The Test of Champions 2013An in-depth look at the pedigrees of the 2013 Belmont Stakes contenders
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
The right mix of speed and stamina is needed to capture the longest dirt race that many Belmont contestants will ever run.
Once upon a time, American thoroughbred racing was all about stamina. In the 19th century, it was not unusual for races to be contested in back-to-back 2-mile heats, and even as recently as 1975, the venerated Jockey Club Gold Cup tested horses going 2 miles. Consequently, breeders once focused on developing speed that could be carried over significant distances.
However, the dearth of true staying races today has altered American breeding (or vice versa) to the point that few horses regularly race over 9 furlongs-a fact that makes the Belmont Stakes unique in American racing, as it is the only remaining 1 1/2 miles Grade 1 stakes run on dirt. In part, that’s also what makes this the most difficult of the Triple Crown races, and the one that, ironically, breeders have historically valued most, although that may be changing.
In this race, pedigree plays a critical role in who can and cannot get the distance, even more so than in the Kentucky Derby. A poor post position can be easily overcome, and more experienced horses don’t necessarily hold an advantage over those more lightly raced. A slow pace can adversely affect deep closers, but only if those on-pace can carry their speed over 1 1/2 miles. Knowing which horses, no matter how lightly regarded, possess the potential to run 12 furlongs can lead to big payoffs at the betting window.
Case in point: Da’ Tara‘s upset victory in the 2008 Belmont. Notwithstanding Big Brown‘s inexplicable poor performance, there were significant questions about the colt’s distance breeding, as both his sire Boundary and broodmare sire Nureyev were sprinters/milers. On the other hand, Da’ Tara’s sire Tiznow had twice won the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic, not to mention that Tiznow’s broodmare sire Seattle Song (son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew) also won the 12-furlong Washington D.C. International. So, with only a maiden win to his name, Da’ Tara went off at 38-1, but his pedigree held up, as did his wire-to-wire front-running speed.
At even longer odds, 70-1 Sarava won the 2002 Belmont. His sire Wild Again was a multiple Grade 1 winner at 10 furlongs, including the 1984 Breeders’ Cup Classic, while his damside included the likes of Belmont Stakes winner Gallant Man, who captured the Jockey Club Gold Cup when it was run at 2 miles. Where Sarava‘s pedigree also hinted at brilliance was in the fact that his unraced dam was a half sister to Grade 1 winner Wilderness Song, a filly who finished second behind her stablemate Dance Smartly in the 10-furlong Queen’s Plate against males. Both Wilderness Song and Sarava shared the same sire. When considering serious Belmont contenders, class in the damside matters.
In 2010, two of our top four stamina pedigree selections-Drosselmeyer and Fly Down-ran one-two, with First Dude (exactly as predicted) dangerous on the lead and able to hang on for third. In 2011, a sloppy sealed track added another dimension to handicapping, allowing a front-runner like Ruler On Ice to stay on for the victory, but three of the top four finishers-Stay Thirsty, Brilliant Speed, and Nehro-were among the four horses mentioned pre-race as having the best stamina pedigrees.
In 2012, the pre-race scratch of I’ll Have Another was particularly disappointing, as his damline breeding strongly suggested that he could be our first Triple Crown winner since 1978. Instead, the well-bred Union Rags validated the importance of a strong female line while defeating the equally well-bred Paynter.
