Noble Moon did his job today by turning back multiple challenges before drawing away late to a comfortable victory in the Jerome (G2), the first step along New York’s road to the Kentucky Derby. Now I will do my part by explaining exactly why I’m so excited about this son of Malibu Moon and his potential as a Kentucky Derby prospect.
While Noble Moon did not replicate his flashy mid-race move that carried him to a third place finish in the Nashua (G2) last fall, he did show a great deal of grit and stamina through the stretch of today’s race as he inched away from his rivals while maintaining his smooth, long stride. Visually, he has a body type and way of moving that suggests the mile and a quarter distance of the Kentucky Derby will be right up his alley and his pedigree supports this hypothesis.
Noble Moon is by Malibu Moon, who is best known as the sire of last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Orb. Malibu Moon is a son of the great modern stamina influence A. P. Indy and has proven to be remarkably versatile during his rise from near obscurity to his current status as one of a handful of elite active sires. While Malibu Moon has been known to sire some top class sprinters and milers, his most successful offspring have achieved the their Grade 1 triumphs around two turns. Six of his nine Grade 1 winners have won at that highest level at nine furlongs or farther while three of those did so at ten furlongs (those being Orb, Funny Moon, and Ask the Moon).
Noble Moon can surely attribute some of his stamina to his sire, but the rest undoubtedly comes from his incredibly deep female family tracing back to his fifth dam, Sunday Evening. The sheer number of top class modern thoroughbreds tracing back to this one broodmare is truly staggering and Noble Moon will look to join those ranks over the coming months.
A History of Noble Moon’s Female Family
Sunday Evening was a foal of 1947 produced from one of the female lines propagated by Greentree Stud, the name given to the breeding operation of Helen Hay Whitney. Sunday Evening’s finest moment on the racetrack came in the summer of her two year-old season when she took down the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga. Retired to be a broodmare after just eight races, Sunday Evening would come to be known as a so-called “broodmare of broodmares” as her most important progeny distinguished themselves in the breeding shed rather than on the racetrack.
The first of Sunday Evening’s daughters to produce a noteworthy runner was Home by Dark, who, like her dam, has to be considered one of the great broodmares of the modern era. Home by Dark, like many of Sunday Evening’s foals, was never tried on the racetrack—in her case due to deafness—but proved her worth as a mother—and quickly at that—as four of her first five daughters would go on to produce top class runners within two subsequent generations of breeding. However, the best horse that Home by Dark directly produced was her daughter Dark Mirage.
Dark Mirage was good enough as a two year-old to be tried in a few stakes races, but failed to place in any of them and finished the season with just two wins from 15 starts. However, her three year-old season was a completely different story. After losing her return in a six furlong allowance race at Aqueduct, she would never again cross the finish line behind another horse. Her string of victories would include the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks (video above) as she reeled off ten consecutive wins, many of them coming by large margins. Her streak could only be snapped by a tragedy in the Santa Margarita Handicap as a four year-old, a race in which she broke down and was subsequently euthanized.
As previously stated, Dark Mirage was by far the best runner produced by Home by Dark but definitely not her only noteworthy foal. The very next year in 1966 she produced a filly by Tim Tam named Timely Tammy, who would go on to produce the dam of the similarly ill-fated Timely Writer. Timely Writer was near the top of the two year-old class of 1981 after wins in the Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1) and then stamped himself as an early favorite for the 1982 Kentucky Derby after wins in the Flamingo (G1) and Florida Derby (G1). Unfortunately, while training for the Derby he developed an intestinal disorder and was forced to be withdrawn from the race. Timely Writer then returned for a late fall campaign that saw him win three of four races culminating in a 1 5/8 mile allowance score at Belmont that served as a prep for the mile and a half Jockey Club Gold Cup. In what was to be the final race of Timely Writer’s career, tragedy struck again as the colt broke down on the far turn at Belmont Park and had to be humanely destroyed.
Home by Dark was again bred back to Tim Tam the next year to produce a 1967 filly by the name of Dusky Evening, who won three minor races during her career. The best of Dusky Evening’s foals was the multiple stakes winner Javamine, who won the Diana and Long Island Handicaps. Javamine foaled three colts, the last of which was the multiple Grade 1 winner Java Gold, who would have been named Champion Three Year-Old in most years, but had the misfortune of being born in the same crop as Alysheba. Java Gold came to hand late in the season to win the 1987 Whitney (G1) (video above), Travers (G1), and Marlboro Cup (G1) before finishing second to Creme Fraiche in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). He came out of the race with an injury and was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup and a chance to face Alysheba.
Home by Dark had produced one exceptional runner and two very successful broodmares from three consecutive matings, but she still had one more her important foal to produce, that being her 1969 filly, Gray Mirage. Gray Mirage was a minor stakes winner during her career and would eventually become the great granddam of the 1988 European Champion Older Mare Indian Skimmer. Indian Skimmer won four Group 1 races in three countries including the 1988 Irish and English Champion Stakes, but she is perhaps best known to American racing fans for her gallant third place finish in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Turf (video below). From a later breeding, Gray Mirage would produced First Mirage, the dam of Grade 1 winners Missy’s Mirage and Classy Mirage, the latter of which would go on to foal the 2009 Hopeful (G1) winner, Dublin.
