By Chris McGrath
Maybe we’re just paying a price for two such flawless, processional Triple Crown campaigns, so close to one another. Maybe we just needed reminding that Thoroughbreds, most of the time, obstruct rather than serve the neat, coherent destinies we try to shape for ourselves.
This time round, admittedly, the cruelty of fate has been given a name and a face, as it were, by a panel of Churchill stewards–albeit doing their best under extreme pressure. Now that lawyers are getting involved, the one thing everyone can surely agree is that the second leg of the Triple Crown series could do us all a big favor if coming up with a redemptive narrative of some kind. Not, obviously, for either of the key Derby protagonists, whose absence leaves an expressive void at the heart of the Preakness; but for the whole sport.
The cue, perhaps, for a hometown hero. After all, whatever peril to the sport’s future may lurk in a legal battle for the Derby–a prize, you fear, that may eventually come to seem as impossible to savour as a blanket of withered roses–then how much more literally existential is the threat to Pimlico, clinging by its fingertips to its defining legacy?
Alwaysmining (Stay Thirsty) is Maryland-foaled and Maryland-based. In the era of the “super-trainer,” he is in the care of a former eighth grade science teacher who received her own racing education under old school horsemen Barclay Tagg and Jimmy Toner. He joined Kelly Rubley soon after his private acquisition by Gregory and Caroline Bentley’s Runnymede Farm to exploit the state program here, having started out in Kentucky. Gelded in the meantime, Alwaysmining has now won half a dozen consecutive starts at Laurel, gaining an automatic berth in the Classic when winning the Federico Tesio S. by 11 ½ lengths.
His quest to become Maryland’s first winner since 1983 guarantees Alwaysmining plenty of interest, hopefully beyond the trade media too. Here, however, I’d just like to consider a family tree that also offers to take us all back to basics, on the bottom side; and can give a boost, on the top side, to racing on the nation’s opposite coast, which has lately had grave challenges of its own.
Certainly you don’t get many pedigrees nowadays with Dr. Fager and Princequillo as close up as the third and fourth dams. Given that his first two dams are, conversely, by Anees and Golden Act, Alwaysmining’s maternal line is an appealing mix of totally neglected seams and Kimberley diamonds.
Because that “fourth dam” is none other than Cequillo, who was of no account as a runner but instead put incredible resources into a breeding career that yielded 19 named foals between 1960 to 1982. Of these, all but one made the starting gate; one did so 109 times; and 14 were winners.
They included Grand Splendor, whose daughter Killaloe–by Dr Fager, note–became the dam of Fappiano. Another daughter produced Ogygian, damsire of Johannesburg. So between Scat Daddy, Unbridled, Tapit and company, there won’t have been too many September sale-toppers in recent years without Cequillo somewhere in their pedigree.
And that’s just through Grand Splendor. Loads of other elite operators emerge under Cequillo, none more interesting (especially to those of us who admire the work of his grandson Midnight Lute) than Quiet American. He is by Fappiano out of a grand-daughter (by Dr. Fager, again) of Cequillo.
For those of you who share a curiosity that extends that far, Cequillo traces to the French matriarch Plucky Liege, who bred four different champion sires. Significantly, for present purposes, their success was multiplied as broodmare sires, most notably in the case of Sir Gallahad III.
Nothing remotely provincial about Alwaysmining’s deeper family, then. Things have admittedly been quiet over the past couple of generations. The daughter of Cequillo by Dr Fager who appears as his third dam, Consequential, only won a couple of minor races and was cheaply culled by Tartan Farms. Her first foal did become the dam of Canadian champion juvenile Blue Finn (Empery), but her best runner-a Florida Oaks winner who ran fifth in the 1989 Kentucky Oaks-was by Golden Act, so she was sent back to that forgotten Cal-bred sire the following year.
Stretch-running Golden Act had made the podium in all three legs of the 1979 Triple Crown, including when overhauling Spectacular Bid for second in a dramatic Belmont, before achieving Grade I success on turf. He was a son of Gummo, who was named for “the fifth” Marx brother and responsible in the same crop for Flying Paster, the West’s big Derby hope against Spectacular Bid. (Only fifth on the day, Flying Paster proceeded to a 14-year streak as the premier stallion in California. One of his daughters, moreover, produced American Pharoah’s broodmare sire Yankee Gentleman.)
Golden Act’s daughter by Consequential, Che Sara Sara, was stakes-placed four times and produced a few largely modest winners. Typical of these was What Will Be, a four-time scorer by Anees (Unbridled), the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner whose stud career came to a tragic end halfway through only his third season.
As a grandson of Fappiano, Anees introduces Cequillo top as well as bottom in What Will Be’s pedigree. And Cequillo’s influence is redoubled in the mating (arranged by Avla Pitts) that produced Alwaysmining, between What Will Be and Stay Thirsty. The latter’s sire Bernardini is out of a mare by Quiet American–who, as already noted, carries her 4 x 3.
Stay Thirsty had launched only two crops onto the track before leaving Ashford for Lovacres Ranch in California at the end of 2017, even though he had finished top by wins, second by winners and fifth by earnings among sires of his intake. Those who took advantage of a $5,000 fee at his new home-and he entertained 125 mares, nearly doubling his final Kentucky book-were duly delighted to see him produce a first Grade I winner last year, in Mind Control’s Hopeful S. Nor is even his first crop done yet, the 5-year Coal Front having won the G2 Godolphin Mile this spring.
Stay Thirsty, a Belmont runner-up himself and half-brother to another one, also has a copper-bottomed pedigree. His fourth dam was a half-sister to Prove Out, who not only beat Secretariat over a mile and a half but also Riva Ridge in the Jockey Club Gold Cup when it was run over two miles. Their dam, moreover, was a sister to Triple Crown winner Assault.
So there’s a ton of staying power and class underpinning Alwaysmining’s sire, to complement the patrician antecedents in a maternal line that has only recently receded. True, all these attributes still need to be harnessed to some benign destiny. But perhaps we can glimpse its hand in the names of his dam and grand-dam.
You may think these rather apposite–What Will Be, Che Sara Sara–as the luckless group who feel robbed of the Derby ponder their next move. I wouldn’t presume to tell them how they are supposed to feel or behave. But I do know that Doris Day died this week, at her home up the coast from Stay Thirsty’s ranch.
And while her “Que Sera” was Spanish, rather than Italian, perhaps she could bequeath us all a fleeting return, on the track, to the harmonious, homey world she represented on the screen. Maybe that world never really existed. But there’s certainly some golden age blood behind this horse; and he’s trained by the girl next door.
Will she be happy, will she be rich? Will she have rainbows day after day? Not every day; not with horses. But it might be nice, on Saturday, if the sun came out just for an afternoon.