Called "the best horse I ever rode" by jockey Jean Cruguet, this champion never finished anywhere in a race but in front. He was known for his personality quirks (including a marked distaste for lead ponies) as well as his undeniable talent. Who was he?
Great mares are gifts that keep on giving. There are not many of these matriarchs whose families continue to make signal contributions generation after generation, and there are reasons why well-bred daughters of these families are cherished by knowing breeders.
HnR Nothcraft Horseracing managed to acquire one such daughter when it purchased the Lemon Drop Kid mare Be Envied. By a regally-bred champion who has the pedigree tools and stud record to be a first-rate broodmare sire, Be Envied was a decent race mare, earning over US$200,000 and placing third in two listed races. Even better, she is a half sister to 2000 Futurity Stakes (USA-I) winner Burning Roma (by Rubiano), a sound and durable runner who won stakes races every year at ages 2 through 6 and earned over US$1.5 million. And perhaps best of all, she is a great-great-granddaughter of Lady Be Good, a foundation mare for the breeding programs of Wheatley Stable and Ogden Phipps.
Lady Be Good won two juvenile stakes races on her own account but was a better broodmare, producing four stakes winners. Be Envied is descended from the first of those stakes winners, the Princequillo mare Discipline, who won races that are now graded events at ages 2, 3 and 4 before producing 1976 Sorority Stakes (USA-I) winner Squander (by Buckpasser) and 1986 Diana Handicap (USA-IIT) winner Duty Dance (by Nijinsky II), both graded stakes producers. She also produced the unraced Northern Dancer filly Fiddlesticks, whose best racing daughter, Vivano (by Island Whirl) was a Grade III winner and placed in five Grade I races. When bred to two-time Canadian Horse of the Year Overskate, Fiddlesticks produced the hardy winner When Rome Burns, dam of Burning Roma and Be Envied.
With a genetic background like this and the race record to indicate that she had inherited at least some of the family talent, Be Envied was the kind of mare who could quite reasonably be expected to come up with a good runner given decent opportunities. She did, producing Saturday's Great Lady M Stakes (USA-II) winner Finest City as her third foal to the cover of City Zip. Like most of her family, Finest Lady has plenty of speed, though she is not as precocious as her heritage might suggest. Nonetheless, she is quite a nice filly, and living proof that it's worth looking for mares with generations of quality production behind them---and hanging on to them like jewels when you find one.
This champion earned four titles during his career and was a unanimous choice in voting for all four of them. Name him.
Perhaps predictably, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders have named Littleprincessemma the 2015 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year. In the afterglow of having her son American Pharoah become the first American Triple Crown winner in 37 years, she was an obvious choice. Whether she was the most deserving one may be another question.
This is not a knock on what she has already accomplished, or on American Pharoah. There is no doubt that he was an extraordinary racehorse. Nonetheless, he is only one horse, and there is no guarantee that Littleprincessemma will produce anything else that can get up a good trot. Her odds of getting another good runner are certainly better than those of most other mares, given the caliber of stallions she has been visiting and the likelihood that her foals will be in the care of elite trainers, but my point is this: she hasn't done it yet.
Littleprincessemma is not the first "one-hit wonder" to make the list of Kentucky Broodmares of the Year: Maid of Flight (1964), Kerala (1967) and All Beautiful (1969) all received similar honors based on the exploits of their great sons Kelso, Damascus and Arts and Letters. Like Littleprincessemma, all were relatively young mares who could reasonably be expected to add further laurels to their records---and all failed to do so.
On the other side of the coin, the production of a Triple Crown winner has not always been a ticket to a Broodmare of the Year title. Five Triple Crown winners won their diadems in years in which their accomplishments could be considered as a factor in the choice of a Broodmare of the Year award. Of those, only Somethingroyal, dam of Secretariat, gained the title, and she had already produced the major winners Sir Gaylord, First Family and Syrian Sea before Secretariat put the crowning touch on her production record. The other four? Well, Won't Tell You, the dam of Affirmed, wasn't eligible as she was based in Florida, and neither was Assault's dam Igual, whose home was the King Ranch in Texas. The others were Hydroplane II, dam of the immortal Citation, and My Charmer, who produced the English Classic winner Lomond and Group II winner Seattle Dancer as well as Seattle Slew.
Of course, the obvious question is that if Littleprincessemma had not been named Broodmare of the Year, who else could have been? My own choice might have fallen on Clarkland Farm's Leslie's Lady, whose daughter Beholder accomplished a triple of her own last year by winning her third Eclipse Award from four seasons of racing. That's a rare feat in itself, and Leslie's Lady is also the dam of Grade I winner and successful sire Into Mischief. Others may have different opinions. As for Littleprincessemma, only time will tell whether she will become one of the great matrons of the breed or whether American Pharoah will remain the sole jewel in her crown.
