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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)

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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.

 

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

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The dams of this year’s top Derby contenders have had a 50% influence on the makeup of each of these colts. So what does the tail female of the top 5 contenders bring to the table?

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Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is the way nature tracks “Who Is Your Mama?” in every species, including humans and racehorses, since it is passed down from mothers to daughters intact. mtDNA is like a kind of spice, scattered throughout the gene pool, that makes up a horse’s pedigree. One of the interesting things about mtDNA is that it is thought to play a large role as a speed influence in a thoroughbred’s pedigree.

 INTERNATIONAL STAR

Out of the mare Parlez, this colt’s BM sire is French Deputy (Deputy Minister). Parlez hails from a good female family and International Star (IS) is her third really good offspring. The other two are both by Not For Love, the filly Fools In Love and the gelding D C Dancer, winner of the Maryland Million Sprint. So Parlez has proven herself to be a good producer.

IS’s second and third dams also proved to be sound producers. Speak Halory (Verbatim) the colt’s second dam, has 7 winners out of 10 foals, including Lovely Sage, and is the grandam of New Edition (Stormy Atlantic) and Venezuela’s champion, Karun (Arch). IS’s third dam is the better known Halory (Halo), the dam of the great Halory Hunter (Jade Hunter), Key Lory (Key To The Mint), Van Nistelrooy (Storm Cat), the gelding, Prory (Procidal), Brushed Halory (Broad Brush) and grandam of the Storm Cat filly, Sly Storm.

What becomes apparent is that Parlez’s female family produce strong fillies and a few good colts, the best of which (other than IS) are Karun (VEN), Halory Hunter and Key Lory. However, the number of really good colts produced by Halory has not been duplicated by Speak Halory, leaving us with the question of whether or not Parlez is a strong influence in IS’s pedigree or not.

As for French Deputy, who stands at Japan’s Shadai Stallion Station, he seems best at siring 8f runners who are especially good as two year-olds. But, in 1995, French Deputy did post the highest 3 year-old Beyer figure (119) and his own sire, Deputy Minister, was one of the great progenitors of the breed.

 DORTMUND

The undefeated Dortmund’s dam, Our Josephina, wasn’t an impressive runner herself, but being a daughter of Tale of the Cat helps hugely.

“Coolmore’s Cat” is chalking up a very impressive record at stud, including champions like Stopchargingmaria, She’s A Tiger, Lion Heart, Gio Ponti, Cat Moves, My Trusty Cat and Tale of Ekati. Nor is the success of the 21 year-old confined to the Northern Hemisphere: his latest star in the Southern Hemisphere is The Diamond One, a very smart filly racing in Australia. The overwhelming influence of Terlingua (Secretariat) — Tale of the Cat’s grandam — is a signature of the most successful of Storm Cat’s progeny; you see it in their conformation, temperament —and lust for speed:

Another aspect of Dortmund’s tail female is the influence of Danzig in his third generation, repeating the lucrative Northern Dancer-Secretariat nick (responsible for Summer Squall, Secreto, Storm Bird, among others) while adding still another juicy element: the Danzig line in Europe has produced champion runners and sires in the form of Oasis Dream and Dansili.

 CARPE DIEM

The presence of Giant’s Causeway in Carpe Diem’s pedigree makes us less unsettled by Unbridled’s Song in his tail female, at least in terms of soundness issues. And his dam, Rebridled Dreams, also has two other very good progeny: Doncaster Rover (War Chant) and J B’s Thunder (Thunder Gulch), even though the best she did in Grade 2 company herself was a place and a show. In general, Carpe Diem’s maternal family in his tail female lacks depth, with the exception of Unbridled’s dam, Gana Facil, also the dam of Cahill Road (Fappiano).

However, the stallion influences are interesting: Fappiano, Caro, Danzig and Aloma’s Ruler appear in his 4th generation but that may be too far back to exert any real influence.

Still, in the mysterious muddle of thoroughbred genetics, this handsome son of Giant’s Causeway may have more than enough on top to carry him to victory. After all, his daddy’s nickname during his racing career was The Iron Horse!

 

AMERICAN PHAROAH

Not unlike Carpe Diem (above), American Pharoah’s bottom line is not particularly impressive.

