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By the end of 2017 Royal Ascot, Scat Daddy was back in the news. With four winners over five days, he was the top sire at Ascot. Some of us weren’t surprised. 

The great Mick Kinane gives JOHANNESBURG a well-deserved pat after the 2 year-old’s win the the 2001 BC Juvenile.

INTRODUCTION

As in education, the thoroughbred sport and industry owes its sensibility to the metaphor of the machine, that which produces and reproduces a perfect product. But this mechanistic process and the lexicon that frames it take little account of what real development looks like.

In “machine dreams,” an individual with genuine ability is expected to develop along an established continuum, reaching their apex at an appropriate, pre-established moment. In thirty-six years in education, I had few students that arrived at their very best exactly before their final evaluation was issued, and I doubt that thoroughbreds are any different. Development does not proceed along a linear path; rather, it is iterative, moving forward and circling back, only to move forward again.

ITERATIVE DEVELOPMENT

So it is that neither Johannesburg nor his son, Scat Daddy conform to expectations that accrue to a smooth, linear and machine-like development. The former was a brilliant two year-old who never rose to the same heights as a three year-old. Scat Daddy was a promising colt whose career was cut short in his second season and who then, as a consequence, joined the ranks of young sires who need much support to make any mark at all in the sales ring. Thanks largely to the positive reception both got in South America, their careers as stallions were able to flourish.

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The daughter of HYPERION is the grandam of NORTHERN DANCER. Source: France Galop

The science of breeding itself is fraught with imponderables in which success often takes decades. Prince Khalid Abdullah cultivated his stock for thirty-five years before the arrival of Frankel. Galileo’s story began when a pregnant mare, Lady Angela, a daughter of Hyperion, stepped off a steamer in Toronto, Canada. Her foal, Nearctic, would sire Northern Dancer. Tapit took three generations to arrive on the scene and even then, having only managed two stakes wins before his retirement and an “up and down” three year-old campaign, could well have been ignored by breeders.

Scan any pedigree and it emerges with startling clarity: how the genes of their ancestors cross and inter-lace like the most exquisite of tapestries in the making of a thoroughbred. It would appear that the breed owes far more to the process of iterative development than it does to the mathematics of Euclid.

 

JOHANNESBURG

In the 2001 Breeders Cup, the juvenile that sparked the most interest was Coolmore’s Johannesburg, a son of Hennessy (Storm Cat) out of Myth (Ogygian).

Johannesburg came to North America a champion two year-old, undefeated in six starts, with wins in the UK and Europe:

In 2001, what the Storm Cats shared on either side of the Atlantic was blazing speed, suggesting a strong sprinter profile. Johannesburg’s sire, Hennessy, had only raced at two and therefore had no three year-old form, even though he was considered the best of Storm Cat’s sons at stud at the time.

The colt’s dam, Island Kitty, a daughter of Hawaii, certainly came from a stamina background.

Hawaii, bred in South Africa, was purchased by Charles Engelhardt of Nijinsky fame after a championship season in South Africa and raced to stardom in the USA, winning the United Nations H., Man O’ War S. (NTR), Stars And Stripes H., Sunrise H., and the Bernard Baruch H. as a five year-old. He stood at Claiborne Farm upon his retirement.

As a broodmare, Island Kitty not only produced Hennessy, but got Shy Tom (Blushing Groom) an earner of over 800,000 USD who became a very successful sire in Argentina, plus two very good fillies in Pearl City (Carson City) and Wild Kitty (Bold Bidder).

ISLAND KITTY with her BFF TERLINGUA in the background. Photo and copyright (I believe) Audrey Crosby McLellan.

 

HAWAII, beautifully depicted by the late Richard Stone Reeves.

 

HENNESSY_Lynn Kryston_

HENNESSY during his racing career. Photo and copyright Lisa Kryston.

Bringing their undefeated juvenile to a Breeders Cup was a smart strategic move on the part of the Coolmore “lads” and a means of enhancing Johannesburg’s future as a stallion prospect. But the gamble was huge: the colt had only ever raced at 6f on the turf and would now be asked to take on 8.5f on the dirt at Belmont. It was the test of a champion.

In brilliant style, Johannesburg handed O’Brien and Coolmore their first Breeders Cup Juvenile win, showing that he could stay the distance — and win under conditions that were brand new to him.