"The World Turn'd Upside Down" was the tune played by the British army's band as George Washington received Lord Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown. The title is also a pretty apt description of the 2016 Longines Kentucky Oaks (USA-I), which on Sunday morning looked as though it would be no more than another victory lap for unbeaten and untested Songbird. That outlook changed abruptly late Sunday afternoon. Songbird was declared out of the Oaks due to a lingering low-grade fever, and that quickly the Oaks became a wide-open race with any of half a dozen fillies looking like good candidates to take home the lilies.
The most obvious beneficiaries are Weep No More and Rachel's Valentina, the one-two finishers in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (USA-I) on April 9. The former showed a dazzling turn of foot in her charge to victory, while the latter, making her first start of 2016, turned in a good performance in staving off Cathryn Sophia for the place and will probably move forward off her effort.
Rachel's Valentina will have strong sentimental backing for the Oaks, a race her dam Rachel Alexandra won by a record 20-1/4 lengths as part of her 2009 Horse of the Year campaign. She and Weep No More will hardly have the starting gate to themselves, however. With Songbird now out of the picture, expect a full field of 14 for America's richest race for 3-year-old fillies.
One big question may be whether Cathryn Sophia will change course and contest the Oaks rather than the Eight Belles Stakes (USA-II) on the Oaks undercard. Although trainer John Servis has indicated that he thinks the filly may be better suited to shorter races, the absence of Songbird may be enough to tip the balance back toward an Oaks start. Polar River, who could probably have won the United Arab Emirates Derby (UAE-II) with a better trip, is another previously declared out of the Oaks whose connections may reconsider, though in her case, a change in plans seems less likely as she may not have enough time to make the trip and still be cranked back up to peak form prior to May 6.
A filly likelier to benefit from Songbird's absence is Go Maggie Go, undefeated in her brief career after an impressive score in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (USA-II) in just her second lifetime start. As a daughter of Ghostzapper, she can be expected to keep improving as she matures and gives trainer Dale Romans a legitimate shot at an Oaks-Derby sweep as he also trains Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (USA-I) winner Brody's Cause. Then there's Terra Promessa, a Curlin filly who is coming up to the Oaks off a sweep of Oaklawn Park's graded stakes for sophomore fillies, and Lewis Bay, a Bernardini daughter who won her second Grade II race at the Oaks distance when she took a sloppy edition of the Gazelle Stakes (USA-II) at Aqueduct on April 9.
All of these fillies have a shot, and with the garden gate now open, who knows who will be sporting lilies on May 6? Whether the victor is a filly of proven ability and pedigree like Rachel's Valentina or a new face emerging from the crowd, the Oaks will not be a coronation as expected, but it should be a lot more interesting as a horse race than it looked to be yesterday morning.
It isn't that often that a single stallion has four possible Kentucky Derby (USA-I) starters with legitimate credentials, but that is the case for Tapit as the 2016 Kentucky Derby---Presented by Yum! Brands approaches. Team Tapit includes Fountain of Youth Stakes (USA-II) winner Mohaymen, United Arab Emirates Derby (USA-II) winner Lani, Rebel Stakes (USA-II) winner Cupid and the latest addition, Arkansas Derby (USA-I) winner Creator (USA-I). Coincidentally, all are grays, a color also borne by Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (USA-II) winner Destin (by Giant's Causeway).
Granted, the odds for Team Tapit don't look as strong as as they did a few weeks ago, even with the addition of Creator. Cupid faded badly in the Arkansas Derby after being pressed hard on the early lead, and Mohaymen folded his tent early in the stretch drive in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (USA-I) after racing wide. He may not have cared much for the drying-out Gulfstream Park track that day either, and both he and Cupid may have received valuable seasoning and learning from their experiences, but their performances were not what you want to see in a final Kentucky Derby prep.
Lani and Creator also look vulnerable, and the former may simply be too slow to be competitive in the Kentucky Derby, though it's tough to gauge how his competition in Dubai stacks up against what he'll face at Churchill Downs. As a stone-cold closer, Creator also has his vulnerabilities, and his final time of 1:50.14 for the Arkansas Derby was not impressive. Nonetheless, his final furlong in 12:66 after making up a 10-length deficit from the 6-furlong point is acceptable, and unlike some closers, he showed both the willingness and the agility to make up ground while going through traffic.
Regardless, it's been a good spring for Tapit, who is closing rapidly on California Chrome's sire Lucky Pulpit for first place in the 2016 sire standings, and it certainly isn't unthinkable that one of his offspring may secure a Classic score. If gray isn't this year's new black, it's certainly doing a good job at piling up the green.
The Arkansas Derby (USA-I) is not generally thought of as a sire making race, but the Arkansas Derby contender who is the subject of today's trivia question went on to be a good sire of winners, the sire of a Broodmare of the Year, and the grandsire of a champion sire. As a side note, he also won four Derbies during his 3-year-old season although he did not start in his year's Kentucky Derby (USA-I). Who was he?
After an eventful weekend in the 3-year-old male division, Outwork, Brody's Cause and Exaggerator all stamped their tickets for Louisville by winning the Wood Memorial (USA-I), the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (USA-I) and the Santa Anita Derby (USA-I), respectively. The horse whose Derby stock may have risen highest off the weekend's activity, however, may not even have been on the track. Destin, last seen winning the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (USA-II) over Outwork, was paid a nice compliment yesterday as Outwork hung on grimly to win the Wood Memorial over the beautifully-bred maiden Trojan Nation.
