The Test of the Champion 2016An in-depth look at the pedigrees of the 2016 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 many Belmont contestants will ever run. Just as we have for the last five years (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) we take our annual in-depth look at the pedigree of each contestant.
When undefeated Kentucky Derby victor Nyquist failed to win the Preakness this year, the chance of back-to-back Triple Crowns ended. Thus, with Nyquist on the sidelines, Preakness winner Exaggerator will face both familiar foes and new shooters in his quest for Belmont glory. Which of these contenders possess the necessary stamina breeding along with strong damline performers to win the final leg of the Triple Crown?
In alphabetical order, let’s break them down into three groups, beginning with those whose pedigrees strongly suggest they should handle the 1 1/2-miles distance, even if their racing record may not recommend them:
Creator – WINNER
(Tapit, out of Morena by Privately Held)
In the Kentucky Derby, Creator was content to run in the back of the field early; when he started to make his move rounding the final turn, he was checked and bumped hard, completely throwing him off stride and resulting in a disappointing 13th-place finish. His connections skipped the Preakness to await the longer Belmont, a strategy that could pay big dividends for this well-bred colt. His sire Tapit has already proven his mettle as a stamina influence by producing 12-furlong Belmont winner Tonalist and Belmont runner-up Frosted. So too have many horses in Creator’s damline, beginning with his damsire Privately Held, who won on dirt and turf as far as 1 3/16 miles, and who ran second in the 11-furlong (1 3/8 miles) Meadowlands Endurance Stakes. Creator’s second damsire is 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont winner Summing. His multiple graded stakes-winning dam Morena was twice Grade 1-placed at 12 furlongs (1 1/2 miles) in Peru before coming to the U.S., where she was five times graded stakes-placed behind the likes of Canadian Champion Older Mare Serenading and Horse of the Year (and 2016 Hall of Fame inductee) Rachel Alexandra. In Peru, she also won four graded stakes at distances between 10 and 12 furlongs, three times against males.
Lani – SHOW (3rd)
(Tapit, out of Heavenly Romance by Sunday Silence)
Lani finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby and a much-improved fifth in the Preakness, both times running from well off what turned out to be quick early paces. The Belmont’s lack of early speed and dearth of late closers could prove to be a boon for this colt, especially as he’s so well-bred for the distance. As mentioned previously, his sire Tapit has already produced 12-furlong Belmont winner Tonalist and Belmont runner-up Frosted. His damsire Sunday Silence was not only a three-time 10-furlong Grade 1 winner (Kentucky Derby, Super Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic), but he also sired a host of stamina-rich progeny, including Japanese Triple Crown winner Deep Impact, who won eight Group 1 races between 10 and 16 furlongs. Lani’s second damsire is another superstar stud when it comes to stamina; Sadler’s Wells was twice a Group 1 runner-up at 12 furlongs. Lani’s third damsire is undefeated legend Ribot, two-time 12-furlong Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victor and winner of the 15-furlong Gran Premio di Milano. That stamina-rich pedigree manifested itself nicely in Lani’s dam Heavenly Romance. Winner of the prestigious 10-furlong Japanese Group 1 Tenno Sho, as a broodmare she’s produced two other Japanese stakes winners between 10 and 11 furlongs. Also found among the many extreme stayers in Lani’s immediate damline are 14-furlong Group 1 Irish St. Leger victress Dark Lomond, and 18-furlong (2 1/4 miles) Japanese Group 3 winner Sage Wells.
(Street Cry, out of Storm Song by Summer Squall)
A maiden still, 9-furlong Grade 1 Wood Memorial runner-up Trojan Nation had no luck in the Derby. Drawing the innermost post position, he was checked shortly after breaking from the gate and lagged near the rear throughout, beating only four horses to the finish line. With a better post draw and smaller field, he could be a huge upset threat. His stamina pedigree is excellent, beginning with his sire Street Cry, winner of the 10-furlong Grade 1 Dubai World Cup. Among Street Cry’s best progeny: Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, 10-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic victress Zenyatta, and 11-furlong Group 1 Queensland Oaks winner Winx. Trojan Nation’s damsire is 1 3/16-miles Grade 1 Preakness winner and 10-furlong Kentucky Derby runner-up Summer Squall, while his third damsire is The Minstrel, a three-time Group 1 winner at 12 furlongs. One doesn’t have to go that far back, though, to recognize stamina performance in his damline. His two-time Grade 1 winning dam Storm Song, whose victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies propelled her to being named Eclipse champion 2-year-old filly in 1996, came back to finish third in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. As a broodmare, she’s produced a half-brother to Trojan Nation called Balladry (by Unbridled’s Song) who finished third in the 12-furlong (1 1/2-miles) Grade 3 Cougar II. Additionally, one half-sister to Trojan Nation has produced 11-furlong Grade 1 Singapore Gold Cup winner Better Life, while another has produced 10-furlong Group 2 Japanese Oaks Trial winner Midsummer Fair. An unraced half-sister to Storm Song, Happy Tune is the dam of 12-furlong Grade 3 Carleton F. Burke Handicap winner Symphony Sid.
