I’ve watched the replays of last weekend’s Fountain of Youth and Risen Star Stakes many times. After initially coming to the conclusion that neither Orb nor I’ve Struck a Nerve were the best horses in their respective races, I’ve changed my tune. Orb made a powerful run from off the pace on a day when horses were not having an easy time making up ground and he launched his bid fairly early, thus showing the ability to make use of his stamina with a prolonged, sustained run. His style is perfectly suited for the rigors of the Kentucky Derby. I also took a closer look at I’ve Struck a Nerve, the improbable victor at the Fair Grounds. No one seems to be taking this horse seriously, but after reading some statements from his trainer and looking into his pedigree, there are reasons to think that he may be a player on this year’s Derby trail.
I’ve already discussed Orb and his pedigree a bit on this blog, but it’s the time of year to take a more formal approach and profile the pedigrees of each of the winners from this past Saturday because both of them sport pedigrees that indicate they should handle 10 furlongs.
You all know that I’ve been a fan of this horse from day one. Ever since Alabama Day last year I’ve been asserting that Orb is going to make a big splash as a three year-old. However, after a few losses last fall I didn’t really think he’d be in a position near the top of most people’s Derby lists as early as the end of February. He’s obviously made huge strides over the winter in Florida and now this long striding colt has a chance to give the Janneys, Phippses, and trainer McGaughey each of their first Derby wins.
Orb is by Malibu Moon, by A. P. Indy. Although fragile on the racetrack, he has blossomed as a sire. After starting his stud career for a modest fee of $2,500, he has gradually worked his way up through the ranks to now be considered one of the elite Kentucky stallions. He has shown a remarkable degree of versatility through his progeny with some displaying the stamina inherent in the A. P. Indy line and others showing the speed of his damsire, Mr. Prospector. He first rose to prominence as the sire of Declan’s Moon, the champion two year-old of 2004 and early favorite for the 2005 Kentucky Derby before an injury sidelined him. Since then, he has sired some horses with blazing speed such as the wickedly fast Kauai Katie, who is currently tearing up the track as the fastest three year-old filly sprinter in the nation. However, many of his better known progeny distinguished themselves around two turns. He is the sire of millionaire Life At Ten, winner of the G1 Beldame and G1 Ogden Phipps Stakes as well as the 10-furlong Delaware Handicap (G2). He also produced Funny Moon, winner of the mile-and-a-quarter Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Ask the Moon, winner of the Go For Wand (G1) and Personal Ensign (G1) over 10 furlongs at Saratoga, and Devil May Care, a three-time G1 winner of the Frizette, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks.
Orb’s female family represents of the greatest active maternal lines in the United States tracing back to Bold Irish, owned by the Wheatley Stable of Ogden Mills and Gladys Mills Phipps, and her daughter Shenanigans. Bold Irish had some modest success as a broodmare in the 1950s, but really blossomed once transferred to Stuart Janney, Jr. after his marriage to Barbara Phipps. Through her final foal, the unraced Castle Hyde, she would eventually become the ancestress of Demons Begone, favorite for the 1987 Kentucky Derby, 1992 Preakness winner Pine Bluff, and Fusaichi Pegasus, winner of the 2000 Kentucky Derby. Obviously there is residual classic potential in the family of Castle Hyde, yet Bold Irish’s greatest triumph as a broodmare unquestionably was her 1963 Native Dancer daughter, Shenanigans.
Shenanigans is famously the dam of the greatest filly of the twentieth century, Ruffian. The brilliant, but ill-fated Ruffian would never get a chance to carry on the line, but Shenanigans did produce a few other foals of note. Her best colt was Icecapade, by Nearctic, a G2 winner who became a top stallion best known as the sire of inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Wild Again, who was himself an elite sire. She also produced Buckfinder, a G2 winner and runner-up to Cox’s Ridge in the Metropolitan Mile (G1), who won or placed in 18 of 21 starts and had modest success as a sire. He is best known for fathering millionaire Track Barron.
Despite the loss of her enormously talented daughter Ruffian, Shenanigans’ female line was still given an opportunity to carry on through her one other daughter, Laughter. She was foaled two years prior to Ruffian and was sired by Bold Ruler, thus making her a three-quarter sister to her otherworldly black sibling, who was in turn by Bold Ruler’s son Reviewer. Although not a great success on the racetrack, Laughter has proven her worth in the breeding shed and makes one wonder what might have been if Ruffian had ever been able to produce a foal. Laughter produced four stakes winners, the best of which was Private Terms, the undefeated favorite for the 1988 Kentucky Derby and winner of the G1 Wood Memorial. He ended his career having won 12 of 17 starts amassing $1.2 million in earnings.
Laughter also produced three fillies by Damascus. Her 1986 daughter by that sire was unraced, but produced a colt by Forty Niner that surpassed even Private Terms in raw talent. That son, Coronado’s Quest, possessed some of the brilliant speed and fiery disposition of Ruffian, but also had the stamina to carry that speed 10 furlongs. Although he won some important sprint races early in his career such as the Cowdin and Riva Ridge Stakes, Shug McGaughey, in one of his greatest training feats, got Coronado’s Quest to stay the distance of Travers Stakes (G1) and beat Belmont winner Victory Gallop in a blanket finish. He ended his career having won 10 of 17 starts and earned over $2 million.
