Derby Clouds Offer Mandaloun Silver Lining

Churchill's famed spires reflected in Mandaloun's eye | Horsephotos


If those who scaled the summit of our sport a few days ago suddenly find themselves slithering back down the scree, then their closest pursuers must feel no less stunned to have retrieved a foothold that could yet allow them to resume their own climb. In its way, that must feel almost as unsettling. Everyone sees that the sport is suffering, from this latest trauma, but does that ultimately mean that nobody will be allowed to feel like a winner?

With the case against winner unlikely to be finally resolved any time soon, connections of GI Kentucky Derby runner-up Mandaloun (Into Mischief) might do worse than seek counsel from those of Country House (Lookin At Lucky). Because their experience, two years ago, could prepare the Mandaloun team for how it feels to achieve the single greatest ambition animating the American Turf in unaccountably bittersweet fashion.

Nobody would choose to enter the Derby annals under an asterisk. On the other hand, too few acknowledge the merit required to do so. Even on the face of it, there is extremely rare distinction in finding just one colt in the entire crop capable of thwarting you on that critical date, known from the moment a foal first staggers to his feet: the first Saturday in May, three years hence. And if that single colt happens to do so unfairly, well, the transferred laurels must be given and embraced as fully deserved.

It was especially hard on Country House that he was denied the opportunity to reiterate his own excellence, despite being kept in training. By the time he arrived at Darby Dan, this talented, well-bred animal had accumulated around 0.01% of the column inches devoted to Maximum Security (New Year's Day) and, later, his trainer. Of course, Country House may yet have the last laugh in their second careers. For now, however, the chief aspiration for Mandaloun must be that he is permitted to build on foundations actually not dissimilar to those laid by Country House at the time of his exit. Both, remember, appeared to take a step backward between the GII Risen Star and the GII Louisiana Derby, before ultimately beating all bar one at Churchill.

You could argue that Mandaloun has already paid a heavy price, through no fault of his own, for the scandal menacing Medina Spirit (Protonico): with no Triple Crown apparently on the line, it had already been decided to sit out the GI Preakness this Saturday.

Just a half length separated Mandaloun and Medina Spirit | Coady

So let's take a step back and examine a colt whose promotion, should it come to that, would divide the toasts of our industry between two of its most reliable navigational landmarks. You could almost say that one of those iconic twin spires might represent Mandaloun's late breeder; and the other, one of the most remarkable stallions in the story of the American Thoroughbred.

True to his flair for new precedent, Into Mischief could end up with two Derby winners in eight months. We saluted 2020 as the year of his “authentication,” not only retaining the general sires' championship he had won for the first time in 2019, but doing so with a Horse of the Year who had, virtually overnight, settled the only remaining question mark against him: would an upgrade in his mares stretch Into Mischief's trademark speed sufficiently to make him a legitimate Classic influence? The Spendthrift phenomenon was still only standing at $45,000 when Peter Blum sent him Flawless (Mr. Greeley) in 2016, and their son Authentic answered that question in such explosive fashion that Into Mischief has now been hiked to a still higher fee, $225,000.

Even before Authentic, there had been straws in the wind: both Audible and Owendale emerged from much cheaper coverings to finish strongly for a Classic podium. But now we have a graduate of Into Mischief's $75,000 book, in 2017, immediately sealing the deal in terms of what he can be expected to achieve now that he has access to truly aristocratic mares.

In this instance, he has been able to tap into a family cultivated by one of the landmark modern breeders, Juddmonte Farms, whose founder Prince Khalid Abdullah died just days before Brad Cox tested the Classic waters with Mandaloun in the GIII Lecomte S. in January.

Mandaloun traces to one of the Prince's foundation mares in fourth dam Queen of Song. A $700,000 purchase at the Keeneland November Sale of 1989, Queen of Song had won six black-type races (14 in all) and was a sister to Cormorant, who had run fourth in Seattle Slew's Preakness. (Cormorant was hosed down to win the GI Jersey Derby just nine days afterward, albeit his finest hour still awaited as sire of Go for Gin.) Queen of Song doubtless held particular appeal to the Prince as a daughter of His Majesty–like Razyana, whose first foal Danehill had just been crowned champion sprinter for his European stable.

If not yet in the very front rank, relative to the Prince's overall legacy, the Queen of Song dynasty would never have survived under the Juddmonte umbrella to this point without due consistency. Sure enough, the first dam is a Group 2 winner, and the second a stakes-winning sister to a Group 1 winner. If anything, however, the real Juddmonte branding is sooner found in the homebred sires who have seeded this family, with dam and second dam respectively by sons (Empire Maker and Dansili {GB}) of the program's celebrated broodmares, Toussaud (El Gran Senor) and Hasili (Ire) (Kahyasi {Ire}).

Classic winner Empire Maker is one of several Juddmonte homebreds that figure prominently in Mandaloun's pedigree | Horsephotos

Though the Prince started a stallion program pretty quickly, with the likes of Known Fact and Rainbow Quest, he was always careful to invigorate bloodlines with external sires and Mandaloun's third dam Aspiring Diva, though the last foal of Queen of Song, was the only one she conceived “in-house.” She did so with Distant View, a dashing miler by Mr. Prospector out of another of the Prince's foundation mares, Seven Springs (Irish River {Fr}), and ultimately a key broodmare influence for the whole program–with crossover reach on dirt, too, as sire of five-time Grade I winner Sightseek.