(Giant’s Causeway, out of Sweet Breanna by Sahm)
Another failed Derby runner who skipped the Preakness in favor of the longer Belmont, Brody’s Cause has a strong stamina pedigree to recommend him. A three-time Group 1 turf winner between 10 and 10 1/2 furlongs, Giant’s Causeway is often recognized by horseplayers as simply a stamina-rich turf sire, with progeny including 11-furlong French Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club winner Shamardal and 16-furlong Belmont Gold Cup Invitational runner-up Irish Mission. And yet in his career finale, Giant’s Causeway finished a mere neck behind Tiznow in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic on dirt at Churchill Downs. Thus, he’s produced a number of quality dirt performers, including 10-furlong Grade 1 Suburban victor Frost Giant and 14-furlong Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Man of Iron. On his damside, Brody’s Cause also possesses a number of positive stamina indicators, beginning with his dam Sweet Breanna, runner-up in the 9-furlong Woodbine Oaks. Sweet Roberta, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up second dam of Brody’s Cause, also produced a half-sister to Sweet Breanna named Jah that not only won on dirt, but also handily captured an 11-furlong (1 3/8 miles) non-graded turf stakes race at Del Mar. Also among Sweet Breanna’s half-siblings is the dam of 16-furlong (2 miles) English Group 3 Queen’s Vase winner Duke of Venice. Really digging into his past, one finds that the fifth dam of Brody’s Cause is a half-sister to the dam of Triple Crown winner Secretariat. It’s also notable that two-time 12-furlong Group 1 winner Roberto is found in both the sireline and damline of Brody’s Cause.
(Paddy O’Prado, out of C.S. Royce by Unbridled’s Song)
A confirmed late closer, Cherry Wine roared up from the back of the pack to finish a game second behind Exaggerator in the Preakness. The same racing style was employed by his sire Paddy O’Prado when he finished third behind Super Saver and Ice Box in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Ultimately, Paddy O’Prado’s best races came on turf, including a victory in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Secretariat and a runner-up finish in the 12-furlong Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. It may have taken Cherry Wine’s dam C.S. Royce two years and 11 attempts on all three racing surfaces before she broke her maiden going 1 1/16 miles on turf, but her half-brother Bay Story finished second in the 16-furlong (2 miles) Group 3 Perth Cup in Australia. Given his breeding, turf does appear to be where Cherry Wine’s future lies, but why not give the Belmont a shot with all that stamina present? Also, dirt performers are not totally absent in his damline. His second dam Sweeping Story finished third behind Silverbulletday and Dreams Gallore in the 1999 Kentucky Oaks.
Destin – PLACE (2nd)
(Giant’s Causeway, out of Dream of Summer by Siberian Summer)
The other Belmont runner for sire Giant’s Causeway, Destin landed one spot ahead of Brody’s Cause in the Kentucky Derby, finishing sixth. He appears equally blessed with stamina through his Grade 1-winning dam Dream of Summer, who twice ran second in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Santa Margarita. She’s also produced a Grade 1-winning full-brother to Destin, 9-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby runner-up Creative Cause, who finished third in the 1 3/16-miles Grade 1 Preakness, his career finale. Destin’s second damsire Skywalker won the 10-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic; his third damsire Properantes captured the 14-furlong Grade 1 San Juan Capistrano.
