This champion was sold as a yearling for just US$700 but, among his other accomplishments, set two world records for juveniles. Who was he?
Troubled by various issues during the early part of his racing career, Zulu Alpha took a while to get good. That was probably why owner-breeder Calumet Farm dropped him into the claiming ranks, running him for a tag of US$80,000 at Churchill Downs on September 14. Two parties came out pretty well that day. Calumet got the winners' purse from the race (which Zulu Alpha won by over nine lengths) plus his purchase price, and new owner Michael Hui got a horse that has turned into a new star in the turf ranks. Since being claimed, Zulu Alpha has won three of four races, all in graded stakes, and most recently took down the Mac Diarmida Handicap (USA-IIT) at Gulfstream Park on March 2.
Zulu Alpha's immediate female family goes back to Highest Trump, a daughter of 1966 American champion handicap male Bold Bidder and the fine broodmare Dear April. Raced in Europe, Highest Trump was something of an anomaly as she scored her biggest win in the Queen Mary Stakes (ENG-II) but was rated the champion 2-year-old filly in Ireland. Taking more after her maternal grandsire My Babu (the English champion 2-year-old male of 1947) than Bold Bidder, Highest Trump did not advance on her juvenile form at 3 or 4 and was retired to the paddocks with the Queen Mary as her only black-type win.
A half sister to the good California stakes mare April Dawn (by Gallant Man) and to the minor stakes winner Hurry Up Dear (by Dark Star), Highest Trump had the racing and pedigree credentials to gain access to the best sires of her day and started off with one of the best ever, Northern Dancer, for her first mating in 1977. The resulting colt, Dance Bid, won the 1981 Tetrarch Stakes (IRE-III) and placed in four other Group races including the Irish Sweeps Derby (IRE-I).
Highest Trump produced five more foals in succession by Northern Dancer, including her second Tetrarch Stakes winner, Northern Plain, but her next foal of much significance was the 1987 filly Wasnah (by Northern Dancer's champion son Nijinsky II). Stakes-placed on the race course, Wasnah threw two fine runners in Bahri (by Riverman), rated the best 3-year-old miler in England in 1995 after winning two Group I events, and Bahhare (by Woodman), winner of the 1996 Laurent-Perrier Champagne Stakes (ENG-II).
Winglet, Highest Trump's 1988 daughter by Alydar, was her first foal by a non-Northern Dancer line sire, and she was Highest Trump's most accomplished runner on the track, her victories including the 1991 Princess Stakes (USA-II). She was also Highest Trump's best producing daughter, coming up with 1997 American champion 3-year-old filly Ajina to her initial mating with Australian Horse of the Year Strawberry Road (a paternal grandson of Nijinsky II). Ajina was a modestly successful broodmare, becoming the dam of stakes winner Manchurian (by Deputy Minister) and the second dam of multiple stakes winner North Slope, juvenile stakes winner Ruthless Quality and Grade I-placed listed stakes winner Emboldened---all by 2004 American champion sire Elusive Quality, who, when put to Ajina's year-younger full sister Kobla, begot four-time Grade I winner and current top sire Quality Road. Kobla is also the second dam of 2016 Sanford Stakes (USA-III) winner Bitumen, Group III-placed Japanese stakes winner Mount Gold, and Grade III-placed stakes winner Meshell.
Winglet next produced multiple Grade III winner Rob's Spirit (a 1997 son of 1987 American champion turf male Theatrical) and Zulu Alpha's dam Zori (by 1992 American Horse of the Year and two-time American champion sire A.P. Indy) before being sent to the 1999 Keeneland November mixed sale, where she brought US$4.6 million. Unfortunately, she lived only long enough to produce the Storm Cat filly she was carrying at the time of her sale before her untimely death at age 13, and that filly, Winged Cat, has not had any significant success as a broodmare in Japan after failing to reach the race track.
Zori, previously the dam of the stakes-winning Distorted Humor gelding Bank the Eight, has not managed to produce a live foal since the 2014 colt Zulu Echo (by 2007 American champion turf male English Channel), and her only daughter, the winning Rock Hard Ten mare Call the Ten, never produced a foal. Nonetheless, Zulu Alpha has already proven himself a credit to his dam as well as his sire, the late Street Cry (also the sire of the great Zenyatta and Australian sensation Winx), and given the improvement he has already shown, his flight up the ranks of staying American turf runners may have only just begun.
