The social nexus of Thoroughbred breeding is one of the most important facets in our game and one of the least appreciated. The interconnections of people and their social institutions touch and intertwine on many levels, and adding in their Thoroughbreds makes the mix truly cosmopolitan.
Taking a general overview of this deep and dominating concept of ourselves and our racehorses, we can see quickly enough that elegance is more than a word in Europe. The Japanese fancy the lithe, almost Spartan image of their own society, and we in America have more than a touch of the go-go-go in our own racing stock.
In the Group 1 Irish Derby on June 25, the great international owner-breeder HH The Aga Khan won a sixth Irish Derby with his homebred Harzand. The dark brown son of Sea the Stars (by Cape Cross) is unbeaten this year, and, earlier this month, Harzand had given the current Aga Khan his fifth English Derby, matching the feat of his grandfather.
Across the open plain of The Curragh, Harzand turned the 12-furlong classic into a test of stamina and determination. He matched strides and sturdiness with Idaho, owned by a Coolmore partnership. The pair have made a season of their confrontations, and each time Harzand had come out the winner. So it proved in the Irish Derby also, but it was no walk in the park. Idaho is as game and good as a top-class colt is supposed to be, and he fully tested Harzand.
There was no lack of willingness or worth in the Sea the Stars colt, and Harzand added another classic trophy to the Aga Khan’s glittering trophy case at Gilltown Stud in Ireland.
Around the world in Japan on Sunday, the Deep Impact mare Marialite upset the heavy favorite Duramente (King Kamehameha) in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen. The victory was the second at the premier level for the 5-year-old mare, who had won the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup last year at Kyoto.
Both Marialite and Duramente were waited with in the 2,200-meter race, although Duramente was even farther back. Perhaps Marialite’s slightly better placement helped her catch the leaders and then hold off Duramente, but there is no doubting either the courage of the winner, nor the high class of the runner-up.
For winning the Takarazuka, Marialite gets an automatic invitation to the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf this fall at Santa Anita, plus $100,000 in entry and pre-entry fees and a $40,000 travel stipend.
Stamped in the Deep Impact mold of the Sunday Silence stock, Marialite shows plenty of structure, and this line of horses tends toward the lean, strong, rather sinewy look of Sunday Silence himself.
And whereas that strain of horses has some of the balance, agility, and physical stealth of ninja warriors, the “American type” is more about muscle and speed.
In the G1 Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita, Lord Nelson (Pulpit) came home a winner for owner Spendthrift Farm LLC. The handsome chestnut was winning his first G1 stakes, which will be highly important for his prospects as a stallion when he retires to stud at Spendthrift.
The 4-year-old has won five of his 11 starts, earning $598,271. A good-looking young horse with good size, rounded muscle, and the presence of a movie star, Lord Nelson sold for $340,000 as a yearling for breeder Clearsky Farm.
The colt has shown the ability to lay near the pace, and he did that, as well as responding courageously to the situation of racing between horses, and then needing to come on and win his race, after looking beaten early in the stretch.
And Lord Nelson did drop his head and persevere through the stretch to win the stakes. His performance impressed trainer Bob Baffert sufficiently that this extended sprint is the proper trip for the horse that we should expect to see Lord Nelson back at 7 furlongs or a bit farther later in the year.
Speed and good looks will further aid the cause of Lord Nelson as a stallion prospect, and it is not coincidental that the economics of breeding and racing figure so prominently in decisions about our horses here in the States. It’s part of our social fabric.
The differences among nations and among strains of the Thoroughbred are signs of our individuality, our uniqueness. But the similarities are important too. In each of three horses above, we see exceptional examples of courage, determination, and gameness. The horses are different and importantly individual, but they also share core values of the breed that they display under duress and that make them Thoroughbred. We might say the same of human beings.