UNLIKELY HERO

A busy week means that we’ve only just found a minute to post about last week’s Kentucky Derby (gr. I) trials, the the Florida Derby (gr. I), the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and UAE Derby (gr. II). The two events run in the U.S., and both worth $600,000 to the winner saw a pair of upsets posted by two horses from very different ends of the pedigree spectrum. In Florida, long-time Derby favorite, Union Rags, and the well-regarded El Padrino, could only finish third and fourth behind gate-to-wire scorer Take Charge Indy. The result of the Louisiana Derby was even more unpredictable as a favored Mark Valeski could not get past the stubborn 109-1 shot, Hero of Order.

From a pedigree standpoint, we could at least console ourselves with the thought that Take Charge Indy, who is by A.P. Indy out of three-time grade one winner, Take Charge Lady, is bred for the job. That is less true of Hero of Order, a $3,000 Keeneland September Yearling, who is by a stallion who was banished to Korea after being represented by just one crop of three-year-olds.

Looking at Hero of Order’s race record, one might have thought his appearance in a $1,000,000 was an April Fool’s Day joke. He didn’t win until his ninth outing, and was defeated in three maiden claimers, once by 23¼ lengths. As recently as October, he could have been haltered for $25,000 at Hawthorne. After finally winning his first race – a six furlong maiden at Fair Grounds on February 11, which he took by five lengths – Hero of Honor did begin to show some improved form. He was fifth, beaten 4¾ lengths in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III), on his first try in stakes company, then finshed third in a six furlong allowance/optional claiming event. In the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II), he made much of the running, then kept on well enough to take fourth, six lengths behind El Padrino and Mark Valeski. Prepping for the Louisiana Derby on the turf, in the Black Gold Stakes, Hero of Order was beaten just ½ length, but was demoted from second to fourth after drifing out in the stretch.There are two factors that might explain Hero of Order’s seemingly unfathomable improvement. One is that although he’s been kept pretty busy with 14 starts in 7½ months, he has a very sparse work tab, mostly showing pedestrian clockings, so he may just have raced himself fit. The second point to ponder is that he is a grandson of Distorted Humor, a horse whose offspring sometimes demonstrate significant progress through the spring and summer of their three-year-old season.

It appears that Sharp Humor, the sire of Hero of Order, may have been one that fit that mold. He was certainly useful at two, when he won three of his five starts, including the Betram F. Bongard Stakes and Sleepy Hollow Stakes (both restricted to New York-breds), and finished third in the New York Breeders’ Futurity, another restricted stakes. However, Sharp Humor took a marked step forward at three, beginning the year with a win in a very strong renewal of the Swale Stakes (gr. II) in which he accounted for subsequent grade one winner In Summation, as well as Court Folly, Praying For Cash, Beacon Shine, Yes He’s the Man, City Attraction andCatcominatcha, all of whom either were, or were to become, graded winners. Stretched out to nine furlongs for the Florida Derby (gr. I) Sharp Humor topped that effort, only losing out to Barbaro in the final 50 yards, after attempting to make all the running. While Barbaro would go on to win the Kentucky Derby, Sharp Humor finished sixteenth in the Run for the Roses, coming out of a race with an injury that would sideline him until the third week in October. Returning to the races in the six furlong Hudson Stakes, another New York-bred contest, Sharp Humor took third. However, he failed to build on that next time out, finishing fifth in the Cigar Mile (gr. I), and was retired to stand alongside his sire at WinStar Farm.

Sharp Humor’s first crop reached the races in 2010, and he ended the year as sixth leading freshman sire by earnings, but tied with Pomeroy and Congrats by number of individual winners, with 25, as well as being joint-leader with Congrats by individual stakes winners, with three, and second to Congrats by stakes horses, with ten. Unfortunately, that crop didn’t progress in the way that the history of the sire line might have led one to hope, and with scant support from his second crop juveniles, Sharp Humor dropped to twelfth on the second season sire standings. That falling off sealed his fate as far as Kentucky was concerned, and Sharp Humor is serving his 2012 breeding season at KRA Jeju Stud Farm in the Republic of Korea. The overall record shows that Sharp Humor has been represented 148 starters from his first two crops, 97 winners, five stakes winners, and 12 other stakes horses. Hero of Order is his only graded winner, and his only other listed scorers are Mildly Offensive, who took the Santa Paula Stakes, and Glint, who was successful in the Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial Juvenile Stakes.