With no Triple Crown on the line this year, the Belmont Stakes has drawn a large field of contenders, but which of them possesses the necessary stamina breeding, especially when you factor in both damline class and back class? In alphabetical order, let’s break them down into three groups:
Incognito – FOURTH
(A.P. Indy, out of Octave, by Unbridled’s Song
The perfect example of a horse that may fly under the radar due to his lack of racing experience, Incognito is particularly well-suited to the Belmont distance. His sire A.P. Indy is a legendary stamina influence, having produced not only three Jockey Club Gold Cup winners (Aptitude, Mineshaft and Bernardini), but also a Belmont winner, the filly Rags to Riches. That said, it’s actually his damside that makes Incognito so interesting here. His dam Octave made 13 career starts, never finishing out of the money. However, she did appear to have a severe case of seconditis, with seven runner-up finishes, including one behind Rags to Riches in the 2007 Kentucky Oaks. Her most significant win occurred in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks later that summer. Over a sloppy Monmouth track, she ended her career with a narrow third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff; after making a late charge, she was just a neck short of runner-up Hystericalady, who was just a neck back of winner Ginger Punch when they hit the wire. Incognito may have thus far only won at the distance of 1 mile, but his full brother Quarto finished just a length behind Shackleford‘s half brother Stephanoatsee in a 1 1/8 miles allowance race during his short four-race career. Still, it’s the female family members that are so interesting here, with Octave‘s Grade 3-placed dam Belle Nuit consistently winning or placing at distances between 9 and 10 furlongs. Belle Nuit‘s siblings include multiple graded stakes winner Ms. Eloise, runner-up in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Delaware Handicap. Class and stamina make Incognito a live longshot.
Orb – THIRD
(Malibu Moon, out of Lady Liberty, by Unbridled)
The Kentucky Derby winner disappointed legions of fans when he finished fourth in the Preakness, but back on his home track, he most definitely should not be counted out. While Malibu Moon has produced some nice stamina-rich fillies (10-furlong Delaware Handicap victress Life at Ten immediately comes to mind), the same can’t be said of his male progeny (the exception being hard-knocking, 14-furlong stakes winner Malibu Moonshine). For Orb, it’s his damline that solidifies his stamina credentials. His dam Lady Liberty broke her maiden going 9 furlongs on dirt as a 3-year-old, and, at age 5, impressively won a 12-furlong turf allowance race at Keeneland before finishing fifth, a mere 2 lengths back of the winner, in the 12-furlong Grade 3 Bewitch Stakes. This is also the family of Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Private Terms; 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers victor Coronado’s Quest; and 12-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks winner Ruffian. In 1967, his third damsire Damascus failed to win the Kentucky Derby but won the Preakness and Belmont (as well as the Dwyer Handicap, American Derby, Travers and Woodward Stakes) before capturing the 16-furlong (2-mile) Jockey Club Gold Cup. A mere two weeks later, he ran second to the great turf champion Fort Marcy in the 12-furlong Washington, D.C. International.
Oxbow – SECOND
(Awesome Again, out of Tizamazing, by Cee’s Tizzy)
The only question about Oxbow going into the Kentucky Derby was the inconsistencyin his prep races. After a solid sixth-place finish thereâ€”and then a victory in the Preaknessâ€”questions regarding his abilities have lessened. Admittedly, he received the perfect ride from veteran jockey Gary Stevens in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, but there was never a question about his stamina breeding. His Queen’s Plate-winning sire Awesome Again won multiple graded stakes at 10 furlongs, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His unraced dam is a full sister to two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. Other damline descendents include Budroyale, who was a three-time Grade 1 runner-up at 10 furlongs, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and last year’s Belmont runner-up Paynter.
(War Pass, out of Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy)
With time off after a solid third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby where he was closing strong late, Revolutionary should be ready to run even farther on Saturday. His brilliant Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-winning sire, champion War Pass, had his racing career cut short by injury and then tragically died after producing only two crops, but there are a lot of strong stamina indicators in Revolutionary’s damside, beginning with his A.P. Indy dam Runup the Colors, winner of the 10-furlong Grade 1 Alabama Stakes. Other immediate family members include several 10-furlong Grade 1 stakes winners, including Personal Ensign Handicap victress Tomisue’s Delight and Jockey Club Gold Cup victor Mineshaft. Through his progeny such as Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro, Belmont Stakes runner-up Fly Down, and Coaching Club American Oaks victress It’s Tricky, Mineshaft has already solidified his stamina credentials; it’s worth noting how closely related he is to Revolutionary‘s dam, as they are both by A.P. Indy. Among the progeny of Revolutionary’s second damsire Hoist the Flag is two-time French Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victorAlleged; Revolutionary’s third damsire is another multiple 12-furlong winner, Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) victor Herbager, who as a sire produced the terrific 12-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks winner, Our Mims.