Horses, like humans, exhibit "handedness," expressed as a preference for a dominant side or lead. This European-raced champion and important sire was apparently a "lefty," as he never won over a course with a right-handed turn or bend. Who was he?
There is nothing that erases the grief of losing a horse in one's stable, particularly one as talented as 2017 Las Vegas Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (USA-I) winner Battle of Midway. Nonetheless, Vasilika did what she could to provide a consolation prize to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's barn later the same day by winning the Buena Vista Stakes (USA-IIT) on February 23. It was the 5-year-old mare's 10th win from 12 starts since being claimed for US$40,000 and was the fifth graded stakes win for last year's Rodeo Drive Stakes (USA-IT) heroine.
Grade or Group I success is not new to the family of Nato II (Court Martial x Safari Moon, by Big Game). which also includes multiple Grade/Group I winners Quack and Flemensfirth, the Grade I-winning fillies Bundler and Likeable Style, and a fair number of lesser graded or Group winners including It's Freezing, a multiple Grade/Group III winner who carved out a niche for himself at stud as a prolific sire of durable, hard-knocking winners. Vasilika, however, hails from a lesser branch of the family.
Sired by 2010 Swaps Stakes (USA-II) winner Skipshot, an otherwise unheralded son of 1998 American Horse of the Year Skip Away, Vasilika is one of four winners produced from the Marquetry mare La Belle Marquet. A winner of one of her two starts, La Belle Marquet was acquired privately by breeder Mikhail Yanakov while in foal to Tale of the Cat (the resulting foal, a 2013 colt, was never named) and has since been bred exclusively to Skipshot. Her other foals by the stallion are the 4-year-old winner Golden Dragon, the placed 3-year-old filly Vasilisa, and a yearling colt.
A full sister to Grade II-placed multiple listed stakes winner Chris's Bad Boy, La Belle Marquet is out of the minor stakes winner Good For Her (by Topsider), whose stakes-placed half sister Sweet and Steady (by Canadian champion Steady Growth) is the dam of 1998 Princess Stakes (USA-II) winner Sweet and Ready (by El Prado). Good For Her, in turn, is out of multiple Grade III-placed winner Please Try Harder (by Nashua), whose dam is Nato II's winning daughter We Try Harder (by Blue Prince).
If Vasilika were a male, the presence of Skipshot as her sire would likely preclude top-class opportunities as a stallion. As a broodmare, however, her status as a Grade I winner and multiple graded stakes winner is likely to weigh far more than her immediate pedigree, and with good reason. Because of the stiff competition among stallion owners and managers for mares with desirable credentials as racers or producers, a good race mare need not have a top pedigree to qualify for a top sire's book. It's also worth noting that good race mares have a much better than average track record as producers regardless of strength of pedigree. That means that Vasilika, in spite of her relatively modest antecedents, will most likely complete her Cinderella story in some Prince Charming's court, giving her a good chance of adding another chapter of success to her female family's story.
Looks like we had a stumper last week with Be Like Mom, a daughter of champion Black Helen who produced three-time American champion steeplechaser Oedipus and two-time American champion filly But Why Not. Let's see if this week's question proves easier. Five horses who earned American Horse of the Year honors have been residents of the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions. Can you name them all?
Last Saturday saw Cleber Massey's 4-year-old filly Blamed pick up her second Grade III win in the Royal Delta Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The victory was doubly sweet for trainer Bill Mott, who had trained the race's namesake, three-time American champion Royal Delta. It also ended up being an amusing irony for Mott's assistant Ken McCarthy, who was saddling Blamed for the Hall of Fame trainer while Mott was at the Fair Grounds to oversee Country House's run in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (USA-II). As Mott's stand-in, McCarthy ended up taking part in presenting the race trophy . . . to himself.
A daughter of 2010 American champion older male Blame, Blamed traces her ancestry back to another notable champion in Numbered Account, who was the best American 2-year-old filly of 1971 and was not far off that level as a 3-year old. Her pedigree was as stellar as her performance: a daughter of 1966 American Horse of the Year and four-time American champion broodmare sire Buckpasser, she was produced from the Swaps mare Intriguing, a fine producer from the Striking branch of the great La Troienne tribe, and was inbred to both War Admiral and La Troienne.
Numbered Account's performance as a broodmare was just as outstanding as her ability as a racer. Her best runner on the track was multiple Grade I winner Private Account (by Damascus), who was also an important sire. She also produced the good Maryland sire Polish Numbers (by Danzig) and the important producers Secret Asset (by Graustark) and Confidentiality (by Lyphard).
