Taking Stock: Sole Volante, Inexpensive Yearling to Classic Contender

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Sole Volante (Karakontie {Jpn}) wasn’t an expensive yearling, but he announced his Classic aspirations impressively last weekend in an early Gl Kentucky Derby prep. He won the 1 1/16-mile Glll Sam F. Davis S. at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, but sold for only $6,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling sale. He was resold by New Hope AB LLC for $20,000 at the OBS April sale as a 2-year-old to trainer Patrick Biancone, who knows a quality staying pedigree when he sees one. Of course, Biancone trained the great All Along (Fr), who parlayed wins in the 1983 G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Gl Rothman’s International in Canada, and the GI Turf Classic Aqueduct to a Horse of the Year title as a premier mile-and-a-half filly.

For whatever reasons, end-user yearling buyers missed Sole Volante at Keeneland, but it wasn’t for a lack of pedigree, because he has that in spades. And he was bred by an outfit that has an excellent reputation. Usually, a low price can be attributed to lack of pedigree and physical; failing the vet; a sire who isn’t commercial; an old or unproductive family; or placement too far back in the sale–a result of some or all of the above. Some of these factors may have been in play with Sole Volante, but end-users by and large whiffed with him, and he was left as a scrap for a pinhooker who saw enough potential to take a shot. His buyers have been vindicated, as has the breeder that planned the mating.

Sole Volante

Sole Volante was bred by the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings Ltd., which is based in Kentucky at Lane’s End’s Oak Tree division and in Europe mostly at Coolmore in Ireland, but Flaxman also sends mares to Japan, where the entity has bred to Sunday Silence and Deep Impact (Jpn), among others. Many of the mares in the Flaxman band trace to fillies that Stavros Niarchos, who died in 1996, purchased or bred in the 1970s and 1980s when he based his operation at Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard, the farm developed and owned by Marcel Boussac for 60 years. Today Flaxman is run by Niarchos’s daughter Maria Niarchos-Gouaze, and the family’s interest in racing extends another generation to her brother Philippe’s daughter Electra, who is a frequent presence on the racecourse.

Sole Volante’s sire was bred and raced by Flaxman and was foaled in Japan because his dam Sun Is Up (Jpn) (Sunday Silence) was returned to the land of her birth carrying him, so that she could be bred to the Japanese-based Niarchos-bred-and-raced G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Bago (Fr) (Nashwan). Karakontie is by the Storm Cat horse Bernstein and his third dam is the iconic Flaxman homebred Miesque (Nureyev), who has become an influential name in pedigrees, first through her high-class stallion son Kingmambo (Mr. Prospector) and lately through various branches of her daughters, who’ve been responsible for recent Flaxman homebred Classic winners like G1 Irish 1000 Guineas winner Alpha Centauri (Ire) (Mastercraftsman, and her third dam is Miesque) and G1 Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) winner Study of Man (Ire) (Deep Impact and second dam Miesque).

Like Miesque and Kingmambo, Karakontie won a G1 French Guineas, and like Miesque, he also won the Gl Breeders’ Cup Mile. He was sent to stud at Gainesway in 2016 for a $15,000 fee and Sole Volante is from his first crop. The stallion is represented by two other black-type winners, European Group 3 winner Kenzai Warrior and Tyro S. winner Karak. The latter was a $22,000 Keeneland November weanling, a $30,000 Keeneland September RNA, and a $365,000 OBS March 2-year-old. Coincidentally, Kenzai Warrior, like Sole Volante, was a $6,000 Keeneland September yearling, and he was pinhooked as a 2-year-old in Europe at Goffs for approximately $58,000.

Karakontie’s first yearlings averaged $34,818 (51 sold) with a $16,000 median, numbers that probably indicated a commercial bias against his profile as a turf miler. Notwithstanding that his only group/graded winners to date sold for $6,000 apiece as yearlings, there are other similarities between the two: Kenzai Warrior, bred by John D. Gunther, is from a Lemon Drop Kid (Kingmambo) mare, and Sole Volante is from a mare by Kingmambo, which makes the former inbred 4×4 to Miesque and the latter 4×3.

Inbreeding to superior females through different individuals (the Rasmussen Factor) was a theory espoused by my late longtime friend Leon Rasmussen, one of the great pedigree writers of the last century and the “Bloodlines” columnist at Daily Racing Form. He’d based his views concerning inbreeding on the observations of some great breeders in the past, and it’s something that’s practiced to this day across the world. For instance, Canadian Chuck Fipke has bred his Flaxman-bred mare Inventing Paradise (Mr. Prospector daughter of Miesque) to Karakontie twice, which gives the foal Miesque 4×2. Fipke’s also breeding a homebred daughter of Inventing Paradise to Karakontie this year, and that mating will have Miesque 4×3.

Of Karakontie’s 51 first-crop auction yearlings to sell, five were from mares by either Kingmambo or his sons Lemon Drop Kid or Henrythenavigator. To date, two are group/graded winners and another is a winner, which is quite the advertisement for inbreeding to Miesque with Karakontie and a lesson that it pays to analyze the motives of the breeder at a yearling sale, particularly one like Flaxman that’s trying to make a homebred stallion. Flaxman’s policy is to sell its colts in the US and retain the fillies as potential broodmares, so Sole Volante wasn’t a cull.

Motives aside, there’s more than enough class in Sole Volante’s pedigree to understand his success to date and to project his abilities at 10 furlongs and more. On the face of it, the pedigree is all turf–a strong stamina-oriented turf family combined with a speedy turf miler–but the way he defeated the previously unbeaten Independence Hall (Constitution) on dirt in the Sam F. Davis has removed any doubts about surface preferences. He’s a winner now of three of four starts. He made his first two starts on turf, winning his first two races, including the black-type Pulpit S. at Gulfstream in his second start, at a mile on grass. Next, he was third while making his dirt debut going a mile in the Listed Mucho Macho Man S., prior to his win in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis.

As noted, his dam Light Blow is by Kingmambo, who became an influence for stamina as a stallion. She is also the dam of 4-year-old Explode (Trappe Shot), who last year won the 10-furlong Glll Canadian Derby at Century Mile on dirt via DQ, and stakes-placed Light of Joy (Kitten’s Joy). Light Blow’s full sister Light Shift won the G1 Epsom Oaks and produced G1 winner Ulysses (Ire) (Galileo), highweighted on the English Free Handicap from 9 1/2 furlongs to 11 furlongs.

Lingerie (GB), the dam of Light Blow and Light Shift and therefore Sole Volante’s second dam, is a daughter of stamina influence Shirley Heights (GB). She also produced another of Flaxman’s Japanese-bred Group 1 winners in Shiva (Jpn) (Hector Protector), a highweight on the English Free Handicap from 9 1/2 to 11 furlongs. This is the immediate family of Flaxman’s US champion turf horse Main Sequence (Aldebaran), a gelding like Sole Volante who won the Gl Breeders’ Cup Turf among other races.

Sole Volante’s third dam is French champion and G1 French Oaks winner Northern Trick (Northern Dancer), a filly bred by Lane’s End’s Will Farish and Hermitage Farm’s Warner L. Jones who was purchased by Niarchos at the 1982 Keeneland Selected Yearling sale for $530,000. It’s a purchase that’s continuing to pay dividends for his heirs, just as Group 1 winner Aviance (Ire) (Northfields), a Niarchos private purchase from Robert Sangster, has: Aviance is the third dam of War of Will (War Front), who was bred and sold by Flaxman and won the Gl Preakness last year to become the stable’s first US Classic winner as breeder. Sole Volante gives them another chance for a US Classic this year.

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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