First-Time Starters and Juvenile Pedigrees
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
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. His fourth-crop daughter Cathryn Sophia not only broke her juvenile maiden first-out by nearly 13 lengths and captured a juvenile stakes race by over 16 lengths, but she also won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.
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. Uncle Mo
(Indian Charlie out of Playa Maya, by Arch)
With impeccable juvenile credentials to recommend him—including Grade 1 victories in both the Champagne and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile—Uncle Mo hit the ground running with his first crop in 2015. Not only did he lead all freshman sires in terms of money earned (over $3.6 million), stakes winners (seven) and graded stakes winners (three), but that crop matured into a group of terrific 3-year-olds, including Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Outwork and Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Uncle Mo’s first-starters are still winning nearly 20% of the time, both on dirt and turf, so watch out!
(A.P. Indy out of Get Lucky, by Mr. Prospector)
His sire A.P. Indy isn’t particularly known for precocious progeny, but his Grade 2-placed dam Get Lucky has proven to be a tremendous producer of quality runners. Girolamo’s Grade 1-placed full-brother Accelerator won the off-turf Grade 3 Pilgrim as a juvenile; his Grade 1-placed full-sister Daydreaming broke her juvenile maiden at Saratoga at first-asking by 7 1/4 lengths, while another full-sister Supercharger produced Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, a colt who broke his juvenile maiden second-up by 7 lengths. Another unraced sister of Girolamo, She’s a Winner is the dam of juvenile Grade 2 Remsen winner Bluegrass Cat who, at age 3, captured the Grade 1 Haskell and finished runner-up in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. As a juvenile, Girolamo himself won at first-asking although his greatest success came at age 4 when he won the Grade 1 Vosburgh. Still, his first-crop success in 2015 has thus far continued well into 2016, especially with first-time runners.
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 four of the 10 horses listed above: Street Boss, Scat Daddy, Majesticperfection and Uncle Mo. 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.
5. Paddy O’Prado
(El Prado out of Fun House, by Prized)
A half-brother to 4-time Grade 1 dirt winner Untapable, Paddy O’Prado proved his mettle on dirt by finishing third in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. However, turf is where he broke his maiden (in the Grade 3 Palm Beach) and the surface to which he returned after the Derby, winning the Grade 1 Secretariat and running second in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. His first-crop son Cherry Wine finished just behind Exaggerator in the Grade 1 Preakness, but watch out for those first-time starters on turf.
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 2016
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. A son of top sire Tapit, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Hansen was sold to South Korean interests after siring his first U.S. crop, but his progeny have already found their way to the winner’s circle. So too have the multiple winners produced by Union Rags, runner-up to Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and those sired by third-place Breeders’ Cup Juvenile finisher Creative Cause. Other first-crop sires already demonstrating their prowess include juvenile Grade 3 Iroquois winner Astrology, as well as juvenile maiden winners Tapizar and Shackleford. Two sons of Bernardini, Grade 1 Hopeful runner-up Stay Thirsty and lightly-raced Algorithms have also produced multiple first-up juvenile winners thus far.
Perhaps most exciting to watch for are the progeny of Mission Impazible who broke his maiden at first-asking in mid-April of his juvenile campaign and then came back exactly 14 days later to finish third in the Grade 3 Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs. He didn’t reappear until early January of his 3-year-old campaign, but that early success is a positive indicator. As of June 15, two of his three juvenile starters have won first-up, including repeat winner Silver Mission who captured Belmont’s Tremont Stakes by over six lengths. The other mover-and-shaker is likely to be Bodemeister whose daughter Bode’s Dream (out of two-time juvenile stakes winner Frolic’s Dream) captured Belmont’s Astoria Stakes after winning her maiden effort by nearly 4 lengths. While Bodemeister was unraced as a juvenile, his dam Untouched Talent was a Grade 3 juvenile winner, as well as a runner-up in both the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and the Grade 2 Alcibiades.