By Katie Petrunyak
Named in honor of Mike Repole's beloved grandmother, Nonna Mia (Empire Maker) won her second career start by 12 lengths for Repole Stable in 2008 and she went on to place in the GI Frizette S. and GIII Tempted S. as a juvenile that year. The mare's first two foals Nonna's Boy (Distorted Humor) and eventual Grade I victor and sire Outwork (Uncle Mo) were both debut winners early in their 2-year-old years and her third foal Nonna Bella (Stay Thirsty) claimed her first two career starts at three.
Last Friday in Saratoga, Nonna Bella's son Fierceness (City of Light)–a second-generation homebred for Repole Stable–showed the same precocity that his family before him has displayed in his 11 plus-length dominating maiden score, but the Repole team is confident that with a sire like City of Light, the new 'TDN Rising Star' has much more to show.
“City of Light was very well received at the outset, got big books of mares, and they sold exceptionally well,” recalled Repole Stables General Manager Eddie Rosen. “But I think you have to remember that he didn't emerge until late in his 3-year-old year and then his 4-year-old year is when he excelled and was spectacular. I think he's one of those sires, like Curlin was, where you have to have some patience and understanding that the best is yet to come.”
City of Light earned his first Grade I victory in the 2017 Malibu S. four months after his maiden win and he went on to claim three more top-level scores including the 2018 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
As a shareholder in City of Light, who is now a second-crop sire, Repole Stable has been a supporter of the Lane's End stallion from the get-go. They bred Nonna Bella to the son of Quality Road in his second year at stud hoping to emulate the cross that produced one of Quality Road's best daughters.
“Nona Bella is by Stay Thirsty–a son of Bernardini who Mike raced as well,” Rosen explained. “One of my favorite fillies of recent date is Dunbar Road, who is by Quality Road out of a Bernardini mare, so it was a nick that I thought would work.”
And “work” it did as Fierceness was a standout from the start when he was foaled at Lane's End. While initially slated to go through the sales ring, he was ultimately withdrawn from Keeneland September and retained by his breeder.
Like his dam, granddam and both his grandsires, Fierceness was sent to represent the Todd Pletcher barn and he turned heads early there as well.
“He came into our Monmouth division and quickly showed that he was at the head of the class there,” Pletcher shared. “When we brought him in to Saratoga and got serious with some of his breezes, we were impressed with what we were seeing.”
Going into his debut with eight published works under his belt, Fierceness was sent off at even money and quickly turned the six furlong contest into a one-horse race. Taking the lead early, the bay opened up over the Saratoga slop to win in hand, coming home in 1:09 2/5.
“We knew that he had good gait speed from his works and we had a sloppy track, so we talked to Irad and said to make sure you get away from the gate alertly,” explained Pletcher. “We didn't want to be behind a bunch of horses in a sloppy track. So he broke alertly and it was a pretty straightforward performance from there. At the eighth pole you felt good about it and then he opened up impressively and Irad took him in hand late and the time was exceptional. It was everything you could hope for in a debut.”
“There are a lot of them where you're wishing for the wire or hoping to get there in time, but this was one where you could kind of sit back and enjoy the ride,” Rosen added with a laugh.
The 95 Beyer Speed Figure that Fierceness earned in his debut is the co-second highest number of any 2-year-old so far this year.
“It gives you a lot to look forward to,” Rosen said. “I think when you have a 2-year-old that wins like that first-time out, obviously dreams come to mind and the biggest dream is the first Saturday in May. But it's a long time between now and then.”
As for the rest of the colt's juvenile season, Pletcher said they are aiming to take on the Oct. 7 GI Champagne S. ahead of a trip to the Breeders' Cup.
Pletcher is looking forward to debuting another City of Light colt soon. Enlighten, a $450,000 yearling purchase for Centennial Farms, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.55 (1/23) on Aug. 27 at Saratoga.
“We're high on the City of Lights that we have,” Pletcher said. “There are so many good-looking ones that resemble City of Light, who greatly resembles Quality Road. I love to see that in a stallion line when they pass along similar conformation and looks.”
City of Light has 34 winners on the year thus far. On the same card that Fierceness debuted on, the stallion's 3-year-old daughter White Chocolate drew clear to break her maiden definitively for Chad Summers and Gold Square LLC. City of Light's six stakes winners are led by G3 UAE Oaks victress Mimi Kakushi, GI Alcibiades S. runner-up Chop Chop, and GSP Gaslight Dancer, who returns to the starting gate on Saturday in the Gun Runner S. at Kentucky Downs.