters, there will be other underwriters available to service those who want to insure for first-year infertility, according to Jones.

He said, “We’ve been doing this since 1980, and, no matter the individual situation, there are underwriters you’ve been working with will take the time to write a policy for that animal.”

The policy just may cost something more.

This is one more dampening effect on the overall stallion market, which is none too robust outside the Bluegrass. Now, it has one more inefficiency to deal with.


sire lists and stallion earnings

“I don’t need to know nothing ‘bout no stinking stallion stats” is the too-frequent response of horse folk to comments about statistics attempting to evaluate stallion performance.

There are, however, a serious cadre of breeders and racing fans, even handicappers, who do appreciate the insights that can be derived from stallion stats, and racing has a long and interesting history of trying to do something with statistics.

At the most basic level, early observers of the sport compiled lists of winners and their victories, and then at the end of a racing season, they had in hand cumulative stats for the sires with the most winners and the most wins. These were some of the most popular lists in the 19th century and into the early 20th century.

Listings ranked by sires of winners make a lot of sense because if a stallion doesn’t get winners, who cares?

The next step in listing was the fundamental development of what we now call the general sire list: the rankings of stallions by earnings. At first, gross earnings proved too high a hurdle and most listings were for winners only and first money only; the Daily Racing Form, however, expanded its statistical reach to include earnings of all placings and all runners. That proved a significant improvement in the overall assessment of how horses were performing for their sires.

Greater subtlety came with the advent of the average earnings index and the standard starts index, which helped to assess how well a sire was doing in terms of progeny volume and in contrast to all other stallions with racers. Nifty stuff if you enjoy a good roll in data charts and statistical ink.

Interestingly, the most popular list to this day is the general sire list. Who the big dog is.

Of course, there are some serious caveats to using raw earnings to judge stallion value or success. One of the more laughable leading sires was Buckaroo, a handsome bay son of Horse of the Year Buckpasser. Although Buckpasser was a landmark racehorse and a most important stallion, his son Buckaroo was notable for only a couple of things and a couple of horses.

The most important thing about Buckaroo was his son Spend a Buck, winner of the 1985 Kentucky Derby, and the most important historical footnote about Spend a Buck was that he single-handedly (single-hoofedly?) caused the Triple Crown bonus to come into being.

The fleet frontrunning son of Buckaroo did this by not racing in either the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes. What, you say? Why didn’t he try for the Triple Crown?

Instead of following the great lure of history and tradition, the owners of Spend a Buck sent their classic winner to the Jersey Derby after the Kentucky Derby because, by winning that race, Spend a Buck would earn a big bonus.

It was the $1 million Garden State Bonus sponsored by Garden State Park for a horse to win their two Kentucky Derby preps, the classic, and then return to Garden State to win the Jersey Derby.

Nor did the timing of the races allow a horse to participate in the Preakness, then jump up the pike for the Jersey Derby. Nyet, comrade, the choice was tradition or bucks.

Spend a Buck was sent to Jersey for the money, and he got it. But he won the Jersey Derby narrowly in a hard-fought finish against a little-regarded bay gelding named Crème Fraiche.

In his next race, Crème Fraiche won the Belmont Stakes as the first great success of a distinguished career that included victories in the G1 Super Derby and two runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Spend a Buck subsequently won the Monmouth Handicap and retired with seasonal earnings of $3,552,704, a record at the time.

Not coincidentally, that pushed his sire to gross progeny earnings of $4,145,272, which was the second-highest gross progeny earnings ever to 1985. Yet Spend a Buck’s egregious portion of that haul, 85.7 percent, made certain that breeders approached Buckaroo with a shade of skepticism.

The son of Buckpasser proved a useful horse, siring the important sprinters Lite the Fuse and Montbrook, as well as 1986 Suburban Handicap winner Roo Art.

The result of the furor about Spend a Buck slipping out of town for the Jersey Derby and the big bonus was the development of the $5 million Triple Crown bonus, which was never awarded.

Today, we have a similar purse winnings irregularity. The Pegasus last year propelled 2016 champion 3-year-old Arrogate to leading North American money earner, then completely to the top of the international heap of money winners with his victory in the Dubai World Cup. As a result, Arrogate’s sire, the deceased Unbridled’s Song, led the general sire list for nearly the entire year and was leading sire by gross earnings.