Hero of Order’s dam, Ocean Sprite is a daughter of the Storm Bird horse, Ocean Crest. She was unplaced in two starts, but is dam of three winners from her first three runners. Ocean Sprite is half-sister to the listed winningDinner Break (by Storm Bird’s grandson, Tale of the Cat), and also to Things Change, a Stalwart daughter who was a talented two-year-old, wining the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) and Adirondack Stakes (gr. I), and running second in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I). The second dam, Romanticat – by the 1981 Kentucky Derby hero, Gato Del Sol – is half-sister to another good Storm Bird line horse in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) victor, and short-lived, but successful sire, Harlan (by Storm Cat). Another of Romanticat’s siblings, Fiery Affair, is dam of the multiple stakes winning and graded placed stakes placed Swearingen, herself second dam of Pomeroy’s Pistol, one of the better sprint fillies of 2011. Country Romance, a Halo daughter, and the dam of Harlan and Firery Affair was a prolific stakes winner, albeit at the Western Canadian venues of Northlands Park and Stampede Park. The family is a South American one, which arrived from Argentina in the shape of Hero of Order’s sixth dam, Suiti, a four-time stakes winner in Argentina, and also runner-up in the Ladies Handicap while racing in the U.S. Suiti subsequently produced a good winner in Our Suiti Pie, who took the Del Mar Okas (gr. II), and was closely related to Hero of Honor’s granddam, as she was by Cougar II, the sire of Gato Del Sol.

Hero of Order, who is rated A++ by TrueNicks, has quite an outcross pedigree. However, we can note that his sire is inbred to Mr. Prospector 3 x 4, with a cross of Nothern Dancer inbetween the Mr. Prospector double. It often pays to inbreed to a strain that is sat between a close duplication, as is Northern Dancer here. With that in mind, it is interesting that Hero of Order is one of three stakes winners, and seven stakes performers sired by Sharp Humor from 29 starters out of mares by Northern Dancer or his sons and grandsons. That is 10.3% stakes winners to starters, and 24.1% stakes horses to runners, against the two stakes winners (1.7%) and ten stakes horses (8.4%) for the sire with all other mares.

Despite his graded stakes earnings, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Hero of Order in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), as he was not nominated, and he could now only get in as a $200,000 supplimentary entry, and then only if less than the maximum of 20 nominated horses are entered. Still perhaps he’ll turn up to try and ambush the Derby winner in the Preakness.

The Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Take Charge Indy represents one of the last shots of his sire, A.P. Indy at correcting anomaly that reveals that the outstanding sire of U.S. dirt route runners of his time, has never been represented by a winner of North America’s greatest dirt race. The closest that the now-retired A.P. Indy – who has one more crop of three-year-olds after this one – has so far come to winning a Derby was with Aptitude, who finished second with Fusaichi Pegasus. Our suspicion is, that for all his merit as a sire, A.P. Indy represents a something of an outlier to the modern breed, a true stayer (or at least a stayer relative to the mainstream of the U.S. commercial population), and that means his offspring tend not to reach the peak of their powers as early as the faster, more precocious types, that sometimes still have an edge by the first Saturday in May.

