Derby Family - By Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the May 8, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)    

Kentucky Derby 136 served a bittersweet pill to the owner and employees of Pin Oak Stud. They watched with elation as Super Saver, a bay son of Pin Oak’s star stallion Maria’s Mon, came charging along the rail under Calvin Borel to win the most coveted prize in American racing. The victory elevated Maria’s Mon to an elite class—one of only 19 stallions since 1875 to sire as many as two Kentucky Derby winners.

What delivers the bitter aftertaste is a mourning for what might have been. Maria’s Mon died well before his prime, at the age of 14 in 2007.

“I can’t put into words what it means to us as a farm,” said Clifford Barry, general manager of Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak. “He was a huge part of Pin Oak; a very intelligent horse with lots of quality. He was a horse you could really get attached to. He loved to be around people. You hate to see a horse go at the height of his potential.”

Because of his precocity Abercrombie acquired a half-interest in the powerful gray colt in the fall of his juvenile year from owner/breeder Morton Rosenthal.

“What he did as a 2-year-old was phenomenal because he was really bred to be a good 3-year-old,” Barry said. “He was doing more than his pedigree should have done.” Maria’s Mon was by Glencrest Farm’s homebred Wavering Monarch, who didn’t make his first start until 3. Wavering Monarch’s dam was the Buckpasser mare Uncommitted, who only made three starts at 2.

Maria’s Mon won the Sanford Stakes (gr. I), the Futurity Stakes (gr. I), and ended his juvenile campaign with a victory in the Moet Champagne Stakes (gr. I), in which he beat Unbridled’s Song, Hennessy, and four other horses that later became graded stakes winners. Maria’s Mon was named 2-year-old champion colt for 1995.

A hairline fracture in a cannon bone kept Maria’s Mon out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and he didn’t start again until July of his sophomore year. He managed only two starts that year before he was retired. Though he ultimately commanded a $60,000 fee, Pin Oak stood Maria’s Mon for $7,500 his first four years.

“The breeders really supported him because Mrs. Abercrombie allowed us to price the horse so we could pick and choose the right mares,” Barry said. “We priced him where we thought he would be in his fourth year rather than what we thought he should be for his first year. We try not to allow the price to yo-yo.”

The first crop for Maria’s Mon had the slow start otherwise expected from the offspring of Wavering Monarch, with only one stakes winner his freshman year. Then the dam broke as his first 3-year-olds began to bloom. Among 53 sophomore runners appeared two graded stakes winners, seven stakes winners, and seven stakes-placed runners. The most important winner was Monarchos; Maria’s Mon’s first grade I winner and his first Kentucky Derby winner. Monarchos won by 4 3/4lengths in 1:59 4/5, the second-fastest time in Kentucky Derby history.

Now with Maria’s Mon gone, Monarchos seems the most well-positioned to take advantage of Super Saver’s victory. Monarchos has already made a place in the hearts of the people at Nuckols Farm, where he’s stood since 2008, in the same manner his sire did at Pin Oak. Monarchos is laid back and every bit the ham as was his father, according to Charles “Nucks” Nuckols III, general manager of the family farm. Regarding the impact of the Derby victory, Nuckols stated matter-of-factly, “It has to help.” Truth be told, he said he’s always thought Monarchos was a great value as a stallion, being a Derby winner and sire of a champion (Informed Decision).

“I think people are starting to realize more that these pedigrees work,” Nuckols said. “They are getting away from flashy pedigrees and going toward the proven stallions. It was crazy we got away from that in the first place.”
And even with Monarchos at another stud farm, Barry said he’ll be pulling for his success—just like he pulled for Monarchos and Super Saver in the Derby.

“Losing Maria’s Mon was like losing a piece of the family,” Barry said. “So there is a part of me that wants to see all his horses do well. They’re family.” 

Eric Mitchell is the editorial director of Blood-Horse Publications.

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