The first two classics of the Triple Crown were won by sons of established stallions whose success at this level was actually a garnish to their credentials as sires of great significance in the breed today.
In contrast, the victory of Palace Malice in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes means all the world to the first-crop sire Curlin. A son of the Mr. Prospector stallion Smart Strike, Curlin is a big horse who tends to get stock with size and mass. They also seem to be horses that want time and some distance to show their best form, which is typical of both the progeny of Smart Strike and that stallion's other champion son, English Channel, who got a winner of the Queen's Plate in Canada last year from his first crop to race.
Curlin, Smart Strike, and English Channel all stand at Lane's End Farm outside Versailles, Ky.
Bred in Kentucky by Will Farish, Palace Malice is out of the stakes-winning Royal Anthem mare Palace Rumor. The bay son of Curlin is the seventh winner of the Belmont Stakes sold through Farish's Lane's End Farm sales consignments. The others are Bet Twice, A.P. Indy, Lemon Drop Kid, Thunder Gulch, Jazil, and Rags to Riches. Of those, the first three went to stud at Lane's End, where A.P. Indy has proven to be a sire of great and lasting importance to the breed.
The Belmont Stakes winner is the first graded stakes winner for his sire and only the third stakes winner from the stallion's runners to date. That the colt has improved consistently over the past 10 months of racing bodes well for his sire's prospects for the future, however, and suggests that Curlin, a force of importance in racing around two turns, may supply more performers with distance capacity.
That is an important subset of ability in American racing, where speed rules even more than in most environments of the sport.
And there is no doubt that Palace Malice has speed. The colt came enticingly close to winning the G1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, and he was the unbridled terror who led the Kentucky Derby through the withering fractions that doomed himself and his near competitors as they attempted 10 furlongs for the first time.
Oxbow was one of those cooked in the Derby cauldron, but he bounced back well and won the Preakness over Derby winner Orb and others. Then Palace Malice, with a five-week layoff after the Derby, outfinished both the earlier classic winners through the stretch of the Belmont.
The capacity to stretch out in distance, to carry speed around two turns, and to continue maturing at a rate that maintains a horse at a high rank among his peers are qualities that help to define the premium athletes in each crop, and the first three finishers in the Belmont all hold promise of greater things to come through the rest of the year.
From the first crop of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, Palace Malice is maturing in a pattern similar to that of his famous sire. Curlin was a horse of obvious talent, gifted with speed and impressive strength. In addition to his innate ability, the big chestnut progressed dramatically through the spring of his 3-year-old season, going from maiden winner to classic winner in five months.
A good third in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, Curlin came on after that challenging effort to edge Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in the Preakness. That set the stage for the Belmont, where Curlin progressed again, only to find the newcomer, a filly named Rags to Riches, the narrow victor in the longest classic.
Rags to Riches was the first filly to win the Belmont in 102 years, and she was trained by Todd Pletcher, who also saddled Saturday's classic winner for Dogwood Stable.
In addition to his Preakness success, Curlin continued to progress throughout that year and the next, winning the Breeders' Cup Classic at 3 to become Horse of the Year and divisional champion, honors that he earned again the following season.
After winning the Preakness, Dubai World Cup, Woodward, Stephen Foster, and two runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the robust, rangy chestnut went to stud as a thoroughly proven racehorse who had won 11 of 16 races in two seasons, including seven G1s, and had earned $10,501,800. In type, Curlin resembles his broodmare sire, Deputy Minister, more than his sire Smart Strike or male-line grandsire Mr. Prospector.
As a top stallion prospect of the crop entering stud in 2009, Curlin stood for $65,000 live foal as the breeding and commercial sales world crumbled around breeders and stallion owners internationally.
As a result, yearlings at the sales frequently sold for less than the stud fee they were bred on. That was the case with last year's champion 3-year-old colt, I'll Have Another. The son of the Three Chimneys stallion Flower Alley sold for $11,000 as a yearling after his breeder Harvey Clark had paid $25,000 to breed the mare to the stallion and bring up the young animal to the September sale.
At the same sale a year later, Palace Malice brought only $25,000. That was a massive loss on stud fee and the other costs associated with breeding and raising a young Thoroughbred. But that is fairly typical for the results that Thoroughbred breeders have found in the marketplace through the last several years.
The buyer at the September sale was 2-year-old pinhooker Niall Brennan, who consigned Palace Malice at the 2012 Keeneland April auction of juveniles in training. Brennan said, “Mike Ryan and I picked Palace Malice out for our pinhooking partnership. We both look at all the yearlings and make short lists, and he was one both of us liked because he looked like a really good Smart Strike, smooth and well-grown for a May foal.”
Brennan explained part of the reason behind the low price for such a good-looking prospect. He said, “He had a chip in a hind ankle, and that probably turned some people away, but we never took it out.”
Another knock on the Belmont winner as a yearling was that he was a May foal. Many buyers will not buy a young horse born in May, although the evidence is strong that the birth date doesn't matter.
Neither the birth date nor the old vet issue was a bother to veteran horseman Cot Campbell, who bought the colt for his Dogwood Stable partnership for $200,000 and now has a classic winner on his hands with earnings of $871,135.
Once again, it appears Campbell has caught lightning in a bottle.
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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