First-Time Starters and Juvenile Pedigrees
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
Updated with 2013 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, George Weaver, Rick Dutrow, Chad Brown, Walther Solis, Terrance Oliver, Jose Pinchin, Steve Miyadi, Tim Hamm, Merrill Scherer, John Salzman, Donnie Von Hemel, Tim Ice and Barclay Tagg. 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 BRIS past performances under “Sire Stats.” Over the past several years, the following 10 sires have 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 excel at route races.
2. Smarty Jones
(Elusive Quality out of I’ll Get Along, by Smile)
Winner of the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at 2, Smarty Jones was the product of a precocious family, particularly on his damside. As a 2-year-old, I’ll Get Along broke her maiden at first asking—by 12 1/2 lengths. Her damsire was 1974 Eclipse champion 2-year-old male Foolish Pleasure, while her sire Smile dominated Florida’s juvenile stakes.
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).
(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. Indian Charlie
(In Excess out of Soviet Sojourn, by Leo Castelli)
Not surprisingly, Indian Charlie broke his maiden in his first outing as a 2-year-old for Bob Baffert, at Del Mar—by 12 lengths! At two, his dam Soviet Sojourn won the Grade 3 Sorrento, was runner-up in the Grade 2 Del Mar Debutante and Oak Leaf, and finished third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. Indian Charlie’s progeny particularly excel at sprints; his sprinters include Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion and Eclipse winner Indian Blessing and Bay Meadows Debutante victress Indyanne.
6. Cactus Ridge
(Hennessy out of Double Park, by Lycius)
By Hennessy (a son of Storm Cat), Cactus Ridge only ran four times in his undefeated career, all as a 2-year-old for Bret Calhoun, with three stakes victories including the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity. His damsire Lycius, a Grade 1 winner as a juvenile, is also quite good at producing first-time starting winners. His offspring excel on all three surfaces: turf, dirt and synthetics.
(Bertrando out of St. Helen’s Shadow, by Septieme Ciel)
After his Grade 1 Champagne victory, Officer may have failed as the favorite in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he had quite a 2-year-old campaign for Bob Baffert, winning five in a row to start his rather abbreviated career of nine starts. His sire Bertrando had finished second in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Arazi after capturing both the Grade 1 Norfolk and Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity. His dam St. Helen’s Shadow won the Kachina Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Ruidoso Downs, following the tradition of her sire Septieme Ciel, a son of Seattle Slew, who won the French Grade 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte as a juvenile.
(Carson City out of Christmas Star, by Star de Naskra)
After winning his first maiden effort for Steve Asmussen by just over six lengths, Cuvee won the Grade 3 Kentucky Breeders’ Cup by over eight lengths, finished third behind Limehouse in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor, won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special by over seven lengths, and cruised to victory by over eight lengths in the Grade 1 Futurity—all before finishing dead last in the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His dam Christmas Star won two of three lifetime races, all as a 2-year-old, and her half-sister Call Now won the Grade 2 Del Mar Debutante. Other successful juvenile family members include Grade 3 With Anticipation third-place finisher Paddy O’Prado, Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Pyro, Grade 2 Golden Rod third-place finisher War Echo, 2-year-old turf stakes winner (and later Grade 1 Beverly D runner-up) Bien Nicole, and Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue victor Olympio.
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.
(Seattle Slew out of Strawberry Reason, by Strawberry Road)
Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2002 Eclipse champion 2-year-old Vindication died in 2008, but as a sire, he’s proven adept at producing winners first-out. His half-brother Blackberry Road was runner-up in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at two, while another half-brother, Scipion, was Grade 3-placed as a juvenile. Not many progeny left to start, so don’t miss those that do.
Other noteworthy first-time and juvenile sires include: Valid Expectations, Successful Appeal, With Distinction, Yes It’s True, Northern Afleet and Smart Strike. It should be no surprise that Dynaformer produces first-time on turf winners at around 15%, as does More Than Ready, Congaree and Gone West.
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.
Freshman Sires to Watch for 2013 New
Never discount the young progeny of Grade 1 juvenile winners or multiple juvenile stakes winners in general, especially daughters whose mothers also demonstrated a talent for winning early. Based on that criteria, among the top first-crop sires this year are expected to be Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity winner Square Eddie; Grade 2 Saratoga Special winner Kodiak Kowboy; Grade 2 Remsen winner Old Fashioned; Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes victor Dixie Chatter; Grade 1 CashCall Futurity winner Pioneerof the Nile and runner-up Colonel John; and the extremely lightly-raced Grade 1-placed Maimonides.
Also consider sires that excelled as sprinters, especially since many of these young horses are being tested at sprint distances. These sires would include multiple Grade 1 runner-ups Talent Search and Diabolical; three-time Grade 1 sprint victor Zensational; Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up Idiot Proof; Grade 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen victor Benny the Bull; and even Grade 1 King’s Bishop winner Visionaire.
Particularly interesting this year is Grade 1 Bing Crosby sprint winner In Summation who not only excelled as a multiple stakes winner as a juvenile, but also demonstrated over his five years of racing the ability to win on all three surfaces—dirt, turf and synthetics. While many fans will be rooting hard for the progeny of the equally-talented, multi-surface winner Einstein, it may take his progeny a bit longer to develop, given that this big-boned son of precocious Spend a Buck had issues that caused his racing debut to be delayed until late in his 3-year-old campaign. That said, his first two progeny to race have both come home winners—and both on dirt—the aptly-named filly E Equalsmcsquared and colt Theoryofrelativity.
Freshman Sires to Watch for 2012
Precociousness is often (although not always) passed on from sire to progeny, so look out for those stallions who won early themselves: Grade 1 Norfolk winner Street Hero; Grade 2 Sanford winner Ready’s Image; Grade 1 Norfolk runner-up Salute the Sarge; Grade 1 Hopeful victor Majestic Warrior; Grade 2 Saratoga Special winner Run Away and Hide; Grade 2 Coventry victor Henrythenavigator; Grade 1 Champagne runner-up Nobiz Like Shobiz; and Grade 2 Remsen runner-up Zanjero. Sprinters tend to pass on the kind of early speed juvenile races exploit, and some terrific speedsters will see their first crops run in 2012: two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Midnight Lute; Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap victor Street Boss; and undefeated Grade 1 Carter winner Bustin Stones.
Freshman Sires to Watch for 2011
Given their own precociousness, several stallions should do well with their first crop of juveniles. They include: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champions Street Sense and Stevie Wonderboy; Grade 1 Champagne winner Scat Daddy; and Pennsylvania Nursery victor Hard Spun. As a son of Distorted Humor, Any Given Saturday could also produce many first-time starters, as should the Pulpit son Corinthian. Already proven triumphant with early winners are Flashy Bull, Latent Heat, Half Ours, Saint Anddan, Vibank and The Way Home. Among those off to a blazing start in Europe are Red Clubs, Dutch Art, Excellent Art, and Teofilo.
Freshman Sires to Watch for 2010
With the best 2-year-old races yet to come this year, and many top contenders scheduled to start at Del Mar and Saratoga over the next month or so, some young freshman sires to watch for include Distorted Humor sons Sharp Humor and Da Stoops. Others that have already proven successful include Bluegrass Cat, Silver Train, Congrats, Badge of Silver, Too Much Bling, Bandini, and Bellamy Road.