Patience The Essence as Quality Comes Through

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None of us, after 2020, will ever again take even our simplest indulgences for granted. How much more culpable, then, was any complacency the industry may have permitted itself, over the years, in the patronage of the greatest investor in its history?

His absence from the September Sale, a year after once again heading the buyers' table at $16 million, sharpened a sense of the incalculable collective debt owed to Sheikh Mohammed. His team did resurface, to much relief locally, for Book 1 of the October Sale at Tattersalls last week. But however he chooses to exercise his prerogatives in future, the one consolation–both for the Sheikh himself, and those horsemen he has so long rewarded for their skills–is that he has long been assured of a lasting imprint on the modern breed.

His legacy will continue to evolve, even if he never spends another cent at Keeneland. As he has always understood, breeding is all about the long game. Sure enough, for the second year running, a few days ago his Godolphin stable won the GI Claiborne Futurity S. with a homebred colt whose emergence represented a slow-burning yield on two similarly expensive grand-dams, respectively recruited to the broodmare band 15 and 20 years ago.

The misfortunes since of Maxfield (Street Sense) will certainly ensure that the Sheikh resists any complacency of his own about the future of 'TDN Rising Star' Essential Quality (Tapit), who won with comparable authority, if in rather different style.

It is heartening to hear that Maxfield is now back in light training, his absence from the revamped Classic schedule having seemed all the more grievous after Ny Traffic (Cross Traffic)–the hard-knocking animal he beat on his single sophomore appearance, in the GIII Matt Winn S. in May–went on to run none other than Authentic (Into Mischief) to a nose on his next start in the GI TVG.com Haskell S.

Maxfield's dramatic last-to-first move at Keeneland this time last year certainly promised a proportionate dividend on the $3.1 million required from John Ferguson to buy Caress (Storm Cat) at the Keeneland November Sale in 2000 (consigned by the peerless John Williams, on behalf of his faithful patrons at Harbor View Farm).

The aristocratic genes that warranted that outlay on Caress–soon to be enhanced by her weanling of that year, who would become Sky Mesa (Pulpit)–made little show in her daughter Velvety (Bernardini), who won on debut in England before entering a rapid decline. But it remains early days for Velvety, as a broodmare, and Maxfield could yet prove as gifted as any in his crop.

Five years after signing the docket for Caress, Ferguson gave virtually the same sum for another young Storm Cat mare at Fasig-Tipton November. Unlike Caress, who won 13 of 29 starts including three graded stakes, the $3-million, 7-year-old Contrive was unraced and had changed hands a year previously for just $140,000. The big difference, in the meantime, was her first foal Folklore (Tiznow), who had just sealed the juvenile fillies' championship with a second Grade I success at the Breeders' Cup.

Though unable to produce another Folklore for her new owners, Contrive did at least muster two fillies that managed a Grade III podium apiece. One of these, Delightful Quality (Elusive Quality), started out with three duds when herself sent to the paddocks: foals by Bernardini and Tiznow that never made the track, and a son of Tapit who may as well not have bothered, 10th of 11 on his only start as a sophomore at Gulfstream earlier this year. But that gelding's full brother is none other than Essential Quality, who is now stoking up the embers for Contrive much as Maxfield did for Caress.

Like Maxfield, Essential Quality won a Churchill maiden in September on debut; but whereas Brendan Walsh started Maxfield at a mile, Brad Cox launched Essential Quality over just six furlongs on the postponed “Derby” undercard. The colt's alacrity was anticipated at the betting windows, and he duly won by four lengths. Stretching out at Keeneland, Essential Quality held a handy position comfortably before betraying palpable inexperience when sent into the lead in the stretch; nonetheless using a fairly extravagant reach with real energy in drawing away by 3 1/4 lengths.

Cox, who supervised the campaign of champion juvenile filly British Idiom (Flashback) last year, saluted Essential Quality as the best young colt he has trained to date; while a proven aptitude on the track will obviously make the GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile, presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, a real “home game.” He has every right, moreover, to continue flourishing on the Classic trail next spring.

For the quality of Contrive's family is evident in the $825,000 she cost Robert and Beverly Lewis as a yearling at the Keeneland July Sale of 1999. Her dam Jeano (Fappiano), a dual graded stakes winner, was out of GI Delaware H. winner Basie (In Reality) from the line tracing to fabled La Troienne via Striking (War Admiral), 1961 Broodmare of the Year and full sister to wartime champion and Hall of Famer Busher.

