Idol Has Foundations To Keep Believing

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Idol | Horsephotos

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The old school has found a new Idol. The son of Curlin made his breakthrough a couple of weekends ago in a race cherished by traditionalists, and did so with genes of which much the same might be said. Indeed, if the GI Santa Anita H. winner can go on from here–and he has still only made six starts–to lead the older-horse division, then we'll be looking at one of the most eligible stud prospects on the scene.

Even traditionalists, of course, must accept that the world moves on. Or, at least, that the world changes. The two mares who stand opposite each other in the family tree of Marion Ravenwood, the dam of Idol, would possibly no longer be registered with names that have obtained a somewhat different resonance over the couple of generations since. To breeders, however, Gay Hostess and Gay Missile are just two of the timeless brands pegging down a pedigree that preserves pretty seamlessly the kind of quality you used to be able to lock in, simply because books were so small that only eligible mares could reach top-class stallions.

Gay Hostess is Marion Ravenwood's fourth dam; while Gay Missile, of course, is third dam of her sire A.P. Indy. Apart from the random connection of :gaiety,” their real bond is that each consolidated in the American breed a concentration of Classic influences from the Old World, notably by duplicating one apiece of the most important European mares of the interwar era.

In the case of Gay Missile, it was Lavendula (Fr), whose pedigree combined virtually all the foundation mares assembled by the 17th Earl of Derby in creating arguably the most important stud in the breed's history. Two of Lavendula's daughters had produced Turn-To (Ire) and My Babu (Fr) to become grandsire and damsire, respectively, of Gay Missile.

Gay Hostess, for her part, replicated Mumtaz Mahal (GB)–whose daughters had produced dual Classic winner Sun Princess (GB) and the breed-shaper Mahmoud (Fr). The former became the dam of Royal Charger (GB), sire of Gay Hostess; while the latter sired her granddam. Gay Hostess was out of Your Hostess (Alibhai {GB}), a sister to Kelso's sire, Your Host, and half-sister to the dam of Flower Bowl (who was herself by Alibhai, and gave us both Graustark and His Majesty). And Gay Hostess herself became a Classic icon: dam of Hall of Famer Majestic Prince (Raise A Native); second dam of French Derby winner Caracolero (himself by Graustark, and so highly inbred); and third dam of Epsom Derby winner Secreto (Northern Dancer).

I know, I know. So far as Idol himself is concerned, for many people these are just parchments of scroll. But blue-hens like Gay Hostess and Gay Missile don't just fall out of the sky. And, because of his family's exemplary stewardship since its arrival in America, Idol is now extending the legacy of Gay Hostess exactly a century since the foaling of Mumtaz Mahal in 1921.

Marion Ravenwood's third dam Meadow Blue was a full sister to Majestic Prince, i.e. by Raise A Native out of Gay Hostess. Though unraced, like Gay Hostess herself, she produced some significant daughters from just half a dozen named foals. Two were only modest winners on the track but proved a sound conduit of her genetic quality: Mangala (Sharpen Up {GB}) produced G2 Queen Anne S. winner Allied Forces (Miswaki); and Really Blue (Believe It) became the dam of none other than Real Quiet (Quiet American), who matched Majestic Prince as a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. (Really Blue is also the second dam of Grade II winner/GI Kentucky Oaks runner-up Real Cozzy (Cozzene).)

Two other daughters of Meadow Blue, meanwhile, were group-placed on the track: one went on to produce a Listed winner at Newmarket (over two miles); the other was Nureyev's Best (Nureyev), who won a listed race and finished third in a Group 3 in France.

Nureyev's Best had not achieved a great deal in her second career, however, by the time Narvick International bought her at Keeneland November as a 12-year-old for $170,000. Unfortunately, the obvious mating, with Real Quiet's sire Quiet American, produced a filly that brought her Tuscany-based breeders no more than €32,000 as a Deauville yearling.

As Andujar, she showed only glimpses of ability for Carlos Laffon-Parias as a 3-year-old but then, astutely imported to California by Paul Reddam and Mark Schlesinger, progressed extremely rapidly for Doug O'Neill: she quickly broke her maiden, followed up in an allowance, and then won the GII Milady H. by seven lengths before finishing off with two Grade I podiums. Offered at Fasig-Tipton the following November, she made no less than $2.5 million from My Meadowview Farm.

Marion Ravenwood is Andujar's first foal. She showed a fair level of ability for Graham Motion, racing as a homebred in the My Meadowview silks, winning four of 10 starts, including a stakes over a mile on dirt at Aqueduct. But while she was given every opportunity, in her coverings, Andujar only really came up with one, fleeting excitement in third foal Abstraction (Pulpit), who won the Federico Tesio S. at Pimlico but disappeared after then running third in the GIII Matt Winn S.

Overall, it seems, the family was not quite doing enough to prevent Marion Ravenwood being culled, with a Pioneerof the Nile cover, to Ashview Farm for $400,000 at Keeneland November in 2017.

She left behind a weanling colt by Curlin, who was sold through Denali in the same ring the following September, for $375,000 to John S. Holmes–and this, of course, has turned out to be Idol. His blossoming since, for Calvin Nguyen and trainer Richard Baltas, duly makes the Lyster family's purchase of the mare look very smart business.

