The Test of ChampionsWho has the pedigree to win the 2011 Belmont Stakes?
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.
Once upon a time, American thoroughbred racing was all about stamina. In the nineteenth century, it was not unusual for races to be contested in back-to-back two-mile heats, and even as recently as 1975, the venerated Jockey Club Gold Cup tested horses going two 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 where few horses regularly race over nine furlongsâ€”a fact that makes the Belmont Stakes unique in American racing, as it is the only remaining 1 1/2 mile graded 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 value most.
Even more so than the Kentucky Derby, pedigree plays a critical role in who can and can not get the Belmont distance. 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 a mile and a half. 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 Breeders’ Cup Classic over 10 furlongs, not to mention that Tiznow’s broodmare sire Seattle Song (son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew) also won the 12 furlong Washington DC 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.
In 2010, two of our top four stamina pedigree selectionsâ€”Drosselmeyer and Fly Downâ€”ran one-two, with First Dude (exactly as predicted) dangerous on the lead and able to hang on for third.
So, while most of this year’s Belmont contenders have some evidence of stamina breeding, who among them appears a step above? In alphabetical order, the top four are:
(Leroidesanimaux, out of Dalicia, by Acatenango)
Apparently he answered the turf vs. dirt pedigree issue by winning the Kentucky Derby. Thus, considering his bullet 4-furlong workout at Belmont this week, there’s just no legitimate reason to dismiss Animal Kingdom’s chances. His German group stakes winning dam won at 11 furlongs; his damsire Acatenango is truly legendary in Germany, winning multiple Group 1 events over 12 furlongs. Consider too that his second damsire Dancing Brave won the 12-furlong Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and there’s no question he should stay 1 1/2 miles.
(Dynaformer, out of Speed Succeeds, by Gone West)
Perhaps best known for his turf runners, Dynaformer has already produced a dirt Classics winner in Barbaro. What makes Brilliant Speed intriguing at 12 furlongs is the fact that his second dam Daijin is a full sister to Belmont winner Touch Gold. He closed well in the Derby and could be ready to improve off that seventh-place effort.
(Mineshaft out of The Administrator, by Afleet)
Last year, Belmont runner-up Fly Down represented Mineshaft well; this year could be Nehro’s turn. His dam has already produced Battle Planner, twice placed at 12 furlongs on turf. While his damsire Afleet is best known as a sprinter, he did run second in the 10-furlong Queen’s Plate, so the cross with Mineshaft probably just further brings out his speed and stamina. His third damsire is Belmont victor Damascus, who also won the 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup.
(Bernardini, out of Marozia, by Storm Bird)
With so much stamina evident (top and bottom) in Stay Thirsty, it’s hard not to seriously consider him. Starting with his dam whose only win was at 12 furlongs, this colt is a half brother to Belmont runner-up Andromeda’s Hero. Both his second dam Make Change and his third dam Equal Change were Group 1-placed at 12 furlongs; his second damsire Roberto won both the Epsom Derby and Coronation Cup at 12 furlongs, while his third damsire Arts and Letters and his fourth damsire Cavan both won the Belmont. The best stamina pedigree, hands down.
Good, but maybe not quite good enough…
Much like First Dude last year, it’s impossible to ignore Preakness winner Shackleford (Forestry, out of Oatsee, by Unbridled), but it would be shocking for him to win at 12 furlongs with his pedigree. As mentioned in our Derby analysis, both his sire and dam performed best up to one mile, but his dam has produced distance runners, including 10-furlong Alabama winner Lady Joanne and multiple Grade 3 winner Baghdaria.
Solely based on pedigree and family performers, Mucho Macho Man (Macho Uno, out of Ponche de Leona, by Ponche) shouldn’t persevere at 12 furlongs. His damsire was a sprinter, as was his dam. His Tomlinson distance figure for the Belmont is a mere 188, by far the lowest in the field. Yet he’s so gutsy, and worked so well in a bullet 5-furlong work this week…I just can’t see him winning, though. That said, if there’s an off-track, the two best Wet Tomlinson figures belong to Shackleford (419) and Mucho Macho Man (415), which obviously moves them forward even more.
