This hulking horse inherited much of his noted sire's stamina but little of the class of either sire or dam and was exported from his native England for a pittance when he could not attract sufficient mares even at the paltry fee of 9 pounds. In exile, his blue-blooded pedigree apparently came to the fore, for he became an important sire in three countries' bloodlines. Name him.
March Madness apparently applies to more than NCAA basketball, to judge by recent results in prep races for the American Triple Crown series. The latest upset took place in the Sunland Park Derby (USA-III) on March 24, in which Cutting Humor went from maiden winner to Kentucky Derby candidate while leaving Grade I-placed Grade III winner and heavy favorite Mucho Gusto nearly six lengths up the track.
While Cutting Humor was light on racing credentials prior to Sunday, he has perfectly good pedigree credentials for a potential Classic contender. A son of Claiborne stallion First Samurai, the colt is from one of Claiborne's more successful families of the 1990s, that of the Forty Niner mare Tour.
Bred by Patricia Blass and Claiborne from their stakes-winning Full Pocket mare Fun Flight, Tour proved a capable sprinter, winning the 1993 Curious Clover Handicap (a listed race) at Hollywood Park and placing in eight stakes races. She got off to a good start to her broodmare career with her first foal. Bred to Lord At War, she produced Trip, a multiple Grade III winner. While Trip produced only one stakes winner, Passport (by Pulpit), she is the second dam of three stakes winners including multiple Grade I winner Bolt d'Oro.
The remainder of Tour's broodmare career continued on a solid but not stellar level, with two more stakes winners and two lesser daughters who became stakes-producing broodmares (including Leave, dam of multiple Grade II winner Departing). Her second stakes winner, Joke, was the product of a mating with the top sprinter Phone Trick and, predictably, was a sprinter herself, winning the 2001 Vallejo Stakes (a listed race) at Golden Gate Fields. Joke, in turn, threw the brilliant speedster Zensational (by Unbridled's Song), winner of three Grade I sprints.
Prior to producing Zensational, Joke produced the unraced Pulpit mare Pun, who is turning out a pretty fair broodmare in her own right. Cutting Humor is the second graded stakes performer for Pun, who had previously produced Grade II-placed listed stakes winner Irish You Well (by Broken Vow).
Besides his level of overall class, one question that Cutting Humor still has to answer is that of stamina. While the track record he set for 9 furlongs on the Sunland Park Derby is certainly a good sign, Tour's family has been one in which speed has predominated. The X factor, then, is likely to be how much stamina First Samurai has bequeathed to his son, and to date he has been more a source of miler speed than stamina. Still, there are exceptions to every rule, and if Cutting Humor proves he has classic stamina in addition to speed, he may take his family touring in a new direction.
A feminine counterpart to the famous four-Derby winner Black Gold, this American champion won four Oaks races over the course of her 3-year-old season. Unfortunately, also like Black Gold, she left no foals to carry on her heritage. Who was she?
Not too many mares manage to throw two foals who end up winning stakes races on the same card, but that's exactly what happened on March 16 at Laurel. In the fifth race, the 4-year-old gelding Cordmaker (Curlin x Tanca) won the Harrison E. Johnson Stakes. Two races later, his 3-year-old half sister Las Setas (by Seville) won the Beyond the Wire Stakes, completing the rare daily double for her dam. Coincidentally, it was the second stakes win for both the half siblings, who were bred by Robert T, Manfuso and Katharine M. Voss.
No one is going to mistake Tanca for one of the great matriarchs of the breed, but she has an admirably consistent record as a broodmare that many of her more heralded sisters might well envy. She has produced eight named foals, of which seven have started, and all seven have won. Aside from her Laurel stakes winners, she has also produced the 2013 Dance With Ravens gelding Corvus, winner of the 2015 Maryland Million Nursery Stakes. Her credentials, if displayed on a catalog page, might not impress someone looking for potential champions or a home-run sale yearling, but most breeders in regional markets would be delighted to have a mare like this in their broodmare bands.
