(Work came before blogging; therefore there is a bit of a backlog. Hope you enjoy!)
Whatever one thinks of the form in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby on April 18, it takes a lot of guts and natural ability to jump from a maiden victory to a graded stakes success, and winner Whiskey Ticket (by Ghostzapper) is now unbeaten in two starts.
Coming from the Bob Baffert training operation, Whiskey Ticket is the trainer’s third Derby winner in the last three weeks, following Dortmund in the Santa Anita Derby and American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby.
Like them, Whiskey Ticket will be shipped to Churchill Downs for training but that’s all in his case, and that is surely the right approach. Unraced till March 19, when the colt won his début in a mile maiden special at Santa Anita, Whiskey Ticket is clearly a talented and progressive young athlete, but like his famous sire, he will probably benefit from sitting out the classics.
There is, in fact, a tradition in this male line for giving the classics a miss but not missing out on finding their best form.
Ghostzapper was a massively talented racer who came to his best form at 4, and under the patient handling of trainer Bobby Frankel, Ghostzapper won nine of 11 starts, earning $3.4 million, plus accolades as Horse of the Year, etc. He was never defeated after the summer of his 3-year-old season, and in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Ghostzapper overwhelmed Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect, Horse of the Year Azeri, Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, and Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone.
Ghostzapper was the best racer sired by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, a son of Deputy Minister who stands alongside his son at Adena Springs in Kentucky. Awesome Again’s stock includes champions Ginger Punch and Wilko, as well as Preakness winner Oxbow and Haskell winner Paynter. But the only one who really might be mentioned with nearly the same regard as Ghostzapper is mega-millionaire Game on Dude. The evergreen gelding earned $6.4 million in a lengthy career that carried him around the world and proved how game and tough the modern Thoroughbred can be.
Awesome Again was not a Derby performer, however. The handy bay began his racing at 3, still managed to claim the Queen’s Plate in Canada, but only came to his best form at 4, when he was unbeaten in all six starts, including the Breeders’s Cup Classic, Whitney, and Stephen Foster.
By far, the best 2-year-old in this male line was Deputy Minister, a growthy and precocious juvenile who was the divisional champion in both the U.S. and Canada, where he was also Horse of the Year. An injury, rather lack of seasoning or aptitude, knocked Deputy Minister off the rails for his classic opportunity. But as a sire, Deputy Minister tended to sire stock that was good at 2, such as champions Open Mind, Go for Wand, and Dehere, or that showed improved form with maturity like Awesome Again, Touch Gold, and Deputy Commander.
Deputy Minister’s sire, Vice Regent, didn’t show his form on the racetrack, being only a winner. But at stud he became one of the best stallion sons of mighty Northern Dancer with 105 stakes winners. Northern Dancer, back in the fifth generation of this male line, is the only one in this series who had the required pattern of development to become a classic horse, and the blocky little bay won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, as well as the Queen’s Plate.
As fans of sport and the great variety of racing, we can only hope that Whiskey Ticket follows the pattern of his immediate ancestors with continued improvement and becomes a better and better racehorse to challenge for the big prizes later this year and next.