I’m conflicted about Master of Hounds (Kingmambo, out of Silk and Scarlet, by Sadler’s Wells), as his Group 2 winning dam never won or placed beyond seven furlongs and failed miserably when stretching out to 12 furlongs. Yet the cross of Kingmambo with Sadler’s Wells mares has produced tremendous stayers, not to mention Master of Hounds’ second dam Danilova is a half sister to 12-furlong Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) winner Sanglamore. He finished nicely, gaining fifth place in the Derby, about on par with Brilliant Speed and Santiva. With wily Garrett Gomez aboard, don’t rule him out.
At first glance, Santiva (Giant’s Causeway, out of Slide, by Smarten) looks like a slam-dunk in terms of stamina pedigree, with both his sire and damsire winners at 10 furlongs and beyond. However, his unraced dam belongs to a long line of sprinters, including half siblings Grade 2-placed Partner’s Hero and Breeders’ Cup Sprint victress Safely Kept. If he can run back to his Grade 2 Risen Star form, he could be a place chance. Just not sure he wants 12 furlongs.
Even though his sire is a Belmont winner, Monzon (Thunder Gulch, out of Shadow of Mine, by Belong to Me) lacks evidence of stamina close-up on his damside. You have to go back to his third damsire, Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris winner Rheffic, to find a stayer, but even his daughter Vific (Monzon’s third dam) was a Group 1-winning sprinter, as was Monzon’s damsire Belong to Me and second damsire Mr. Prospector. Other than his first-up win in this year’s Count Fleet, there’s nothing to recommend him here.
It’s also impossible pedigree-wise to back Prime Cut (Bernstein, out of Life Happened, by Stravinsky), as both his sire and damsire were sprinters. So too was his second damsire Apalachee and third damsire Double Zeus, not to mention his dam’s half brother Disco Rico, who was champion sprinter in Maryland. I don’t see him getting 12 furlongs.
In terms of form, there’s just no way Isn’t He Perfect (Pleasantly Perfect, out of Reciciada, by Rictorious) can win. However, his sire won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pacific Classic and Dubai World Cup at 10 furlongs, and his dam was a 10-furlong Grade 1 runner-up in Chile. His damsire is by Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo, out of a mare sired by Epsom Derby winner (and stamina-rich influence) Sir Ivor. His dam is also a half sister to 10-furlong Hollywood Gold Cup runner-up A.P. Excellent, as well as 12-furlong Grade 1 Premio El Derby winner Mash One. With much stronger performers possessing just as good if not better stamina pedigrees, I’ll pass on this one.
I loved the way Ruler On Ice (Roman Ruler, out of Champagne Glow, by Saratoga Six) closed in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, but he too just doesn’t have enough combination of form and pedigree to recommend. His Grade 1-placed dam has produced Grade 1 Acorn winner Champagne d’Oro, not to mention that Champagne Glow’s half brother was the talented yet tragic Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Grand Canyon. His second damsire L’Enjoleur won two of the three legs of Canada’s Triple Crown, but there are just not enough proven 12-furlong runners close-up in his pedigree.
2010 Belmont Stake Contenders
(Pulpit out of Spice Island, by Tabasco Cat)
In my Kentucky Derby pedigree post, I touted Ice Box, who resolutely demonstrated his stamina potential by running a fast-closing second to Super Saver. Based on his dam Spice Island’s victories over 11 and 12 furlongs, Ice Box should relish the Belmont distance.
(Distorted Humor out of Spangled, by Kris S.)
If he has progressed under trainer Rick Dutrow’s tutorage, Spangled Star could pull a major upset. Like many great sires, Distorted Humor was a miler, but when bred to mares with strong stamina lines, he has produced such Grade 1 distance horses as Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Funny Cide, Haskell victor Any Given Saturday and Delaware Handicap victress Hystericalady. Spangled Star’s damsire Kris S. has produced numerous Grade 1 runners over 10 to 12 furlongs, including two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Symboli Kris S., Breeders’ Cup Turf victor Prized, Epsom Derby winner Kris Kin, Arlington Million victor Kicken Kris and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf victress Soaring Softly.
