What racehorse was the first Maryland-bred runner to top US$1 million in earnings? (Give yourself bonus points if you can answer this without using the website's search function.)
It isn't often that a Grade 3 turf sprint in January grabs much attention, but the Las Cienegas Stakes on January 11 turned out to be an exception. That was thanks to an exceptional performance by Brazilian Group 1 winner Jolie Olimpica, who announced her presence in the United States by setting a new Santa Anita course record of 1:01 for the distance of about 5.5 furlongs. It was her first race since her defeat of males in the Grande Prêmio Jockey Club Brasileiro (BRZ-G1) on June 9, 2019, a race contested over 1600 meters on turf, and extended her lifetime record to an unbeaten 4-for-4.
While Jolie Olimpica is new to North America, her bloodlines are not. She is a daughter of 2010 Belmont Stakes (USA-G1) and 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic (USA-G1) winner Drosselmeyer, a talented if lazy son of Distorted Humor. As for her dam line, she traces back to a US$6,500 purchase from the 1965 Timonium yearling sales.
National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame trainer Warren "Jimmy" Croll was the purchaser of the bargain filly by Pied d'Or (an inferior half brother to 1958 American champion 3-year-old male Tim Tam). Named Like a Charm, the filly ran in the colors of Croll's wife Bobbi and won all three of her starts, including the 1966 New Jersey Futurity and Sorority Stakes. She earned $79,914, not a bad return on her purchase price.
Like a Charm produced four stakes winners, and Jimmy Croll bred the best of them using a stallion that he had trained for Rachel Carpenter, owner of Pelican Stable. That was Al Hattab, a good colt in a crop overshadowed by Arts and Letters and Majestic Prince, and the resulting filly picked up a fair share of her parents' talent. Under the name of Herecomesthebride, she showed commendable eagerness to get to the altar, winning six stakes races including the 1978 Columbiana Handicap (USA-G3).
Herecomesthebride was a disappointment as a broodmare considering her own ability and the quality of most of her mates, and her 1986 Slew o' Gold filly Autumn Rythym managed only one win from eight starts. Considering that neither of Autumn Rythym's previous foals had won by the time her third foal, the Wavering Monarch filly China Empress, came up for sale at the 1993 Keeneland November mixed sale, the winning bid of US$21,500 seems fairly generous, especially since Wavering Monarch weanlings averaged only $9,571 that year.
Following her sale, China Empress was exported to Brazil and proved worth the price, winning a listed stakes at 2 and becoming a Group 3 winner the following year. Her one foal to earn black type, Jolie Celina (by 1987 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, FR-G1, winner Trempolino), placed four times in Group stakes, capped off by a runner-up finish in the 2003 Grande Prêmio Henrique Possolo (BRZ-G1), before producing Brazilian Group 2 winner Domenica (by Redattore) in addition to Jolie Olimpica.
Jolie Olimpica is in the barn of Richard Mandella, and there are none better than he at the fine art of getting South American runners to transfer their best form to the Northern Hemisphere. With her acclimation successfully completed, the question now is how far she will go, both up the American class ladder and in distance. She has been campaigned as a sprinter-miler thus far, but with a sire and broodmare sire that were both top-level winners at 12 furlongs and a half sister who is a Group 2 winner at about 10 furlongs, she may have far more potential than she has yet revealed--potential that may owe just a little to a bargain-basement filly and a horse-wise trainer with a charmed knack for spotting talent.
This week's mystery horse failed to make his reserve on a US$34,000 bid when offered at auction as a yearling. Three years later, after becoming a champion both years that he raced in Europe, he was syndicated at a valuation of US$16 million and was a successful sire. Who was he?
Lady Prancealot left England in 2018 with only a single win in five starts to her credit. She finished 2019 as a three-time graded stakes winner. Saving her best for her season finale, the 3-year-old daughter of Sir Prancealot made her final start of the year on December 28 in the 10-furlong American Oaks (USA-G1) and exited the race as a Grade 1 winner. It took a gutsy dive toward the inside to find the filly clear sailing in the stretch, but with an open path in front of her, Lady Prancealot showed a strong turn of foot and collared Mucho Unusual within the last 50 yards to win by a half-length.
