This weekend’s classic preps brought a set of Kentucky Derby contenders into the foreground. At least they are contenders if anything can challenge the great bounding stag named American Pharoah in the 10-furlong classic on the first Saturday in May.
The biggest and most perfect is unbeaten Dortmund (by Big Brown), winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday. Both he and American Pharoah are trained by Bob Baffert, who has kept Dortmund at home and sent American Pharoah travelling for spring preps.
The sire of each colt showed classic form. Dortmund’s sire, Big Brown, won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness during his championship season, and American Pharoah’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile, was second in the Derby and got last season’s champion 2-year-old from his second crop.
While both the sires above have only a handful of crops, the sires of the winners of the Bluegrass Stakes and Wood Memorial are two of the best-known and most successful stallions in the world, Giant’s Causeway and Tapit.
A chestnut son of Storm Cat, Giant’s Causeway was a top-class performer with an outstanding constitution and unrivalled competitiveness. Now 17, Giant’s Causeway has sired an average of more than 140 foals with 12 crops of racing age.
A G1 winner at 2 and classic-placed in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket and in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at The Curragh, Giant’s Causeway won five G1 races at 3 and showed his form at up to 10.5 furlongs, although he was never tried over farther, and one of his most memorable races was a gallant second to Horse of the Year Tiznow in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Generally considered the best racing son of his famous sire Storm Cat, Giant’s Causeway has proven both an immodestly successful stallion and one who is distinctly different from his sire. The Storm Cats tend to breed toward power, speed, and precocity, but the stock by Giant’s Causeway tend to be leggier and lighter, with a noted tendency toward improvement with age and sturdiness in training.
In fact, among the graded winners this year by Giant’s Causeway, there is 7-year-old Imagining, as well as the 6-year-olds Irish Mission and Coltrane and the 5-year-old Top Juliette.
The sire’s 3-year-olds include the top juvenile filly from 2014, Take Charge Brandi, and the highly regarded Carpe Diem, who won the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall and returned to win the Blue Grass impressively.
Although Take Charge Brandi is on the sidelines, Carpe Diem has seized the day and will be one of the favored contenders for the upcoming classics. Once-beaten, in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Carpe Diem has earned the regard of handicappers, much as he impressed yearling and 2-year-old buyers.
The attractive chestnut brought $550,000 at the Keeneland September sale, and buyer Northwest Stud pinhooked Carpe Diem to the 2014 Ocala Breeders Sales March auction, where Stonestreet Stables signed the ticket at $1.6 million.
The colt races for the partnership of Stonestreet and WinStar Farm, and Carpe Diem was one of the stars at the OBS March sale last year. He scooted a furlong in :10 1/5, with the impressive rhythm and stretch that suggested he would improve greatly, and he ran with a stride length of 25 feet, which placed Carpe Diem in an excellent league and brought out the big guns when he went through the ring.
Not every good horse goes through to sale, though.
A Darley homebred, Wood Memorial winner Frosted (Tapit) never went through the sales, and he is clearly not as precocious as Carpe Diem. A maiden winner on Oct. 30 last fall, Frosted stepped up to finish second in the G2 Remsen a month later. So he had some class early on and then ran second in the Holy Bull earlier this year.
Victory in the Wood, however, was a major step forward for Frosted, who appears to be learning his lessons and progressing well toward the classics. He lurked near the rear of the field in the Wood, then made a determined run through the stretch that could be an important factor for negotiating the Derby trip.
Out of the Deputy Minister mare Fast Cookie, Frosted is part of an extended legacy because his dam was one of the mares that Darley purchased several years ago when acquiring the Stonerside operation in a deal that included its land, bloodstock, and racehorses. One of the latter was Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman, now a stallion for Darley at Jonabell.
A G2 stakes winner, Fast Cookie won the Cotillion at 3 and placed in other graded events, earning more than a half-million. Her dam, the Avenue of Flags (Seattle Slew) mare Fleet Lady, won the G2 El Encino and La Canada early in her 4-year-old season, and this is clearly a family with its fair share of speed and class.
Nor is the legacy of speed uncommon among the stock being prepped for the classics. All these classic prospects come from fast families, and it is guaranteed that some will find the distance of the Derby more of a challenge that they are prepared for at this point.
But one will rise to the occasion, and only he will wear the roses.