Another less prolific but nonetheless important daughter of Sunday Evening was Royal Society, who would have been largely forgotten about had she not shown up many generations later as the fifth dam of Medaglia d’Oro, a multiple Grade 1 winning earner of over $5 million who has gone on to become a top class sire.
However, it is Sunday Evening’s 1954 foal, Prayer Bell, who is most critical to this analysis as she is the fourth dam of Noble Moon. Prayer Bell was sired by Better Self, a hardy racehorse and useful sire of sound horses. Like Home by Dark, she was unraced but proved her worth as a broodmare. Also, similarly to Home by Dark, she was the dam of a champion in the form of Silent Screen. Silent Screen made his debut as a two year-old of 1969 losing his initial start at Belmont, but he would finish off the season by registering five consecutive victories including wins in the Arlington-Washington Futurity and Champagne. He was named the 1969 Two Year-Old Champion and became one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby. However, distance limitations were exposed early in his three year-old season and he won just twice more from 12 starts before being retired as a four year-old. Silent Screen would go on to be a decent sire and interestingly shows up in the pedigree of the aforementioned Medaglia d’Oro as the damsire of that runner’s dam, Cappucino Bay, which gives Medaglia d’Oro a double dose of Sunday Evening.
Another modern link back to Prayer Bell occurs through her earlier 1962 daughter, Prayer Cap, who was herself a multiple stakes winner. She is the direct female line ancestress of a number of stakes winners, but most notably is the fourth dam of two 2013 Grade 1 winners, Ron the Greek and Graydar.
Later in her broodmare career, Prayer Bell was acquired by Edward P. Evans and became one of the foundation mares for his breeding operation. Her 1972 foal, Belle Gallante, produced the unraced Lyrical Prayer, who would go on to foal Swagger Jack, winner of the Grade 1 Carter Handicap. Lyrical Prayer also produced the dam of the Evans-campaigned Malibu Prayer, who is extremely relevant to a discussion of Noble Moon’s pedigree since she is one of the aforementioned Grade 1 winning routers produced by his sire, Malibu Moon. She earned her Grade 1 triumph in the 2010 Ruffian Handicap (video below) at Saratoga, beating subsequent Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Unrivaled Belle.
Prayer Bell’s final foal was a 1976 filly by Belmont Stakes winner Stage Door Johnny named Belladora. The cross of a Sunday Evening daughter with Stage Door Johnny is especially significant since that sire is a grandson of the great stamina and soundness influence Princequillo, for whom Sunday Evening and her daughters showed a remarkable fondness. Home By Dark was a daughter of Princequillo’s son Hill Prince while Prayer Bell’s mating with Princequillo’s son Prince John produced her champion Silent Screen. Furthermore, both of Home by Dark’s great-grandsons highlighted above, Timely Writer and Java Gold, show inbreeding to Princequillo in their pedigrees. In total, due in large part to a contribution from A. P. Indy, Noble Moon’s pedigree contains no fewer than five instances of Princequillo.
Belladora, Noble Moon’s third dam, took down two stakes races during her career while winning six of her first seven races, but she tailed off as a four year-old and was retired with six wins from 11 starts. Belladora produced only a few foals in this country before being sold to Japan, but her 1986 daughter, Music Bell, would stamp herself as another important broodmare for Evans and is the granddam of Noble Moon.
A daughter of Stop the Music—who famously was the beneficiary of Secretariat’s controversial disqualification in the 1972 Champagne—Music Bell won just one of nine starts during her career, but as a broodmare produced five multiple winners from seven foals to race with four of those runners earning over $250,000. Her best offspring was probably Silver Music, who won the Swaps Stakes (G2) and earned $350,000 during his career, but she also produced two other nice runners in the form of five-time stakes winner Prospector’s Song and Grade 2 winner Musical Ghost, who won the 1 3/8 mile Red Smith Handicap.
The last of Music Bell’s foals to make it to the winner’s circle was Noble Moon’s dam, Mambo Bell, a daughter of Kingmambo. Mambo Bell made all eight of her starts as a three year-old for Edward Evans and trainer Mark Hennig. After finishing a closing third in her debut sprinting at Gulfstream, she returned to win next time going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct. In her first try against winners going 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, she made an early move to the lead before succumbing late to the older Nevermore, who would go on to be third in the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga. Mambo Bell then placed in a couple of allowance races at Belmont, but it was a return to two turns and nine furlongs at Saratoga that allowed her to produce her finest performance, a 4 1/2 length last-to-first victory. She raced just once more, finishing a disappointing fifth after getting left at the gate, then was retired.
As a broodmare, Mambo Bell has produced four foals to race and all of them have won. While Noble Moon appears to be her best foal, she did produce another nice runner in Mambo Fever, who placed in both the Tempted (G3) and Davone Dale Stakes (G2).
Given the combination of proven classic distance success by the progeny of his sire, Malibu Moon, and a female family rich with runners that were successful at the highest levels of the game through almost every generation dating back to Sunday Evening, it is easy to understand why I’ve fallen in love with Noble Moon as an early Kentucky Derby hopeful. He will need to run faster and do so against tougher competition in subsequent starts, but more distance should only help this strapping bay colt reach his true potential.