Mineshaft, Private Account and Woodman are among the many distinguished animals who share ancestry through Striking; while the Basie branch gave us Smarty Jones. The granddams of Smarty Jones and Contrive, in fact, were half-sisters. As such, it seems a safe bet that the then-recent example of Smarty Jones, as a son of Elusive Quality, inspired the selection of that stallion for a couple of trysts with Contrive–one of which produced the dam of Essential Quality.

But what most obviously holds the pedigree of Essential Quality together are the sires of his third and fourth dams, Jeano and Basie. Because both Fappiano and In Reality are also inlaid behind Tapit's dam Tap Your Heels: she is by Fappiano's son Unbridled; and the granddams of both Tap Your Heels and Unbridled are by In Reality.

Two or three other genetic “knots” are worth untying. One is that Striking and Busher between them foaled two of the four grandparents of Seattle Slew's dam My Charmer; and Seattle Slew, of course, perches along Essential Quality's top line as Tapit's great-grandsire.

Another is that Secretariat, as a titan among broodmare sires, unites three of the four stallions in Essential Quality's third generation: Weekend Surprise's son A.P. Indy, as Tapit's grandsire; Terlingua's son Storm Cat, as sire of Contrive; and Secrettame's son Gone West, as sire of Elusive Quality. (Gone West, of course, is by Fappiano's sire Mr Prospector; who gets an additional foothold as the sire of Preach, dam of Tapit's sire Pulpit).

There are quite a few rabbit holes to explore here, then, albeit suggesting no more of a magic formula than usual. As already noted, this very good family has missed its mark as often as not since Contrive's acquisition. As it happens, its only recent distinction prior to the emergence of Essential Quality is the work of Folklore's daughter Rhodochrosite (Unbridled's Song), who was bred by the Bob and Beverly Lewis Trust and sold as a yearling to Japanese interests. Though unable to win herself, her third foal is the top-class Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), winner of two Classics in Japan this year.

More peripherally, Contrive's unraced half-sister by Kris S. has also strengthened the page: initially as dam of GII Demoiselle S. winner Tizahit (like Folklore, by Tiznow) and now through Tizahit's daughter Come Dancing (Malibu Moon), who recently supplemented her Grade I success at the Spa last year in the GII Honorable Miss H.

Tapit himself, of course, sets too familiar a gold standard to require much in the way of a revisit. Gainesway's three-time champion sire looks booked to complete a decade in the top five of the general sires' list, and registered this 26th Grade I scorer just a day before his 27th, Valiance in the Juddmonte Spinster S.

There are some strong echoes between the pair, the damsire of Valiance being Fappiano's grandson Empire Maker, who in turn brings In Reality doubly into play: we've already noted that Empire Maker's sire Unbridled owes his grand-dam to In Reality, while his famous dam Toussaud (El Gran Senor) is out of In Reality's daughter Image Of Reality. As sire also of Tap Your Heels, Unbridled gets a 3×3 mirror in Valiance. (Seattle Slew also recurs top and bottom, 4×4: all quite reminiscent of Tapit's son Tapwrit, whose third dam is by Seattle Slew; and whose damsire Successful Appeal is a grandson of In Reality).

A lot of these strands are also entwined in Tacitus, whose damsire First Defence is not only a grandson of Unbridled but out of Honest Lady, Toussaud's daughter by Seattle Slew. His odds-on failure in the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday sealed his status as one of the more exasperating animals around, and it would be characteristic if he were now to outrun contrasting odds at the Breeders' Cup–by no means an outlandish scenario, perhaps with a reversion to the kind of stalking tactics that worked well when he last flattered to deceive in the GII Suburban S.

While Tacitus quailed before the prospect of giving his sire three Grade Is in eight days, Tapit did at least celebrate a fourth elite success as a broodmare sire on Saturday when Harvey's Lil Goil (American Pharoah) won the GI Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (presented by Dixiana) at Keeneland. He must share the credit here, obviously, not least as the unraced daughter who produced this filly is a half-sister to I'll Have Another, whose Derby success could not prevent the sale of his sire Flower Alley to South Africa. Given that their dam Arch's Girl Edith (Arch) is also responsible for dual graded stakes scorer Golden Award (Medaglia d'Oro), she has certainly contributed to the excellent record of her own sire in this sphere. (Arch is most notably broodmare sire of Uncle Mo).

One favorite who did match his billing in the expected style over the weekend was Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Magic), whose background we've considered before. But while the GI Champagne S. winner obviously has momentum, heading to the Breeders' Cup, his stylish cutting edge–if it is not to be blunted–will certainly have to be whetted further against the gray, Classic-grained granite of Essential Quality.

In either event, sparks should fly. And, whisper it, we may yet be able to start thinking about Sheikh Mohammed finally getting the reward he has always craved, for his lavish investment in American bloodstock, with a Kentucky Derby winner in the Godolphin blue.

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