Even though Tiznow would come back to win an unprecedented second Breeders Cup Classic in 2001 and in so doing, help to heal the hearts of America in the year of 9-11, for many it was Johannesburg’s win that stood out as the race of BC 2001.

JOHANNESBURG the stallion. Conformation shot, JBIS.

Breathtaking as his juvenile campaign had been, resulting in both the Cartier and Eclipse 2001 Two Year-Old Championships, 2002 was not a good year for Johannesburg. Trainer O’Brien would later admit that he may well have pushed the colt too far too fast in 2001: Johannesburg’s three year-old season ended with a second in the Gladness Stakes as his best performance. In the 2002 Kentucky Derby he was unplaced, finishing eighth. It was better than half the rest of the field, but it made a poor impression on those who remembered his brilliance at two and half-expected him to blaze to victory again.

Retired to Ashford Stud in Kentucky, Johannesburg joined Giant’s Causeway as the “British contingent,” the idea being that despite a poor three year-old season, the colt would appeal to American breeders. During this time, he also shuttled to Coolmore Australia, as well as to Argentina.

JOHANNESBURG at Ashford Stud, Kentucky.

However, despite producing Scat Daddy (USA), Teuflesburg (USA), Baroness Thatcher (USA), Sageburg (IRE) and Turffontein (AUS) from his very first crop in 2004, and earning Leading Freshman Sire of 2006 in the USA, the decision was made in 2009 to sell Johannesburg to the Japanese Bloodhorse Breeders Association.

Off he went to Shizunai Stallion Station on the island of Hokkaido where he stands with notables like Cape Blanco, Came Home, Aldebaran, Squirtle Squirt and the more recent acquisitions, Creator and Eskendereya.

HELENABAY2

HELENA BAY (2006) and one of her foals. Source: Pedigree Query

Red Jazz (USA), Horai Akiko (JPN), Juhaya (ARG) and Once Were Wild (AUS) top the list of Johannesburg’s best later progeny and in 2013 Johannesburg was crowned Japanese Champion Freshman Sire. As a BM sire, he is represented by two very good offspring out of Baroness Thatcher (who now is part of Katsumi Yoshida’s broodmare band) in Hilda (JPN) and Night Baron (JPN). Another daughter, Helena Bay, who raced in Canada, produced Collected (2013), who just ran to a stunning win in the Precisionist Stakes (June 24, 2017):

Still active at the age of eighteen, Johannesburg has become a sire of sires, principally through sons Sageburg (Peace Burg and Si Sage), Turffontein (Fontein Ruby, Lyuba, Fontiton) Teuflesburg (Trinniberg, Nofinancingneeded, ), Marcavelly (Killin Me Smalls, Quidi Vidi) and Scat Daddy.

SCAT DADDY

Scat-Daddy_COOLMORE_-head02-news

SCAT DADDY at stud. Photo: Ashford/Coolmore

Based on earnings and stud record, it is Scat Daddy who stands out as his sire’s best son.

Out of the unraced Love Style (Mr. Prospector), Scat Daddy was bred by the Swiss publisher and racing enthusiast Alex Ward. The bay colt came into the world in 2004. He took his name not from the scat of the jazz world, but from his owner, James T. Scatuorchio, a Wall Street banker, for whom he was purchased by trainer Todd Pletcher as a yearling for $250,000 USD.

Inbred 4X2 to Mr. Prospector and 5X4 to Northern Dancer, Scat Daddy was a product of two powerful influences stemming from both his sire line and female family. The incomparable Mr. Prospector was an American sire who knew no equal. American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner, is a direct line descendant and the 32nd American classic winner who descends from Mr. Prospector. And the Northern Dancer influence is well documented.

MR PROSPECTOR_5d7d941eb6f38414c07e5e4c9518c7cb--race-horses-horse-racing

The best of the best: MR. PROSPECTOR.

In his two year-old campaign, Scat Daddy broke his maiden at first asking and then went on to win the prestigious Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, where he beat another son of Johannesburg in Teuflesburg. It was an impressive rally for a colt making only his second start, and it caught the attention of Coolmore’s Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, who immediately purchased a share in him.

