In the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 27, Known Agenda lunged to the fore and won the race by 2 3/4 lengths, placing himself in the thick of competition for the Kentucky Derby a scant five weeks later.
Bred in Kentucky by the St. Elias Stables of Vincent and Teresa Viola, Known Agenda was produced by one of the first broodmares acquired by St. Elias more than seven years ago. Her son Known Agenda is the first Grade 1 winner bred by the operation, although it has raced several others, including 2019 champion older horse Vino Rosso (Curlin), 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming (Bodemeister), 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map (Unbridled’s Song), and 2018 Carter Handicap winner Army Mule (Friesan Fire).
John Sparkman, bloodstock and matings adviser to St. Elias, recalled the mare’s acquisition.
“Very early in building a high-class broodmare band, this mare came our way,” Sparkman said, “and the way to start a top broodmare band is with mares of high racing class.”
Byrama, the dam of Known Fact, won the G1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park and was second in the G1 Madison at Keeneland for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners in 2013, then was auctioned at the Fasig-Tipton November sale, where she was an RNA for $725,000.
St. Elias made a deal to purchase the mare post sale, and the new owners raced her the next year before retiring the English-bred daughter of Byron to stud in 2015. Known Agenda is the mare’s third foal.
In selecting Byrama for racing class, Sparkman said, “Her head, neck, and shoulder reminded me very strongly of Sir Ivor, who is in the third dam, and when something like that comes through, I pay attention. She had speed, class, and is a very elegant mare,” and she clearly makes an excellent match with some of the large, hardy stallions in the Kentucky stallion pool.
The foal by Curlin was so nice that St. Elias sent him to the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale, but retained him as a $135,000 RNA.
Sparkman recalled “when we were going over the inspection statistics with consignor Gerry Dilger, we were pretty surprised that Known Agenda was at the bottom of the list. When we asked about that, Gerry said, ‘Nobody even wants to look at him because he’s out of a turf mare.’
“Looks pretty good on dirt, to me,” Sparkman concluded.
Indeed, the chestnut colt has progressed notably from his good juvenile form, where he won a maiden and was a respectable third in the G2 Remsen Stakes. This year, he won an allowance at Gulfstream, then was unplaced in the Sam F. Davis. In assessing the difference between the prior race and the Florida Derby, Sparkman gave praise to the work done by trainer Todd Pletcher in getting the colt to focus more effectively in his racing, and it showed at Gulfstream.
“Todd said that Known Agenda reminded him a lot of Vino Rosso,” also campaigned by St. Elias, “in lacking mental maturity,” Sparkman said. But the physical attributes of the colt have always been there, and he is a progressive colt who will profit from added time and distance.
The Kentucky Derby is expected to be the next start for Known Agenda.
If all goes well, the Derby would be the seventh start for Known Agenda; for his sire, Curlin, the Derby was his fourth career start, and Curlin went into the Derby unbeaten after an extraordinary maiden success, then victories in the G3 Rebel and G2 Arkansas Derby. Curlin finished third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness from Derby winner Street Sense, and was a head second in the Belmont Stakes to the lovely filly Rags to Riches. Late-season successes in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic brought divisional honors and the Horse of the Year award to Curlin.
A repeat as Horse of the Year in 2008 sent Curlin to stud with excellent racing credentials, although he wasn’t universally popular as a physical specimen, being a big, robustly made animal of generous proportions. From his first crop, however, Curlin showed he could sire individuals of greater quality allied with his scope and classic ability. St. Elias brought him a first-rate match with Byrama, as a racemare of high ability, allied with quality and refinement.
“Breeding to a horse like Curlin is obvious for a quality mare who matches on pedigree,” Sparkman said, “and he also has a cross of Sir Ivor in the fourth generation that seemed like a positive repetition.”
Although sometimes considered only as a turf horse because of his first-class record in Europe, Sir Ivor was a top 2-year-old who progressed to become a top classic colt, winning the 1968 2,000 Guineas and Derby, then finishing a gallant second to Vaguely Noble in the Arc de Triomphe. In his final start, Sir Ivor returned to the States and won the Washington DC International before retiring to stud at Claiborne Farm.
Considered simplistically, Sir Ivor was a “turf horse” because he showed exceptional form on the surface. “But all horses can run on turf,” Sparkman said. “All horses can run on dirt. Some have a preference one way or another, but it’s almost always pretty slight.”
Considering the horse on racing character, physique, and athleticism, Sir Ivor was much more than a turf horse. He’d have been among the favorites for the 1968 Kentucky Derby, had he been on this side of the Atlantic, and he might well have won the race too.
Bred in Kentucky at Mill Ridge Farm by Alice Chandler and sold to Vincent O’Brien on behalf of owner Raymond Guest at the Keeneland July sale, Sir Ivor proved a serious international sire after his classic-winning race career. The good-sized plain bay sired some quick juveniles, some classic competitors, and high-quality performers on turf and dirt. His early crops included Arc de Triomphe winner Ivanjica, and among his later foals came Eclipse champion older horse Bates Motel.
There weren’t any “turf” performers of great acclaim among the immediate ancestors of Sir Ivor, but O’Brien saw an athlete. Quick, strong, and competitive, Sir Ivor proved the judgment of his mentor to be eminently correct.
With a known agenda for the classics, Sir Ivor’s descendant is taking steps of his own for classic recognition.