Monday, May 30, 2011

Nehro a threat in the Belmont

Nehro (inside) breezes 6f  in 1:12.20 at Churchill Downs
with stablemate Dominus on May 30, 2011
Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs
Even though Nehro hasn't yet won a stakes race, the Mineshaft colt's running style and his near-misses in the Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana Derbys point to him as a fast-improving horse who seems to have the credentials to spoil the bids of Animal Kingdom and Shackleford to add a second triple crown victory to their resumes.

In a tuneup for the June 11th Belmont-G1, Nehro breezed six furlongs over a fast track early this morning at Churchill Downs, in company with the Smart Strike colt, Dominus, another Steve Asmussen-trained three-year-old who placed in the Derby Trial-G3 at Churchill in his last start.  Working on the rail under exercise rider Carlos Rosas, Nehro was caught by the clockers in 1:12.20.  Even though he finished a length behind Dominus, assistant trainer Scott Blasi told Daily Racing Form, "I thought they went great."

Asmussen has indicated that Nehro will likely ship to Belmont in three days, on Thursday, June 2nd, where he'll train up to the mile-and-a-half classic at Belmont Park.

Nehro seems to be following in the footsteps of his late-maturing sire, Mineshaft, who didn't really blossom until his four-year-old season, when he became a true powerhouse, winning four Grade I handicaps, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Suburban, both at a mile and a quarter at Belmont.  For his exploits that year, in which he won or placed in nine stakes and earned $2,209,686, Mineshaft was voted Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year.

Nehro preps for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill
on April 28, 2011

Photo:  Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs
Mineshaft's sire, the Intermediate/Classic Chef-de-Race A. P. Indy, not only won the Belmont, but also sired Rags to Riches, who, when she outgamed Curlin to capture the Belmont in 2007, became only the third filly ever to win the prestigious race, and the first one to do so since 1905.

From his first five crops of racing age, Mineshaft has sired seven graded stakes winners, including classic contender Dialed In, who won this year's Florida Derby-G1, but who has not fared as well in the first two legs of the triple crown, finishing off the board in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Nehro didn't break his maiden until February of this year, when he won a mile maiden special weight race at Oaklawn in his third lifetime start.  Though he has now amassed earnings of $825,140, Nehro is still eligible for non-winners of two allowance conditions.  Even though he won't go postward in the Belmont as the bettors' favorite, he will certainly go into the starting gate with their respect.

Nehro is the eighth foal from stakes-winning The Administrator, by Canadian Champion and Horse of the Year, Afleet, a son of Mr. Prospector.  The Administrator has been a solid citizen in the breeding shed, having produced four other winners, including Grade III winner Saint Marden (by Saint Ballado) and the talented Kris S. filly, Sweet Lips, a stakes winner of $565,138.

Nehro's fifth dam, the Newstead Farm foundation mare, Legendra, is also the fifth dam of legendary Zenyatta.  In a blog post from April, 2010, noted pedigree analyst Frank Mitchell recounted how W. L. Brann, who bred and raced Legendra in the 1940s, summed up his breeding philosophy in an interview with Daily Racing Form's Charlie Hatton:  "I breed for the classics and try to emulate the best racehorses in England with my own bloodstock."

While Nehro's Dosage Index (4.33) suggests that he may not quite be able to get the Belmont's 12 furlongs, there is physiological evidence to indicate that he can.  When they measured him prior to the 2009 Keeneland September sale, EQB recognized Nehro's superior cardiovascular capabilities, and earmarked him as one of their "short-list" prospects.  Their client, Ahmed Zayat, subsequently signed the ticket for Nehro's $170,000 purchase price, and must be pleased with the returns on what now seems like a relatively modest investment.

Regardless of whether he wins the Belmont, or he doesn't, there's no doubt that in Nehro, Zayat Stable has got a talented colt in its arsenal, one who seems capable of becoming a star in his own right, with the genetic fortitude to keep going strong when other rivals fade in the stretch.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Look to Plum Pretty's Female Family for Clues to her Kentucky Oaks Win

Plum Pretty holds off St. John's River to win the Kentucky Oaks
Photo: Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
A daughter of Medaglia D'Oro captured the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs for the second time in three years earlier today, as Peachtree Stable's Plum Pretty eked out a front-running victory in the prestigious mile and an eighth filly classic, which is often a stepping stone to divisional honors.