(Scat Daddy, out of Skipper’s Mate, by Skip Away)
A maiden winner whose best finish was a distant second to the less-than-impressive Overanalyze in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, Frac Daddy recorded a lackluster 16th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. In terms of pure form, there’s little to recommend a dramatic reversal of fortune for him in the Belmont Stakes. Still, he’s not without hope from a pedigree standpoint. A multiple Grade 1 winner, his sire Scat Daddy was retired after his 18th place finish in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, so he was proven at only 9 furlongs. It’s his damside that gives a glimmer of hope that Frac Daddy can traverse 1 1/2 miles. His damsire Skip Away finished second in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes before proceeding to establish himself as one of the 1990’s top handicap horses, twice winning the 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Although a son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, Scat Daddy has essentially a sprint-miler in his second damsire Fast Play and his third damsire Fast Hilarious (although that colt did win the 10-furlong Gulfstream Park Handicap and a couple 9-furlong stakes races). The second dam of Frac Daddy, Grade 1-placed Power Play, won the 10-furlong Grade 3 Delaware Handicap, but her daughter Skipper’s Mate (Frac Daddy’s dam) was strictly a sprinter. That said, when bred to stamina-rich Lemon Drop Kid, Skipper’s Mate did produce Lemon Drop Red in 2008, a gelding currently racing over hurdles in England, but he began his flat racing career as a juvenile against the likes of Frankel and Nathaniel. It wasn’t until his 3-year-old campaign that Lemon Drop Red recorded his first of three flat race winsâ€”and all three came at the distance of 12 furlongs.
(Malibu Moon, out of Bandstand, by Deputy Minister)
The second son of Malibu Moon entered in this year’s Belmont Stakes, Freedom Child came out of hisWood Memorial misadventures to unleash a dominating victory in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Peter Pan over a sloppy Belmont surface. However, unlike Orb’s, his damline stamina isn’t quite as strong. While his dam Bandstand never won or placed beyond 1 mile, his second dam City Band won the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes as a juvenile at 1 1/16 milesâ€”the furthest distance at which she found success in her 26-race career. Bandstand’s half brother, the sire Weather Warning, once captured the 9-furlong Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs, but sprint distances and early speed (not stamina) was his forte. Another half sister, Storm Tide, produced 9-furlong Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner American Lion who, after finishing mid-pack in the 2010 Kentucky Derby, suffered a setback, was briefly retired, and then returned to the track in 2011, only to be retired again to stud duty. Another notable family member: last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby. Other than those notables, there’s nothing but a whole lot of sprinters in his damline. His damsire Deputy Minister has instilled stamina in his progeny such as Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again; Travers winner Deputy Commander; 12-furlong Coaching Club American Oaks (and Kentucky Oaks) winnerOpen Mind; 12-furlong Grade 2 Pan American victor Flag Down; and Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold. His second damsire Carson City has been more successful in passing along speed rather than stamina, and there’s just nothing appealing about his third damsire Mighty Appealing.
(Perfect Soul, out of Hollywood Gold, by Mr. Prospector)
The Kentucky Derby runner-up has already answered some stamina questionsâ€”stepping out another 2 furlongs is a hurdle that he should be able to overcome based on his pedigree. A son of known stamina sire Sadler’s Wells, his young sire Perfect Soul was Grade 2-placed at 12 furlongs and has already produced 11-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl. The damside is equally rich, with his second damsire Silver Hawk twice Group 1-placed over 12 furlongs (in the English and Irish Derbies) and his third damsire Lorenzaccio a winner of the 11-furlong Prix Foy. It’s the second dam of Golden Soul that also impresses: after capturing the 1 5/16 miles French Group 1 Prix de Diane, Lady in Silver ran a game second in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Arlington Million against males.Golden Soul’s damsire Mr. Prospector has an exemplary reputation as a broodmare sire, including Mineshaft and Rock Hard Ten, both Grade 1 winners at 10 furlongs.
