First-Time Starters and Juvenile Pedigrees
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
Updated with 2015 freshman sires to watch
I love 2-year-old races as well as those for first-time starters. What makes them so exciting? Undoubtedly it’s the thrill of seeing a future superstar emerge or, at the very least, witnessing pure young athleticism at its best. There’s so much promise, so much potential tantalizingly held by a horse that has yet to race. It’s when the high-priced auction horse can flop, and the little homebred can flourish. For the astute handicapper, it’s also an excellent opportunity to make money by knowing what to look for. So, where to start?
Maybe even more so than any other type of race, the trainer is a critical factor in juvenile races. Some trainers specialize in 2-year-olds because they are so good at getting young horses ready for the track. Other trainers are a factor because they get the most promising young horses from their clients. Those trainers in particular to watch for include: Wesley Ward, Ken McPeek, Bret Calhoun, Wayne Catalano, Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher, George Weaver, Chad Brown, Dane Kobiskie, Walther Solis, Jerry Hollendorfer, John Salzman, Clifford Sise, Jr., Kirk Ziadie, Tom Amoss, Donnie Von Hemel, James DiVito and Eddie Kenneally. Any juvenile they start is likely to take a great deal of money. If they aren’t, tread cautiously.
Another factor to consider with 2-year-olds and first-time starters is workouts. Obviously quick works are promising and the longer the better, but for all first-time starters regardless of age. it’s particularly important that they work from the gate. How can you tell if they have posted a workout from the starting gate? In addition to the date and location of the work in past performances, you will find listed the distance and time, immediately followed by either a “b” (for breezing) or “h” (for handily); a “b” or an “h” followed by a “g” indicates that the horse broke from the gate to begin the work. Why is a gate work important? For inexperienced horses, a race can be lost or won from the start, and they need to respond alertly when the bell rings and the starting gate swings open. It’s not a deal-breaker if they haven’t posted a gate work, but having it instills even more confidence in someone considering wagering on a first-time starter.
Equipment and Surface Changes
For 2-year-olds and other maidens who are making their second start or more, consider carefully any equipment changes—particularly, the addition of blinkers which can better focus a horse’s attention. Also, a horse that adds Lasix for the first time after running without it usually performs significantly better, and never miss when an under-performing horse suddenly gains the services of a top jockey—the jock is probably aware of something the general public doesn’t know. If a horse is changing surfaces, like running on turf for the first time after previous dirt efforts, carefully consider the propensity for grass in the horse’s breeding—and don’t be afraid to bet the horse even if that previous dirt race was horrid.
Pedigree plays a huge role in whether or not a 2-year-old is ready to win. Some sires and dams produce late bloomers, horses that do not reach their full potential until they are three or four years old. Others are more precocious, with high percentages of 2-year-old runners and winners, as well as winning first-time starters in general. So, who are the sires to watch for? Particularly look at those with win percentages of 15% and above with first-time starters and 2-year-olds. This information is found in Brisnet.com past performances under “Sire Stats.”
Over the past several years, the following 10 sires have consistently performed at that level:
1. Distorted Humor (Forty Niner out of Danzig’s Beauty, by Danzig)
While he never raced at two, Distorted Humor has a knack for producing juvenile and first-time starting winners. Maybe it’s the influence of his sire Forty Niner, 1987 Eclipse champion 2-year-old male, and his dam, Danzig’s Beauty, who won the Grade 2 Gardenia as a juvenile. His damsire Danzig hits with an astounding 25% of his first-time starters. Distorted Humor progeny particularly excel at route races, and his sons such as Da Stoops have also turned out to be potent sires when it comes to producing precociousness.
2. Street Boss (Street Cry out of Blushing Ogygian, by Ogygian)
Another who didn’t race as a juvenile, Street Boss did win at first-asking late in his 3-year-old campaign before going on to capture two Grade 1 sprint events and run third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at age 4. However, both his sire and dam won as juveniles, not to mention the fact that his sire Street Cry counts two Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners, Street Sense and New Year’s Day, among his progeny. Street Boss has yet to top that feat, but his first-crop son Capo Bastone did finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before winning the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at age 3.
3. Tale of the Cat (Storm Cat out of Yarn, by Mr. Prospector)
While Tale of the Cat never raced as a 2-year-old, his sire Storm Cat is a noted sire of successful first-time starters and precocious runners. His dam Yarn didn’t race as a juvenile, but she has produced Minardi (Boundary), a multiple Grade 1 winner in Europe and champion 2-year-old in Great Britain, as well as Myth (Ogygian), dam of 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Johannesburg. Yarn’s full sister Preach won the Grade 1 Frizette at two (she later produced Grade 2 Blue Grass winner and sire Pulpit).
