The first criterion in selecting a prospective racehorse is “Does this look like an athlete?”
If athleticism and its components – quickness, strength, attitude, and a sort of physical finesse – aren't present in an individual, then it's useless to look further.
Those qualities were most emphatically present in the bright-eyed and purposeful bay colt later named Firing Line (by Line of David) at last year's Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training.
Firing Line wasn't the biggest colt at the April sale, and he still looks like a dormouse when side-by-side with the towering Dortmund (Big Brown). But this colt can really run, and he has pushed Dortmund as hard as anybody. In both the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity and the G2 Robert Lewis Stakes, Firing Line was only a head behind the brawny chestnut who is one of the contenders for the classics.
In the Lewis, they were 21 ½ lengths ahead of the third-place horse, and if this pair's eminence in regard to their contemporaries was somehow overlooked, Firing Line went east to Sunland Park in New Mexico and won its Derby on Sunday by 14 ¼ lengths. There, the colt showed the speed and stamina to rock along on the lead through fractions of :22.33, 45.39, 1:09.12, 1:34.70, and 1:47.39. Those fractions were hotly contested, including the half, when Firing Line was a head behind.
And when the Sunland Derby competition began to wilt after the third and fourth fractions, Firing Line kept up his steady tempo, despite slowing to a :25.58 fourth quarter.
We saw his speed at the April sale last year, and it was especially appealing to see the neat bay fly through a quarter-mile work in :20 1/5 with a stride length of 24.5 feet. But the impressive things were the more subtle elements that go into stride analysis. The colt's efficiency, sequence and timing, as well as his internal coefficients and angulations were spot on.
That kind of work attracted the right kind of buyers, and Firing Line lit up the sales ring with a purchase price of $240,000, as Ben McElroy signed the ticket to acquire Firing Line for Arnold Zetcher LLC, which races the colt.
Firing Line has always been a standout, as attested by his prices of $65,000 as a weanling at Keeneland November in 2012 and $150,000 as a Fasig-Tipton July yearling in 2013. GMEN Racing bought the colt as a weanling, then Bradley Thoroughbreds picked him up as a yearling and put him in the capable hands of Eddie Woods, who consigned Firing Line at Keeneland.
Using the sale ring as a measure of physical appeal and individual demand, Firing Line brought the highest price for a yearling by his sire and the second-highest price for a 2-year-old.
Both are indications of how nice Firing Line truly has been all his life, but they also tell us something important about the assessment of athleticism by the commercial marketplace. At the higher level, there are so many good judges of potential performers that even youngsters who don't attract great attention with their pedigrees nonetheless are in great demand.
And Firing Line's pedigree was short of commercial appeal, until inspectors saw the colt.
From the first crop by Arkansas Derby winner Line of David (Lion Heart), this is a branch of Northern Dancer through Storm Cat and his son Tale of the Cat. Winner of his last three races before the Kentucky Derby – a maiden, allowance, and the Arkansas Derby – Line of David finished 18th in the Derby and never raced again.
By the time Line of David entered stud at Spendthrift Farm the following spring, he was nearly a forgotten horse. Some breeders, however, liked what they saw in the mid-size chestnut and have supported him. But in these days of mega-books as the norm, Line of David was not attracting the big numbers. His first three crops of foals are reported as 53, 45, and 33, which are quite conservative among contemporary stallion stats.
With the increasingly solid results from his racers, not just Firing Line but also stakes winner Cross the Line and five stakes-placed horses, Line of David is the leading second-crop sire in the country today. He is available for $3,500 live foal on a stands and nurses contract. That is a guarantee of a large book for Line of David this year.
Rather like the sire, the dam of Firing Line showed class on the racetrack, finishing second in the G1 Vanity and in the G2 Hollywood Oaks. Sister Girl Blues, however, is by the unraced and little-known sire Hold for Gold (Red Ransom), and she was one of his most talented performers.
Now that she has shown what sort of performer she can produce, Sister Girl Blues is going to leading sire Malibu Moon in 2015.
In its history, this is a great female line, going back to fifth dam Kamar, who was a Broodmare of the Year, and the emergence of Firing Line puts a new star in the family constellation.
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.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2020 Paulick Report.