here to learn more about the book. – Ray Paulick
By Edwin Anthony
DUNKIRK (Unbridled's Song — Secret Status, by A.P. Indy)
America has always been preoccupied with “winners,” so much so that an Olympic silver-medalist might be considered lucky to be welcomed home with a parade, much less expect to see his or her smiling face appear on the cover of a Wheaties box. It's certainly the same story in racing Thoroughbreds, where a horse that runs a credible or even a close second in an important race is basically relegated to “also-ran” status. Racing historians know better this time of year.Despite their G1 status, races like the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass, and other key races like the Arkansas Derby and Louisiana Derby are indeed PREP races for the Triple Crown. The history books are full of cases in which horses run a solid second in one of these races and either win the Derby or become the dominant horse in the Triple Crown altogether. You never know what tricks a canny and experienced trainer might have up their sleeves or how tightly wound their horses are for these races. One should never mistake the fact that their eyes are focused intently on the prizes that await in May and June, with training schedules and races planned months in advance to arrive in peak form the week of the Kentucky Derby.
Secretariat had a piece of straw infecting his cheek, causing him to run a dull race in the Wood Memorial. Of course, he went on win the 1973 Triple Crown, setting a track record in each race. Thunder Gulch and Swale had been the best horses in Florida in their respective years, but each ran a terrible race at Keeneland and were somewhat discounted, although both went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont and be named champion 3-year-old colt. Other horses like Real Quiet (second, Santa Anita Derby), Funny Cide (second, Wood Memorial), Go for Gin (second, Wood Memorial), and Silver Charm (second, Santa Anita Derby), didn't really need an excuse. These entrants had run very respectable prep races and perhaps didn't have the right pace scenario or weren't quite fit enough to get the job done on the day in question. But they did prove to be the best horses when experience mattered and the distance questions asked became a true test of stamina.
Each horse we discuss in this column certainly has its strengths and weaknesses. Any vulnerability is likely to be exposed in a big field, where horses are certain to get bumped, checked, or cut off. And if a horse is speedy enough to draw clear of the melee of runners traveling with the pack and run with the pacemakers, they are not likely to have a relaxing time “on the engine,” either. The ideal horse for the classics has some tactical ability and is not bothered by the roaring crowds or the excitement of running through a rain-shower of dirt clods. In fact, all that is really required, assuming they have the quality to get the job done, is for them to run their “A” race. Most horses simply can't handle the competitive nature of the occasion or don't get the distance. In the end, it's the horses that are able to simply maintain a steady, forward momentum that win the day. In Europe, the best classic horses are called “stayers,” as they gallop at a continuous clip to the wire, outlasting their peers.
Most fans are used to seeing their favorite 3-year-olds display visually-impressive, explosive moves to win prep races and expect to see similar efforts in the Triple Crown races. That is a bit like comparing a 440-yard dash at a track meet to perhaps an 880-yard race. A half-mile race (880-yards) for humans is an exhausting event, as it is too short of a race to settle into a relaxing pace and too long for true sprinters to maintain their unrelenting pace. It is the same with horses, where equine athletes built to go six to nine furlongs simply can't stretch their abilities effectively beyond that distance. Their muscle structure and physical limitations simply won't allow them to.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have horses like DUNKIRK (click
here for his pedigree), who are bred to excel at classic distances. Their form is supposed to improve as the distances get longer, as they don't really lengthen their stride until the first mile of a race has already been run. Many fans have difficultly envisioning the running of a classic race unfolding, expecting to see a re-run of what happened in the prep races. The factors that they discount in the process are numerous: 1) Horses become more fit and can be expected to deliver improved efforts/peak performance in the races that their trainers have been pointing for; 2) The distances have increased substantially, changing the landscape and tactics of the challenge at hand; 3) The best horses from each region of the country and even other countries are meeting to decide who the best horses are — many horses are simply outclassed at this level; 4) Horses with no dirt track experience or that don't show an affinity for the track in question (Churchill, Pimlico, Belmont) are at a distinct disadvantage, etc.There is little doubt that Dunkirk should be able to get the 1 ¼ miles of the Kentucky Derby. I've never been a particularly big fan of his sire, Unbridled's Song, as his progeny are brilliant but not particularly sound animals—and a horse needs to be sound to carry the weight and get the distance in the Triple Crown events. Despite public opinion (especially at the yearling sales), I don't think that Unbridled's Song has really proven to be a good source of classic runners. While he is a son of Unbridled (an undeniable classic influence), the best runners by Unbridled's Song have prospered more in the mile to 1 1/8-mile (nine-furlong) range. Perhaps his better runners simply don't hang around long enough to run in the classic races, but the proof is in the results, or lack of results.
Dunkirk did not race at 2, and that is a piece of history that he would have to make if he were to win the Derby. As things stand, he may not even have enough graded stakes earnings to make it into the starting gate, although I think that might be a shame, as he looks to have the class and stamina, if not the experience, to have an impact on the classics.
Dunkirk's dam, Secret Status, won the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Mother Goose (G1), both of which are considered filly classics. Since she also placed in both the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1, third) and Alabama (G1, second), there seems little doubt that she was the best “staying” filly of her crop in America. Secret Status is a daughter of A.P. Indy, who was not only able to stay the distance (Belmont/Breeders' Cup Classic winner) but has been a consistent sire of classic-distance runners. Likewise, the dam of Secret Status was sired by the tremendous classic influence Alydar — sire of Kentucky Derby winners Alysheba and Strike the Gold, as well as Belmont winner Easy Goer. Alydar's name is also found in the pedigrees of Preakness/Belmont winner Point Given, filly classic winners Lakeway (Mother Goose) and Ajina (Coaching Club American Oaks, Mother Goose), Travers (G1) winner Colonel John and Alabama (G1) winner November Snow.
The Mr. Prospector/Alydar combination found in the pedigree of Dunkirk is also seen in the lineage of Point Given (Horse of the Year), Anees (champion 2-year-old colt), Pine Island (Alabama), and at least 10 other G1 winners. I am also a big advocate of combining the similarly-bred stallions Unbridled and Quiet American with Seattle Slew and his son A.P. Indy in pedigrees. Examples of this combination include Bernardini (Preakness, champion 3-year-old colt), Midshipman (champion 2-year-old colt), Country Star (G1), First Defence (G1), Sky Diva (G1), and Tapit (G1, sire of G1 winners).
With two impressive wins at Gulfstream and a very solid second in the Florida Derby (G1) to his credit, I believe that Dunkirk has the class to impact the running of this year's Triple Crown races. I also believe the distance of those races should be well within his scope. But the lack of experience and lack of demonstrated soundness we see in his three past performances makes one wonder if he's the super-horse that Big Brown nearly proved to be last year (coming into the Derby off of only three starts). The fact that Dunkirk's mother was a classic winner by A.P. Indy with a dam by Alydar may be enough to stack the cards in his favor. Let's hope for entertainment's sake (and that of the sport) that he's a late bloomer, with the ability to substantiate his $3.7 million price tag and prove Unbridled's Song to be a classic sire after all. We don't need horses like Dunkirk standing on the sidelines.
Edwin Anthony was the staff pedigree consultant at Three Chimneys Farm for six years and has penned dozens of articles on pedigree research. He recently authored the reference book, The American Thoroughbred (Volume I). Click
here to learn more and order your copy today
Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report
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