Had Arrogate retired after the World Cup, he might well have been named Horse of the Year, but instead, the gray was returned to racing and suffered three consecutive losses, the last being behind subsequent 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In January, Gun Runner bade adieu to racing with victory in the 2018 Pegasus, and his sire Candy Ride still sits atop the leading sires list of 2018 with $10,830,558. That is not likely to be enough to get the general sires title this year because Scat Daddy, with Triple Crown winner Justify at the fore, is in second with $9,609,599 and surely a good deal more to come.

in the stephen foster, pavel strikes up the band for reddam, o’niell, mcmahon & hill

Fans of gray horses have long had the sharp, iron-gray Pavel (by Creative Cause) at the top of their lists among good-looking horses with talent. A winner of the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx as a 3-year-old, Pavel had next finished third in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.

Since then, the grand gray had continued to impress work watchers on the West Coast but had not added another stakes to his resume, finishing fourth in the G1 Malibu in late December. Even so, earlier this year, Pavel seemed ready to deliver on the massive talent he had advertised in his morning works.

pavel 22jun2018

— Pavel, shown galloping at Santa Anita on June 22, has been a striking feature of morning works since coming to the races. (Photo courtesy of O’Neill Racing Stable on Facebook)

Shipped to Dubai for the World Cup, Pavel ran a decent race to be fourth, and then he returned to his base at Doug O’Niell’s barn at Santa Anita and ran a fairish fourth to Accelerate in the G1 Gold Cup Handicap.

After that series of fourths, perhaps it was fitting that Pavel was the fourth choice in the G1 Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 16. He won by 3 ¾ lengths in 1:49.21 for the nine furlongs, and now he is a G1 winner.

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones & WinStar Farm LLC, Pavel is by the Airdrie Stud stallion Creative Cause, a son of Giant’s Causeway out of the Siberian Summer mare Dream of Summer. Pavel was produced from the unraced Maria’s Mon mare Mons Venus, who previously produced G2 winner Coracortado. The breeders sent their colt to the sales at Keeneland in November. There, breeder and bloodstock agent Mike McMahon picked him out of the lineup as one who was likely to succeed. McMahon & Hill Bloodstock bought the colt for $90,000, which was the high price for a weanling by the stallion in 2014.

McMahon said, “Pavel was a quite attractive foal, although he was always on the smallish side. I thought we got him a little cheaply because it was a foal share.” The new owners took the colt to the McMahons’ Spruce Lane Farm near Versailles, Ky., and put him in with the group they were raising for the following year’s auctions.

At the 2015 Keeneland September sale, however, “Pavel wasn’t the physical that the yearling buyers wanted at that time,” McMahon said. “This horse was a little thicker type, maybe a little heavy even, but he definitely has more of a Quarter Horse body than a lean body. As a yearling, I thought lack of scope was his Achilles’s heel.”

Since the partners were not planning on racing the colt themselves, they sought out a partner and found one in Ciaran Dunne, who trains horses for the sales of juveniles in training and consigns as Wavertree Sales.

McMahon continued. “After the yearling sale, Ciaran Dunne bought half of the horse, and we pointed the colt to the Fasig-Tipton sale at Miami. Pavel was an extremely easy horse to take to a 2-year-old sale because of his easy-going mental attitude and because of his physical soundness. We’d never had any issues with him. You wouldn’t know he was in the barn.”

The handsome gray progressed well in his training, and hopes grew high. Then, McMahon said, “He got cast in his stall just before going down to the sale, and it was a sufficiently serious situation that it took months to rehab him. Then he began showing so much on the training track that Dennis O’Neill bought him privately for Reddam Racing.”

Now, Pavel is a G1 winner of $1,175,000 from 10 starts. He is the second headline horse of 2018 for his sire Creative Cause. Earlier this season, the near-black My Boy Jack won the G3 Lexington Stakes and Southwest Stakes to be a prominent outsider among the colts in consideration for the Kentucky Derby.

