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The following post appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.

The winner of Saturday’s Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream was Hymn Book, who scored by a nose over Mission Impazible (by Unbridled’s Song). The homebred son of Arch, bred and raced by Stuart Janney III, has progressed so much over the past 18 months that he was able to defeat two classic winners (Shackleford and Ruler on Ice) in the Donn, as well as one of the very best older horses from last year, Flat Out (Flatter).

In fact, Hymn Book signaled the direction his form was taking with a solid second to Flat Out in last summer’s G2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. Although beaten by 6 1/2 lengths in the Suburban, Hymn Book was in the mix with the better horses last season, and as the year progressed, so did his form.

In October, Hymn Book won the Firethorn at Belmont, and the following month, he ran a salty second behind To Honour and Serve in the G1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Clearly, the dark brown gelding out of Vespers (Known Fact) was taking steps in the right direction, and the Donn was his seasonal debut as a 6-year-old.

Improvement with age tends to be one of the qualities associated with the progeny of Hymn Book’s sire, the Kris S. stallion Arch, who stands at Claiborne Farm, and among Arch’s other upwardly mobile sons and daughters we find champions Arravale, Pine Island, and Blame.

Blame and Hymn Book are contemporaries; both are now 6. But whereas Blame showed himself a racer of high ability through the latter half of his 3-year-old season and progressed to championship level as a 4-year-old, at that time Hymn Book was still getting his act together.

An important change in moving Hymn Book forward as a racehorse was gelding him. In comments following the Donn, trainer Shug McGaughey said that Hymn Book wouldn’t have become a really good horse without being gelded, and now Hymn Book has made all the steps from maiden special winner to G1 winner.

Hymn Book is the eighth G1 winner by his sire, and the progeny of Arch generally show a preference for going two turns, as well as improving with maturity. In the extent of his improvement with age, Hymn Book is most like Les Arcs, another Arch gelding who became one of the early stars for his sire.

Racing primarily in Europe, Les Arcs progressed to win a pair of G1s at 6: the July Cup and Golden Jubilee Stakes in 2006. The same year, he was the highweight older horse in England from five to seven furlongs.

That Les Arcs was a sprinter also points out the range of talents that Arch can impart to his offspring. They are not dead-head plodders who only get into the game once the field has gone 10 or 12 furlongs. They can have some pace, can finish with power, and tend to act on turf or on dirt.

Prior to last fall, when Hymn Book won the Firethorn and ran so well in the Cigar, most of the gelding’s success had come racing on turf. One of the reasons that he would seem a natural for that surface is his broodmare sire Known Fact, who inherited victory in the 1980 2,000 Guineas on the disqualification of Nureyev. A good sire of 54 stakes winners, Known Fact got numerous horses with versatility who showed form on turf, including stakes winner Vespers, the dam of Hymn Book.

A winner in six of her 33 starts, Vespers won two restricted stakes and ran third in three more for earnings of $261,494. She is one of two stakes winners out of the Deputy Minister mare Sunset Service. The other is a full sister named Database.

Hymn Book is the first foal of his dam, and she had two blank years after, not bred and barren. Vespers has a 3-year-old colt by Eddington named Temako, a juvenile colt by the leading young sire War Front named Surging, and a yearling filly by Malibu Moon named Lunar Evening.

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