4. Speightstown (Gone West out of Silken Cat, by Storm Cat)
In his maiden effort as a juvenile, Speightstown finished last in a 13-horse field at Saratoga as the favorite. His next-out effort, as a 3-year-old, went far better: he won a maiden special weight at Gulfstream by nearly seven lengths. His precociousness probably comes from his damside, with his damsire Storm Cat and his dam Silken Cat, who was 1995’s champion 2-year-old filly in Canada. Also in his dam’s family are juvenile winner Dattt Echo (Stormy Atlantic), Grade 1 Spinaway winner Mani Bhavan (Storm Boot), and Grade 3 Natalma victress Pink Champagne (Awesome Again), as well as recent 2-year-old Chenery turf winner Z Appeal (Ghostzapper) and Willard L. Proctor Memorial runner-up Belleofthebridle (Yes It’s True).
5. Scat Daddy (Johannesburg out of Love Style, by Mr. Prospector)
Not surprisingly considering his sire Johannesburg won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Scat Daddy broke his maiden in his first outing as a 2-year-old for trainer Todd Pletcher, and then followed that up with victories in the Grade 2 Sanford and Grade 1 Champagne. His dam was unraced, but his second dam won her juvenile debut coming from dead-last in a 12-horse field before capturing the Grade 1 Las Virgenes early in her sophomore campaign. Scat Daddy’s juveniles and first-time starters win at a high percentage on both dirt and turf.
6. Into Mischief (Harlan’s Holiday out of Leslie’s Lady, by Tricky Creek)
Both his sire and dam were juvenile stakes winners, with his sire Harlan’s Holiday most notably capturing the Grade 3 Iroquois after a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity. Winner of the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity as a juvenile, Into Mischief only raced three times as a 3-year-old before entering stud. Among his first crop: Grade 1 Champagne runner-up Goldencents, and juvenile stakes winners Sittin At The Bar and Vyjack.
7. Majesticperfection (Harlan’s Holiday out of Act So Noble, by Wavering Monarch)
Another son of Harlan’s Holiday, this lightly-raced colt didn’t make his debut until age 4, but he won five of six starts that year, culminating in a blistering victory in the 6-furlong Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga. Modestly bred on his damside, he’s turned out to be quite a success story, with 20 winners among his 37 starters in his first juvenile crop. One of those Majesticperfection progeny who broke his maiden first-out at age 2 was Hebbronville, subsequent runner-up in the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont. Another first-out juvenile victress for Majesticperfection: Lovely Maria, winner of both the Grade 1 Ashland and Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at age 3. As good as his dirt runners have been, his first-time starters are winning at an even higher percentage on turf.
8. Lookin At Lucky (Smart Strike out of Private Feeling, by Belong To Me)
The subsequent Grade 1 Preakness and Grade 1 Haskell winner was a dynamic juvenile, winning five of 6 starts, including three Grade 1 events—and finishing just a head behind unlikely invader Vale of York in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Not surprisingly, that precociousness often appears in his offspring which win first-up at nearly an 18% clip. In 2014, with his first crop, Lookin At Lucky finished at #12 among all Leading 2-year-old Sires, with 29 winners out of 43 starters.
9. Wildcat Heir (Forest Wildcat out of Penniless Heiress, by Pentelicus)
Runner-up as a 2-year-old in the Grade 2 Sanford to subsequent Grade 1 Futurity victor Whywhywhy, Wildcat Heir is by another precocious producing son of Storm Cat, Forest Wildcat. In 2009, Wildcat Heir was the #1 first-crop sire by number of winners. His dam Penniless Heiress didn’t start until age three, but won her first effort wire-to-wire over 11 other entrants—by 11 1/2 lengths! She’s also produced multiple graded juvenile stakes winner Forest Heiress and 2-year-old winner Forest Heir.
10. Blame (Arch out of Liable, by Seeking The Gold)
While he broke his maiden second-up at age 2, Blame didn’t hit his stride until his 4-year-old campaign, winning four of five starts that year including three Grade 1 events (Stephen Foster, Whitney and Breeders’ Cup Classic). Best known as the only horse to ever defeat the great Zenyatta, Blame has a regal damline pedigree, hailing from the immediate family of the great Nureyev (sire of turf greats Miesque, Theatrical, Spinning World and Peintre Celebre, to name but a few), as well as Sadlers Wells (sire of more turf greats like High Chaparral, Montjeu, Powerscourt and Galileo).
