The Test of the Champion 2018
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 six years (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), we take our annual in-depth look at the pedigree of each contestant.
Like American Pharoah in 2015, Justify is in the midst of an impressive winning streak as he makes his bid to become the second Triple Crown winner in four years. That fact hasn’t stopped both experienced challengers and new shooters lining up to take him on, including Preakness runner-up Bravazo and Preakness third-place finisher Tenfold, who both finished within a length of the winner.
Which contenders possess the necessary stamina breeding along with strong damline performers to upset 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 doesn’t necessarily recommend them:
Free Drop Billy
(Union Rags, out of Trensa, by Giant’s Causeway)
A disappointing 16th-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, Free Drop Billy has posted three sharp workouts in advance of the Belmont after skipping the Preakness. Given his strong stamina breeding, he could pull a major surprise on Saturday. Winner of the 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont, Union Rags sired last year’s Belmont third-place finisher Patch in his first crop. The stamina evidence is even stronger in Free Drop Billy’s damside, beginning with his damsire Giant’s Causeway, sire of Belmont runner-up Destin among others. His second damsire Fappiano also sired several 12-furlong Grade 1 performers, including Belmont runner-up Cryptoclearance, Coaching Club American Oaks runner-up Aptostar and Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf runner-up Defensive Play. As a racehorse, Free Drop Billy’s dam Trensa finished a gaining second, losing by a mere neck, in the 11-furlong Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial on turf. As a broodmare, she’s produced a half-brother to Free Drop Billy: Hawkbill, winner of this year’s 12-furlong Dubai Sheema Classic on turf. To date, Hawkbill has won 10 of his 21 starts, seven of which came at distances ranging from 10 to 13 furlongs. Another sibling, Trensita, won only once in 13 starts, but that maiden-breaking effort (in her 12th race) came at 11 furlongs on turf. His second dam, 7-furlong Grade 1 Ballerina winner Serape, produced a three-quarter sister to Trensa, two-time 9-furlongs Grade 3 winner Batique (dam of 12-furlong Grade 3 Bewitch runner-up Tejida). His third dam Mochila not only finished second in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Ruffian, but she was twice Grade 1-placed at 10 furlongs.
Hofburg – Show (3rd)
(Tapit, out of Soothing Touch, by Touch Gold)
With only four starts under his belt (including a troubled yet strong seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby), Hofburg may be lightly raced, but his pedigree suggests his stamina potential is prodigious. His sire Tapit has already produced three 12-furlong Belmont winners (Tonalist, Creator, and Tapwrit) and a runner-up (Frosted). Both his damsire (Touch Gold) and second damsire (A.P. Indy) won the Belmont. Top quality performers are found in every generation of Hofburg’s blue-blooded family, but perhaps most important as an indicator of stamina is his half-sister, four-time Grade 1 winner Emollient, who captured not only the 9-furlong Spinster, but also the American Oaks and Rodeo Drive, both at 10 furlongs.
(Curlin, out of Temptress, by Tapit)
As if his strongly-closing third-place finish in the Preakness wasn’t enough to recommend him, lightly-raced Tenfold possesses, from top to bottom, one of the best 12-furlong pedigrees in the field. Arguably one of the greatest Belmont finishes in history was the head bob that separated runner-up Curlin from the conquering filly Rags to Riches. As a sire, Curlin has already produced a Belmont winner (Palace Malice), a runner-up (Irish War Cry), and a third-place finisher (Keen Ice). The prodigious success of Tenfold’s damsire Tapit in producing Belmont winners has already been noted above. His second damsire is noted stamina source Giant’s Causeway; his third damsire Northern Baby was a 10-furlong Group 1 winner in England and twice Group 1-placed between 11 and 12 furlongs; and his fourth damsire is 1975 Belmont winner Avatar. Tenfold’s third dam is champion turf mare Possibly Perfect, winner of 11 of 18 starts including six Grade 1 events between 9 and 10 furlongs.
(Awesome Again, out of Tiz o’ Gold, by Cees Tizzy)
His second-place finish, just a half-length behind Justify, in the Preakness was an eye-opening performance by Bravazo. Can he move forward once more? His pedigree offers the tantalizing potential for at least a placing. His sire Awesome Again has produced two Belmont runners-up (Paynter and Oxbow); Bravazo is bred on the exact same cross (Awesome Again with a Cee’s Tizzy mare) as those two colts. However, while the dams of Paynter and Oxbow were both full sisters of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, Bravazo’s dam isn’t nearly as well connected. Still, his second damsire Slew o’ Gold not only finished second in the Belmont, but also twice captured the 12-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Justify – Winner
(Scat Daddy, out of Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper)
Undefeated in five starts and on the cusp of winning the Triple Crown, Justify is a worthy morning-line favorite. He may not have the best stamina pedigree in the field, but he also hasn’t done anything wrong thus far in his racing career. His sire Scat Daddy has produced several 10-furlong Grade 1-winning turf stayers (Dacita, Daddy’s Lil Darling, and Lady of Shamrock), but nothing really that hints at 12 furlongs. That’s where the damside of Justify comes into play. His damsire Ghostzapper won the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic; as a sire, he’s produced 12-furlong Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational winner Shaman Ghost, as well as 11-furlong Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay victress Holy Helena and 12-furlong Grade 3 Long Island Handicap runner-up Mystical Star. Justify’s second damsire is Pulpit, sire of Tapit whose Belmont success is well-documented. Justify’s second dam raced only six times in her career (all at age 3), but one of those efforts was a third-place finish behind the great Ashado in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.
