Two Fresh Forces For The Next Cycle

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First Captain winning the Dwyer | Coglianese

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Every year, like the fireflies, they emerge with the gathering heat of summer. Even as the more established sophomores hobble out of the Triple Crown series–many requiring rest or recuperation, some even menaced by retirement–a second wave reliably reinvigorates the crop. Sure enough, in recent days a couple of new names have volunteered themselves to test the resilience of those Classic protagonists who do persevere to Saratoga and beyond.

But while both share a fresh, progressive profile, in other respects they could scarcely be more different. 'TDN Rising Star' First Captain (Curlin), winner of the GIII Dwyer S. on his stakes debut Monday, is beginning to live up to his onerous billing as a $1.5 million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga joint sale-topper by one of the world's leading stallions. In contrast Masqueparade, who won the GIII Ohio Derby the previous weekend, belongs to the very first crop of Upstart, an aptly named $10,000 foil at Airdrie to Hill 'n' Dale's $175,000 veteran.

If anything, First Captain's pedigree has become even more aristocratic since his presentation by one of the greatest of our horsemen, Arthur Hancock of Stone Farm, at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion in 2019. For he represents a celebrated dynasty already refreshed this year not only by GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S. winner Greatest Honour (Tapit), but also by the 4-year-old Cezanne, another son of Curlin to have vindicated the top price at an elite sale. (Though it must be acknowledged that the $3.65 million Gulfstream 2-year-old has again evinced his fragility since that stunning return in the GIII Kona Gold S.).

Greatest Honour, Cezanne and First Captain all trace their ancestry to the matriarch Blush With Pride (Blushing Groom {Fr}), the GI Kentucky Oaks winner of 1982 whose daughter Better Than Honour (Deputy Minister) famously produced consecutive winners of the GI Belmont S.–Jazil (Seeking the Gold, 2006) and Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy, 2007). Both Greatest Honour and Cezanne do so through Better Than Honour herself, as second and third dam, respectively; but First Captain's mother, the Grade III winner America (A.P. Indy), is a granddaughter of Better Than Honour's half-sister Butterfly Blue (Ire) (Sadler's Wells).

It is remarkable to remind ourselves now that Blush With Pride was cashed in at the age of 18, for $635,000 at the Keeneland November Sale of 1997. At that stage, Better Than Honour was still only a yearling, but John Magnier and his partners in Coolmore–as so often–were ahead of the game even with an ageing mare who had appeared to make patchy use of her opportunities. By the time Better Than Honour had developed into an excellent track performer, and then an even better broodmare, Blush With Pride had closed out her own breeding career in Ireland with four foals by Coolmore's champion sire Sadler's Wells.

The first of these turned out to be the Group 1-placed juvenile Maryinsky (Ire), who later produced elite runners in Peeping Fawn (Danehill) and Thewayyouare (Kingmambo). And the next was Butterfly Blue (Ire), who only broke her maiden on the final of nine starts (albeit highly tried on occasion) for Aidan O'Brien and was culled with a maiden cover by Fasliyev, a precocious sprinter by Nureyev, for $610,000 to Horse France at Keeneland November in 2004.

The filly she was carrying that day was sold in the same ring 12 months later, for $290,000, to the late Jim Sapara of Winsong Farm. And it was only a couple of weeks after this filly, meanwhile named Lacadena, had added a stakes placing to her debut success at Woodbine in 2007 that her dam's half-sister was credited with her second Belmont success.

Her family tree having duly obtained a historic new distinction, Lacadena failed to meet her reserve at $1.4 million at Keeneland that November. Nonetheless, she resurfaced the following year in the silks of Bobby Flay, and though unable to win in a light sophomore campaign, she would prove a fertile investment.

Most obviously, when returned to Keeneland in 2015 to realize $1.3 million from Heider Family Stables. In the meantime, however, she had produced two significant daughters. One, Paris Bikini (Bernardini), brought $425,000 on finishing a mildly successful track career–only to work a big profit for WinStar last year when sold to Katsumi Yoshida for $1.95 million at Fasig-Tipton last November, her homebred daughter Paris Lights (Curlin) having won the GI Coaching Club American Oaks.

The other high achiever bred by Flay from Lacadena was America, the dam of First Captain. She was boldly retained at $725,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, a gamble that paid off fairly handsomely. For a start, she proved a productive performer for Bill Mott, winning five of 22 starts and adding podiums in the GI Mother Goose S. and GI Delaware H. to success in the GIII Turnback the Alarm H. And she was then, very presciently, mated with the sire of Paris Lights just days after that filly was foaled. The result is First Captain, who topped the Saratoga Sale just weeks before she was offered with an Uncle Mo cover at Fasig-Tipton in November 2019. Once again, the reserve was both ambitious–she was retained at $3.1 million–

and astute. Her half-sister, remember, would only be exalted by the rise of Paris Lights the following year.