After running second to Coolmore’s Circular Quay in the Hopeful, Scat Daddy returned to Belmont to take the Champagne Stakes from another very promising two year-old, Nobiz Like Shobiz:

Winning the Sanford and the Champagne are major steps to becoming a serious prospect on the “Triple Crown Trail” that begins with the Kentucky Derby. Scat Daddy wrapped up his juvenile season by finishing second overall on the Experimental Free Handicap to another brilliant two year-old, Street Sense.

Scat Daddy on track

SCAT DADDY during his racing career. Source: internet. No other information available.

With the rest of the Pletcher stable, Scat Daddy went off to winter in Florida. Two races run there that are considered key indicators for three year-old colts on the Triple Crown Trail are the G2 Fountain of Youth and the G1 Florida Derby.

After a third place finish to Nobiz Like Shobiz and Stormello in the Holy Bull Stakes (his first start as a three year-old) Scat Daddy reappeared in the Fountain of Youth:

In the mean time, the Carl Nafzger-trained Street Sense (Street Cry X Bedazzle by Dixieland Band), also wintering in Florida, took the Tampa Bay Derby, defeating another very good colt in Any Given Saturday (Distorted Humor X Weekend in Indy by A.P. Indy). Street Sense had won the Breeders Cup Juvenile at two and the win was also a new track record for the distance.

March also brought another promising three year-old into the limelight. Curlin (Smart Strike X Sherriff’s Deputy by Deputy Minister) was unraced at two, due largely to court battles involving his owners and trainer Ken McPeek. By March 2007, the colt’s new owners were a racing partnership headed by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Farm. His debut in February as a maiden was an absolute stunner for his connections and his trainer, Steve Asmussen:

Back Curlin came in March to win the Rebel Stakes in Arkansas, before going on to win the Arkansas Derby by 8 lengths a few short weeks later. In the first three races of his career, Curlin had vanquished the field by a combined 28 1/2 lengths.

Back at the Pletcher barn, Scat Daddy was being readied for a start in the G1 Florida Derby, run five weeks before the Kentucky Derby. The son of Johannesburg came through to win decisively, stamping his ticket to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May:

On Kentucky Derby day, Curlin and Street Sense were installed as favourites.. And, besides Scat Daddy, there were other challengers who could well upset the favourites: Hard Spun (Danzig), Nobiz Like Shobiz (Albert The Great), Stormello (Stormy Atlantic), Any Given Saturday, Teuflesburg (Johannesburg), Circular Quay (Thunder Gulch) and Tiago (Pleasant Tap).

Scat Daddy would have his work cut out for him. He broke from post position fourteen in the twenty horse field:

Scat Daddy finished up fourteenth. The fact that the brilliant Curlin only managed to get up for third didn’t help ease the disappointment. Shortly thereafter came the news that, having been bumped and jostled back, Scat Daddy had sustained a tendon injury to his right foreleg during the race.

Tendon injuries can heal, but as it would take at least ninety days, the colt would miss most of the key races that remained in 2007. Scat Daddy was retired to Ashford Stud in Kentucky with a record of 9-5-1-1 and earnings of over one million USD.

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SCAT DADDY at Ashford Stud in Kentucky. Photo: Ashford/Coolmore

Could Ashford have predicted that Scat Daddy’s explosive turn of foot would rate as a footnote to his qualities as a sire?

The young sire didn’t come out blazing with his first crop, as have young stallions like Coolmore’s Uncle Mo, and perhaps because of the parallels to his sire’s career on the track, American breeders were wary. By 2011, when Scat Daddy sat atop the American freshman sire list, his stud fee had plummeted from $30,000 to just $11,000 USD.

Looking to give the son of Johannesburg a decent chance at stud, Coolmore cast its eye around the globe. Australia didn’t seem an option, since Johannesburg’s record there had been dismal, although he had gotten two stakes winners in Turffontein and Once Were Wild.

The decision was made to shuttle Scat Daddy to Chile, to Haras Paso Nevado. It turned out to be fortuitous: so influential did he prove when teamed up with Chilean bloodstock that Scat Daddy topped the Chilean Champion sire list for two consecutive years, from 2013-2015. The “Galileo of Chile” — as he was dubbed by Chilean breeders — made such a splash that in 2012 his full brother, Grand Daddy, was acquired (on loan) to stand at another Chilean breeder, Haras Mocito Guapo. And although Grand Daddy hardly tore up the tracks in the USA, in Chile he is well on his way to becoming a smashing sire, just like his big brother.