The win will undoubtedly make great advertising for the filly's sire, Sir Prancealot, who will stand for the first time in California in 2020 after being represented by three graded winners of 2019 in the state from foals conceived in Ireland. The victory may also represent the best chance for continuation of the family of Lady Prancealot's fourth dam, Brave Raj, who took some obscure Florida bloodlines to the heights of American racing.
Foaled in 1984, Brave Raj was sired by the useful Florida sire Rajab, a son of Jaipur who placed in three graded stakes before being packed off to a regional market. Her dam, Bravest Yet, was a half sister to Grade 3 winner Perfect Poppy and was sired by Bravo, an obscure son of Bold Ruler. The female line was not stellar, but it had a certain knack for producing stakes winners in spite of its members mostly being bred to sires decidedly off the beaten track.
Bravest Yet went to the good Florida stallion Valid Appeal for her first mating and produced multiple stakes winner Peal Out. Brave Raj was her next foal, and while Peal Out was providing some reason to think that her little sister could be a useful runner by the time the Rajab filly went into training, Brave Raj exceeded all expectations. A first-out winner by over seven lengths for Al-Ben Partnership, Brave Raj looked good enough that Dolly Green bought her for US$300,000 and transferred her to the barn of Melvin Stute.
Sent to California, Brave Raj lost her first two starts in the Golden State, but then everything started clicking. At the Del Mar meeting, she won the Sorrento Stakes (USA-G3) and the Del Mar Debutante Stakes (USA-G2). She then went back to Florida to annex the last two legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes series for Florida-bred juvenile fillies before flying back to California with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (USA-G1) in her sights. Anyone who had thought she might be over the top when she finished with Added Elegance lapped on her in the My Dear Girl Stakes found themselves mistaken as Brave Raj cruised in alone at the finish of the Juvenile Fillies; Tappiano, her nearest pursuer, was five and a half lengths back. The Rajab filly then tried tackling males in the Hollywood Futurity (USA-G1) and failed, finishing fifth, but the loss did not keep her from claiming an Eclipse Award as America's best 2-year-old filly.
Unfortunately, knee trouble kept Brave Raj from running again, and her results as a broodmare were a little disappointing considering her own class and the quality of her mates. She produced 14 named foals, of which 12 started and 11 won, but her best were the listed stakes winners Russian Tango (by Nijinsky II) and Brave Bull (by Holy Bull). Russian Tango, in turn, produced Grade 2 winner Eurosilver (by Unbridled's Song), while another Brave Raj daughter, El Rabab (by Roberto), produced Canadian Grade 2 winner Muntej (by Muhtarram). A third daughter, Renfro Valley Star (by Dayjur), produced the Grade 2-winning sprinter Fast Bullet (by Speightstown).
Filfilah, a Cadeaux Genereux half sister to Muntej, proved to be the key to continuing the family. Her first foal was French Group 2 winner Baqah (by Bahhare), who in turn produced 2017 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) winner Almanaar (by Dubawi). As a gelding, Almanaar has no opportunity to contribute to future generations, but Bawah's half sister Nagrah (by the Group 2-winning sprinter Haatef, by Danzig) has come through, producing Lady Prancealot as her first foal.
With a Grade 1 win now on her resume, Lady Prancealot will undoubtedly be accorded excellent opportunities on her retirement to the paddocks. Nagrah, who is only 8, should also see the class of her mates rise, providing this family its best chance to recapture the talent that carried Brave Raj to a championship over three decades ago.
The Experimental Free Handicap has now been relegated to history, but in the days of more frequent juvenile racing was an important yardstick for rating the best Classic prospects of the 2-year-old division. Begun in 1933, its weightings were based on a hypothetical race at one and one-sixteenth miles. What horse earned the highest all-time rating on the Experimental, and what horse was awarded the largest margin of superiority over his peers?
On December 28, Hard Not to Love became something more than just Wonder Gadot's younger half sister. A come-from-behind win in the La Brea Stakes (USA-I) made her a top stakes winner in her own right. The win will also put her into the record books as the mount on which Mike Smith tied Jerry Bailey's record for Grade I wins. (He broke the record later on the same card by winning the Malibu Stakes on Omaha Beach.)