In 2009, Medaglia D'Oro's eventual Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra had announced herself as something truly special when she trounced the Oaks field by more than 20 lengths, without ever being asked to really run.

It's too soon to tell whether Plum Pretty will follow in Rachel Alexandra's footsteps, but the Bob Baffert trainee has accomplished enough during the last two months to write her own name in the history books.  She came to the Oaks off a freakish 25-length tour-de-force performance in the mile and a sixteenth Sunland Park Oaks in late March, one which the betting public at Churchill mostly dismissed because Sunland Park isn't considered to be quite in the same league as the historic Louisville track.

Until today, the bay filly's bona fides weren't taken very seriously, in spite of her respectable third-place finishes in two graded stakes at Santa Anita:  the Grade II Santa Ynez, and the Grade I Las Virgenes, in which she lost to top three-year-old females Zazu and Turbulent Descent.  Zazu could do no better than third today, behind a furiously closing St. John's River, who, though still eligible for a "non-winners of two" condition race, almost caught Plum Pretty at the wire.

Plum Pretty has never been out of the money in her five career starts, and with her win in the Oaks, her earnings have soared to $761,200.  And her pedigree supplies ample evidence that she's no fluke.  Plum Pretty is just the latest in a string of top-notch fillies sired by El Prado (Ire)'s son, Medaglia D'Oro, whose daughters include Acorn-G1 winners Champagne D'Oro and Gabby's Golden Gal.  She is bred along the same cross (Medaglia D'Oro-Seattle Slew) as Al Khali (Capote), a multiple graded stakes-winning turf specialist who has earned over $500,000.

Plum Pretty is the fifth foal out of the unplaced A. P. Indy mare, Liszy, who was sold for $170,000 at the 2008 Keeneland January sale, carrying the future Oaks winner.  Liszy had previously produced fillies by More Than Ready in 2006 and 2007.

Initially offered at the 2009 Saratoga Select Yearling Sale, Plum Pretty attracted a bid of $100,000, but failed to meet her reserve.  She was eventually purchased for $130,000 by her current owner, John Fort, at last year's OBS March Two-Year-Olds-in-Training sale, and when she arrived at Bob Baffert's barn, the Hall of Fame trainer confessed that his first impulse was to nickname her, "Plum Ugly."  But no more.

Plum Pretty's second dam is the stakes-winning Private Account mare, Silent Account, who won the Alcibiades-G2 at Keeneland and produced the stakes winner and sire Gold Case.  She descends from the two-time Champion Filly, Alcibiades, who captured the Kentucky Oaks in 1930, and went on to exert her considerable influence in the breeding shed, too, producing Champion Two-Year-Old Menow (sire of Tom Fool).  This is also the family of Horse of the Year and Chef-de-Race Sir Ivor.

Interestingly, Plum Pretty was produced by what is often called the "Rasmussen Factor," a pattern of inbreeding to superior female families through different individuals.  Her distant crosses of Alcibiades come not only through her own female lineage, but through her grandsire, El Prado (Ire), who is out of Lady Capulet, by Sir Ivor, and whose second dam, Cap and Bells, is by Tom Fool.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Derby hopefuls Archarcharch and Brilliant Speed vault Roberto's line into renewed prominence

Brilliant Speed on his way to capturing the 2011 Toyota Bluegrass.
Photo: Keeneland/Coady Photography
When longshots Archarcharch and Brilliant Speed unexpectedly blew out of the clouds to capture two of the last Derby preps, they signalled that Roberto's line may be on the rise.

Only once before has a descendant of this influential stallion ever captured America's Derby, so the emergence of this pair of newly minted Grade I contenders is a significant development.

Dynaformer's promising son, Brilliant Speed, whose best races until now had been on the turf, made a determined come-from-behind run from last place in the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes-G1 at Keeneland, to just nip Twinspired at the wire in the mile and an eighth polytrack contest.  With his winner's prize of $450,000, he banked enough earnings to ensure him a place in the starting gate on Saturday, where he'll be looking to win for only the third time in his career.  Commenting this morning, after Brilliant Speed worked five eighths over a sloppy Churchill surface in 1:00.98, trainer Tom Albertrani admitted to The Blood-Horse that "we really don't know" whether the colt will run as well on dirt as he did at Keeneland.  "But we're hoping, trying to be optimistic, that he does."