GRAND DADDY_ped-haras-mocito-guapo

Notable Scat Daddy progeny in Chile include the millionaire Dacita, as well as Cimalta, Southern Cat, Wapi, Solaria, Il Campione and The Dream. In the same week as Royal Ascot 2017, Ruby Love (#17 in white noseband below) gave her sire another Grade One winner when capturing the Clasico Arturo Lyon Pena in Santiago (Chile). Ruby Love remains undefeated in three starts and looks to be another exciting Scat Daddy filly:

In America and Great Britain, Scat Daddy made his first big splash in 2012 with sons Handsome Mike, Daddy Long Legs and Daddy Nose Best and daughter, Lady of Shamrock.

SILENT WAR (SCAT DADDY BM SIRE)_War Front X Lady of Shamrock_-scoopdyga

LADY OF SHAMROCK’S first foal, the filly SILENT WAR (War Front) was a maiden winner in France in June 2017. SILENT WAR is owned by Wertheimer & Frere and trained by the great Freddy Head.

Handsome Mike winning the 2012 Pennsylvania Derby for owner Paul Reddam. Retired with winnings in excess of a million USD, he now stands at stud in Florida:

In 2013, Scat Daddy’s stars of 2012 were joined by No Nay Never, Dice Flavor, Frac Daddy and Solaria.

2014 brought El Kabeir to the table in the USA, while American-bred Acapulco shone at Royal Ascot. A brilliant juvenile, Zayat Stables El Kabeir was a 2015 Kentucky Derby favourite but was withdrawn due to injury. Below, two year-old El Kabeir makes a stunning debut at Saratoga:

As 2014 drew to a close, breeders, owners and racing fans around the globe were beginning to sit up and take notice of Scat Daddy progeny.

Then, on December 14, 2015, tragedy struck: as he was led out of his paddock at Ashford, Scat Daddy dropped dead of an apparent heart attack. He was only eleven years old.

Scat_Daddy

SCAT DADDY at Ashford in Kentucky. His premature death at the age of eleven shocked and saddened his owners together with breeders and thoroughbred enthusiasts around the world.

Through 2016 and 2017, the deep significance of Scat Daddy’s loss has become painfully apparent. His progeny were making their mark around the world, but it was on the big stage of Royal Ascot 2016 that two of his offspring dazzled.

Looking for all the world like his sire, Coolmore’s Caravaggio showed a speedy turn of foot to win the Coventry Stakes. But the race that sparked the most chatter was Lady Aurelia’s Queen Mary win  — and not only because she was an American-bred. Since Frankel, there had not been such a dominant performance by any two year-old at Royal Ascot:

If Royal Ascot 2016 was a credit to Scat Daddy, 2017 was an absolute triumph.

He ended the Ascot meet with more winners than any other stallion: Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup, Lady Aurelia in the  King’s Stand, Con Te Partiro in the  Sandringham and Sioux Nation in the Norfolk.

Trained by Wesley Ward and under the brilliant American jockey, John Velazquez, Lady Aurelia returned to the site of her juvenile victory to take the King’s Stand in breathtaking style. (Lady Aurelia #18 in the black & green silks):

Coolmore’s undefeated Caravaggio was a brilliant winner of the Commonwealth Cup. For those mourning the recent loss of his American BM sire, Holy Bull, who had died on June 8, Caravaggio’s victory was particularly poignant:

In Japan, on the last day of Ascot 2017, Scat Daddy landed his 9th winner from 12 starters in that country when two year-old Derma Kaseki (ex Tashawak by Night Shift) won at Hakodate in a thriller of a finish. About the same time, Inflexibility placed in both the Oaks and the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in Canada for trainer Chad Brown. And early in July, Seahenge broke his maiden at Naas (IRE) for Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore.

DALI(2) by David Betts_.JPG.opt898x598o0,0s898x598

Coolmore has a number of Scat Daddy colts and two year-old DALI is one of them. His BM sire is CAPE CROSS, sire of SEA THE STARS. DALI has made three starts, winning once. There will be more to come from this beautifully bred Scat Daddy. Photo and copyright, David Betts. Used with the permission of David Betts.

