By Sid Fernando
For one, they've cumulatively won three of the four most lucrative dirt races contested in North America so far this year. Hot Rod Charlie won the $1 million Gll Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds last weekend; Mystic Guide was first in the $600,000 Glll Razorback H. at Oaklawn Feb. 27; and Knicks Go took the $3 million Gl Pegasus World Cup Invitational S. at Gulfstream Park Jan. 23. The other big-money race was the $1 million Gll Rebel S. at Oaklawn, won by Concert Tour (Street Sense).
The trio of Hot Rod Charlie, Mystic Guide, and Knicks Go also share something else in common with one another: they are each by sons of Awesome Again (Deputy Minister). The Deputy Minister sire line isn't particularly vibrant these days, mostly flourishing within the interior of pedigrees (through daughters and granddaughters), where it is incredibly potent in that capacity. At one time, however, there were plenty of Deputy Minister sons and grandsons at stud, horses like Silver Deputy, Dehere, Graeme Hall, Salt Lake, Victory Speech, Mane Minister, French Deputy, Touch Gold, Deputy Commander, Spring At Last, Archers Bay, Forest Camp, Toccet, Posse, etc., but most of them couldn't sustain stud careers here, much less create heirs to carry the line forward. This isn't an uncommon phenomenon and it's an example of how sire lines tend to either disappear altogether or ebb and flow over time.
The Deputy Minister horse French Deputy and his son Kurofune put up an admirable fight in Japan, but the Awesome Again branch is Deputy Minister's most notably viable tail-male representative in North America and elsewhere these days, and, frankly, Ghostzapper is its main proponent despite the recent efforts of the closely related duo of Oxbow and Paynter. And not only is Ghostzapper an excellent stallion, but, true to the ethos of his grandsire, he's turning into an equally adept broodmare sire. He announced this loudly when his daughter Stage Magic produced Triple Crown winner Justify, one of three Grade l winners for Ghostzapper as a broodmare sire to date.
As a sire, Ghostzapper, who stands for $85,000 at Hill 'n' Dale, is represented by 12 Grade l winners and 83 black-type winners. He's got a great chance to add another Grade l winner to his tally when Mystic Guide starts as the probable favorite in the $12 million G1 Dubai World Cup this weekend, and it's quite amazing when you sit back and think about it that representatives of this sparsely represented sire line have been successful in some of the most valuable races this year with a chance at another, one of the biggest prizes of the season.
Certainly, it indicates that the Awesome Again sires have a puncher's chance in the big fights, particularly in races on dirt and at a distance, and frequently with older horses. It's something that defined Awesome Again's own career with such as Gl Breeders' Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper; Game On Dude, who won the Gl Santa Anita H. at seven; and Awesome Gem, winner of the Gl Hollywood Gold Cup at seven.
The Dubai World Cup is no longer the richest race in the world, that honor now belonging to the $20-million Saudi Cup. Recall that Knicks Go was one of the favorites in that race, though not successful that day after Charlatan (Speightstown) beat him to the early lead. However, the broader Deputy Minister line had success that day when the US-bred, Japanese-based 6-year-old Copano Kicking (Spring At Last) won the $1.5-million Riyadh Dirt Sprint. Copano Kicking's sire is by Silver Deputy, a son of Deputy Minister. Like Mystic Guide, Copano Kicking will be in action this weekend at Meydan, in the $1.5-million G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.
Had Knicks Go run well at Riyadh, he'd have been in Dubai this weekend, too. At least, that's what connections had suggested before the Saudi race. His sire Paynter, who stands for $10,000 at WinStar, has 16 black-type winners to his credit and has carved out a useful career at stud through four crops, and it's possible his momentum will build as he gets more older runners in the pipeline. He was produced from a full sister to Tiznow (Cee's Tizzy), as was Oxbow.
Oxbow, like Paynter with four crops at the races through the end of last year, stands for $7,500 at Calumet, which also stands the Awesome Again horse Bravazo. The latter also happens to be from a Cee's Tizzy mare (who, in turn, is out of a granddaughter of Seattle Slew, like the dams of Oxbow and Paynter) as well.
Oxbow hasn't been as successful as Paynter, with only six black-type winners so far, but he does have a colt at Meydan in a big race this weekend with an unusual background. Bred by Calumet like Bravazo, Tuz is entered in the $750,000 G2 Godolphin Mile. He'd been sold as a Keeneland yearling for $7,000 and dispatched to Russia, a country from which horses never usually resurface. Tuz, however, was something special over there, winning his debut at the Pyatigorsk Hippodrome by 25 lengths over Polytrack in 2019 at two. He returned to win his next start by 14 lengths, then made his way to Dubai where the next year he opened some eyes by running second of 16 in the Listed Al Bastakiya over a mile and three-sixteenths in only his third start.
Tuz wasn't heard from again until this season, when he reappeared in February in a Meydan handicap over 1600 meters, running fourth of 10. Brought back in early March in a Group 3 race over the same trip, Tuz ran an improved race, finishing third of 16 to Midnight Sands, beaten less than three lengths. He's in deep this weekend, but he appears to be rounding into form and is another with a puncher's chance.
Oxbow, by the way, will also be represented by the lightly raced Calumet homebred 3-year-old filly Bow Bow Girl in the $200,000 Gll Gulfstream Park Oaks on Saturday, a race that one of the stallion's most accomplished runners, Coach Rocks–also bred by Calumet–won in 2018, so he could potentially get two new black-type winners this weekend.
Like Paynter, Oxbow, winner of the Gl Preakness, stands to grow his profile as he gets more crops of 3-year-olds and older horses at the track. He isn't a consistent stallion–and believe it or not, four of his six stakes winners earned their black type at two–but the feeling here is that he'll make his money with later-maturing runners, three and up. It's in his genes. Hot Rod Charlie is exactly that type of horse, as Knicks Go is to Paynter and Mystic Guide is to Ghostzapper
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.