(Distorted Humor out of Golden Ballet, by Moscow Ballet)
A jockey change from Kent Desormeaux to Mike Smith might be just the nudge needed to get this colt to finally live up to his hype. Another son of Distorted Humor, Drosselmeyer is out of the multi-Grade 1 winning mare Golden Ballet, who has already produced a Grade 1-placed filly in Stage Luck. The damsire of Golden Ballet, Belmont Stakes runner-up Slew O’ Gold, twice won the 12-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup on his way to winning back-to-back Eclipse awards.
(Mineshaft out of Queen Randi, by Fly So Free)
The “other” Nick Zito-trained entry, Fly Down, has twice beaten Preakness runner-up First Dude and he crushed Drosselmeyer in the Grade 2 Dwyer last out. With a sharp bullet work and veteran jockey Johnny Velazquez up, Fly Down wouldn’t be a surprise winner. His sire Mineshaft, a son of Belmont winner A.P. Indy, won both the Suburban Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup going 10 furlongs. His dam Queen Randi has also produced on a similar Seattle Slew-cross Grade 1-placed router Seafree. Damsire Fly So Free won both the Jim Dandy and Florida Derby over nine furlongs, and has produced winners over 10 furlongs such as Dubai World Cup winner Captain Steve, and Canadian turf champion filly Free Vacation, who three times won at 12 furlongs.
Good, but maybe not quite good enoughâ€¦
First Dude (Stephen Got Even out of Run Sarah Run, by Smart Strike) could be very dangerous if left alone on the early lead, but his pedigree isn’t a slam-dunk. Neither Stephen Got Even nor Smart Strike won beyond nine furlongs, and Smart Strike’s best routers possess clear stamina influences through their dams, such as English Channel, who is out of a Theatrical mare, and Curlin, whose damline contains the blood of Epsom Derby winner Sir Ivor.
Others who may have the potential to stay 12 furlongs include Game On Dude (Awesome Again out of Worldly Pleasure, by Devil His Due) by Queen’s Plate winner Awesome Again, who won multiple times over 10 furlongs, while his damsire Devil His Due won the 10-furlong Gulfstream Park Handicap.
His dirt form thus far is suspect, but if he puts it together, Stately Victor (Ghostzapper out of Collect the Cash, by Dynaformer) certainly has distance potential, particularly through his damsire Dynaformer, son of Epsom Derby winner Roberto. A son of Awesome Again, Ghostzapper won the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Interactif (Broken Vow out of Broad Pennant, by Broad Brush) appears destined for a turf career, but trainer Todd Pletcher entered him in the Belmont. His sire Broken Vow ran third in the 10-furlong Gulfstream Park Handicap, and has produced stamina-rich offspring such as Delaware Handicap winner Unbridled Belle, and 11-furlong Canadian Derby victor Matt’s Broken Vow.
Another son of Broken Vow, Stay Put (Broken Vow out of O.K. Mom, by Dixieland Band) is also entered in the Belmont, but his damsire Dixieland Band’s progeny typically top out around nine furlongs, such as Haskell winner Dixie Union whose son Dave in Dixie (Dixie Union out of Risk, by Wavering Monarch) is also entered in this year’s Belmont, looking well-overmatched. However, there is some stamina on Dave in Dixie’s damside, with his second dam’s sire Droll Role having won the Canadian International over 13 furlongs.
Perhaps the most questionable pedigrees for this event are those of Uptowncharlybrown (Limehouse out of La Iluminada, by Langfuhr) and Make Music for Me (Bernstein out of Miss Cheers, by Carson City). Limehouse did win the 9-furlong Brooklyn Handicap, but this son of sprinter/miler Grand Slam out of a Dixieland Band mare, combined with a daughter of Canadian champion sprinter Langfuhr, doesn’t scream 12 furlongs. Neither does a son of Bernstein out of a Carson City mare, both sprinters. However, Carson City has thrived as a broodmare sire, instilling toughness and durability in his offspring, and Make Music For Me’s second dam Rise Sing and is by Epsom Derby winner The Minstrel out of a Seattle Slew mare.