POSTSCRIPT

There is only one more crop of Scat Daddy foals to come and you can bet that the ones that come up at the sales will be the subject of fierce bidding, with big names like Coolmore and high-profile Japanese breeders leading the charge.There will be no replacing him, but with fine to brilliant progeny around the globe, Scat Daddy will undoubtedly remain an influence on the breed.

And this is how I choose to remember the dark bay colt I so loved: in his wake, echoes take on colour, heart, bone and sinew.

SCAT DADDY_Ck_3yp0VAAAPcmo.jpg-large

 

Bonus Feature:

With jockey Victor Espinoza at Ashford in Kentucky where he visits Scat Daddy:

 

France Sire visits Giant’s Causeway and Scat Daddy at Ashford (in French voiceover but English is still discernible):

 

SOURCES:

A special thank you to photographer David Betts for permission to use his photos (https://www.facebook.com/davidbettsphotos/) and to Paul Rhodes of http://www.aidanobrienfansite.com for his kindness in contacting David on my behalf.

Hunter,Avalyn.Scat Daddy.American Classic Pedigrees

http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com

Vlcek, Miloslav. Hennessey And His Line.On Black Type Pedigree

http://www.blacktypepedigree.com

The Racing Post for stud records of Johannesburg and Scat Daddy.

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We’ve been here many, many times before and this year it’s all about American Pharoah, whose misspelled name has only made his wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness more distinctive.

The delight and the doubts have dominated the press in North America since Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah began his Triple Crown bid, first by winning the Kentucky Derby and then by romping to a Preakness victory in the slop, winning by a margin only equalled by Smarty Jones 11 1/4 victory in the 2004 Preakness (above).

But then came the Belmont…..and the undefeated Smarty, who had won every heart along the way, suffered his first — and only — career defeat. To say that it was a heartbreaker would be an understatement.

It’s 2015, and here we go again.

And what can be studied to ascertain whether or not American Pharoah’s (AP) chances in a dwindling field are better than that of a champion like the great Smarty Jones? Truthfully, no analysis can be foolproof which is one of the reasons that horse racing worldwide still brims with anticipation, hope and dreams of glory.

There are a number of complex factors that will determine the outcome on June 6th and how they interrelate is where the mystery lies.

First, there is the colt himself — how tired is AP? After all, as E. P. Taylor who owned and bred Northern Dancer observed, ” If you run them enough times, they get beaten…A horse can’t tell you how he’s feeling…” And the “fatigue factor” would arguably be less relevant if the Derby and Preakness winner was going up against colts who had run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. But he isn’t. In the Belmont, he’ll meet up with colts who are fresher, who’ve had time to rest and work up to the Belmont. AP’s had three weeks.

AMERICAN PHAROAH shown after his Preakness win.

AMERICAN PHAROAH shown after his Preakness win.

 

Then there are the bloodlines and what these might cough up in terms of indicators. AP’s bloodlines are superb on his sire line. In fact his grandsire, Empire Maker, trained by the legendary Bobby Frankel, was himself the spoiler when he won the 2003 Belmont to quash Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid:

Empire Maker had been beaten by Funny Cide in the Derby that year, but skipped the Preakness before running in the Belmont. He was a fresher colt going in, but it’s impossible to overlook his bloodlines: Unbridled (Mr. Prospector sire line) out of the fabulous mare, Toussaud, by El Gran Señor (Northern Dancer). And Empire Maker, who stands in Japan now, has thrown a hailstorm of champions from his American foal crops, including AP’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile, Eclipse champion (2011-2013) Royal Delta and champions Sky Kingdom, In Lingerie, Grace Hall, Emollient, Bodemeister and Acomas. Pioneerof the Nile looks to be on his way to following in Empire Maker’s steps, but it’s still too early to be certain. Often, though, it takes a generation for a sire or a dam to produce a superstar like AP, win or lose on June 6. And Empire Maker has the goods to do it.

The handsome and prepotent EMPIRE MAKER.

The handsome and prepotent EMPIRE MAKER.

Of course, AP is not the only colt going into the Belmont with a great pedigree. There is the sensational Mubtaahij, who appears to like the Belmont surface and is by the hot sire, Dubawi, out of Pennegal by Pennekamp, himself a sire who showed brilliance on the turf — winning the 2000 Guineas, Prix de la Salamandre, Dewhurst and Prix Djebel, among 6 of 7 lifetime victories. If our “might skip a generation” breeding axiom kicks in here, then Mubtaahij is doubly-blessed. His dam is a Blue Hen in her own right — and let’s keep in mind that it’s the dam that hands on the powerful X in Mubtaahij’s genetic profile.