A winner during her own racing days, Tanca has undoubtedly been aided by a quite solid pedigree in achieving broodmare success. A daughter of the top Maryland sire Polish Numbers (a regally-bred horse by Danzig out of champion Numbered Account, and a half brother to multiple Grade I winner and successful sire Private Account), she is a half sister to the stakes-winning juvenile Sara Rocks (by Rock Slide). Their dam, Grade II-placed Waltz, is by 1992 American champion older male Pleasant Tap (a good sire and a Pleasant Colony half brother to 1994 Kentucky Derby, USA-I, winner Go for Gin) out of Mythical Dancer (a half sister to three stakes winners by the successful Northern Dancer son Sovereign Dancer, whose maternal granddam is the fabulous producer Grey Flight) and is a half sister to Grade III winner Midnight Cry (by Smart Strike). This is a pedigree incorporating many of the best families in American breeding, and its consistent quality from top to bottom surely is no handicap in consistently transmitting genes that help make winners.
While Cordmaker is pretty much a known quantity at this point, Las Setas (a homebred whose breeders race her in partnership with Wayne Harrison and who is trained by Voss) is currently unbeaten at 3 after winning her last two starts in open stakes company and could still have some significant upside. Tanca produced a 2017 filly by the even more blue-blooded Grade I winner Imagining (she was barren in 2018), and it is to be hoped that this daughter will add to the already honorable record of a dam who has been a credit to her illustrious forebears.
This horse won the first Kentucky Derby to be accorded front-page coverage in the Louisville Courier-Journal, an honor the great race has been accorded ever since. Who was he, and in what year did he win the Derby?
History buffs should have loved the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (USA-II) on March 9, won by the namesake of a Roman historian and a descendant of a mare named for an American president. Whether the equine Tacitus will go on writing racing history is anyone's guess, but a stakes-record performance telegraphs promise, and the colt certainly has the bloodlines to deliver more.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Tacitus comes from the same fountainhead as does the other headliner so far on the Triple Crown trail, Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (USA-II) winner War of Will. Both trace back to the modern matriarch Best in Show, War of Will through her Sir Ivor daughter Minnie Hauk and Tacitus through Minnie Hauk's full sister Monroe.
Of the sisters, Monroe was definitely the better racer. After placing in the Gallaghouse Phoenix Stakes (IRE-I) at 2, Monroe won the Ballyogan Stakes (IRE-III) at 3 and was first or second in all but one of her eight starts. She continued her winning ways as a broodmare, producing four stakes winners including 1997 European champion 2-year-old male Xaar (by Zafonic). Adding icing to the cake, six of her seven daughters produced stakes winners. The best producer among them, as might have been expected, was Group III winner Diese (by Diesis), whose three stakes winners include multiple Grade I winner Senure (by Nureyev).
Stakes-placed Silver Star, a full sister to Xaar, was less distinguished in the paddocks, as listed stakes winner Barsanti (by Champs Elysees) was her only black-type winner. It was left to her winning Storm Cat daughter Rising Tornado to carry on, and carry on she did by producing Close Hatches as her first foal. The daughter of First Defence was a very good 3-year-old, winning the Mother Goose Stakes (USA-I) and Cotillion Stakes (USA-I). At 4, she added three more Grade I wins and was voted an Eclipse Award as American champion older female. Rising Tornado later produced Close Hatches' full sister Lockdown, a Grade I-placed stakes winner, and is still in active production; her most recent foal is a 2018 colt by Pioneerof the Nile.
In the meantime, Close Hatches has wasted no time going about her dynastic duties, producing Tacitus as her first foal. After winning at second asking on November 10 at Aqueduct, the big, growthy son of Tapit was not seen again until the Tampa Bay Derby. Trainer Bill Mott seldom moves a horse that rapidly up the class ladder without having good reason for confidence in the results, and his confidence was justified when the Juddmonte homebred found an opening late on the rail and powered through. The final time for one and one-sixteenth miles was 1:41.90, erasing the stakes record of 1:42.36 set by eventual Belmont Stakes (USA-I) winner Tapwrit in 2017 and just .15 second off the track record.
With three Belmont Stakes winners and a Belmont runner-up already to his credit, Tapit obviously has no trouble getting a horse that can stay classic distances, so there are only two real questions facing Tacitus with regards to a start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (USA-I): whether he can avoid injury, and whether he is good enough. As for Close Hatches, she has since produced the 2017 filly Atheer (by Malibu Moon), a yearling full brother to Tacitus, and a 2019 colt by two-time American Horse of the Year Curlin. With continued matings at this level, she will continue to have every chance of extending the history of her distinguished family.
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?
I'm Avalyn Hunter, an author, pedigree researcher and longtime racing fan with a particular interest in Thoroughbred mares and their contributions to the history of the breed.