The docket for her Curlin colt had been signed in as many as seven different names, but that of Flay himself has meanwhile resurfaced alongside three of them–West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm and Woodford Racing–in the partnership registered behind First Captain for his belated, but immaculate start for Shug McGaughey. After beating a next-out 'Rising Star' Mahaamel (Into Mischief) over seven furlongs in April, he graduated to an allowance score over a mile of slop before landing the odds, albeit not in the most flamboyant fashion, by reeling in a front-runner in the Dwyer. In fairness, he was forced wide entering the stretch and a second turn will doubtless tell us more about the feasibility of the GI Runhappy Travers S.

Given his trainer's admirable circumspection, the Curlin S. may well appeal not just for its aptness, but also as a less-searching rehearsal than the GII Jim Dandy S. Whatever happens, he will surely keep progressing. Even at the most elementary level, you would expect a Curlin colt out of an A.P. Indy mare to flourish with maturity and distance; and the anterior intervention of Sadler's Wells in one of the modern breed's landmark Classic families can only serve that orientation.

A.P. Influence Behind the 'Masque'…

A.P. Indy is also a significant presence behind Masqueparade, who is by a grandson and whose damsire is out of one of his daughters. This is a different kind of slow burn. Whereas First Captain was late on the scene, but landed running, Masqueparade did get onto the track at two (albeit only just) but then required four attempts round the Fair Grounds to break his maiden. With those foundations laid, however, he proved a revelation when Al Stall Jr. brought him up to Churchill, winning an allowance on the Derby undercard by just shy of a dozen lengths; and he then consolidated that breakthrough by seeing off some quite accomplished rivals at Thistledown.

I do like the antecedents of this horse, who represents not only a model barn, but also one of the most exemplary programs in the Bluegrass, having been bred by Brereton C. Jones in support of Upstart's debut at Airdrie Stud. (A $100,000 weanling pinhook, he made $180,000 from FTGGG as a yearling.) Masqueparade's dam, Cry War Eagle (Any Given Saturday), was recruited to the farm on her retirement for just $40,000 at Keeneland January 2015. It says plenty about our strange industry that her value as a weanling had depreciated so steeply–she had changed hands for $170,000 in the same ring-despite winning five of 20 starts in the meantime.

That record was sewn from hardy genetic reserves: her half-brother Actin Good (Yes It's True) was a stakes winner or graded stakes-placed in four consecutive seasons, including the GIII Pegasus S. among five wins in 25 starts overall. And their dam was a half-sister to Voice Of Destiny (Mane Minister), teak winner of 24 races (including a couple of graded stakes) between the ages of two and 10! Moreover, the next dam is an Alysheba half-sister to GI Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Very Subtle (Hoist the Silver) plus another brisk one in Schematic (Upper Mile), whose respective win tallies ended up 12-for-29 and eight-for-15.

We can rely on Airdrie to draw out such wholesome ingredients not just in their broodmare band, but also in their stallion roster. Sure enough, Upstart was Grade I-placed at two, three and four, besides thrashing Frosted by five and a half lengths in the GII Lambholm South Holy Bull S.

How very auspicious, then, that Upstart should have made such a businesslike start with his first juveniles last year. Reinvestment Risk romped in an early maiden Saratoga to become a 'Rising Star' before twice chasing home speedball Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music) at Grade I level, while only the runaway train Not This Time mustered more freshman winners. Consistent with his own track profile, Upstart is now maintaining that momentum in a second campaign where only the eccentric case of Protonico deprives him of the highest earnings-per-named-foal among active Kentucky stallions in this intake.

In the meantime, moreover, he was again in conspicuous demand at the 2-year-old sales, advancing what was already a good yield for his second crop of yearlings (his $45,159 average held up well against fee, not least in a pandemic market and while rehousing as many as 41 out of 47 into the ring) as high as $113,250. Moreover, he has already bucked the usual trend, his first yearlings having been received so warmly (average $63,608) that his fourth book, a notoriously challenging one for most sires, went right back up to 90 after taking the customary slide from 146 to 86 and then just 38.

Both as a runner and a sire, Upstart has introduced more precocity than we associate with the Flatter brand. But remember how another son of Flatter, West Coast, is one of the best recent examples of the type of late-on-the-scene sophomore under discussion. (Though credited with beating all three Classic winners in his Travers, it would be churlish to pretend that they had made it to Saratoga in the same kind of form). So don't be surprised to see Upstart consolidate from here.

Other new names will doubtless emerge to challenge those who have absorbed the grueling Triple Crown trail, though Mr. Wireless (Dialed In) tore up the script prepared for odds-on Fulsome (Into Mischief) in the GIII Indiana Derby Wednesday. Remarkably, the breeders of Mr. Wireless, John and Iveta Kerber, had also been responsible for Iowa Derby winner Stilleto Boy (Shackleford) just five days previously. The Kerbers remain involved in Stilleto Boy and will be hoping to secure due reward for this notable achievement when he enters the ring at Fasig Tipton next week as hip 557 at the Horses of Racing Age Sale.

Not all of these later developers, of course, will cope with the raising of the bar. Some, like those fireflies, will fade away as shyly as they have emerged. But one or two, perhaps, will discover a glow that endures even until mirrored by the Pacific sunset at the Breeders' Cup in November.

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