Dance Number, Numbered Account's 1979 daughter by Northern Dancer, was not far off Private Account in ability, winning the 1983 Beldame Stakes (USA-I). A first-rate broodmare in her own right, she produced 1989 American champion 2-year-old male Rhythm (by Mr. Prospector); his full brother Not for Love, who led the Maryland general sire list 10 times and five times ranked as the best American stallion based outside Kentucky; and Grade III winner Get Lucky (by Mr. Prospector), a modern matriarch in her own right.
Bred to Seattle Slew in 1985, Dance Number produced Oscillate, who won only once from 10 tries but made up for her shortcomings on the track by producing 2006 Argentine champion sire Mutakddim; Takesmybreathaway, dam of 2008 Suburban Handicap (USA-I) winner Frost Giant; and three other graded stakes producers, among them Miss Salsa, whose gelded son Pacific Ocean (by Ghostzapper) won two Grade III events.
Blamed is out of stakes-placed Salsa Star, Miss Salsa's 2006 daughter by Giant's Causeway. After producing five foals for Maryland-based Sagamore Farm, Salsa Star was exported to Saudi Arabia in late 2016, carrying a filly by Super Saver (who traces to Dance Number through Get Lucky).
Blamed is much the best runner produced by Salsa Star, and her pedigree features a string of inbreedings to some of the best bloodlines in American racing, virtually all of it through animals who themselves had impeccable credentials as either racing or breeding stock. She herself is inbred 4x5 to both Roberto and Mr. Prospector and 5x5x5x5 to Northern Dancer; Salsa Star is 4x4 to Northern Dancer; and Oscillate is 4x4 to Glamour (a good stakes winner and excellent producer), 5x5x5 to Nasrullah and 5x5 to Polynesian. Oscillate's pedigree packs even more of a genetic wallop thanks to the presence of Busher (a full sister to Glamour's dam Striking) in the fifth generation and Busanda (a first-rate staying mare and, like Striking and Busher, a product of the War Admiral/La Troienne cross) in the fourth generation. Then we come to Dance Number, inbred 3x5 to Nearco (sire of Nasrullah) and 4x5 to Hyperion, and finally to Numbered Account, inbred 3x5x4 to War Admiral, 4x5 to La Troienne, and 5x5 to the great English matriarch Selene, dam of Hyperion.
This accumulation of high-class ancestors, crossed and recrossed through descendants that themselves stood the tests of the racetrack and the breeding shed with honor, does not guarantee that either Blamed or her stakes-placed half sister Chubby Star (herself inbred 3x4 to Seattle Slew, 4x5 to Mr. Prospector, and 5x5 to Secretariat) will enjoy success as broodmares. Nonetheless, it has yielded a very nice racer in Blamed, and the odds are good that when the time comes for her to retire to the paddocks, she will post more good runners to her ancestress' account.
The daughter of a champion mother, this mare could not emulate her dam on the track. However, she easily outdid her as a broodmare, completing a unique double by producing a multiple American champion on the flat and a multiple American champion over the jumps. Who was she?
Great mare families are gifts that keep on giving, and the family of Darby Dan foundation mare Golden Trail definitely falls in this category. Four weeks ago, this column explored the Java Moon branch of the family leading to 2019 Marshua's River Stakes (USA-IIIT) winner Bellavais via Java Moon's high-class granddaughter Memories of Silver. This week, the same family is back in the spotlight via the highly regarded Winter Sunset, who is now two-for-two after winning the Shantel Lanerie Memorial Overnight Stakes at the Fair Grounds on February 9.
Generally speaking, it isn't wise to turn down an offer of US$900,000 for a yearling Thoroughbred---a perishable commodity if there ever was one. Even without the risk of loss through a misstep or illness, most expensive yearlings never come close to justifying their purchase prices. Nonetheless, the Phillips Racing Partnership elected to retain Winter Sunset when that was the highest bid that could be elicited for her at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale. (They later sold an interest in the filly to Bob Cummings' and Annette Bacola's Coffeepot Stables).
Winter Sunset did not get to the races until November 29 of last year, but her maiden race was everything that her connections could have hoped for as she went gate-to-wire in dominating style. Her race was good enough to get her a "Rising Star" tag from Thoroughbred Daily News, and she was equally impressive in the Shantel Lanerie if not more so. Not only did she win by daylight over Grade III winner Elsa, but she was under a hand ride at the finish in spite of going six-wide around the far turn. At this point, her potential on turf appears unlimited, making her retention seem like a much smarter decision.