Yet it is Shenanigans’ first Damascus filly, Steel Maiden, to whom Orb’s pedigree traces. Steel Maiden won a couple of listed stakes and finished second in the Black Eyed Susan (G2). Her best foal was Mesabi Maiden, who bettered her dam by winning the Black Eyed Susan in her only stakes win. Her sire, Cox’s Ridge, displayed a great combination of speed and stamina on the racetrack with his greatest triumph coming in the G1 Met Mile, but also showing the versatility to win graded stakes as short as seven furlongs and as far as 1 3/16 miles. Although Mesabi Maiden was her only stakes winner, Steel Maiden also produced, through a mating Orb’s damsire Unbridled, a 1998 filly named Women’s Rights. Janney sold her while in foal to Horse Chestnut, but the resulting filly would go on to produce Suggestive Boy, a four-time Group 1 winner in Argentina, who was recently imported to the United States and is already G1-placed in this country and a winner of the Arcadia Handicap (G2).
That top earning daughter Mesabi Maiden, like her dam, was no great success as broodmare, but did produce Lady Liberty, by Unbridled, who won four races and earned over $200,000. Lady Liberty never won or placed in a stakes race, but she did win a high-level allowance at Keeneland going 12 furlongs on the turf. Although that was her final win, she did go on to finish a solid fifth in the Bewitch Stakes (G3) also at a mile and a half and fourth in the Glens Falls (G3) at 1 3/8 miles. She is the dam of Orb, but did produce one prior winner, Cause of Freedom, by Alphabet Soup. That gelding was an inconsistent runner, but did inherit some of his female family’s high stamina as his biggest win came–albeit via disqualification–at 1 3/8 miles in an allowance race at Gulfstream.
This branch of Shenanigans’ family has clearly seen its intrinsic stamina accentuated by the blood of Damascus, Cox’s Ridge, and more recently Unbridled and A. P. Indy, through his son Malibu Moon. Orb’s win in the Fountain of Youth was a huge step forward for the rangy colt, but I believe there’s even better to come. His pedigree suggests that not only will he handle the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby, but stretching out to that distance and beyond may be key to exploiting his full potential.
I’ve Struck a Nerve
I, along with most racing fans, had originally said that Normandy Invasion was the only horse I’d want coming out of the Risen Star Stakes. Yet the more I watch the race the less impressed I am with that runner. He was actually running right alongside the eventual winner leaving the backstretch and just could not make an impact through an ordinary final two and a half furlongs. You would never guess that this horse was capable of the electrifying turn of foot he showed in the Remsen Stakes. I’m not writing him off yet because he deserves another chance second time back from the layoff, but he really better improve.
I think it’s also worth really looking into where I’ve Struck a Nerve’s performance came from. I watched back his Lecomte Stakes, in which he got a ridiculous ride form Kent Desormeaux. He was literally standing up in the stirrups a few strides out of the gate for no apparent reason, but I guess in an attempt to get him back to last place. Such aggressive handling only seemed to get I’ve Struck a Nerve keyed up and he advanced into traffic entering the backstretch. Midway down the backstretch, Kent decided it was time to go and prematurely sent him up into stalking position. He then tried to go after the leaders around the far turn, briefly loomed at the top of the stretch, and faded late. I think it’s worth reading today’s Marcus Hersh DRF article about him in which his trainer explains how he really worked on getting him to settle in behind horses between the Lecomte and the Risen Star. In the Risen Star he was totally relaxed early in the race, moved through all the necessary holes to get into the clear in the stretch, and showed much better acceleration than Normandy Invasion.
I’ve Struck a Nerve is by Yankee Gentleman, who is generally considered to be purely a speed influence. Yet in spite of this, of his three progeny who earned over $500,000, two of them were routers. His top earner, Golden Yank, won multiple stakes between 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles and Tidal Pool was second in the Fantasy Stakes (G2) and third in both the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Black Eyed Susan (G2). It would seem that he can produce runners who effectively negotiate two turns when paired with the right dam.
That said, it should come as no surprise that I’ve Struck a Nerve relished the two turns since his female family is loaded with stamina. His dam, Ranaway, by Cryptoclearance, is inbred four times (6x5x5x5) to stamina and soundness influence Princequillo. Cryptoclearance loved a mile and a quarter and, in one of his best performances, gave Easy Goer a scare in the 1989 Jockey Club Gold Cup (video) when it was run at 12 furlongs. Ranaway was a minor winner from just four starts, but she’s a full sister to a runner who was stakes placed at a mile and an eighth. She’s also a half-sister to a couple of really good ones in $762,000 earner Slew Valley and $563,000 earner K J’s Appeal. The former was a turf marathoner who won a couple of Canadian graded stakes, but did his best work racing in the U.S. placing in the Sword Dancer (twice), Man O’ War, Bowling Green, and Mac Diarmida Stakes. The latter, K J’s Appeal, despite being sired by sprint influence Valid Appeal, was also best routing. His biggest triumph came at 1 1/8 miles in the G1 Meadowlands Cup, but he also won the 1 3/16 miles Creme Fraiche Handicap (G3). Going back one more generation, his second dam, Slewaway, by Slewpy, is a half-sister to three more stakes winning routers including Explosive Bid, a Louisiana Handicap winner, who netted almost $500,000 in the early 1980s.
There’s little doubt that the Fountain of Youth was the better race, but perhaps the Risen Star is not as much of a fluke as it would initially seem. I’ve Struck a Nerve may be a three year-old who has finally found his preferred running style and is just coming into his own as the distances get longer at an exciting time of year.
(Information about Orb’s female family was primarily culled from Matriarchs, Volume II: More Great Mares of Modern Times, by Edward L. Bowen)