I recently learned that I’ll be attending my second Kentucky Derby this year. I’m no stranger to Churchill Downs since I’ve been to the last four Breeders’ Cups held there, but the only Derby I’ve experienced was Big Brown’s win in 2008. On one hand, I was lucky to see a performance such as that instead of a Mine That Bird or Giacomo type upset, but there was a dark cloud hanging over the place in the aftermath of the race as word spread of the Eight Belles tragedy. Naturally I’m hoping this year’s edition proves to be one worth talking about years down the line.
It’s far too early to start making Derby predictions, but it’s difficult to avoid dreaming about the first Saturday in May after witnessing Verrazano’s performance at Gulfstream this past weekend. Nearly every season we see a highly promising, inexperienced horse like Verrazano come along. Five years ago it was Big Brown, a year before that it was Curlin, and last year we had Bodemeister. History has been telling us for years that horses such as this are more exceptions than the rule. Yet lately the manner in which trainers prepare their three year-olds for the Derby has been changing and it’s allowed competitors with less experience to be major players in the Triple Crown races. So my point is this: We, as fans of this sport, should allow ourselves to get excited about Verrazano. Not only does he have speed, but he possesses the pedigree to carry it a distance of ground. In fact, his rich female family gives every indication that he should handle a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May.
You’ve probably read by now that Verrazano, by More Than Ready, is a half-brother to last year’s Derby starter El Padrino, by Pulpit. Yet by the time most analysts were starting to write about the pedigrees of the top Derby prospects last year, El Padrino’s name was already dropping off most people’s lists of prime contenders following his disappointing fourth place finish in the Florida Derby. When handicappers began assessing his Kentucky Derby chances few doubted his ability to get the distance but his form didn’t really get one’s pulse racing and therefore his stellar pedigree floated under the radar. Now it’s time to discuss this female family once again and there’s quite a bit to sift through. Normally I’d start with Verrazano’s dam and work backwards, but this time around I think it makes more sense to go back and start the discussion with his influential fifth dam and work forwards.
Robert Kleberg III ran the breeding juggernaut King Ranch from the early 1930s through his death in 1974. During that time period he bred many greats of the American turf such as Triple Crown winner Assualt and Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Middleground. During the 1950s he began to acquire broodmares from overseas to mix with the American blood that he had been developing. Verrazano’s fifth dam (or great-great-great-granddam), Monade, was one of those acquisitions. Monade won an impressive 11 of 35 starts during her racing career which saw her compete in England, France, and the United States. Her biggest triumphs came in the Epsom Oaks and Prix Vermeille, both prestigious races contested over 1 1/2 miles, and she was named the Champion Three Year-Old Filly in England and France in 1962. Kleberg purchased her for breeding purposes and today she is the foundation mare for a racing dynasty in the United States.
However, Monade’s worth in the breeding shed was not initially apparent since she only produced one top class runner out of her eleven foals. That top earner was Pressing Date, who won 9 of her 29 starts while only finishing out of the money five times. A foal of 1974, she earned $233,000, her best result being a second place finish in the Delaware Handicap (G1) over a mile and a quarter. Still, all of Monade’s foals–nine of them fillies–were winners. Although none achieved the success of Pressing Date on the racetrack they showed their true value upon retirement.
Monade may not have passed along her racing ability to her daughters, but she surely passed on enough of her class and stamina to make them excellent broodmares. Elect, by Vaguely Noble out of Monade, produced Aquaba. This daughter of Damascus won seven of 25 starts and amassed $332,000 in earnings with her biggest triumph coming in the Cotillion Handicap (G3). Miss Mazepah, by Nijinsky out of Monade, did slightly better and produced Sadeem, a son of Forli who was a two-time winner of the Ascot Gold Cup (G1) over 2 1/2 miles (20 furlongs).
Yet the daughter we’re most concerned with is Remedia, by Dr. Fager. A minor winner during her career, she produced two foals whose accomplishments on the racetrack were noteworthy. The first, Beat, was a four-time winner who was twice placed in graded stakes. Beat’s best progeny was Rising Moon, a son of Runaway Groom who won the 12-furlong Wagon Limit Stakes at Belmont and was third in the Suburban (10 furlongs) and Brooklyn (12 furlongs) Handicaps, both Grade 2 events.
However, Beat could not match the production record of her half-sister, Verrazano’s third dam, Too Chic. Too Chic won four races from eight starts during her racing career with her best performances being a win in the Maskette Handicap (G1) and a second in the Alabama Stakes (G1) over a mile and a quarter. She is perhaps best known as the dam of 1991 Champion Older Female Queena, by Mr. Prospector. Queena won 10 of her 17 starts and was a three-time Grade 1 winner. She was a star on the racetrack and in the breeding shed where she produced Hollywood Derby (G1) winner and sire Brahms. Racing as a two year-old in England, Brahms also finished second in the Dewhurst Stakes (G1) and rounded out his career in the U.S. by finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
Queena was actually the result of Too Chic’s second breeding to Mr. Prospector. The first produced an unraced filly named Chic Shirine, who lately has been outshining her better known sister as a broodmare. Although the best of Chic Shirine’s foals only managed a couple of Grade 2 wins (one of which was earned in the 10-furlong Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct), much like her great-granddam, Monade, her daughters have outdone themselves as broodmares. I’ll briefly outline their accomplishments:
- Chic Corine, by Nureyev out of Chic Shirine, is the dam of Somali Lemonade, winner of the Jessamine Stakes (G3) and runner-up in the Garden City Stakes (G1) over 9 furlongs on the turf.
- Flying Passage, by A. P. Indy out of Chic Shirine, is the dam of Soaring Empire, a 5-time winner who took the one mile Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream. Yet Flying Passage’s best foal so far is Hungry Island, who is particularly significant because she is by More Than Ready, the sire of Verrazano. Hungry Island won five of her 16 starts while only finishing out of the money twice en route to accumulating $543,000 in earnings. Her biggest triumph came in the Lake Placid Stakes (G2) over 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga in which she beat fan favorite Winter Memories.
- Mayan Maiden, by Lyphard out of Chic Shirine, was unraced and didn’t really produce any runners of note. However, one of her daughters, Maya, is the dam of Al Khali, a near millionaire who became a G2-winner when taking the 11-furlong Bowling Green Stakes at Belmont. He was also placed in three consecutive editions of the mile and a half Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga and twice placed in the Northern Dancer (G1), also over 12 furlongs at Woodbine.
- Tara Roma, by Lyphard out of Chic Shirine, was that aforementioned winner of the Ladies Handicap. Her best foal was Serra Lake, who won the 9-furlong Go For Wand Stakes (G1) at Saratoga while amassing $486,000 in earnings. She also produced another $500,000 earner in Cappuchino, a multiple stakes winner in Northern California.
Last but certainly not least would of course be Chic Shirine’s final foal, Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway, who made just one start in her brief career. She is, as said previously, the dam of Risen Star Stakes (G2) winner El Padrino and the highly promising subject of this entry, Verrazano. Over the next couple of months you’ll probably hear many analysts doubting that this son of More Than Ready can handle the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby. Yet if there’s one thing to learn from this female family it is that the stamina and class stemming from Monade has been passed on through many generations. Verrazano seems to have inherited some of More Than Ready’s high cruising speed, but I have to believe that he also possesses the stamina of his ancestors and relatives. After all, it’s not as if I was ignoring a bunch of top sprinters while I was doing the research for this entry. Literally every major stakes winner in this family tree saw their success come at a route of ground and I have no reason to believe Verrazano will be the exception.