Outwork had the slowest finishing time of any of yesterday's Triple Crown preps, getting the distance in 1:52.92----.32 slower than 3-year-old filly Lewis Bay took to win the Gazelle two races earlier on the card. Nonetheless, this was after water had had a chance to soak deeper into the track, rendering it deeper and more tiring. (By way of comparison, high-class older sprinters running in the Carter Handicap, USA-I, immediately after the Wood took .29 longer to negotiate 7 furlongs than did the 3-year-olds running in the Bay Shore Stakes, USA-III, right before the Wood, furthering the impression that the track was slowing down as the afternoon progressed.) Outwork also had to survive a prolonged speed duel with Matt King Coal, always a draining experience no matter what the pace. He was clearly a dead-tired horse in the final furlong, but considering everything, his race was probably better than the final time would indicate.
Exaggerator, on the other hand, posted a visually impressive win that was probably not as good as it looked. Running over a sloppy surface that he clearly relished, he benefited from a suicidally quick pace up front on the part of Danzing Candy, and he did not finish in particularly quick time. Granted, he was under no pressure in the final furlong, but neither was Wild About Deb, who won a 9-furlong maiden race for 3-year-olds in 1:49.02 compared to Exaggerator's 1:49.66 and ran his last furlong in :12.55 against :13.36 for Exaggerator. The logical conclusion is that either Wild About Deb is a very nice colt (certainly a possibility, since he was making only his second lifetime start) or that Exaggerator's performance was no compliment to the rest of the Southern California sophomore males, since the track did not appear to be slowing down much over the course of the day's card. And in fact, looking at the fractions, the ease of Exaggerator's victory appears to have owed quite as much to the complete collapse of the front-runners as to his own merits, given that it took him in the neighborhood of 37.7 seconds to negotiate the final three furlongs.
As for Brody's Cause, the son of Giant's Causeway remains an enigma. While he won the Blue Grass with authority, this was not a strong field, and neither his final time nor his closing split suggest an exceptional performance. This is good in one sense---you don't want to see a viable Kentucky Derby candidate cook himself in his final Derby prep, which Outwork may have done---but it does leave the question wide open as to how good Brody's Cause really is compared with other leading Classic contenders. There is also the possibility that Brody's Cause is a Keeneland specialist who won't deliver the same form at Churchill Downs, though the fact that he broke his maiden at the Downs is a hopeful sign for his fans.
Overall, it was an interesting weekend of racing, but one that leaves me curiously unsatisfied. Unless Saturday's winners continue to make significant progress between now and May 7, my feeling is that none of them will be more than the answers to trivia questions when the dust settles on Derby Day.
Last month, it looked as if the Longines Kentucky Oaks (USA-I) was setting up as a duel between undefeated and unchallenged juvenile filly champion Songbird and undefeated and unchallenged rising rival Cathryn Sophia. No more. While Songbird is still heavily favored to extend her unbeaten skein in the Santa Anita Oaks (USA-I) later today, Cathryn Sophia dropped out of the unbeaten ranks with a hard-fought third behind 30-1 longshot Weep No More and 2015 Spinaway Stakes (USA-I) winner Rachel's Valentina in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (USA-I).
Neither Cathryn Sophia nor Rachel's Valentina were at all disgraced in defeat, as the total margin between the first three placers was two necks. Make no mistake about it, though--Weep No More is a legitimate filly with a blistering turn of foot. 12-1/2 lengths back at the 6-furlong mark, she made up nearly seven lengths of that in the final sixteenth of a mile. kicking in with a suddenness that startled the eye. She ran the final 5/16 of a mile in close to :30 flat and her final sixteenth in under 6 seconds, a better closing kick than any of the colts have shown so far this year. If this filly doesn't go on to the Kentucky Oaks, it will be because something's wrong with her, not because she doesn't belong there.
Weep No More is a worthy Oaks candidate on pedigree as well as performance. A granddaughter of 2001 Oaks heroine Flute, she is a daughter of 2003 American Horse of the Year Mineshaft and is yet another star resulting from the crossing of the A.P. Indy male line over mares sired by Storm Cat and his sons. In Weep No More's case, Storm Cat himself is her maternal grandsire and is doubtless a source for some of the brilliant speed Weep No More showed after she kicked in.
As for Cathryn Sophia and Rachel's Valentina, both are still likely to contest the Kentucky Oaks, even though a little of the luster is now off the race except as a showcase for Songbird to strut her stuff. Still, Weep No More's victory is a reminder of why we run horse races---because sometimes a sure thing isn't, and sometimes a new star is just waiting to emerge.
In the history of the Free Handicap for American 3-year-old males, the Daily Racing Form has awarded ratings of 135 pounds or more to both the top two colts of a given year only twice. Name those colts and the years in which these exceptionally high ratings were awarded.
I'm Avalyn Hunter, an author, pedigree researcher and longtime racing fan.