This top American racehorse had two unusual distinctions. One was earning championships three years apart (but not in the intervening years). The other is winning 13 stakes races at Aqueduct, which gave rise to an unusual nickname. Can you identify this week's mystery horse by both real name and nickname, and give the year/division for the champ's titles?
On January 25, previous bridesmaid Mucho Gusto broke through at the top level to deliver an authoritative win in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (USA-G1). While the field was weaker than in the previous three editions of the Pegasus, Mucho Gusto (whose name can be translated from Spanish as "nice to meet you" or "a pleasure [to make your acquaintance]") scored with such ease that there is little doubt that he has introduced himself as a contender in this year's American older dirt male division.
Mucho Gusto belongs to the main surviving branch of American Family 29, which has been nurtured at Pin Oak Stud through the family of its foundation mare, Take a Stand. This clan was actually responsible for two of the Pegasus starters, as favored Higher Power also descends from this family (see "Mares on Monday: Higher Power Takes a Stand in the Pacific Classic," 8/29/2019). The connecting link between the two horses is Take a Stand's granddaughter Strike a Balance (by Nijinsky II), whose family continues to produce horses that, if not highly fashionable, tend to be sound, durable, and better with age.
As previously mentioned, Strike a Balance is the dam of 1995 Canadian Horse of the Year Peaks and Valleys (by Mt. Livermore) and of multiple listed stakes winner Alternate (by Seattle Slew); Alternate, in turn, is the dam of Higher Power (by Medaglia d'Oro); of multiple Grade 2 winner and Pin Oak sire Alternation (by Distorted Humor); and of Grade 3-placed multiple listed stakes winner Interrupted (by Broken Vow), now a member of the Pin Oak broodmare band.
Alternate's record is good, but Strike the Balance is not putting all her eggs into one basked when it comes to broodmare daughters. For instance, Balancing Act (by Spectacular Bid), is the dam of Grade 2 winner Eleusis (by Diesis) and of stakes winner Tip the Scale (by Valiant Nature) and is the third dam of Peruvian Group 3 winner Fatima. Equilibrate (by Gone West) is the dam of Grade 3 winner Equality (by Mt. Livermore) and stakes winner Equal Opportunity (by Rahy) as well as Grade 1-placed Equitable (by A.P. Indy). Hopes and Fears, a full sister to Peaks and Valleys, is the dam of multiple Grade 3 winner Cryptograph (by Cryptoclearance). And Counterpoise (by Storm Cat) is the dam of Grade 2-placed stakes winner Tip Tap Tapizar (by Tapizar)
Countervail, Strike a Balance's 2001 filly by Seeking the Gold, failed to win in three tries and was also disappointing as a broodmare. The decline in her apparent worth is reflected in her sale prices; a US$550,000 mare at the 2006 Keeneland January mixed sale, she sold for only US$27,000 at the 2011 Keeneland November sale. Nonetheless, she has found some redemption through her 2007 daughter Itsagiantcauseway (by Giant's Causeway). A winner of three of her 23 starts, Itsagiantcauseway came up with Mucho Gusto (by Mucho Macho Man) as her third foal. She had no produce in 2017 but foaled a Jack Milton colt in 2018 and an Alpha filly in 2019 before being bred to Curlin.
While Mucho Gusto may or may not get a hoped-for invitation to the Saudi Cup after his Pegasus score, he has plenty of good opportunities ahead of him in 2020. If he continues the improvement with time that is typical of his family (as well as of his sire), racing fans should find his acquaintance a pleasure for some time to come.
This important race for 3-year-old fillies has an unusual distinction---it has been won by two fillies who bore the same name. Can you name the race and the years in which the fillies with the duplicate names won?
In the August 12, 2019, edition of "Mares on Monday," the family of Tiy got a look thanks to Tiy's fifth-generation descendant Get Stormy, who had just won the Fourstardave Handicap (USA-G1) over males at Saratoga. By the end of 2019, Got Stormy had brought further credit to her family with victory in the Matriarch Stakes (USA-G1) and runner-up finishes in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile (USA-G1) and TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (USA-G1). Her performances made her a finalist for a 2019 Eclipse Award in the turf female division, and the good news is that she will continue to compete in 2020.
Got Stormy is not the only member of Tiy's family who will bear watching in 2020. On January 18, Tiy's great-granddaughter Justwhistledixie (Dixie Union x General Jeanne, by Honour and Glory x Ahpo Hel) came up with her fourth graded stakes winner in Enforceable (by Tapit). A full brother to multiple Grade 2 winner Mohaymen and Grade 3 winner Kingly and a half brother to 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner New Year's Day (now the sire of probable 2019 American champion 3-year-old male Maximum Security), Enforceable earned his brackets with a powerful, six-wide stretch run to win the Lecomte Stakes (USA-G3) at the Fair Grounds. He will be one to watch during the early stages of the Triple Crown trail, which in his case will most likely lead next to the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln (USA-G2) on February 15.
Generally, the family of Tiy has tended toward sprinter-milers, but as the sire of three Belmont Stakes (USA-G1) winners, Tapit cannot be overlooked as a source of stamina, and Enforceable has the kind of long, efficient stride that will help him make the most of whatever stamina he possesses. As for Justwhistledixie, she is getting every opportunity to add to her tally of four graded stakes winners from five foals of racing age. After giving birth to a Pioneerof the Nile colt in 2018 and an Arrogate filly (her first daughter) in 2019, she visited Quality Road for 2020. All that can be wished for now besides more racing success is several more daughters to help carry on a family that is on the rise.
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?
I'm Avalyn Hunter, an author, pedigree researcher and longtime racing fan.