As the 3-year-olds progress toward the classics, one of the factors that comes to the fore is staying capacity. It is one of the primary qualities that separates the classic contenders from the pretenders, along with mental and physical toughness, consistency, and enthusiasm for racing. But especially coming down the long stretch at Churchill Downs after a fast early pace, the ability to stretch out and maintain momentum is essential.
That said, stamina is not a single property or genetic trait but is the result of stride length and efficiency, cardio and conditioning working in harmony.
And horses who possess the proper qualities for maintaining stride and speed over a distance of ground rise to the fore in the classic preps, frequently as their more precocious competitors are found wanting.
As a result, those colts and fillies who show improvement with increasing distances become increasingly valuable, as we saw with the Blame colt Far From Over, who won the Grade 3 Withers last month, and interest in his future prospects became so significant that James Covello and Madaket Stable purchased a quarter-interest in the progressive bay from Black Rock Stables.
Over the weekend, Royal Son (by Tiznow) and Stellar Wind (Curlin) made a case for their prospects in the future classics. Royal Son won the Battaglia Memorial at Turfway while heavily favored The Great War (War Front) bled and finished last. At Santa Anita, Stellar Wind won the G3 Santa Ysabel and boosted her point total for the Kentucky Oaks by 50, making her fourth on that list.
Among the things this trio have in common is that their sires excelled at 10 furlongs. Tiznow has long been one of the most consistent sources of stamina among contemporary sires, and Curlin has made his mark with such performers as Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.
One of the consistent characteristics of most staying horses is their smooth, even effortless, stride rhythm. Many of these horses are not quick out of the gate, but they reach a cruising speed in the early furlongs and then pass their competitors as other horses tire from their exertions.
Hronis Racing LLC owns Stellar Wind, and co-owner Kosta Hronis in a post-race interview noted that the chestnut filly's stride is “so fluid, she just floats over the track. She ran great and I thought her gallop out was very strong.”
The Santa Ysabel was the second victory from three starts for the good-looking filly, and the expectations for her are to contest the Santa Anita Oaks, with the long-term goal being the Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May.
Royal Son has more to overcome on his journey to the Derby because the Battaglia is not a graded stakes, nor a points race for the Kentucky Derby. He will be, however, one of the favorites for Turfway's Spiral Stakes on March 21, which will give the winner 50 points.
Royal Son, moreover, was able to get the lead and dictate a pedestrian pace over the Polytrack at Turfway, and that is a style of racing that works well over synthetic but is very different from Far From Over, who closed like a rocket to win the Withers. Nothing could close on Royal Son, however, and he showed strength and steadiness as he drew away from the competition to win by five and a quarter lengths.
Royal Son is well named, as he is by a Horse of the Year out of a stakes-winning daughter of Horse of the Year A.P. Indy. The latter is one of the most consistent sources of classic stamina in American breeding, and Royal Son's second dam is champion 2-year-old filly Countess Diana.
A.P. Indy is the common factor in these pedigrees, as Stellar Wind is out of a mare by the A.P. Indy stallion Malibu Moon, and the Santa Ysabel second, Light the City, is out of an A.P. Indy mare, and the third filly home is by A.P. Indy's grandson Tapit.
Far From Over is out of a graded stakes-placed mare named Alchemist, and she is a daughter of A.P. Indy. Now unbeaten in two starts, Far From Over has a striking female family, with G1 winner Aldiza (Storm Cat) as his second dam, G2 winner Aishah (Alydar) as his third dam, and the great producer Courtly Dee (Never Bend) as his fourth dam.
And when they turn into the long, lonely stretch at Churchill Downs, it never hurts to have stock like that to help a horse get home.
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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