Breeding Digest: Chinks of Light Against Fierce Competition

Fierceness romping in the Florida Derby | Lauren King


It very quickly became clear that the stallions launched in 2019 included an above-average proportion equipped to last the course. And the start being made by their second crop of sophomores has only reiterated that impression.

Thanks to the contentious prohibition of his ban by a gaming corporation, GI Arkansas Derby winner Muth is ineligible to give Good Magic a second GI Kentucky Derby from two attempts. (Though the Hill 'n' Dale sire might yet manage that with the same mare who gave him the first one, with Mage's brother Dornoch heading to the GI Blue Grass S. this weekend.) The stunning return to form of Fierceness in Saturday's other big rehearsal meanwhile renewed that colt's priceless service to City of Light.

Over the water, a Classic coronation is widely anticipated for the Justify colt who achieved equivalent superiority over his crop in Europe last year, City Of Troy. Oscar Performance, for his part, was so unabashed by last week's celebration of his work that his three runners last Saturday comprised two new stakes winners plus the neck runner-up in a graded stakes. Army Mule and Girvin have maintained terrific ratios from limited opportunity; the latter's neighbor Collected is quietly moving up the rail; and of course it was Bolt d'Oro who headed the whole class, as freshmen, in 2022.

Some of these impressive young sires will have to ride out a familiar bump in the road, their books having dwindled as commercial breeders showed their habitual nervousness about reputations actually being tested on the racetrack. The traffic of several duly rallied last year: Girvin, for instance, from 86 to 181; Oscar Performance from 63 to 160; Army Mule from 115 to 199; Good Magic from 126 to 179; Justify from 156 to 222. But that extra quantity, often matched by extra quality, obviously won't tell on the racetrack for a couple of years yet.

Expectations about City of Light had been so high (his fee, most unusually, was hiked from $40,000 to $60,000 after a stellar debut at the yearling sales) that he actually lost support last year, down to 85 from 132, but his quiet start was then redressed by the emergence from his second crop of Fierceness. Remember that City of Light was himself a fairly late developer, not really breaking out until the GI Malibu S. at the end of his sophomore campaign, and none of his stock has yet reached the maturity that disclosed the peak of his prowess. Nonetheless he has been prudently returned to $35,000 for the current season, an acknowledgement that he still only has one other winner at graded stakes level (Mimi Kakushi, UAE Oaks).

It says much about the way these Thoroughbreds like to tease us that the owner of Fierceness, such a committed spender at the yearling sales, should have come up with consecutive champion juveniles that were respectively a $110,000 Book 4 yearling (co-owned with St. Elias Stables) and a homebred.

As has been well chronicled, Fierceness is out of a daughter of Nonna Mia (Empire Maker), named for Mike Repole's grandmother (“nonna”) and one of the foundations of his program when acquired as a $200,000 Saratoga yearling in 2008. Herself precocious and Grade I-placed, Nonna Mia gave Repole a homebred scorer at that level in Outwork (by the horse that really put him on the map, Uncle Mo), while her own pedigree had meanwhile been gilded by the emergence of three-parts brother Cairo Prince (Pioneerof The Nile).

In a light career, Nonna Mia's daughter by Stay Thirsty, Nonna Bella, won her first two starts and only missed black type by a neck. Nonna Bella's first two named foals, both by Uncle Mo, did not make the track, but the explosive debut of Fierceness at Saratoga last summer certainly proved well timed for the family: a couple of weeks later Nonna Bella's half-brother by Into Mischief topped the September Sale at $3 million, Repole himself retaining a stake alongside West Point Thoroughbreds, Woodford Thoroughbreds and Chuck Sonson.

All in all, then, this has become a pretty illustrious family and Fierceness, when he goes to stud, can duly be promoted as born for the job-especially if his own sire, having capitalized on its precocity and class, can now keep consolidating.


Background Genes Needed Against Throwback Horse

Muth's performance the same afternoon itself underlined the freakish talent of Fierceness, as he had been the least embarrassed of his panting pursuers at the Breeders' Cup last fall.