A son of Giant’s Causeway who won the G1 Norfolk Stakes at 2, Creative Cause won the G2 San Felipe at 3, then was second in the G1 Santa Anita Derby and third in the Preakness Stakes. At stud, his offspring have shown more of a tendency to improve with age and distance like My Boy Jack and Pavel.

Pavel is expected to contest many of the premium events for older horses this year, and McMahon noted that the gray “was in the same yearling crop as Mopotism and Union Strike, all Grade 1 stakes horses from a group of 14.” In addition to this colt, McMahon & Hill bought Mopotism (Uncle Mo) $135,000 as a weanling, then sold the filly for $200,000 to J.J. Crupi, agent, at the Saratoga select yearling auction, and Crupi then sold her to Reddam for $300,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida March sale. Mopotism has won the G2 La Canada and finished third in the G1 Santa Margarita, La Brea, and Starlet. Union Strike (Union Rags) was a weanling purchase by McMahon & Hill for $170,000 as a weanling, was bought back as a yearling, and then sold for $375,000 to Ruis Racing at the OBS April sale of juveniles. She won the G1 Del Mar Debutante as a maiden.

McMahon & Hill clearly like nice horses, and they have another to cheer for with the good-feeling gray Pavel.

tracing the lines of the triple crown that have given us 2018 winner justify

Fifty years ago, Stage Door Johnny (by Prince John) saved us from having an asterisk-laden Triple Crown. In the Kentucky Derby five weeks earlier, Peter Fuller’s highly talented gray colt Dancer’s Image (Native Dancer) had defeated Calumet’s Forward Pass (On-and-On), then had been disqualified due to the presence of a metabolite of bute in the gray’s system.

Between the Derby and Belmont Stakes, Forward Pass had won the Preakness, and Fuller had decided to contest the disqualification from the Derby. To compound the situation, Dancer’s Image was retired after the Preakness with a sore ankle, and Forward Pass was the even-money favorite for the Belmont Stakes.

So, would Forward Pass win the Triple Crown if he won the Belmont? Well, that would depend on the courts. If there was a reversal of the initial ruling, Dancer’s Image would keep the Derby, and there could be no Triple Crown. How aggravating.

In the Belmont Stakes, Greentree Stable’s Stage Door Johnny saved the sport years of hand-wringing by catching Forward Pass at the eighth pole and winning by a length and a half. When the legal wrangling over the Derby ended several years later, few people, aside from the principals, cared.

Stage Door Johnny went unbeaten in his two final races, and he was named champion of the division in the Daily Racing Form and the Thoroughbred Racing Association polls. Prince John, the colt’s sire, was generally recognized as the second-best stallion son of the famed sire Princequillo at stud behind only Horse of the Year Round Table.

Both were high-quality sons of that important classic sire Princequillo and sired numerous stakes winners; they have lived on to the present, however, primarily through their daughters.

Forward Pass was named champion of the 1968 3-year-old division in the Turf and Sport Digest poll, and he was the only classic winner or champion by his sire. On-and-On wasn’t even the third- or fourth-best son of his sire, the great Nasrullah, who had been the dominant sire in America from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. From that point, Nasrullah’s own stock had aged out of the racing pool (because Nasrullah died in 1959), and his most important stallion son, Bold Ruler, had taken his position as leading national sire, a distinction which he earned eight times.

The other sire in the Triple Crown saga 50 years ago was Native Dancer. Despite siring some good horses, Dancer’s Image wasn’t a world-changing influence for the breed. Another son of Native Dancer, however, was beginning a major rise to success.

Ranked at the top of the Experimental Free Handicap and named champion of his division by Turf and Sport Digest, Raise a Native was unbeaten at 2, his only season to race. Retired to stud at Spendthrift Farm, Raise a Native had his first crop of 3-year-olds in 1968. Among them was Exclusive Native, winner of the 1968 Arlington Classic, was a talented chestnut colt bred and raced by Harbor View Farm.

Raise a Native’s second crop included Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince, and nine years later, Raise a Native’s son Alydar ran second in each of the Triple Crown races. The winner of the 1979 Triple Crown was Exclusive Native’s son Affirmed.

An exact contemporary of Raise a Native, both foaled in 1961, was a crop behind the chestnut son of Native Dancer. This was Northern Dancer, a son of the Nearco stallion Nearctic and out of the Native Dancer mare Natalma.