They had already been drawn to the pedigree, buying Marion Ravenwood's half-sister Judy Legend (Medaglia d'Oro) out of the same ring two years previously for $180,000 as a 4-year-old maiden. (She had been unable to break her maiden in seven starts, but we've seen the depth of the family tree.) Gray Lyster of Ashview Farm remembers asking Joe Miller and Lincoln Collins, representing Len Riggio of My Meadowview, about Marion Ravenwood's Curlin weanling.

“I'm good friends with Joe and Lincoln and they were very high in their reports,” Lyster says. “You know, sometimes the market really can slaughter those mares that are getting traded when they've had two or three foals without something obvious on the page. But they were very positive on the Curlin, so we were kind of lucky. We knew already that her half-sister was really nice-looking, and it turned out that this was just a gorgeous A.P. Indy mare.”

Ashview got a first dividend on their investment when selling the Pioneerof the Nile colt, acquired in utero and co-bred with Colts Neck Stables, for $250,000 as a weanling. And they were wise enough, too, to send Marion Ravenwood back to Curlin: last September the resulting filly made $350,000 from Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Repole Stable, just days after Idol had run a promising second on debut.

“I was trying to tell people looking at her about the full-brother that had just run second on debut,” Lyster says. “But I know how people will roll their eyes and say: 'A fall 3-year-old, second? Okay, great, sell your magic beans somewhere else.' To the point that with people you didn't know, you didn't even tell them, because they don't want those B.S. updates! But I had watched the race and thought: 'Oh my gosh, this horse came flying.' That was only six furlongs, remember.”

Marion Ravenwood has a yearling colt by Violence and has been covered by Quality Road this time around. “The Violence is beautiful and will likely be pointing towards Keeneland September,” Lyster says. “The mare was empty on one try to City Of Light, very late last year, so we got her a good early cover this time. Judy Legend, who has a Runhappy yearling on the farm, was the same: took last year off on a very late cover, and is in foal early to Frosted now.”

Turning up a Grade I mare at this farm comes as no surprise, Ashview being widely respected as one of the very best operations of its size. (Graduates include champions Runhappy (Super Saver) and Johannesburg (Hennessy). And you have to like the mates chosen for her, too: Violence brings in three extra strands of Somethingroyal (plus one extra to her sire Princequillo); and Quality Road has two apiece of Somethingroyal and Princequillo.

This drills down into a genetic seam that means Marion Ravenwood doesn't depend solely on that aristocratic bottom line. Her sire A.P. Indy continues posthumously to develop his reputation as a top-class broodmare sire, and that has always seemed, to me, to be rooted in the 2×4 replication of Somethingroyal behind his dam Weekend Surprise: as dam of both Weekend Surprise's sire Secretariat and of Gay Missile's sire Sir Gaylord. (Basically anything to do with Somethingroyal translates into distaff gold.)

And Somethingroyal's sire is also drawn in twice by Marion Westwood's damsire Quiet American. The fact that both Quiet American himself and his sire Fappiano are out of daughters of Dr. Fager is so exotic that it tends to distract from the fact that both these Dr. Fager mares are out of daughters of the matriarch Cequillo–who was, of course, by Princequillo.

Quiet American's grandsire Mr. Prospector also doubles up Raise A Native who, as noted already, sired Marion Ravenwood's third dam. And the mating that produced Idol himself obviously gives us another line of Mr. Prospector, Curlin being by Smart Strike.

Smart Strike has been a significant contributor to the diversification of the Mr. Prospector legacy. Not just through Curlin, but also through Lookin At Lucky and English Channel, his influence has been branded by tough two-turn horses that thrive with maturity. (Tom's d'Etat certainly enhanced that reputation on the track, and will hopefully now do the same at WinStar).

In that context, you would have to think that Idol is only just getting started. For a horse with this kind of pedigree to be winning a Grade I barely five months after breaking his maiden must be auspicious; moreover the Big 'Cap looked much worthier of its heritage than has sometimes been the case since being squeezed by gaudy new prizes elsewhere. Runner-up Express Train (Union Rags) appears to be repaying a typically artful grounding by his trainer, while this was a first defeat for the next home, hot favorite Maxfield (Street Sense).

Exciting times, then, at Ashview. The farm is also co-breeder of the 3-year-old Untreated (Nyquist), who recently broke his maiden by 8 3/4 lengths at Tampa Bay on the local Derby undercard. “He was really impressive,” Lyster said. “We've been hearing good things about him for a while and I believe Todd Pletcher and Team Valor have some pretty high hopes.”

And it does feel as though Idol, though a year older, is himself only just getting going. “After his first couple of races, I began to think that this was going to become a serious older horse,” Lyster says. “I don't know whether it was the rider change [to Joel Rosario in the Big 'Cap] or just learning more about the horse. But he looks like a big horse that takes a little while to get going, and when he hit that eighth pole, he laid his head down like he hasn't done before. He was really motoring. And there are a couple of big races in California this year, at that distance, so we'll see–fingers crossed!”

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