A daughter of three-time American champion sire Tapit, Winter Sunset is the second foal and first winner produced by Winter Memories. "Like mother, like daughter" would certainly be a good thing as far as Winter Sunset's connections are concerned, for Winter Memories won seven graded turf stakes during her racing career. Her signature wins were in the 2011 Garden City Stakes (USA-IT) and the 2012 Diana Stakes (USA-IT), and she retired to the paddocks having won eight of her 12 starts for earnings of US$1,268,100. Winter Memories' first foal, the 2014 Street Cry colt Make Memories, failed to win, but the mare has since produced full siblings to Winter Sunset in 2017 and 2018. She was last bred to Union Rags.
An El Prado half sibling to three other stakes winners produced from multiple Grade I winner Memories of Silver (by Silver Hawk), Winter Memories is the fifth daughter of Memories of Silver to come up with a stakes winner. She joins La Cloche (by Ghostzapper), dam of Bellavais; Bridal Memories (by Unbridled), dam of Penn Mile (USA-IIT) winner Hawkish; Star Silver (by Aldebaran), dam of 2016 Colleen Stakes winner Red Lodge; and Recollect (by El Prado), dam of Grade II-placed stakes winner Elusive Collection. In addition, yet another daughter, Memories for Us, is the second dam of French listed stakes winner Spinning Memories. Given the quality of stallions that these mares have been seeing plus their own genetic potential, the prospects look bright for this branch of Golden Trail's family to be producing many more "memories" for years to come.
This top producer, a Grade I winner during her own racing days, went through the sale ring four times as a broodmare or broodmare prospect. Along the way, she produced graded or Group stakes winners for every one of her owners and was the dam of an American champion and a South African champion sire. Who was she?
At the start of his career, Tax could have been claimed for US$30,000. He wasn't, but showed enough in his maiden effort at a distance probably a bit short for him to be bumped up to a US$50,000 tag in his next outing. Seven people thought the big, rangy youngster was a good enough value at that price to drop in a claim for him. Trainer Danny Gargan, acting for Hugh Lynch, won the shake to determine the horse's new ownership and led away a horse Lynch thought might make a good turf runner. Two starts later, Lynch and partners Luis Stritsman, R. A. Hill Stable, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing have a potential Kentucky Derby horse in Tax, whose grit and determination won last Saturday's Withers Stakes (USA-III) in spite of a troubled trip.
How a young horse as well-bred as Tax ended up starting his racing life as a gelding in the claiming ranks would probably be a story in itself, akin to a prince becoming a pauper. Bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, he is a son of the late Arch, a Grade I-winning Roberto-line horse who did good service at stud for Claiborne before his death in January 2016. On the distaff side, his family is one of the most stellar branches of the fabulous La Troienne's tribe, descending through 1993 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year Glowing Tribute.
Among Glowing Tribute's outstanding brood (which also includes 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero and Grade I winner Hero's Honor) is Wild Applause, a daughter of Northern Dancer. A full sister to Hero's Honor, she was quite a good race mare in her own right, winning the 1984 Diana Handicap (USA-IIT). She was even better as a broodmare, producing four graded stakes winners. Unfortunately, her son Eastern Echo (by Damascus) was too unsound to follow up on the promise he showed in winning the 1990 Futurity Stakes (USA-I), but Grade II winner Roar proved a very good stallion in Argentina, winning that country's sire championship in 2004.
Yell, the best of Wild Applause's daughters on the track, won the 2003 Davona Dale Stakes (USA-II) and Raven Run Stakes (USA-III). Given her race record, her family, and her status as a daughter of A.P. Indy, she was something of a disappointment during her own producing career as she came up with only one stakes winner, Cheery (by Distorted Humor). As often enough happens when a beautifully-credentialed mare doesn't quite deliver in the paddocks, her daughters have begun making up for it, however. Cheery produced multiple Grade I winner Elate (by Medaglia d'Oro) as her first foal, and after producing only a couple of minor winners from four previous foals, Yell's winning daughter Toll (by Giant's Causeway) has come up with Tax.
On pedigree and conformation, Tax looks to be the sort of horse likely to improve with maturity and distance, which is promising indeed as he also has a solid third-place effort in last fall's Remsen Stakes (USA-II) on his record. He may still be tried on turf at some future date, but for now, he is likely to remain in the Derby trail in hopes that he will prove worthy of wild applause on the first Saturday in May.
I'm Avalyn Hunter, an author, pedigree researcher and longtime racing fan.