Brilliant Speed works at Churchill Downs on Monday, May 2
Photo: Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs
A dark bay who runs in the colors of his breeder, Live Oak Plantation, Brilliant Speed certainly has the genetic credentials to compete in the classics.  His sire, Dynaformer, an imposing son of Epsom Derby winner and Classic Chef-de-Race Roberto, rocketed into prominence in 2006 when his son, Barbaro, won the Kentucky Derby but then suffered injuries in the Preakness that ultimately led to his demise.

Notwithstanding Barbaro's freak accident, Dynaformer has been a reliable source not only of class, but of soundness and stamina, regardless of racing surface, territory, or terrain.  He has sired five champions, including top steeplechaser McDynamo, a five-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase-G1.  In addition to Barbaro, he's responsible for more than 20 Grade or Group I winners, including the durable Perfect Drift, who retired sound at age 9 after having won or placed in 32 of 50 starts, and earned over $4.7 million.

And just yesterday, Dynaformer's Kentucky-bred daughter, Blue Bunting, surged to post an upset victory in the QIPCO One Thousand Guineas-G1 at Newmarket.

Like Brilliant Speed, many of Dynaformer's elite performers--including Barbaro (Carson City)--have been produced by Mr. Prospector-line mares.  They include European Champions Wiener Walzer and Ocean Silk (both out of mares by Kingmambo), Film Maker (Mr. Prospector), Riskaverse (Seeking the Gold), and Gozzip Girl (Kingmambo).

What they all have in common, as do all foals produced from the Roberto-Mr. Prospector cross, is that they are inbred to Intermediate/Classic Chef-de-Race Nashua, sire of Roberto's dam, Bramalea, and Mr. Prospector's dam, Gold Digger.

Brilliant Speed is out of the Gone West mare, Speed Succeeds, who sold for $1.45 million at the 2002 Keeneland September sale, but never made it to the races.  Her dam, the Canadian stakes-winning mare, Daijin, who died after foaling a Zensational colt in February, is a full sister to Belmont-G1 winner and sire Touch Gold, and a half-sister to Canadian Horse of the Year and sire, With Approval.  Daijin is also the dam of the A. P. Indy-sired stakes-winning full sisters Serenading and Handpainted.

Brilliant Speed is Speed Succeeds' first foal to race; she also has a two-year-old colt by Indian Charlie.  The mare was purchased for $42,000 by Hill 'n' Dale Farm, which owned Daijin, at the 2010 Keeneland January sale, but was not carrying a foal at that time.

With a powerful Dosage Profile of 7-3-23-0-1, heavily weighted with classic influences, and a Dosage Index of 1.72, Brilliant Speed should have no trouble getting a mile and a quarter, if he can just get a hold of the track.

Archarcharch (outside) works 5/8ths at Churchill on April 29th
Photo: Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs
Another scion of the Roberto line, Archarcharch (by Kris S.'s son, Arch), made a dramatic off-the-pace run to capture the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park just a few hours after Brilliant Speed's victory in the Bluegrass.  Dismissed by bettors at 25-1, Archarcharch rallied bravely to hold off the late-charging Nehro in the mile and an eighth test, earning $600,000 and securing his place in Saturday's Derby.  Not a bad return on the $60,000 that owner Bob Yagos paid for him less than two years ago, at Keeneland September.

Archarcharch's sire, Arch, who stands for a fee of $30,000, was vaulted into the spotlight last year as a result of the exploits of his son, Blame, who narrowly defeated mythical mare Zenyatta in the mile and a quarter Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill.  Arch is also the sire of Canadian Champion Filly and Horse of the Year Arravale, and of Les Arcs, Champion Older Male in Europe, and Overarching, a three-time Champion Sprinter in South Africa.

Like Blame, and Arch's ill-fated multiple Grade I winning filly, Pine Island, Archarcharch hails from a Mr. Prospector-line mare.  His dam, Woodman's Dancer (by Woodman), a graded stakes-placed winner of $298,486, has also produced stakes winner Run Sully Run (by Cherokee Run).  The mare's 2009 foal, a full sister to Archarcharch, sold at last September's Keeneland sale for $30,000, which looks like a bargain now.

The Kris S.-Mr. Prospector cross has produced many other high-class runners, including Champion Hollywood Wildcat and classic hopeful Rock Hard Ten, a multiple Grade I stakes winner who placed to Smarty Jones in the Preakness.  If Archarcharch can win the Derby, he'll be his sire's first classic winner, and perhaps more important, he'll further the thriving Roberto line as a force in American racing.