MUBTAAHIJ working at Belmont. Photograph and copyright, Emily Gricco.

MUBTAAHIJ working at Belmont. Photograph and copyright, Emily Gricco.

 

Another serious contender in the Belmont is Frosted. He’s by America’s arguably best sire, Tapit (AP Indy) out of a Deputy Minister mare, Fast Cookie. What’s interesting about Frosted is that he carries Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew on both sides of his fourth generation. And that can’t be bad. Other strong pedigrees are found in Materiality (his sire is Preakness & Belmont Stakes winner, Afleet Alex/BM sire, Langfuhr) and Keen Ice, a son of the mighty Curlin, who certainly will get the distance.

The gorgeous FROSTED has the pedigree to match. Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

The gorgeous FROSTED has the pedigree to match. Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

KEEN ICE at work over the Belmont track. Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

KEEN ICE at work over the Belmont track. A son of the mighty CURLIN, he has what it takes to get the distance. Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

 

A factor that looms large is that of the jockeys.

AP keeps his regular rider, Victor Espinoza, who is no stranger to pressure. He rode the last Triple Crown hopeful, California Chrome, in the 2014 Belmont where the colt finished out of the money, overtaken by much fresher horses. In 2002, Espinoza was astride the Baffert-trained War Emblem, but the colt stumbled coming out of the gate and never really recovered. So Espinoza knows the hype and knows the track; hopefully, he’ll ride at least one race on June 6th prior to the Belmont to get the feel of the track.

Mubtaahij will be missing his regular rider, Christophe Soumillon, and some are speculating that Soumillon’s decision to drop the ride (because of a previous commitment) speaks loud about the colt’s Belmont chances. However, the talented son of Dubawi gets the services of talented Irad Ortiz Jr. Ortiz has won a Breeders’ Cup and knows the Belmont track. Kent Desormeaux and Joel Rosario ride Keen Ice and Frosted, respectively, and both can be counted on to come up with sound performances. The great Mike Smith rides the Nick Zito-trained Frammento and these two are a formidable combination: over the years, American racing fans have learned to never count Zito out.

One of the very best: trainer Nick Zito brings FRAMMENTO into the Belmont.

One of the very best: trainer Nick Zito brings FRAMMENTO into the Belmont.

 

Then there’s the matter of the track itself. Although Saratoga has the reputation of being “the graveyard of champions,” in North America every true racing fan knows that the real graveyard is the Belmont, aka “Big Sandy.” To quote the pre-eminent correspondent of American racing, Steve Haskin, writing in Blood-Horse on June 1:

“…the fact is, many jockeys who don’t have experience at Belmont Park, especially going 1 1/2 miles, get lost on those sweeping turns, with the far turn being what I call the turn of no return. Once you make a mistake on that turn, especially going that far, there is no recovering from it.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but you do not want to get caught wide on the first turn and you certainly don’t want to go into the second turn wide. At Belmont, the ideal trip is to remain closer to the rail (if it is playing fair), then ease out nearing the quarter pole or waiting for an opening on the inside. Going wide at the five-sixteenths pole or quarter pole is not a big deal. It is going into the turn wide that leaves horses rubber-legged after turning for home, as they are forced to lose ground for a very long time while negotiating that seemingly endless turn.

…As far as staying on the rail, that is going to be up to Bob Baffert. The great John Nerud has always said the key to Belmont is knowing the track on that day and watch how the track is maintained the days leading up to the race. And he’ll be able to tell by watching all the races run on that Friday and of course on Saturday. According to Nerud, it all depends on what the crew does with the cushion. If they remove a good part of the cushion on the inside and dump it 20-25 feet out from the rail, you want to get on that rail and stay there, especially from the five-sixteenths pole to the eighth pole.. If they leave the cushion alone, because of the pitch of the track, it likely will be slower down on the inside.”

(See more at: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2015/06/01/memo-to-victor-don-t-let-belmont-park-beat-you.aspx#sthash.q752Ur2V.dpuf)

belmont park_tc

 

Last, but not least, is the matter of statistics, those supposedly factual indicators of what a colt has got, pedigree-wise, and therefore, what he should do in a classic, 1.5 mile/12f race like the Belmont Stakes.

