Had the odds-on favorite Independence Hall (by Constitution) won the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 8 by 11 ¼ lengths, I can guarantee that the saber rattling could have been heard in China. There's even the possibility that it could have been heard by trainers and owners out in California, where so many of those other classic prospects are located.
But instead, Independence Hall finished second, 11 ¼ lengths ahead of Ajaaweed (Curlin), and beaten 2 ½ lengths by third choice Sole Volante (Karakontie). The bay son of 2014 Breeders' Cup Mile winner Karakontie (Bernstein) raced the mile and a sixteenth in 1:42.60 and was stronger at the mile than at the quarter-mile.
That race profile is typical of a turf horse, who would more likely race a steady pace early, then finish strongly. That is what Sole Volante did, and judging from the margin back to third-place, Independence Hall wasn't exactly collapsing either.
Bred in Kentucky by Flaxman Holdings, Sole Volante has the pedigree of a “turf horse,” being by Breeders' Cup Mile winner Karakontie (Bernstein) out Light Blow, by leading sire Kingmambo (Mr. Prospector), and trainer Patrick Biancone first raced the bay gelding on turf.
A winner in his first two starts, including the Pulpit Stakes, Sole Volante was sent into the Mucho Macho Man as his dirt debut and finished third. Biancone said that the switch to dirt was an effort to follow the wealth and prestige of dirt racing in the U.S., and the trainer was sufficiently pleased with Sole Volante's effort that he brought him right back for the Sam Davis.
Now, Biancone is training a classic prospect, something that delights the stallion season professionals at Gainesway Farm, where Karakontie stands at stud. Michael Hernon of Gainesway said that “suddenly, there's strong interest in the horse. Sole Volante being on the Triple Crown trail and winning from behind like that, it caught a lot of people's attention. The stallion's unbeaten 3-year-old Kenzai Warrior won the Horris Hill last year and is pointed to the 2,000 Guineas for his seasonal debut.
“Let's face it. It's against the odds for a young stallion to have a pair of horses out of his first crop that are both pointed for the classics this spring. But there's a lot of classic quality in this horse. In addition to Kingmambo, who won the French Guineas, there's Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence; there are classic winners Miesque, Shirley Heights, and Northern Trick. There's a lot of Miesque and Nureyev about Karakontie physically, and let's hope that this is the beginning of significant success for him as a stallion.”
Perhaps it was the look of classic quality that Biancone was searching for when he was in Ocala.
Just 10 months ago, Biancone was at the Ocala Breeders Sale in April looking for a racehorse and selected this youngster from the one-horse consignment of New Hope AB LLC. That is the sales name of Marcos Arenas, who used to work with the long-time 2-year-old sales powerhouse Hartley-deRenzo Sales.
Arenas said, “I was 20 years working with Hartley-deRenzo, ending as farm manager, and I quit to try to do this myself. This horse was my first experience going to Kentucky and buying horses. I went to Keeneland with my truck and trailer to buy a yearling or two the last few days because I don't have enough money for the big pedigrees.”
This wasn't a little pedigree, however.
Karakontie had won the Prix Jean Luc Lagardere-Grand Criterium at 2, then the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) at 3, and finished his season with victory at the 2014 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. The handsome bay's 4-year-old season had gone sideways, but the well-bred and very well-performed horse entered stud in Kentucky at Antony Beck's Gainesway Farm in 2016.
And Sole Volante is from Karakontie's first crop. Arenas said, “I really like the freshmen sires, and I really liked this yearling. He looked like the stallion. When he went to the ring, I started bidding, and he brought only $6,000. I was so happy to get him.
“We brought him back to Ocala and turned him out. He was very smart, and I really liked him because of his conformation, his attitude. I did an entry for the April sale, but they told me the price was too low. Then I told them this was a really nice horse, and the man at OBS called me back in 10 minutes and let me in. This was my only horse in the sale.”
Clearly, volume isn't everything. But the colt was also the sole focus of his owner-consignor's attention. Arenas said, “I was so careful with this horse, I didn't want to hurt him because this was my only chance with this horse, and when we breezed the horse, he went in :10 2/5, and we were happy. Everything was good, vet clean, and we were hoping that he would bring a little more money, but we did all the work; so we made a little money with him.
“We saw that Patrick Biancone bought him. He had looked at the horse a couple of times, and then he came back to the barn with his daughter and said that he bought the horse for her. That was so nice.”
Now, Sole Volante is a classic prospect, and despite not being a financial homerun, he is the kind of advertising that a young business cannot buy. “I feel happy because we are part of this process,” Arenas said. “He has the potential to one of the real contenders for the Kentucky Derby.”
This is the second consecutive year that the Niarchos family's Flaxman Holdings has bred a racer who has found success on the Triple Crown trail here in the States. Last year, it was the War Front colt War of Will, who won the Risen Star and Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds, then won the Preakness in mid-May.
War of Will had been a notably more expensive purchase from Flaxman, but Sole Volante's is an excellent family that has had notable updates in the last year. At the time of sale at Keeneland, the gelding's page showed no black type under his dam. Now the daughter of Kingmambo is the dam of two graded stakes winners and a stakes-placed horse.
Sole Volante's half-brother, the Trappe Shot gelding Explode, won the Ascot Graduation Stakes less than two weeks after Sole Volante sold at Keeneland, then won the G3 Canadian Derby in August 2019. Their sibling Light of Joy (Kitten's Joy) was second in the listed Galtres Stakes at York shortly before the 2018 Keeneland September sale, where Sole Volante went to auction.
This is one of the really good Flaxman families, with major winners in each generation. The second dam of Sole Volante is the Shirley Heights mare Lingerie, the dam of G1 winners Shiva (Hector Protector), winner of the Tattersalls Gold Cup; and Light Blow's full sister Light Shift (Kingmambo), winner of the Oaks at Epsom.
The third dam is Northern Trick (Northern Dancer), the top filly of her 3-year-old year in France, when she was a winner in four of her six starts, including the G1 Prix Vermeille and Prix de Diane, and second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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