Aspiring Diva herself won a couple of races in France, and managed one Listed podium, but her key contribution would be made to a sustained wager on Distant View mares with Dansili, the son of Hasili who could not quite match the Grade I/Group 1 wins of five siblings but was probably as gifted as any. The cross would produce one Banstead Manor stallion in Bated Breath (GB), plus the dam of another in Expert Eye (GB) (Acclamation {GB}). In the case of Aspiring Diva, there were two significant dividends: one was G1 Matron S. winner Emulous (GB), and the other a stakes-winning sprinter in France named Daring Diva (GB).

Daring Diva has proved a fair producer, if no more by the elite standards of Juddmonte. Beyond a dual Listed winner/Group 2 runner-up in Ireland by Selkirk, much her most significant accomplishment has turned out to be a daughter by Toussaud's son Empire Maker.

Now, though personally adamant that the breed thrives on mutual transfusion of dirt and turf influences, I grant that nothing will work every time with horses. So I readily accept the assurance of Dr. John Chandler, so long central to the Juddmonte program in the U.S., that an attempt to combine Empire Maker (representing a gold-standard dirt line in Fappiano) with turf mares did not prove a success. (Albeit I note that a parallel experiment [Empire Maker with a turf GSW by Giant's Causeway] has this year already given us the dam of GI Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World {Candy Ride (Arg)}.) This is said to explain why Empire Maker was sold to Japan, only for his son Pioneerof the Nile and others to earn his repatriation. Yet it now looks as though those Juddmonte turf matings may have yielded a worthwhile dividend, after all.

Mandaloun captured the Risen Star in February | Hodges Photography

Daring Diva's daughter by Empire Maker, Brooch, won her first four starts (unraced at two) for Irish trainer Dermot Weld between eight and 9.5 furlongs, handling each step up with an aplomb that promised she might make a rather bigger impact beyond Group 2 level than she ultimately managed. Brooch's first foal was a son of Speightstown, also sent to Weld, but he showed very little in two maidens before being gelded and then culled for just 7,000gns at Tattersalls last year. (He has since won a couple of modest handicaps for a small Newmarket yard; and actually a gelded brother to Daring Diva, First Sitting {GB}, went on to Group success after likewise being cheaply discarded.) Brooch's second foal, however, is Mandaloun.

This, to me, is a pedigree characterized first and foremost by a cluster of sires out of mares whose inherent genetic excellence has been repeatedly corroborated by other horses. Along the bottom line we have not just Empire Maker and Dansili, whose dams famously produced nine Grade I/Group 1 winners between them, but also His Majesty–whose no less distinguished mother, Flower Bowl, also gave us (from just five foals) his charismatic brother Graustark and his Hall of Fame half-sister Bowl of Flowers. And then you have Into Mischief himself, out of a modern blue hen in Leslie's Lady, famously further responsible for Beholder (Henny Hughes) and Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy).

(His Majesty actually recurs top and bottom: we've noted him as sire of fourth dam Queen of Song, and also that Dansili's sire Danehill is out of another of his daughters; but don't forget that the sire of Leslie's Lady–the seldom credited Tricky Creek–is also out of a His Majesty mare.)

This is the kind of density I love to see in a pedigree, where the strands of quality are so entwined that it becomes less and less important which particular one comes through. Yes, the bottom line has consistently produced stakes performers, in fact in an unbroken sequence of eight generations, but it has been maintained by the richness of its fertilisation.

The seedbed goes every bit as deep as you would expect, given the price paid for Queen of Song–all the way back, in fact, to Balancoire II, imported from France in 1918 to become a foundation mare for Harry Payne Whitney. She additionally unites the pedigrees of none other than Seabiscuit and Intentionally, but the branch that gave us Mandaloun extends through her daughter Swinging, whose only three foals included dual Horse of the Year Equipoise and his unraced sister Schwester.

Schwester's granddaughter was mated with Swoon's Son, who's remembered primarily for his champion daughter Chris Evert but had something extremely wholesome to impart as winner of 30 of 51 starts. The resulting filly earned two distinctions, as a producer: she produced a Kentucky Oaks winner, Bag of Tunes, and a daughter of the blazing Tudor Minstrel (Ire) who went on to produce Queen of Song.

Juddmonte Farms founder Prince Khalid Abdullah | Horsephotos

The cultivation of this family by the Prince and his expert team made Mandaloun seem an apt candidate to carve a memorial in one of the few great prizes to have eluded Juddmonte. In the event, his performance at Churchill took their record to three runners-up from just six Derby starters, the others being Aptitude (A.P. Indy) and Mandaloun's damsire Empire Maker.

Who would have thought that Into Mischief would beat Juddmonte to a Kentucky Derby? Conceivably he may now haul them up that final step of the podium. Whatever happens, he stands absolutely in his pomp. Don't forget that his most luminous candidate was the derailed Life Is Good; and the pipeline is jammed with both quality and, Spendthrift's business model being what it is, quantity too. In fact, we only get to sample his first six-figure covers on the track this year.

A Derby for Mandaloun would be a windfall, for sure. But after that wild twist toward Protonico, it would also restore the weathervane to a direction it may now maintain for years to come.

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