First-Time on Turf
On paper, some pedigrees appear more naturally suited for dirt, while others scream turf. And sometimes predominately dirt-raced sires produce sneaking-good grass horses, progeny that can (and do) win on turf first-up. That is true of three of the 10 horses listed above: Street Boss, Scat Daddy and Majesticperfection. Pay particular attention to these sires as well as the ones below, as each of them hits at 15% or better with first-time turf starters:
1. Pioneerof the Nile
(Empire Maker out of Star of Goshen, by Lord At War)
The sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Pioneerof the Nile is also rocking the turf with likes of Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile runner-up Midnight Storm. It’s not surprising that his progeny do well on both dirt and turf—his sire Empire Maker had similar success with the likes of 2-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff victress Royal Delta on dirt and 2-time Grade 1 turf winner Emollient.
2. Tribal Rule (died 2014)
(Storm Cat out of Sown, by Grenfall)
He may not have the number of progeny as more fashionable sires, but Tribal Rule produces quality. In 2014, he had 110 winners out of 181 total starters and 21 winners of 74 starters on turf. Among his first-up turf winners is Spanish Queen, subsequent winner of the Grade 1 American Oaks.
3. Kitten’s Joy
(Street Cry out of Blushing Ogygian, by Ogygian)
A well-known turf producing sire, Kitten’s Joy progeny hit at a particularly high percentage first-up.
4. War Front
(Danzig out of Starry Dreamer, by Rubiano)
War Front never raced on turf, but his sire Danzig was also a precocious producer on both turf and dirt. Thus, it’s perhaps not surprising that War Front’s son Declaration of War broke his juvenile maiden first-up on turf, and then went on to capture two English Group 1 races before running third on dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. War Front’s other first-time up juvenile turf winners include Summer Front who was subsequently 5-times Grade 1-placed on turf.
(Smart Strike out of Sherriff’s Deputy, by Deputy Minister)
Many forget that the 7-time Grade 1 dirt winner ran second in the Grade 1 Man o’ War on turf during his 4-year-old campaign. Both his sire and damsire were equally adept at getting dirt and turf runners, so why shouldn’t Curlin? Among his first crop juvenile winners is Savannah La Mar who broke her maiden in wire-to-wire fashion on turf before placing second in a listed race in England. Another juvenile turf winner for Curlin, Moulin de Mougin later captured the grassy Grade 2 John C. Mabee at Del Mar, while from his second crop he produced Diversy Harbor who broke her maiden on turf first-up early in her sophomore year, and then went on to a game runner-up finish in the Grade 1 American Oaks.
Just Don’t Forget Mom!
While knowing the top sires of juveniles and first-time starters certainly helps, even more valuable may be examining the dam more closely. Did she run well as a 2-year-old? If unraced, how about her dam, her siblings or her progeny? By looking back one, two or even three generations, you can often find out whether or not a dam’s family has a predilection for winning young. While no guarantee, it does present strong evidence that a juvenile may perform well.
Girls Do Beat Boys
Given recent history, racing fans know that fillies can (and do) beat colts and geldings. Just look at Rags to Riches, Eight Belles, Rachel Alexandra, Havre de Grace, and Zenyatta. Many wise horsemen also know that juvenile fillies often mature more quickly than their male counterparts so do not ignore 2-year-old fillies being tested against males on any surface, and particularly first-up. Pay particular attention as well to daughters whose dams also demonstrated a talent for winning early, or have already produced first-up winners.
Freshman Sires to Watch for 2015
Precociousness is often (although not always) passed on from sire to offspring, so never discount the young progeny of Grade 1 juvenile winners or multiple juvenile stakes winners in general. Who can forget the brilliance of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo who, before capturing the Grade 1 Champagne, won his maiden start at Saratoga by a mind-blowing 14 1/4 lengths? He’s already produced four winners out of his first six starters. Other first-out juvenile winners among this year’s freshman sires are 2-time Grade 2 juvenile stakes winner D’Funnybone, Grade 1 Vosburgh victor Girolamo, and the track-record setting Grade 1 Malibu winner Twirling Candy. Two other sons of Candy Ride, Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap winner Misremembered and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney’s Candy, will also see their first crops race this year, with precocious Sidney’s Candy likely to do well. Given their sire’s predilection for getting first-time winners, don’t ignore the two sons of Distorted Humor, Grade 1 Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer and Grade 2 Super Derby victor Regal Ransom. Likewise, history suggests that Speightstown’s son, Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup-winning Haynesfield, could also produce precocious progeny given that he broke his juvenile maiden second-up. Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner American Lion won the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue in his third juvenile start, while Grade 1 Arkansas Derby victor Archarcharch broke his juvenile maiden second-up in the Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds. Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Big Drama won three juvenile Florida Stallion stakes before finishing out his 2-year-old campaign with a win in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot. Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup victor First Dude was twice a juvenile runner-up before breaking his maiden in late January of his sophomore year, but his dam Run Sarah Run broke her juvenile maiden at first-asking.