These two descendants of Native Dancer proceeded to turn the classic scene into their province by the late 1970s. Although Northern Dancer did not sire a single winner of a Triple Crown race in the States, his son Nijinsky became a Triple Crown winner in England, and Nijinsky and other sons of Northern Dancer became the greatest competitors for the American classics against the sons and grandsons of Raise a Native.

The greatest casualty in this wave of success from Northern Dancer and Raise a Native was the Bold Ruler–Nasrullah line of racers. The lines of Phalaris, however, from whom all these horses descend, tend to ebb and flow like tides of the ocean.

Over the last 20 years, the greatest rise in fortune has come to the Bold Ruler line through A.P. Indy and other stock by 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Part of this rise in prominence has come through 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, the broodmare sire of A.P. Indy, Gone West (Mr. Prospector), and Storm Cat (Storm Bird).

On June 9, Justify gave Storm Cat’s male line (Northern Dancer branch of Nearco – Phalaris) its first Triple Crown in the U.S. That first success, however, was well supported by the sire lines responsible for the Triple Crown winners of the 1970s (Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed), as well as American Pharoah.

Two Triple Crown winners are from the Nasrullah–Bold Ruler branch of Nearco-Phalaris; two are from the Raise a Native – Native Dancer branch.

In his pedigree, Justify is inbred to Raise a Native’s son Mr. Prospector four times; Northern Dancer is there through Nijinsky (four times), Vice Regent, and Storm Bird, the male-line strand that goes to Justify. And Bold Ruler is present at least a half-dozen times, with Nasrullah showing up a half-dozen times more.

So the sire lines of yesterday are woven together in the Triple Crown winner of today. Will all these vital elements, energized by the important sire Scat Daddy, make up the leading sire of tomorrow?

without the quick thinking and action of representatives for don alberto, champion unique bella might have gone unsold


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Sometimes, breeding top-class horses looks so easy. Just take three-time leading sire Tapit (by Pulpit) and breed him to a mare who won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and there you have it, champion Unique Bella, who won the Eclipse Award as the best sprint filly of 2017.

Doesn’t that look simple?

Unique Bella makes it look easy, but breeding a champion is rarely that way. All the pieces of the great bloodstock puzzle have to fall the right way, and then a good mental attitude, good training, good health, and a sizable dose of good fortune may allow the young athlete to show its ability.

Unique Bella, for instance, is the second foal of her dam, the gray Unbridled’s Song mare Unrivaled Belle, a Grade 1 stakes winner of $1,854,706. The mare’s first foal, a filly by leading sire Medaglia d’Oro named Meseika, has not raced. The mare’s third foal, a filly by leading sire Malibu Moon named Relicario, has not hit the board in six starts in Japan and has earned only a little more than 1 percent of her purchase price of $550,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale.

On the other hand, Unique Bella has won 8 of 11 starts, with two G1 victories, and has earned $1,092,400.

As a producer, however, Unrivaled Belle is doing better than average. About 60 percent of foals each year make it to the races, and the producer has 67 percent with her two from three. Slightly more than 40 percent of all foals win races, and to this point, Unrivaled Belle is behind par with 33 percent.

The big marker, of course, is the production of stakes winners, which is about 3 percent of all foals annually. Unrivaled Belle is perched loftily 11 times higher than that statistic, with 33 percent stakes winners and that one being a G1 winner and champion.

The mare doesn’t have a 2-year-old; so these general statistics won’t change soon.

Unrivaled Belle has long been considered an elite horse. As a broodmare prospect at the 2011 Keeneland November sale, the G1-winning gray sold for $2.8 million to Brushwood Stable.

Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella sold for $400,000 as a yearling at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling auction. That price was $190,000 less than Tapit’s yearling average that year of $590,000. So just how did that happen?

Reiley McDonald from Eaton Sales, which consigned Unique Bella, said that “we had nearly 150 lookers at Unique Bella, but we had only one bidder that made one bid. That was Don Alberto.

“When the filly was in the ring and not making a lot of money, they sent a fellow to ask about her vet work, which was entirely clean, and they managed to get one bid in before the bidding stopped, because that was her reserve.