As noted in a previous post ("Wonder Gadot Is a Gal Canadians Love," April 22, 2019), Hard Not to Love is a member of the family of the modern foundation mare Gal I Love. The daughter of Hard Spun is the third stakes winner produced by Loving Vindication (by Vindication), a great-great-granddaughter of Gal I Love who had previously produced both Wonder Gadot and Grade II-placed stakes winner Solemn Tribute (both by Medaglia d'Oro). In between those two, Loving Vindication produced their full sister Bezzera, who never raced and now has a yearling colt by Street Boss and a weanling filly by Bernardini. The former, a US$90,000 weanling at the 2018 Keeneland November mixed sale, proved a successful pinhook at Keeneland September, bringing US$300,000 as a yearling.
Wonder Gadot herself sold for US$2 million to Japan's K I Farm at the Fasig-Tipton November sale last month and will begin her breeding career next spring after retiring from racing on June 6, 2019. As for Loving Vindication, she has a good chance of adding to her resume. Her 2017 colt by Bodemeister, Loch Garman, has yet to race, but the mare has since foaled a 2018 filly by Nyquist and a 2019 colt by Curlin before being bred to Medaglia d'Oro for 2020.
While Loving Vindication is the most successful daughter of Chimichurri (an Elusive Quality mare who traces to Gal I Love through that mare's daughter Homespun, herself an important producer), another daughter has helped to boost this branch of the family in 2019. This is the winning A.P. Indy mare Chimayo, whose daughter Secret Spice (by Discreet Cat) won the 2019 Beholder Mile Stakes (USA-I) and placed in two other Grade I races. Also the dam of stakes-placed Mexican Hat (by Street Cry), Chimayo produced a Nyquist colt in 2018 and a Medaglia d'Oro filly in 2019.
Chimichurri was represented by still another stakes producer in 2019 thanks to Claire's Song (by Unbridled's Song), whose son Elusive Mischief (by Into Mischief) won the restricted Meadow Stable Stakes at Colonial Downs on August 10. The next two foals of Claire's Song have so far failed to win, but the mare is still getting good opportunities as she produced a 2018 filly by Exaggerator and a 2019 filly by Gun Runner.
Chimichurri herself sold for just US$1,500 at the Keeneland November sale of 2016, thanks to a produce record that at that time boasted only three winners from 10 foals. Most of her foals were sired by top-class stallions, however, and Bull Hancock's dictum that the family is greater than the individual---at least when it comes to mares---appears to be illustrated by the production records of her daughters. All of her black-type producers are young enough to still have years of broodmare service in front of them, and given the quality of the sires they have been seeing recently, it is entirely possible that Hard Not to Love is part of a still-rising tide that may make a US$1,500 purchase into a modern foundation mare.
On December 15, Nice Lady picked up her first group win by taking the Premio Cordeiro Da Graca (BRZ-II) on the turf at Gavea. Besides being a nice Christmas gift for her connections, her win is a reminder of the international influence wielded by Pocahontas. If not the equal of her 19th-century namesake, the American Pocahontas was a first-rate producer in her own right and worthy of continued notice.
During her own broodmare career, Pocahontas produced five stakes winners headed by the champion and good sire Tom Rolfe. She also produced three daughters who, while unable to perform at stakes standard themselves, became stakes producers, among them Wampum.
Sired by 1959 American champion juvenile male Warfare and foaled in England, Wampum never made it to the track and produced only one stakes winner, Fiddlers Fare (by Luthier). However, she has been the most influential of Pocahontas' daughters in the Southern Hemisphere. In Australasia, her key daughter is Get Ready Peggy (by Hello Gorgeous), who produced New Zealand Group II winner The Warrior (by Zabeel) and is the second dam of multiple New Zealand Group II winner Kerry O'Reilly.
Pocahontas' family came to Brazil through Wampum's daughter Imagery (by disqualified 1968 Kentucky Derby winner Dancer's Image), who produced Brazilian Group II winner Dieter Jet (by Tri Jet) and Brazilian Group III winner Makatani (by Vida Mansa). In between those two colts, Imagery produced Imaginary (by multiple English stakes winner St. Chad), dam of Brazilian listed stakes winner Shogun (by 1991 Brazilian Horse of the Year Falcon Jet) and second dam of multiple Uruguayan stakes winner Fantastica Chris.