(Curlin, out of Dawn Raid by Vindication)
Once again a runner-up to his West Coast foe Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, Exaggerator emphatically destroyed that previously undefeated colt’s Triple Crown aspirations by winning the Preakness – just like his sire Curlin did for Street Sense in 2007. But remember Curlin’s Belmont heartbreak? There’s no gutsy filly like Rags to Riches to upset Exaggerator here, but there are several competitors with better stamina pedigrees on their damside. That doesn’t mean Exaggerator is without hope, however. Yes, up close his damline is laden with sprinters, including his damsire Vindication and second damsire Bold Ruckus, but his third damsire The Minstrel captured three Group 1 races at 12 furlongs: the Irish Derby and the English Derby, as well as the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. Exaggerator’s fourth damsire Ruritania, runner-up to Hall of Famer Riva Ridge in the Belmont, captured the 11-furlong Manhattan Handicap. His third dam’s half-sister Eternal Search captured the 10-furlong Maple Leaf Stakes on dirt, while another half-sister Savethelastdance produced both 10-furlong Queen’s Plate victor Niigon and the unraced Sue’s Last Dance, dam of 10-furlong Grade 2 Delaware Handicap victress and 9-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Island Sand.
Seeking the Soul
(Perfect Soul, out of Seeking the Title, by Seeking the Gold)
Lightly raced Seeking the Soul just broke his maiden on May 29; his victory came on dirt going one mile in his third lifetime start. What makes his connections think he can go from maiden winner to 12-furlong Grade 1 victor? His sire Perfect Soul was a late-bloomer, not making his first start until nearly mid-year of his 4-year-old campaign. However, similar to Seeking the Soul, he progressed rather quickly as a racehorse, being just nipped at the wire going 12 furlongs in the Grade 1 Niagara Breeders’ Cup in only his fourth start. He followed up that effort with an impressive fourth-place finish in the 12-furlong Grade 1 Canadian International. The following year Perfect Soul won the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile en route to capturing Canada’s Sovereign Award for Champion Grass Horse. At stud he’s produced quality turf runners such as 11-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl and 12-furlong Breeders’ Stakes winner Perfect Shower. He’s also sired 10-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul, a colt whose best races have subsequently been on turf. While his sireline is filled with turf performers, Seeking the Soul has a damline resplendent with dirt stamina. His 10-furlong Grade 1-winning damsire Seeking the Gold produced Belmont Stakes winner Jazil. Seeking the Soul’s second damsire, Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, finished a distant third behind Point Given in the Belmont Stakes, while his third damsire Private Account was twice a Grade 1 winner at 10 furlongs. His lightly raced fourth damsire Hoist the Flag counts two-time 12-furlong Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victor Alleged among his progeny. Seeking the Soul’s Grade 3-winning dam Seeking the Title ran third in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Gazelle; her half-brother Perfect Title (by Perfect Soul) just missed winning the 12-furlong listed Laurel Turf Cup by a nose. Most impressively, Seeking the Soul’s third dam is the undefeated champion Personal Ensign, two-time winner of the 10-furlong Grade 1 Beldame, a victress over males in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, and the 9-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner over the brilliant Kentucky Derby-winning filly Winning Colors. In addition to Seeking the Soul’s unraced second dam Title Seeker, Personal Ensign also produced 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup victor Miner’s Mark, two-time Grade 1-placed sprinter Our Emblem (who sired Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem), and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner My Flag who finished a nicely closing third in the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes before coming back to win the 10-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. The quality of stamina runners in this family is just staggering, although a good number of them are turfsters, like 10-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational winner Mr. Speaker, 10-furlong Grade 2 Virginia Derby runner-up Interactif, 9-furlong Grade 2 Dixie victor Parading, and 12-furlong Grade 3 W.L. McKnight Handicap winner Divine Oath.
(Mineshaft, out of Uchitel by Afleet Alex)
As advertised prior to his Derby start, Suddenbreakingnews looked like a colt that wanted more ground, and, even though he finished only fifth, he produced the fastest closing fractions in that race. After skipping the Preakness, he should be well-rested for this effort where, considering his strong stamina pedigree, the distance should suit him just fine. A son of Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy and grandson of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, Mineshaft twice won 10-furlong Grade 1 contests (Suburban, Jockey Club Gold Cup); as a sire, he’s produced 10-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Effinex, 10-furlong Grade 1 Alabama runner-up It’s Tricky, 10-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro, 12-furlong Greenwood Cup victor A.U. Miner, and 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Stakes runner-up Fly Down. The stamina richness continues in Suddenbreakingnews’ damline. His damsire Afleet Alex won the 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, while his second damsire Alleged was a two-time winner of the 12-furlong French Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Suddenbreakingnews’ second dam, the three-time Grade 1-placed Party Cited, once captured the 11-furlong (1 3/8 miles) Grade 3 Yerba Buena Handicap; as a broodmare, she’s produced two quality half-siblings to Suddenbreakingnews’ dam, Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks winner Composure and Grade 3 West Virginia Derby victor Ready Set.