Muth | Coady

In contrast with all the action under Nonna Mia, Muth has a compressed page: he's the first foal of a mare who was herself one of just two named foals out of her own mother. Obviously shoppers at OBS last March had all the evidence of functionality they could require, however, and Muth duly turned himself into a spectacular pinhook: sold to Bishop Bloodstock for $190,000 at Keeneland the previous September, he left Top Line Sales for $2 million. The gentleman who signed the docket is a genius at any level of the market, and Muth has already paid off three-quarters of that investment with a stud career now secure.

Muth was bred by Don Alberto Corporation out of Hoppa (Uncle Mo), who had shown bright ability in a curtailed career, romping in a Churchill sprint maiden on her second start but derailing next time. Hoppa had herself been acquired in utero when Don Alberto gave $170,000 for her dam Handoverthecat (Tale Of The Cat), winner of two of five starts, at the 2015 Keeneland November Sale. Unfortunately they appear to have lost her after delivering only one more foal, a son of Tiznow, though at least he covered her purchase cost-to the cent-when sold as a yearling. And Hoppa has meanwhile become so valuable that an attempt to cash her out at Fasig-Tipton last November, carrying a sibling to Muth, stalled at $1.9 million.

Though his foreshortened page obviously doesn't increase their actual influence, Muth must advertise such interesting genes as he can and those are all clustered around his fourth dam, Beautiful Bedouin (His Majesty). She was an unraced half-sister to Silver Hawk, third in the Derby at Epsom and one of the most inspired stallion discoveries of the late Brereton C. Jones.

One of her daughters similarly had a transatlantic impact: Wandering Star (Red Ransom) was a stakes winner in Europe before being acquired by Joseph Allen and winning the GII E.P. Taylor S., while two of her sons became juvenile Group winners in Allen's silks: War Command (War Front) won two of Britain's signature juvenile prizes for Ballydoyle (G1 Dewhurst/G2 Coventry); and Naval Officer (Tale Of The Cat), the G3 Prix de Conde.

Beautiful Bedouin had two other foals by Red Ransom: one produced a Classic winner in New Zealand, Rollout The Carpet (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}); the other is the third dam of Muth. She, too, was unraced, meaning that the first four dams of Muth have a grand total of eight starts between them.

That history of fragility finds a striking contrast in the colt whose pursuit of Muth on Saturday carried him so far clear of the third. The way Just Steel (Justify) is thriving on his 11 starts is not only a trademark of his venerable trainer but also offers his young sire scope for a historic double, hours after City Of Troy is scheduled to line up for the G1 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.

A $500,000 vote of faith in D. Wayne Lukas by BC Stables in Book I of the 2022 September Sale, Just Steel's teak constitution completes one of the most wholesome and cosmopolitan packages on the Triple Crown trail. He's out of an Australian Classic winner by the top-class distaff influence Fastnet Rock (Aus), and has siblings that have cut the mustard at Group level in both hemispheres; while his third dam was an Affirmed half-sister to matriarch Fall Aspen (Pretense). That puts Just Steel on the fringe of one of the modern breed's great dynasties and, with a throwback tenacity apt to his name, he will have more relish than many for the demands of the Derby.


Darling's Double Derby Impact

It feels like only a matter of time before the Japanese give American breeders the ultimate wake-up call in the GI Kentucky Derby itself. Whether or not Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) proves to be the horse to deliver that shock to the system, his rehearsal in the G2 UAE Derby for now actually locates the race's genetic center of gravity in familiar territory.

For, quite remarkably, we now find that two of its strongest candidates share the same granddam. Forever Young's mother Forever Darling (Congrats) is a half-sister to GI Alcibiades S. winner Heavenly Love (Malibu Moon), whose son Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) is favorite for the GI Blue Grass S.

Forever Young | Dubai Racing Club

Their dam is Darling My Darling (Deputy Minister), purchased as a yearling at Keeneland in 1998 by John C. Oxley for $300,000. Her dam, GI Ballerina H. winner Roamin Rachel (Mining), was sold in the same ring that November to Nubuo Tsunoda for $750,000, a price vindicated the following summer when Darling My Darling (her second foal) won on debut at Saratoga and then finished second in consecutive Grade Is. Roamin Rachel was sold carrying a Storm Cat filly, who produced three Group winners in Japan, while her next cover by Sunday Silence produced Japanese Horse of the Year Zenno Rob Roy (Jpn).

