Haskin's Derby Trail: E Train Rolling Toward Louisville

While many of the leading 3-year-olds were competing in the warm, sunny climes of Florida and Louisiana, a silent assassin was laying low up in the chilly confines of Belmont Park. His name has barely been mentioned in the past few weeks, but he appears to be well armed to do some damage in the Wood Memorial, and if he gets lucky, even more damage on the first Saturday in May. In addition to showing vast improvement with each start, running a super race in his stakes debut, he has an impeccable pedigree, tracing to one of the potent female families of the past century.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the horse in question is ELNAAWI. This is not to imply that he is going to knock off Verrazano and Vyjack, or even Normandy Invasion, but let’s just say nothing would come as a surprise with this colt, who is improving dramatically with each start. It would, however, be a surprise if he doesn’t run a huge race.

Owned by Shadwell Stable and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Elnaawi broke his maiden in his second career start going a mile in the mud, while breaking from post 9 and going four-wide into the first turn. Despite stiff early fractions of :23 and :46 3/5, he made a very early move on the backstretch and quickly opened a clear lead. In the stretch, he turned back a serious challenge from Revocation and was drawing away at the wire to win by four lengths. Finishing a well-beaten third was stablemate Incognito, who would come back to break his maiden impressively by 3 1/4 lengths.

McLaughlin entered Elnaawi a month later in an allowance race, but the card was canceled due to bad weather, so the colt had to go into the Gotham off only two career starts instead of three and  a two-month layoff instead of a one-month layoff.

Soon after the start of the Gotham, West Hills Giant, wearing blinkers for the first time, angled sharply to the inside, putting Elnaawi in a tight squeeze, causing him steady. He was swung to the outside by Channing Hill, getting caught four-wide going into the first turn. He continued four-wide around the turn and six-wide down the backstretch. He put in a good run on the far turn, but was fanned six-wide turning for home.

He closed steadily through the stretch, but when Vyjack came charging up alongside, he began drifting in, and once clear, continued to drift across Elnaawi’s path, causing him to again swing to the outside, where he put in another good run to finish third, galloping out very strong. A foul claim against the rider of West Hills Giant was not allowed, although he definitely put Elnaawi in tight quarters and forced him to steadily briefly.

What made this performance even more impressive, in addition to having only two starts and missing a race, is the fact that Elnaawi is a May 15 foal, so he wasn’t even close to actually turning 3.

He now has this race under him; he’s learned to deal with adversity; he returns to Aqueduct’s main track, where he should appreciate the bigger turns; and he gets Eddie Castro, who replaces Hill.

And now for this colt’s pedigree. He is by Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, who has also sired Unlimited Budget this year. His dam, Pilfer, is a half-sister to Cotillion winner India, and Pilfer’s broodmare sire is Miswaki, sire of Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Black Tie Affair, as well as Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea, who is the dam of European Horses of the Year Galileo and Sea the Stars.

But it is Elnaawi’s tail-female family that is a knockout. His third dam, Java Moon, is by Graustark, out of Golden Trail, which represents a good portion of the foundation of Darby Dan Farm. Golden Trail was purchased from Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane’s famed Brookmeade Stable.

Golden Trail’s record as a broodmare was nothing short of sensational. She produced GLEAMING LIGHT, winner of the Dwyer Stakes; JAVA MOON, winner of the Comely Stakes; KELLEY’S DAY, third in the Gazelle and the dam of Brian’s Time, who won the Florida Derby, Pegasus, and Jim Dandy and placed in the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers and who would become a top sire in Japan, his best son being Triple Crown winner Narita Brian; ON THE TRAIL, the dam of Saratoga seven-furlong track-record holder (1:20 1/5) Darby Creek Road, winner of the Sword Dancer, Hill Prince, and Saratoga Special and placed in the Belmont Stakes (behind Affirmed and Alydar), Wood Memorial, Champagne, Dwyer, Peter Pan, and Cowdin; and Andover way, who won the grade I Top Flight and four other stakes and is the dam of stakes winner and leading sire Dynaformer (sire of Barbaro) and Black Speck, the dam of this year’s UAE Derby winner Lines of Battle; SYLVAN PLACE, who was second in the Florida Derby and Ohio Derby; and OUTWARD SUNSHINE, the dam of Sunshine Forever, winner of the D.C. International, Turf Classic, Man o’War Stakes and placed in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and Arlington Million. On the Trail also produced the stakes-winning Regal Road, who is the granddam of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.

On top of all that, Elnaawi is a half-brother to To Honor and Serve, winner of the Cigar Mile, Woodwatrd, Pennsylvania Derby, and Remsen.

Elnaawi has His Majesty in his sire’s family as great-grandsire of Street Sense. and Graustark in his female family, which gives him 5x6 inbreeding to Ribot. His third dam, Our Tina Marie, a daughter of Java Moon, is by Nijinsky II, giving Elnaawi three doses of Northern Dancer through Nijinsky, Vice Regent, and Dixieland Band.

As for McLaughlin’s other 3-year-olds, Incognito will run next in the Illinois Derby, which he could use as a prep for the either the Preakness or Belmont, and Transparent will run in an allowance at Aqueduct. He, too, could be a Belmont Stakes horse.

Battle lines are drawn

Another traveling on the Golden Trail to Louisville is UAE Derby winner Lines of Battle, who, like Elnaawi, traces to Golden Trail, only one generation closer. Lines of Battle is by War Front, out of Black Speck, who is by Arch, out of Andover Way, making his dam a half-sister to Dynaformer.

Although his time in the UAE Derby was extremely slow for 1 3/16 miles, he should get a great deal of fitness and bottom from the race, and I loved the way he found another gear late and was drawing clear of the runner-up after being challenged from the inside. Of all the horses O’Brien has sent to Churchill, this colt looks to have the best shot of making his presence felt.

As mentioned, his female family is dynamite and is it loaded with dirt influences. Don’t overlook this colt. He made a handsome presence in Dubai and carries himself like a good horse.

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