To help those new to the business of handicapping, we need to stress that both the Dosage Index (DI) and Centre of Distribution (CD) of any thoroughbred are, in actuality, trends used by breeders more than “facts” per se. What we mean by this is that both DI and CD are attempts to consolidate pedigree information along the lines of stamina and speed influences. The CD and DI of a thoroughbred are tied to the influences of chef-de-race stallions found in a horse’s pedigree over the first 4 generations.

But influences are just that and no more than that — even the great Secretariat’s speed-stamina profile (20-14-7-9-0) did not quite capture what he showed us on the track!

A thoroughbred’s Dosage Profile (DP), from which its DI and CD derive, is calculated based on the number of stamina-speed sire influences in a pedigree. There are five categories: Brilliant, Intermediate, Classic, Solid and Professional, with “Brilliant” denoting a preference for shorter distances (speed influence) and “Professional,” longer distances (stamina influence). Horses classified as “Classic” have an almost-equal speed-stamina ratio. The numbers assigned in all 5 categories (even if 1 or more are 0) constitute the DP. Then, through a numerical ponderation formula, the DI and CD are calculated and they indicate a trend represented by a ratio of stamina-to-speed influences that may (or may not) indicate the conditions under which a horse does best. The higher the DI or CD, the greater the speed influence.

(In fact, when we look at the CD’s of the 11 Triple Crown winners, we see just how misleading this kind of information can be if used as the sole criteria for picking a Triple Crown winner: Sir Barton @ 1.00, Gallant Fox @ 0.57, Omaha @ 0.75, War Admiral @ 0.52, Count Fleet @ 0.25, Whirlaway @ 0.10, Assault @ 0.46, Citation @ 0.04, Secretariat @ 0.90, Seattle Slew @ 0.68 and Affirmed @ 0.55. Then add, for good measure, Man O’ War @ 1.17, Alydar @ 1.10, Little Current @ 0.22 or the fabulous Smarty Jones @ 1.00 and one sees that while the CD is a useful indicator of the ratio of speed-to-stamina in an individual’s pedigree, it can also prove very dodgy for punters!)

AP comes in with a CD of 0.88, meaning that his speed influence is presumably more dominant than stamina; Mubtaahij has a CD of 0.00, showing a distinct speed-stamina imbalance that should favour stamina over speed. At 0.64, Keen Ice shows a relatively balanced speed-stamina influence; and Frosted shows a CD of 0.67. The average CD for 12 furlongs (the distance of the Belmont Stakes) is 0.43. And this is where the worm-hole that can be statistics opens up: none of the colts mentioned here compare favourably with the ideal of 0.43. But why is that? Probably because they’re babies with limited races under their belts, making it hard to assess them against a statistic that takes no account of the number of races those individuals used to reach this statistic had run.

Too, we would note that in comparing the respective DP’s of Frosted, Keen Ice, Mubtaahij and AP, the two with the most speed-stamina balance and therefore, using this theory, the most inherited Classic potential are Frosted and Keen Ice. But, again, what’s missing is the time it might take any of these youngsters to reach their Classic potential.

American Pharoah shown working at Churchill Downs pre-Belmont Stakes.

American Pharoah shown working at Churchill Downs shortly before he shipped to Belmont.

So….can American Pharoah, a brilliant colt at both two and three, give America its first Triple Crown winner since 1978? Having watched him through this year and last, we know that one thing is certain: he will do his best on June 6th. That’s the kind of honest, hard-working colt he is and it’s doubtful he knows any other way of being.

But the result on June 6th? There are no absolutes.

If the factors align for colt and jockey — from how the track plays to fatigue vs. freshness to what’s bred in the bone — then, when the gates spread and Big Sandy opens its arms, welcome all of these equine athletes….and the possibility of a Triple Crown champion.

AMERICAN PHAROAH with HOF trainer, Bob Baffert who says of his champion, "He is just the sweetest horse." Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

AMERICAN PHAROAH with HOF trainer, Bob Baffert who says of his champion, “He is just the sweetest horse.” Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

 

SPECIAL THANKS

…to gifted photographer, Emily Gricco, who generously gave THE VAULT permission for the use of her images of the Belmont contenders. If you love great photography, catch Emily on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

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