“They were thinking quick on their feet, and they bought one of the best racehorses in training today.”

Quick thinking from the Don Alberto group landed them a sales coup. From a brief juvenile campaign of two starts, Unique Bella emerged as a winner and then began her climb through her 3-year-old season that made her champion sprint filly last season.

The year after Unique Bella sold as a yearling, Eaton Sales consigned Unrivaled Belle to the Keeneland November sale in foal to Tapit on a Feb. 20 cover, and the gray mare brought $3.8 million from Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm, and Whisper Hill is the breeder of the mare’s yearling full sister and 2018 full brother to Unique Bella.

Repeating the cross with Tapit that worked so fortuitously with Unique Bella was obviously going to be a strong interest for owner-breeder Pope, who has purchased such top-end broodmares at Havre de Grace, Plum Pretty, and Songbird, as well as Rhumb Line, the dam of G1 winner Zazu, by Gainesway Farm’s premier stallion, Tapit.

A few days before the filly’s victory in the G1 Beholder Stakes at Santa Anita on June 2, Gainesway’s Michael Hernon watched Unique Bella schooling at the gate and reported, “Unique Bella is a big, strapping filly. She has good bone and height, as you’d expect from a filly out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, and she is maturing mentally. That gate work seems to have paid off because she broke flawlessly from the gate in the Beholder.”

Big filly, big speed, big talent. And now she’s a big draw for the sport wherever she starts.

lookin at lucky is one of several sons of smart strike who are expanding that mr. prospector stallion’s lasting influence


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Accelerate (by Lookin at Lucky) won the Gold Cup Handicap on May 26 to pair with his Santa Anita Handicap, both Grade 1, and those victories make him look like the best older horse on the West Coast at 10 furlongs, at least unless West Coast (Flatter) comes out of hibernation and asserts some of his best form.

On the East Coast, Money Multiplier (Lookin at Lucky) won the G2 Monmouth Stakes, racing nine furlongs on turf to raise his total earnings to $1.2 million.

The two winners above, along with Dr. Dorr (second in the Gold Cup), have marked this as a powerful weekend for Ashford Stud stallion Lookin at Lucky, a son of multiple leading sire Smart Strike and a winner of the Eclipse Award as top of his division at 2 and 3, when he also won the G1 Preakness Stakes.

Despite being such a good juvenile himself, Lookin at Lucky tends to get stock that improve with age and distance, and frequently they show some added class on turf.

The gods of racing (and breeding) do not reveal how the transmission of athleticism and racing vigor works it way from generation to generation. Breeders try to read the runes of inscrutable pedigrees, and the secret sits in the darkness outside the pale light from our torches. And laughs.

That has been the status quo of our knowledge of inheritance and genetics for a century. Oh, yes. We have made advances in understanding what genes and chromosomes are and tinkering out some of the mysteries of how they work, and we have decoded genomes of this critter and the other. Sort of.

We still know more about shadows than substance.

Take, for instance, the situation one sees with the sons of the Mr. Prospector stallion Smart Strike. A winner in six of eight starts, Smart Strike wouldn’t have been a stallion prospect of any significance, except for the two races he won in July and August 1996. In July at Monmouth Park, the sleek bay won the Grade 3 Salvator Mile by 2 1/4 lengths for owner-breeder Sam-Son Farms and trainer Mark Frostad.

Smart Strike had won four races in sequence previously in maiden and allowance company, and he had been impressive enough that even with a jump into a graded stakes, the colt started as the odds-on choice, and he performed like it. In his next start, the G1 Phillip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth a month later, Smart Strike was the third choice against a notably saltier field that included champion and race favorite Serena’s Song (by Rahy), major winner Eltish (Cox’s Ridge), Petionville (Seeking the Gold), and Our Emblem (Mr. Prospector), later the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem.

On the day, Smart Strike won by 2 ¼ lengths from Eltish, Serena’s Song, and Petionville in 1:41.59 for 1 1/16th miles. That was strong form, and when the bay son of Mr. Prospector raced for the G1 Woodward Stakes in three weeks, he was second favorite to Horse of the Year Cigar. The latter won the race, and Smart Strike, after battling on or near the lead for a mile, then “weakened” in the final furlong to be fourth.