Out of Littleprincessemma (Yankee Gentleman), the colt carries Storm Cat in his female family and, therefore, the promise of Terlingua’s speed. Of two foals, American Pharaoh is by far his dam’s best. A prohibitive Kentucky Derby favourite as of this writing, the colt’s second and thirds dams are useful, producing some winners with modest earnings. The most impressive female influence comes from his BM sire’s dam, Key Phrase, but her influence on his pedigree would be negligible at best. The stallions Flying Paster and Exclusive Native come up in the fourth generation of his tail female but, again, don’t expect a strong influence here.

The prohibitive Derby favourite (at this writing) owes far more to his sire, Pioneerof the Nile, a son of the mighty Empire Maker, and this comes through in his conformation and precocity.

FROSTED

There’s no denying that the brilliance of his sire, Tapit, shines in the coat and talent of Frosted. He is his dam Fast Cookie’s third and most successful foal, although the other two were winners, albeit in modest company. Fast Cookie is a daughter of the great sire, Deputy Minister, and her dam Fleet Lady (Avenue of Flags by Seattle Slew) is also the dam of Darley’s BC Juvenile and 2 YO Eclipse Champion colt, Midshipman (Unbridled’s Song). Frosted’s third dam, Dear Mimi (Roberto), is the maternal grandam of Pantomima (JPN) by Seattle Dancer and Mars Princess (JPN) by Danehill, both modest producers in Japan. Frosted is also inbred 2 X 4 to the immortal Seattle Slew.

So although Frosted’s female family is nothing to be sneered at, it is undoubtedly his sire’s influence that dominates.

 

PERSONAL ENSIGN appears in OCHO OCHO OCHO'S tail female. An omen perhaps?

PERSONAL ENSIGN appears in OCHO OCHO OCHO’S tail female. An omen perhaps?

 

OTHER FUN FACTS

MATERIALITY’S dam is also the dam of MY MISS SOPHIA and his second dam, DIAL A TRICK, is the dam of EYE OF THE TIGER. A daughter of DIAL A TRICK, WILDWOOD FLOWER, is the dam of AFLEET EXPRESS. The colt’s 3rd dam, ICE FANTASY, is the grandam of champions SNOW RIDGE & SWEETNORTHERNSAINT.

EL KABEIR’S 2nd dam, ROSE COLORED LADY, is the dam of TOO MUCH BLING.

PASSING MOOD, the dam of UPSTART‘s BM sire, TOUCH GOLD, was also the dam of champion WITH APPROVAL, winner of the Canadian Triple Crown.

FAR RIGHT’S tail female includes VINDICATION, SHADEED & AFFIRMED and his 4th dam is the fabulous CASCAPEDIA.

DANZIG MOON’S 3rd dam, PURE PROFIT, was the dam of the incomparable INSIDE INFORMATION and the great EDUCATED RISK. Below: INSIDE INFORMATION wins the 1995 BC DISTAFF:

WAR STORY’S 2nd dam, POLLY ADLER, is the dam of YOURSMINEOURS and his 3rd dam, HONEST AND TRUE is the dam of champion EPITOME and grandam of ESSENCE OF DUBAI.

STANFORD has a hugely impressive tail female through his 3rd dam, MYTH, the dam of champion JOHANNESBURG, and 4th dam, YARN, who is the dam of champions MINARDI and TALE OF THE CAT and the grandam of FED BIZ. Below, JOHANNESBURG’S 2001 BC JUVENILE win:

MR Z’S 2nd dam, AMELIA BEARHART, is the dam of champions CHIEF BEARHEART & EXPLOSIVE RED. Another daughter, RUBY RANSOM, is the dam of STRUT THE STAGE & SACRED SONG. MR Z’s 4th dam is none other than the great GOLD DIGGER, who is the dam of MR PROSPECTOR.

OCHO OCHO OCHO’S 3rd dam is none other than the incomparable PERSONAL ENSIGN.

BOLO’S 2nd dam, ASPENELLE, is the dam of MINING MY OWN, dam of Kentucky Derby winner MINE THAT BIRD and the champion DULLAHAN. Below, Churchill Downs welcomes MINE THAT BIRD in 2013:

KEEN ICE’S 4th dam, CHIC SHRINE, is the grandam of HUNGRY ISLAND, SOARING EMPIRE, VERRAZANO, EL PADRINO & SOMALI LEMONADE.

 

 

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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