by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Frank Mitchell

With his first stakes victory in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday, the Mineshaft colt Fly Down set the stage for a challenge in the classic Belmont Stakes next month.

Although trainer Nick Zito is still evaluating the colt's readiness, the classic-winning trainer did say that “if he rebounds from this, if he's OK, we'll look at the Belmont.”

And while fitness for 12 furlongs and maturity for competing with classic horses are things for the trainer to judge, the pedigree of this colt suggests that the mile and a half Belmont Stakes or a race at a similar distance should be well within his range.

Horse of the Year Mineshaft had one of most consistent distance profiles of any son by Horse of the Year A.P. Indy. Mineshaft was notably immature when young, was given time and racing experience abroad, then really came into his best form at 4 with increasingly impressive performances after a return to the States and dirt racing.

Bred on the highly successful cross of A.P. Indy over mares by Mr. Prospector, Mineshaft combined speed and staying capacity that are essential to success at the highest level in races at a mile or more.

And his son Fly Down has further additions of speed and stamina. His dam, Queen Randi, is by champion juvenile Fly So Free and traces back umpteen generations to the first American-bred mare in the family, Ulrica.

A foal of 1863, Ulrica was by nothing less than the greatest 19th century American sire, Lexington. And Ulrica was a pretty useful representative of the great stallion's offspring. She won the Saratoga Stakes at 2 and, among her other stakes placings, ran second in the 1866 Travers Stakes to Merrill, a son of Lexington.

The offspring of Lexington were competing in the Midsummer Derby at the manly distance of a mile and three-quarters. Furthermore, Lexington sired the first three winners of the Travers, as well as a half-dozen more over the ensuing years.

All this goes to show is that the family of Fly Down has been both a highly accomplished and highly regarded family for a long time.

Yet just a few generations ago, things went sour. Although the sires of the fifth and fourth dams from the 1950s were the good horses Requested (Wood Memorial winner and Preakness second) and Agitator (Nearco horse who won the Sussex and was second in the July Cup), the black-type horses became scarce, and then (horrors!), Fly Down's second dam was bred in Florida.

That was the point where the family made an abrupt turnaround.

The reason for the change of fortunes is simple. The sire of the second dam was Mr. Prospector, who sired Randi's Queen in his second crop, and the young mare became one of her sire's many winners. Randi's Queen won four races in two seasons, and by the time her racing career was over, Mr. Prospector was on his way to becoming one of the great sires in the world and on en route to Kentucky to stand at Claiborne Farm for the rest of his stud career.

The colt who pushed Mr. Prospector over the commercial edge was Conquistador Cielo, also a Florida-bred out of the Bold Commander mare K D Princess. Winner of the Saratoga Special in 1981, when Randi's Queen was completing her racing career, Conquistador Cielo set the seal on his own quality and ability with victories the next year in the Metropolitan Handicap, Dwyer, and Belmont Stakes.

That string of victories also convinced breeders that Mr. Prospector was more than just a sire of very talented sprinter-milers.

Classic quality tells, and when put to stud, Randi's Queen produced three black-type runners, including stakes winner Prince Randi (by Caveat). One of her least successful offspring was Queen Randi, a nonwinner in three starts. But that daughter of Fly So Free has been a revelation as a producer.

The mare has produced three foals who have run very good speed figures, and two are now graded stakes winners. The first of these was the Chief Seattle mare Seafree, whom Eric Reed as agent picked out of the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale for $7,500. Seafree won the La Canada, was second in the Santa Margarita, earned $280,566, and then sold at the Fasig-Tipton November breeding stock sale for $200,000 in 2007.

The following September, Fly Down was an $80,000 yearling for breeders Broadway Thoroughbreds and William S. Farish at the Keeneland yearling sale. Fly Down now has three wins in five starts and earnings of $182,070.

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 a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He 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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