Imagery's last foal was Swiss Beauty, a 1996 daughter of Falcon Jet who brought the family to Group I status in South America through her son 2008 Joe Owen. A son of Christine's Outlaw, Joe Owen is a two-time winner of the Grande Premio Presidente Da Republica (BRZ-I) at Cidade Jardim. Nice Lady is out of Swiss Beauty's only producing daughter thus far, Lady Beauty (by Argentine Group II winner Spring Halo, a son of 10-time Argentine champion sire Southern Halo), but Swiss Beauty's younger foals include two full sisters to Joe Owen who may yet come up with some nice winners themselves.
Like all female families, Pocahontas' family contains its share of mares that have failed to produce anything worthwhile and have faded into obscurity. The trait worthy of note here is the ability of the stronger branches of this family to adapt and find success when mated to stallions from widely different genetic pools. That kind of flexibility is a rare gift and one likely to find Pocahontas' descendants among the great ladies of widely flung broodmare bands for years to come.
This old-time Kentucky Derby winner owed his existence to a change of heart by his breeder, who had culled his dam and sent her off via railroad to be sold for farm work. While the mare was en route, her owner changed his mind, recovered her before she could be sold, and had her bred instead. The resulting foal was her Derby winner. Name the horse and his breeder.
Pumpkin Rumble isn't a great horse. Hard-knocking old warriors like him have an appeal of their own, however, and his repeat win in the 14-furlong Valedictory Stakes (CAN-IIIA) on December 15 was popular---the more so since it was the last stakes appearance for leading Canadian jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva, who is retiring from the saddle. It was the fourth stakes win for the 8-year-old gelding, who has bankrolled over US$700,000.
Much of the credit for Pumpkin Rumble's stamina and soundness can certainly go to his sire English Channel, but the dam's side of his pedigree deserves a shout out as well, for he traces back to Natashka. A descendant of the great foundation mare Frizette and the outstanding matrons Valkyr and Vagrancy, Natashka proved a remarkable producer in her own right and stands at the head of her own branch of Frizette's family.
Like her granddam Vagrancy, Natashka was an outstanding race mare in her own right, her five stakes wins including the 1966 Alabama Stakes and Monmouth Oaks. She was better still as a broodmare, earning the title of Kentucky Broodmare of the Year in 1981 after producing five graded stakes winners including 1972 Irish co-champion 3-year-old filly Arkadina (a first-rate producer who founded a strong European branch of the family) and Irish Group I winner Gregorian. In addition, Natashka threw three daughters who failed to win stakes but became stakes producers and the second or third dams of Grade/Group I winners.
Truly Bound (by In Reality) was the last of Natashka's stakes winners, winning the 1980 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (USA-II) as a juvenile and the 1981 Ashland Stakes (USA-II) at 3. While not up to her dam's mark as a broodmare, she did not do badly in the paddocks, producing Irish Group III winner Shell Ginger and two listed stakes winners. She also produced Bound to Dance (by Northern Dancer), dam of 2000 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) winner Silk Prima Donna (by Brian's Time), and Secret Truth (by Secretariat), second dam of 2013 South Australian Derby (AUS-I) winner Escado.
Shell Ginger, a daughter of Woodman, failed to train on after her juvenile season and produced only five foals, of which two won. One of those winners was the Storm Cat filly Clarins, and she was also the sole stakes producer among Shell Ginger's foals, producing Pumpkin Rumble as the last of her four foals.
As all of Clarins' foals were males, Shell Ginger's branch of her family appears to be a withering twig that will snap soon unless one of her granddaughters by her other two daughters proves to be the connecting link to an outstanding racer or producer. Why this should be the case is one of the mysteries of racehorse genetics, for Shell Ginger had excellent opportunities and was bred to horses who for the most part have proven top broodmare sires. Nonetheless, if Pumpkin Rumble is the last runner from his branch of Natashka's line to make some noise, there are far worse endings to have.
Only one horse has swept Santa Anita's top races for 2-year-olds (the Norfolk Stakes/FrontRunner Stakes/American Pharoah Stakes), 3-year-olds (the Santa Anita Handicap) and older horses (the Santa Anita Handicap). Name him.
I'm Avalyn Hunter, an author, pedigree researcher and longtime racing fan.