That was Smart Strike’s eighth and final start, and he went to stud at Lane’s End as yet another talented son of Mr. Prospector, and there was no shortage of those standing around Kentucky, or even at Lane’s End, which also stood the Mr. Prospector horse Kingmambo.

All in all, Smart Strike wasn’t the best-looking, not the biggest, nor the fastest, and not even the fanciest pedigreed son of his famous sire. But over time, Smart Strike has proven marvelously successful at siring high-class horses and at propelling his genetic values into the succeeding generations through his sons and daughters.

At stud today, there is no question that the leading son of Smart Strike is Horse of the Year Curlin, currently 6th on the general sire list in North America and perennially a sire with stock who contend for the premium races around the country. Getting one really good son is more than most stallions manage, and having two (Curlin and Lookin At Lucky) in the top 20 is a significant accomplishment. Having a third in the top 30 sires (champion English Channel) seems to be establishing a trend, and then Smart Strike’s son Square Eddie – a high-class winner of the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at 2 – is just about the most successful stallion standing in California.

Smart Strike’s continuation through such a diverse but high-quality group of sons, plus some good producing daughters, indicates that his genetic contribution is a positive one, and yet we find ourselves nearly as much in the dark about why and how this transmission of excellence works as breeders did a century ago.

virgil was noted for delicate frame and excellent disposition; became a major 19th century sire for preakness stud

Interest in the earlier essay on the 19th century stallion Virgil prompted me to dig up a bit more information about the horse. The following comments are from the Thoroughbred Record correspondence of James McCreery, who was in some management position with the breeding and racing stock of the Sanford family, which owned Virgil. McCreery variously described his role as overseer or manager, and it is sufficient that he knew the horse first-hand, as well as the people who looked after him.

McCreery’s observations are presented as found, with exceptions noted in brackets:

Virgil was of frail mould, and docile as a foal, yet, nervous; stood 15 hands,  2 1/2 inches, lengthy, fine head, good length of neck, oblique shoulders and withers, body round, loin and quarters good, depth of girth and width of hip fair, breast wide, forked a trifle so. If any point seemed unbalanced, he was a trifle leggy. Never overfleshy, nor weighed a thousand pound.

During my two years a superintendent there, no one ever saw Virgil lying down to sleep, either day or night, [instead, he was either] standing, seemingly asleep, or walking in the circle he wore in his box.

When the breeding season began closing, the custom there was to Virgil about the fields to detect mares which were returnable. Two grooms with poles followed to keep venturesome foals and their fighting dams from injury.

This jet black horse, whose forehead was illumed with a star, large, snow-white, midway of his sightless eyes, was installed the premier monarch of the [Preakness] stud.

[Sanford’s Preakness Stud was subsequently incorporated into Elmendorf Farm, and Virgil had been buried on that property when he died, age 22.]

glennwood farm’s justify looks the part and has ‘triple crown’ in his genes

Now a dual classic winner with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the saga of unbeaten Justify (by Scat Daddy) is bookended by major mares both today and at the beginning of the 20th century.

Justify’s dam, like the colt himself, was bred in Kentucky by John Gunther’s Glennwood Farm near Versailles. Gunther’s daughter Tanya runs the operation, and she noted that “Justify does in fact look a lot like his mum,” the stakes-placed Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, and “Stage Magic possibly has more musculature than her dam,” the Pulpit mare Magical Illusion.

“Stage Magic is an attractive mare with good size and scope,” Tanya Gunther said, “and is a bright chestnut with a white blaze. Magical Illusion (second dam of Justify) was also a good-sized chestnut (darker chestnut) mare with a blaze,” although the second dam’s blaze was narrower, Gunther noted.

Glennwood’s good pair of racemares and producers trace back in the female line to a couple of mares who were important in the development of major American bloodlines.

james r keene and foxhall left

— James R. Keene (center) and his son Foxhall (left) purchased and imported the English-bred mare Sundown, then bred her to Keene’s favorite horse, Domino, who appears multiple times in Justify’s pedigree.