(Medaglia d’Oro, out of Lemon Forever, by Lemon Drop Kid)
A son of Belmont Stakes runner-up Medaglia d’Oro, Forever d’Oro is blessed with a high-performing dam, 9-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever. A daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, she was twice tested going 10 furlongs, finishing a distant third (nearly 10 lengths back) in the Grade 1 Alabama and a distant fourth (nearly nine lengths back) over a sealed muddy track in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. She’s produced two Grade 1-winning half-sisters to Forever d’Oro: 1 1/16 miles Apple Blossom victress Forever Unbridled and 7-furlong Ballerina winner Unbridled Forever, the latter who also ran third in the 2014 Kentucky Oaks and second in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. The quality is definitely there in his damline, but the lingering question is whether or not this lightly raced recent maiden winner can traverse the 12-furlong distance in his first graded stakes attempt.
(Pioneerof the Nile, out of L.A. Devine, by Pulpit)
Given the dearth of early speed present in the field, Gettysburg’s role appears to be that of “rabbit” or pacemaker. Although he and last year’s Triple Crown winner American Pharoah share the same sire, there isn’t much to indicate he can step up in class and achieve victory at this distance. It’s not that his damline is without stamina indicators. He’s a son of Belmont winner A.P. Indy, but his damsire Pulpit never won beyond 9 furlongs and never raced again after a weakening fourth-place finish in the 10-furlong Kentucky Derby. However, as a sire, Pulpit produced Tapit, sire of 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist and 2013 Belmont runner-up Frosted. Gettysburg’s second damsire Relaunch once ran second to the great John Henry going 12-furlongs in the Grade 1 San Luis Rey; his third damsire is Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo. The real issue is the lack of performers among his immediate female and their offspring. As a 3-year-old, his third dam Sun Luck did dead-heat for the win in the 6-furlong Old Hat and ran third in the 1 1/16-miles Florida Oaks, but beyond that, there’s nary a graded stakes performer among her progeny and beyond. What is present in Gettysburg’s family are a whole lot of sprinters, many toiling in the claiming ranks.
Governor Malibu – FOURTH
(Malibu Moon, out of Akilina, by Langfuhr)
Disqualified from first to second in the 9-furlong Federico Tesio, Governor Malibu enters the Belmont off a strongly-closing runner-up finish in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Peter Pan. What makes his connections think he can win going three furlongs further? His sire Malibu Moon made only two starts, but at stud he’s produced 10-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who finished third in the 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. Governor Malibu’s second damsire is Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Gulch who, in addition to finishing third in the 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, also sired Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Thunder Gulch (who subsequently sired Belmont Stakes winner Point Given). Additionally, Governor Malibu’s third damsire is Belmont winner Easy Goer. The questions about his stamina are up closer in his damline, starting with his dam Akilina who was grade 3-placed going one mile on turf. Running most of her races on grass, Akilina is a fitting example of her sire Langfuhr’s predilection for producing turf horses such as multiple Grade 1 winner Jambalaya and 12-furlong Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic victor Interpatation. Yet, the Sovereign Award-winning champion sprinter also produced two-time 9-furlong Grade 1 dirt winner Lawyer Ron and a multi-surface performer in Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando. It just seems like a crapshoot as to whether or not Governor Malibu can conqueror the 1 1/2-miles distance.
(Medaglia d’Oro, out of Bending Strings, by American Chance)
In terms of breeding, Stradivari has much in common with Belmont competitor Forever d’Oro. Both are sons of a Belmont Stakes runner-up and both have dams that were graded stakes winners multiple times. The difference is that Stradivari’s dam Bending Strings’ major victories came at shorter distances, namely between 6 furlongs and one mile. She did run a distant second to Ashado in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Go for Wand, but otherwise her success came as a sprinter-miler. However, Bending Strings’ half-sister has produced Bangkok, a colt that off a 1 1/16-miles maiden win closed well late to finish fourth (just two lengths back) in the final leg of the Canadian 3-year-old Triple Crown, the 12-furlong Breeders’ Stakes on turf. Since then, he’s won an 11-furlong turf allowance race and narrowly finished second in a 10-furlong allowance race switched from the turf to Woodbine’s all-weather track. Further back in his damline we find Stradivari’s second damsire Hail the Pirates, a multiple graded stakes turf winner on two continents including the 10-furlong Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap, and his third damsire Key to the Mint, winner of the 12-furlong Woodward and runner-up in the Jockey Club Gold Cup when it was contested at 16 furlongs (two miles).