(Langfuhr, out of Hot Red, by Thunder Gulch)
It’s difficult on the surface to understand the reasons his connections think that Midnight Taboo fits here, given that he’s only a maiden winner at 1 mile, but a deeper look into his pedigree reveals some promising indicators. A son of Grade 1 sprinter-miler Langfuhr,Midnight Taboo gains stamina from his damsire Thunder Gulch, winner of the Belmont Stakes, and his second damsire Relaunch, who ran second to the great John Henry in the 12-furlong Grade 1 San Luis Rey Stakes. His third damsire is the Australian Hall of Fame colt Tobin Bronze, a horse who not only won multiple times at 12 furlongs (Victoria Derby, Turnbull Stakes and Caulfield Cup), but also ran second in the 14-furlong VRC St. Leger Stakes. Additionally, the unraced dam of Midnight Taboo is a half sister to Turko’s Turn, dam of another Belmont winner Point Given (a son of Thunder Gulch). This is also the immediate family of Medjool, a Monarchos colt who was Grade 2-placed at 11 furlongs and Grade 3-placed at 12 furlongs. So while on paper his achievements appear modest, Midnight Taboo has apedigree that holds great promise in terms of stamina.
Palace Malice – WINNER
(Curlin, out of Palace Rumor, by Royal Anthem)
Obviously the addition of blinkers significantly hindered Palace Malice‘s chances in the Kentucky Derbyâ€”rather than just focusing him, they caused him to bolt to the early lead and thus destroyed any chance for jockey Mike Smith to successfully rate him over the Derby distance. Minus the blinkers, can he turn it around here? His pedigree says “yes” and “no.” A tad of a late bloomer, his sire Curlin may not have won the Kentucky Derby (finishing third behind Street Sense and Hard Spun), but he more than made up for that over the next two years, twice winning the 10-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup, as well as the Breeder’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. And who can forget that battle royal with eventual Belmont winner Rags to Riches? Palace Malice’s damside is resplendent with male stamina, beginning with his damsire Royal Anthem, a multiple Grade 1 turf winner, including the 12-furlong Canadian International and the 11-furlong Gulfstream Park Breeders’ Cup. While his second damsire Red Ransom made only three career starts, at stud he has produced several top distance stayers, including Dubai World Cup winner Electrocutionist, who captured the 12-furlong Group 1 Gran Premio di Milano; 11-furlong Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf victress Perfect Sting; and 12-furlong Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club Italiano winner Ekraar. Palace Malice’s third damsire is another Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Skywalker. Still, in terms of performance, there are some legitimate questions about this family. The stakes-winning dam of Palace Malice, Palace Rumor thrived as a turf miler, and her stake-winning half siblings were all sprinters, perhaps not surprising as they were the product of sprinting sires Stormy Atlantic and Jump Start. Given his pedigree, I wouldn’t totally rule Palace Malice out, but he’s by no means a slam dunk either.
Will Take Charge
(Unbridled’s Song, out of Take Charge Lady, by Dehere)
After two disappointing efforts in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, it’s difficult to support Will Take Charge, even with his rather blue-blood family. Last year, his Grade 1 Florida Derby-winning half-brother Take Charge Indy finished next-to-last in the Kentucky Derby, but with an excuseâ€”post-race, he underwent surgery to remove a bone chip in his left front ankle. In the autumn, Take Charge Indy came back to finish second to Shackleford in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Clark Handicap. While most recently capturing the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes, Take Charge Indy has never won beyond 9 furlongs. Their Kentucky Oaks runner-up dam Take Charge Lady regularly won at 1 1/8 miles, including twice capturing the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes; she also ran second in the 10-furlong Delaware Handicap. That said, their second damsire Rubiano was a champion sprinter, as was their third damsire Blushing Groom, and true stamina performers are few and far between in their family. It’s a family of extremes to be sure, with members including Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge and Grade 1-placed Straight Story, who finished a mere head behind Battle of Hastings in the 10-furlong Grade 2 Virginia Derby. While stamina is present, it’s probably not the kind that can carry over 1 1/2 miles.