At the other end of this family’s experience in America, the broodmare Sundown was bred in England by J.H. Houldsworth, foaled in 1887 by the good sire Springfield out of Sunshine, by the 1860 Derby winner Thormanby. With an Ayrshire colt of 1893 at side and back in foal to 1891 English Triple Crown winner Common, Sundown was sold to the American breeder and racing man James R. Keene and his son Foxhall Keene.

The colt at side was later named Peep O’Day, and the bay colt became a multiple stakes winner and then a sire. His best-known offspring was the top-class race filly Milkmaid, winner of the 1919 Pimlico Oaks and 22 other races.

Five years after producing Peep O’Day, Sundown foaled a filly by the Keenes’ premier sire Domino, and that filly was named Noonday.

A stakes winner at 2, Noonday became a very important producer with five stakes winners from her foals. Among these were High Noon (Voter), winner of the Toboggan Handicap, and his full sister Suffragette, winner of the Junior Champion Stakes.

A third stakes winner out of Noonday was Hudson Stakes winner High Time, a very handsome and very fast son of the Domino grandson Ultimus. Ultimus was one of the most closely inbred stallions of significance in the breed, with Domino as the sire of both his sire and dam, and High Time was out of the Domino mare Noonday, making High Time inbred to the “Black Whirlwind” 3x3x2.

High Time was arguably an even better sire than Ultimus and perhaps better than any other sire from the Domino male line, except for Domino’s son Commando, the sire of Colin, Celt, and other notables.

Leading national sire in 1928, High Time also led the broodmare sire list in 1936 and 1940. His best-known racer was the top-class performer Sarazen, a top 2-year-old and winner of one of the great international specials.


— Colin was probably Keene’s best racehorse. The unbeaten and most celebrated son of Domino’s best son Commando won all 15 of his races, and his daughter Noontide is the 11th dam of Justify.

Noonday’s foal of 1915 was Noontide, a daughter of the unbeaten Colin mentioned above. A marvel on the racecourse, Colin was a shy breeder, had only 83 reported foals as a result, and yet is represented widely in pedigrees through a minority of these descendants, including our current classic winner.

The female family of Justify went through the hands of some of the country’s leading breeders, such as Wickliffe Stud that owned Colin for a time, Ethel Jacobs (wife of trainer Hirsch Jacobs), Louis B. Mayer, Leslie Combs, Elizabeth Graham’s Maine Chance Farm, Farnsworth Farms in Florida, and Joseph Allen, who bred the classic winner’s second dam Magical Illusion (Pulpit).

Glennwood Farm acquired Magical Illusion at the 2005 Keeneland January sale for $425,000 as a broodmare prospect. One of four stakes-placed racers out of G3 stakes winner Voodoo Lily (Baldski), Magical Illusion had won three of six starts and finished third in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks behind Ashado.

The mare’s second foal for Glennwood was Stage Magic, by Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and the chestnut filly ran second or third in four stakes, including the G3 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park.

Stage Magic’s first foal for Glennwood was The Lieutenant (Street Sense), who won the G3 All American Stakes at Golden Gate on May 28, and Justify is the mare’s third foal. Since then, Stage Magic has a 2-year-old filly by Pioneerof the Nile named Egyptian Storm, a yearling colt by Will Take Charge, and a colt of 2018 by Pioneerof the Nile.

And the line that led to our potential Triple Crown winner of 2018 began with the Keenes’ purchase of a well-bred young mare in foal to an English Triple Crown winner more than a century ago.

the unimagined success of virgil

The important 19th century stallion Virgil was bred in Woodford County by H.C. Gratz of Spring Station. Foaled in 1864, the black horse was by the Glencoe stallion Vandal. The latter was bred by R.A. Alexander at his Woodburn Stud north of Lexington, Ky., where he stood Glencoe, the all-conquering Lexington, Vandal, and others. Foaled in 1850, Vandal became an important sire in his own right, and his most important breeding son was Virgil.

In the spring and summer of 1864, the nation was consumed with matters of greater weight than the foal out of Hymenia, by the imported stallion Yorkshire. Even with the Civil War in the rear-view mirror, Virgil was not raced as a 2-year-old but did come to the races at 3, when he raced with distinction but was thumped emphatically by the 1867 Belmont Stakes winner Ruthless, who defeated him for the Sequel Stakes at Saratoga, racing two miles in 3:37 1/2.