(Curlin, out of Mythical Bride, by Street Cry)
The track and race conditions on Kentucky Derby day didn’t suit the late-closing style of Vino Rosso. Can he run a big race at Big Sandy? His sire Curlin’s success in producing a Belmont winner (Palace Malice) and two placegetters (Irish War Cry and Keen Ice) has already been mentioned. His damsire Street Cry, winner of the 10-furlong Grade 1 Dubai World Cup, was never challenged to run 12 furlongs, but he’s produced a host of quality stayers including 3-time 10-furlong Group 1 Cox Plate victress Winx and 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup winner Zenyatta. Vino Rosso’s second dam Flaming Heart (a daughter of 12-furlong Belmont winner Touch Gold) finished a game runner-up to Eclipse champion Fleet Indian in the 9-furlong Grade 3 Next Move. As a broodmare, she has produced two half-brothers to Mythical Bride: 6-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up Laugh Track and 12-furlong Belmont runner-up Commissioner (by Belmont winner A.P. Indy). Thus, a nice blend of speed stamina appears to be present in Vino Rosso’s family.
(Proud Citizen, out of Langara Lass, by Langfuhr)
2002 Kentucky Derby runner-up Proud Citizen isn’t particularly well known as a stamina-rich sire; arguably his two best offspring have been 10-furlong Grade 1 Alabama winner Proud Spell and 9-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks victress Believe You Can. His son Patrioticandproud finished a distant third (nearly 10 lengths back) in the 14-furlong Grade 2 Las Vegas Marathon before rallying late to finish second (just a neck back) to Finnegans Wake in the 12-furlong Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup, but other significant 12-furlong distance or greater performers are lacking. On his damside, Blended Citizen’s third and fourth damsires (Conquistador Cielo and Damascus) are both Belmont winners. His Grade 3-placed dam Langara Lass has produced not only a Grade 1-placed full sister to Blended Citizen, 8.5-furlong Alcibiades third-place finisher Battlefield Angel, but also a half-brother, 10-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee, who finished a distant seventh in last year’s Belmont.
Gronkowski – Place (2nd)
(Lonhro, out of Four Sugars, by Lookin At Lucky)
Solely European-raced on turf and all-weather surfaces in six starts, Gronkowski has never contested a race beyond one mile, and his pedigree doesn’t exactly instill confidence that 12 furlongs is in his wheelhouse. His Australian champion sire Lonhro won 11 Grade 1 races between 7 furlongs and 10 furlongs; at stud, he’s produced primarily turf sprinters and milers, not notable stayers capable of winning at the 1 1/2-miles distance. On his damside, Gronkowski has an unraced dam that is a half-sister to 9-furlong Grade 1 Stephen Foster winner Flashy Bull and 9-furlong listed Federico Tesio runner-up Pink Viper. His Preakness-winning damsire Lookin At Lucky has produced a few proven stamina runners: Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee, two-time 10-furlong Grade 1 winner Accelerate, two-time 12-furlong Grade 1 Sword Dancer runner-up Money Multiplier, and dominant 12-furlong Grade 3 Greenwood Cup victor Madefromlucky. Gronkowski’s second damsire is Grade 1-placed sprinter Mt. Livermore; his third damsire is 12-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Manila, while his fourth damsire is Exclusive Native, sire of Kentucky Derby victress Genuine Risk and Triple Crown winner Affirmed.
(Take Charge Indy, out of Noble Maz, by Storm Boot)
If you chalk up his poor Kentucky Derby performance to either hating the sloppy track or traffic problems, Noble Indy’s two recent sharp workouts (and blinkers off) may provide a glimmer of hope that he can improve. After all, his sire’s sire A.P. Indy not only won the Belmont, but also produced a Belmont winner (Rags to Riches) and three Belmont runner-ups (Aptitude, A.P. Valentine and Commissioner). Does that mean Noble Indy can spring the upset? His damside pedigree doesn’t instill great confidence. Noble Indy’s multi-stakes winning dam Noble Maz won sprinting on turf and dirt, but both his second and third dams were unraced and produced little in terms of runners. His damsire Storm Boot’s best female progeny were sprinters, like multiple graded stakes winners Hurricane Bertie and Bourbon Belle. Bred to an unraced son of the stamina-rich Sadler’s Wells, Bourbon Belle did produce 10-furlong Queen’s Plate winner Not Bourbon, so it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that Noble Indy’s breeding could likewise infuse stamina into him, but nothing on his damside indicates that successfully getting the 12-furlong distance is a given.
(Giant’s Causeway, out of Symbol of Freedom, by Tapit)
A distant third behind Vino Rosso in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Wood Memorial, Restoring Hope ran a devastatingly poor race on the Kentucky Derby undercard, finishing 24 lengths behind the winner in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile. Since nothing in his current (or past) form suggests he should be a major contender, his connections appear to be gambling on his pedigree to move his chances forward. His sire Giant’s Causeway is a well-established source of stamina (including Belmont runner-up Destin), and his damsire Tapit has produced more Belmont winners (three) than any other sire. However, that’s where all the evident stamina ends in Restoring Hope’s bloodline. His second damsire is the speedy sprinter Grand Slam, while his third damsire is sprint-miler Copelan. None of his unraced dam’s siblings have amounted to much on the racetrack, certainly not in terms of staying 12 furlongs.