(Frost Giant, out of Apocalyptic, by Hickman Creek)
A last-minute Kentucky Derby entry, Giant Finish ran mid-packâ€”hardly the worst performance in the field, but certainly nothing to indicate he can upset the Belmont. His sire Frost Giant does have two 10-furlong victories to his name-the Irish Group 3 Kilternan Stakes on turf and the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap on dirt (the last year the Suburban was so graded). Not to dismiss Frost Giant too lightly, but the Suburban that year was one of the absolute weakest in recent memory and, at least to me, deserves an asterisk besides it in terms of being a great indicator of stamina. The closest two damsires of Giant Finish hardly inspire confidence in stamina either: Hickman Creek was Grade 2-placed at 1 1/16 miles, while Giant Finish’s second damsire, stakes winner Silent Screen, never won beyond 1 mile. It is intriguing that his third damsire is Belmont Stakes winner Nashua, a Hall of Fame horse who twice captured the Jockey Club Gold Cup when it was contested at 2 miles, but closer up, distance performers are few and far between in Giant Finish‘s family.
(Dixie Union, out of Unacloud, by Unaccounted For)
A Grade 1 sprinter, Dixie Union did stretch out to win the 9-furlong Grade 1 Haskellâ€”and he’s already produced a 12-furlong Belmont Stakes winner in Union Rags. So why question Overanalyze‘s stamina? He’s twice won at 1 1/8 miles, including the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby most recently, but despite having 9-furlong Obeah Handicap winner Peak Maria’s Way in his family, Overanalyze doesn’t appear suited for the Belmont distance. His damsire Unaccounted For was multiple Grade 1-placed at 10 furlongs, but his second damsire Two Punch was a sprinter that never won any major events, and his third damsire Yukon was an unraced half brother to Mr. Prospector. In terms of close-up relatives, Overanalyze’s half sister Meadow Breeze won the 7-furlong Grade 1 Matron and stuck with sprint distances throughout her career. Another half brother Mighty Monsoon finished third in the 6 1/2-furlong Grade 2 Best Pal before beginning his tumble through the claiming ranks, also as a sprinter. His full sister Under Wraps was a maiden claiming winner at 6 furlongs. While Overanalyze has already won over the Belmont surface, it was going around only one turn (in the Grade 2 Futurity Stakes last September) so this will be a new challenge for him.
(Into Mischief, out of Life Happened, by Stravinsky)
Make all the excuses you will about his next-to-last finish in the Kentucky Derby. The truth is, this colt simply doesn’t have the stamina breeding to get the Belmont distance. His damsire Stravinsky was an English Group 1 sprinter, while his second damsire Apalachee was an English Group 1 miler, and his third damsire Double Zeus was a graded stakes-placed sprinter. Add to that the fact that Vyjack’s unraced dam is a half sister to Maryland champion sprinter Disco Rico, while his third dam was the Maryland-bred sprint mare Capp It Off. Vyjack’s half siblings are all sprint-milers, even Prime Cut (Bernstein), who finished a distant third in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Peter Panâ€”his only route victories have come at 1 1/16 miles, exactly like Vyjack. For Vyjack to get 12 furlongs would take an absolute miracle.
(Street Sense, out of Unlimited Pleasure, by Valid Appeal)
I admit that I love the idea of a filly in the Belmont, especially when she’s big and physical like Unlimited Budget. That said, there are major question marks surrounding her pedigree when it comes to winning at 12 furlongs. Her sire Street Sense twice won at the 10-furlong distance but did not contest the Belmont after losing the Preakness to Curlin. Of even greater concern is Unlimited Budget’s damside, with her damsire Valid Appeal being a top sprinter and her second damsire Notebook never stretching out beyond 9 furlongs. Unlimited Budget’s stakes-placed dam was a sprinter, a half sister to 10-furlong Grade 1 Super Derby winner Outofthebox; this is also the family of 8-furlong Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap winner Tackleberry, not to mention the Grade 3 sprint-winning sire Montbrook. The dearth of strong stamina indicators doesn’t bode well for this filly, unlike the extremely well-suited filly Rags to Riches, who won the Belmont in 2007 over Curlin.