Racing historian James H. McCreery saw the race and offered up two columns of recollections of the racehorse and sire in the Thoroughbred Record of March 10, 1917. Virgil ended his racing career as a steeplechaser in 1871, and McCreery, who was overseer or farm manager of Milton Sanford’s Preakness Stud outside Lexington, said that at this time, “Sanford boarded his mares and stallions at T.J. Nicholas’s place near Paris, Ky., and under the management of Nelson Dudley, an aged Kentucky gentleman who disdained accepting recompense for his services, having experience of 60 years in the line of stock breeding.”

While at this farm, there was some sort of “epidemic,” McCreery recalled, that affected the other stallions but not Virgil. “Consequently, some of the mares allotted to [Baywood, Glenelg, and King Lear] could not be bred, causing Dudley to breed them to Virgil.” All four of the mares were by Lexington, McCreery wrote, and all the resulting foals were stakes winners, including 1876 Kentucky Derby winner Vagrant.

McCreery recalled that Sanford didn’t much appreciate the change in plans and ordered Dudley to send any of them not in foal to R.A. Alexander’s stud farm, presumably for breeding to other stallions.

All were in foal.

Before the happy results of these matings became racing lore, Dudley persuaded Sanford to get rid of Virgil, telling one intermediary to Sanford that “if he don’t get rid of Virgil, I will turn him loose on the pike.” Sanford gave the horse to B.G. Bruce of Lexington, who then sold or gave a half-interest in the horse to J.T. Williams of Eminence, Ky., where Virgil “was broken to harness and also ridden as a saddle horse.”

This was presumably in 1872 or -73, and after the foals by Virgil showed such high class, Sanford went looking for the formerly despised stallion.

Bruce bought Williams’s half-interest for $800 and “refused to accept anything for his half from Sanford,” McCreery wrote. Not too long after, Sanford told the writer that “I have been offered $30,000 for Virgil by Gen. Harding of Belle Meade Stud (in Tennessee), and I told him the horse was not for sale.”


tremont illustr

Tremont – the unbeaten juvenile sensation by Virgil reeled off 13 victories without defeat for the Dwyer Bros. racing stable but did not stand further training and racing


Virgil sired many notable performers, including the great champion Hindoo and the unbeaten juvenile Tremont, who is memorialized in a stakes at Belmont Park. McCreery said that the “black thunderbolt, Tremont, he too, frail as was his sire, but speedier, and a victor in an easy fashion of sweepstakes, 13, in his colthood of 2 years, on dry, sloppy or heavy going, and it mattered not to him.”

McCreery related what would have made a difference, however.

In 1879, when training for the brothers John and William Sanford, McCreery went in search of a steeplechaser for them and was told about a 3-year-old filly by Alarm. “When I saw her, she suited my requirements as far as looks as an ideal steeplechase mare — lengthy, broad and deep-girthed, but unfortunately she was over nervous, and continually walked to and fro, from side to side of her paddock, which caused me to conclude she would not suit.”

Her name was Ann Fief, and she did become a broodmare for Daniel Swigert, however, producing Tremont in 1884. The black colt was unbeaten in 13 sprints at 2, the only season he raced.

In addition to Tremont, Virgil sired three Kentucky Derby winners: Vagrant (1876), Hindoo (1881), and Ben Ali (1886).

McCreery related a story about the second of these, heroic Hindoo. “During the month of March of 1877, Daniel Swigert sent six mares to be bred at the Preakness Stud. Among them was Florence. All shockingly thin and weak, and nearly exhausted by their long travel [they weren’t vanned over], causing the following message from his old friend Dudley to Swigert’s groom. ‘You go back and tell Dan Swigert that if he ever sends more mares here looking like them, we won’t let them in the gates.'”

Despite their lack of blooming condition, “Virgil was bred to the bright chestnut Florence, thereby producing the mighty Hindoo, in color a bay, and probably the best horse descending through this pedigreed line.”

Virgil died in 1886, aged 22, “and was laid beneath the sod of bluegrass he nipped from when a suckling, and grazed on when aged and blind, on the rolling farmlands that he assisted in making famous after his exile.”