This appeared to do curiously little for Darling My Darling's daughter by Congrats, who was pinhooked at $8,000 to become a $65,000 R.N.A. at OBS the following April. Surfacing in the silks of a partnership including trainer Richard Baltas, Forever Darling won a Santa Anita maiden on her second start and then the GII Santa Ynez S. on her sophomore bow. With her family thriving in Japan, Katsumi Yoshida moved to secure her in a private deal and, while she did not really continue her progress, she has since handsomely vindicated him in her second career.

Forever Darling was certainly given purposeful covers, starting with Frankel and Deep Impact (Jpn), and her son from the second crop of Real Steel made a sum equivalent to $700,000 as a yearling. (Yes, second crop! Forever Young is yet another Derby candidate sired by a stallion from the 2019 intake.)

This son of Deep Impact is a more resonant proposition overseas than some Japanese stallions, both as a winner of the G1 Dubai Turf in 2016 and as brother to ground-breaking Breeders' Cup winner Loves Only You. His third dam, moreover, is none other than the great Miesque (Nureyev)-one of the jewels of the program that also, as we'll see in a moment, played a key role in the headline act at Meydan.

Deep Impact | Junji Fukuda

A River Swollen by Niarchos Tributary

What Laurel River did in the desert on Saturday is hard to comprehend, but if any Thoroughbred is capable of doing that, it might be one bred like him.

If anything, he has now surpassed even two Kentucky Derby winners as the ultimate proof of how a steep upgrading of Into Mischief's mares has enabled him to stretch his trademark speed to Classic distances. Having been around as long as he has, Laurel River was admittedly conceived at no more than $75,000, but his dam certainly offered the Spendthrift phenomenon plenty of complementary stamina. In fact, Laurel River's first three dams are GI Belmont S. winners to a man: Empire Maker, Touch Gold and A.P. Indy.

True, his mother couldn't break her maiden in eight starts; nor could her own dam in six. But it was the latter whose recruitment by Juddmonte (for $550,000 at the 2005 Keeneland September Sale) gave one of the world's great breeding programs an invigorating injection of the best genes cultivated by another. Soothing Touch (Touch Gold)-who has additionally given Juddmonte multiple Grade I winner Emollient (by Empire Make, so a sister to Laurel River's dam) and GI Florida Derby runner-up Hofburg (Tapit)-was a granddaughter of Coup De Genie (Mr Prospector), one of several foals to qualify her dam, Coup De Folie (Halo), as a cornerstone of the modern breed. Having just noted that Forever Young's sire traces to Miesque, we really must salute again the Niarchos family's priceless legacy.

Coup De Folie was inbred 3 x 3 to Almahmoud, through her celebrated daughters Natalma and Cosmah. That's a blend for which I will always forage, even with its inevitable attenuation by the generations. In fact, that's one of the reasons I deplore the way breeders nowadays hop from one unproven new stallion to the next, with books as many as seven times greater than was standard in the old days. It means that too many modern pedigrees squash down the generations: how many foals born this spring, for instance, will be by very young sires out of mares by stallions that never achieved lasting viability?

Into Mischief's own pedigree shows what you risk that way. His granddam was sired by Stop The Music when 19 years old. I'm not sure how many commercial breeders today would still send a mare to a stallion with his kind of profile, at that kind of age. And that just makes it harder and harder for modern pedigrees to retain a meaningful trace of precious brands like Stop The Music's sire Hail To Reason (who of course also gave Halo to Cosmah).

Regardless, Into Mischief is surely on his way to beating his own earnings record as well as a sixth consecutive general sires' championship. He has never needed one of these modern megaprizes to dominate his rivals, but Laurel River has got him up to $12.6 million by the start of April, now just a few cents behind Senor Buscador's veteran sire Mineshaft. With his unrelenting quantity matched by the ongoing elevation of his mares, Into Mischief appears a lock to exceed his 2022 haul of $28.56 million.

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