On the score of speed and precocity, Take Charge Indy has has more than a little help from the distaff side of his pedigree. His dam, Take Charge Lady, is a daughter of Champion Two-Year-Old Colt, Dehere. She broke her maiden over four furlongs at two, and won the Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II) at that age. She trained on to add seven more graded wins at three and four, including the Ashland Stakes (gr. I), and back-to-back renewals of the Spinster Stakes (gr. I), and also took runner-up spot in the Ashland Stakes (gr. I). The second dam, Felicita, is by Rubiano, a son of Fappiano, who wasn’t particulary precocious, but was fast, earning honors as Champion Sprinter. Rubiano came from a mating that we planned, partly because of some attraction to the pedigree patterns in Fappiano, and Rubiano’s broodmare sire, Nijinsky II (the Mr. Prospector/Nijinsky II cross which this represents is still a solid TrueNicks B+ even with more than 600 foals bred on the cross), and partly because Fappiano had crossed so well with In Reality, the sire of the second dam of Rubiano.

Take Charge Indy is TrueNicks rated A++ on the basis of the A.P. Indy/Dehere cross that has also produced Friesan Fire (who started favorite for the Derby, after sweeping the Louisiana Derby trials, but was injured in the race, and never really recaptured his best form), and Vaulcluse (another Pedigree Consultants mating), an undefeated stakes winner in three starts. Prior to that, the cross was an A+ on the basis of A.P. Indy with mares by Deputy Minister and his sons. And similarly, just as the mating that resulted in Rubiano, was in part based with the success of Fappiano with In Reality, sire of the second dam of the mare, A.P. Indy and his sons have crossed well with Rubiano mares (and for that matter with mares carrying Rubiano’s sire, Fappiano).

In Dubai, Irish-trained Daddy Long Legs stamped his ticket to Louisville with a win in the UAE Derby (gr. II). With the earnings from this purse, together with the winner’s share of the $800,000 taken by Daddy Nose Best in the previous week’s Sunland Derby (gr. III), their sire, Scat Daddy – the Leading Freshman Sire of 2011 – rocketed to the top of the overall national sire list. The UAE Derby was run exactly five years to the day after, Scat Daddy, won the Florida Derby (gr. I), Unplaced in the Kentucky Derby on his only subsequent outing, Scat Daddy also won the Sanford Stakes (gr. II) and Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at two, and the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at three. A son of the Hennessy (by Storm Cat) stallion Johannesburg – undefeated Champion of both Europe and North America at two – Scat Daddy captured the Leading Freshman Sire title in 2011 after a battle with Hard Spun that came down to late in the afternoon of the last day of the year. Scat Daddy is already sire of four group/graded winners, Daddy Long Legs, Daddy Nose Best, Finale and Shared Property – and a total of six stakes winners, and 13 stakes horses to date.

Daddy Long Legs is out of Dreamy Maiden (by Meadowlake). She won the seven furlong Raven Run Stakes at three, and the Likely Exchange Stakes over a mile at four. Dreamy Maiden has previously produced the Chester House filly, Tres Dream, winner of the Esplanade Stakes at Fair Grounds, and the Ponca City Stakes at Remington Park. Daddy Long Legs’ second dam, Sparrow Lake, the daughter another juvenile star, Apalachee, did her best work at Woodbine in Canada, taking the Wonder Where Stakes and Ontario Colleen Stakes. Dreamy Maiden was Sparrow Lake’s only stakes winner, but she is also granddam of black-type winner Medzendeekron. Sparrow Lake is half-sister to another talented Canadian runner, Ever Steady, who won four black-type races in the Dominion, including the British Columbia Derby. Two other half-sisters to Sparrow Lake produced notable runners: Stray Away is dam of the Champion Canadian Three-Year-Old Filly, Bruce’s Mill, and Danish Alamode is dam of the $1,235,335 earner Texcess. The Canadian theme continues in the next generation, as the fourth dam, Barn Swallow, produced Cadet Corps, winner of the Canadian classic Prince of Wales Stakes.

Daddy Long Legs is bred on similar lines to the brilliant two-year-old and sprinter, Henny Hughes, who is by Hennessy out of a mare by Meadowlake. The Storm Cat/Meadowlake cross has already produced three other graded stake winners, including the West Virginia Derby (gr. II) captor, Soul Warrior, who is by Lion Heart, a horse whose sire, Tale of the Cat is very closely related to Johannesburg.

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