There’s not much to discuss yet during the dark days at Aqueduct this week as I scour the replays for new “Horses to Watch,” so I figured it’s about time I start looking into the pedigrees of some potential Derby candidates. If you glance back through my entries early last year, you’ll see that I picked out Union Rags (in February), Alpha (in March), and I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister (both during pre-Derby week) to feature as three year-olds with pedigrees that indicated they would get a mile and quarter and beyond. They went on to collectively win the Derby, Preakness, Belmont, and Travers with Bodemeister finishing as the runner-up in the first two. Pedigree matters when looking for prospects for the American Classics.
The first horse I’m going to feature this Triple Crown season is Oxbow, the recent winner of the Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds. It’s a long way from January 22nd to the first Saturday in May, but I think Oxbow may just have the necessary tools to get him there as a major player–first and foremost of which are his bloodlines.
Oxbow is by Awesome Again, the winner of the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Awesome Again has been an excellent sire and a budding sire of sires with his best known son being fellow top stallion, 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, also a winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Ghostzapper was versatile enough to be a Grade 1 winner at distances ranging from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles and is generally regarded as one of the fastest horses of the past quarter century. Awesome Again has also sired multi-millionaires Awesome Gem, Game on Dude, and Ginger Punch as well as last year’s Haskell Invitational winner Paynter. One striking similarity between the pedigrees of Ghostzapper, Paynter, and Oxbow is the presence of Relaunch. He is Ghostzapper’s damsire and the sire of Cee’s Tizzy, damsire of both Paynter and Oxbow.
Oxbow’s dam, Tizamazing, is by Cee’s Tizzy out of Cee’s Song, which makes her a full sister to dual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow as well as multi-millionaire Budroyale. She is also a full sister to Tizso, the dam of Paynter. That would make Oxbow and Paynter as close to full siblings as you can get since they share the same sire, damsire, and granddam. This is one rock solid family of top horses who all excelled at classic distances. Tiznow and Budroyale were both at their best going 10 furlongs and Paynter nearly won the Belmont Stakes going a mile and a half!
Traveling further back into the female family of Cee’s Song doesn’t exactly reveal any more familiar names, but you do find plenty of hard-knocking horses who could really pile up the starts and wins. Cee’s Song herself is one of 12 winners produced by her dam, Lonely Dancer, 10 of which won multiple races. The top two earners in the family are Ceetoit, who won 17 of 57 starts, and Mile Hi Flight, who won 13 of 117 starts–talk about durability!
Cee’s Song gets the class and stamina that she passed on to her offspring from the slightly obscure cross of Seattle Song, her sire, with Nice Dancer, her damsire. Seattle Song was a son of Seattle Slew who, although bred in Kentucky, raced almost exclusively in France for Stavros Niarchos. He was a Group 1 winner in France, but his biggest triumph came when he was shipped back to the United States to win the 1984 Washington D.C. International over 1 1/2 miles. He was supposed to contest the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Turf that year, but was injured in training and retired. Nice Dancer was one of the early sons of Northern Dancer, who was bred while that great sire of sires was still standing in Canada. There, he won major stakes races going classic distances on dirt and turf with his biggest win coming in the mile and a half Breeders’ Stakes, the last leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Thus Cee’s Song possessed the pedigree to go 10 to 12 furlongs versus the best and she has continued to pass that on through her sons and daughters.
After an unsuccessful Saratoga debut and a disappointing Polytrack race at Keeneland, Oxbow first showed some potential finishing a much improved third when stretched out to seven furlongs at Churchill Downs in late October. However, he really came to life in his fourth start, once again going seven furlongs at Churchill, when he blasted out to the front, set fast fractions, and continued on to draw away impressively in the stretch, running the distance in a solid 1:22 4/5 seconds.
As is D. Wayne Lukas’s style, he threw Oxbow to the wolves in his next start by shipping him out to California to contest the CashCall Futurity (G1) and face some of the top two year-olds in the nation, including Violence and He’s Had Enough. Oxbow had the misfortune of drawing the far outside post position in the field of eleven and was sent off at 60-1. He was sent hard towards the front to try and use his speed, but many of the others had the same plan and he was forced to go five and six-wide around the clubhouse turn. That would be the end of most young horses’ races, but Oxbow continued to move forward on the backstretch and still was within striking range at the top of the stretch. He started to fade as Violence took over and it appeared that he would finish way back, but this gritty colt dug in to fight off a few more challenges from the back to finish a good fourth.
I expected him to take a major step forward when back on conventional dirt versus a suspect group in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) at the Fair Grounds, but he did more than just that. After setting his own pace, it briefly appeared that he might have to fight for the win just past the quarter pole as the horse outside of him ranged up to take a short lead. Yet as soon as Jon Court went to the whip, Oxbow’s ample stamina kicked in and he absolutely exploded to win off by 11 1/2 lengths. He earned a 91 Beyer for the performance and stamped himself as one of the best Derby prospects D. Wayne Lukas has had in many, many years. He should only continue to improve with maturity and more distance so I’ll certainly be looking forward to following him down the Derby trail towards that first Saturday in May.