One would think that analyzing the pedigrees for the Belmont Stakes hopefuls would be fairly easy, considering the extreme distance of the race and the lack of true mile and a half horses. It should be pretty obvious who the stayers are and which horses are going into the race on the proverbial wing and a prayer.
But the truth is, many of the leading contenders in this year’s Test of the Champion have pedigrees that are so contradictory, it is difficult to say with any conviction who can and cannot get the distance. The vast majority of horses in the Belmont will never again have to negotiate this distance, and most likely none of them will have to.
Regardless of what most people say, California Chrome, despite his stallion’s paltry stud fee and mare’s undistinguished racing career, has as good a chance to get the mile and a half as anyone.
Many times, it’s not the sire and dam who are responsible for a horse’s distance capabilities or restrictions, but the blood flowing in the generations behind them.
California Chrome’s sire Lucky Pulpit, of course, is by the top-class sire Pulpit, who is a son of Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, who is a son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Lucky Pulpit’s broodmare sire is Cozzene, one of the most versatile stallions of his time, who sired Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Tikannen. Lucky Pulpit’s dam also traces to Prince Blessed, winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup and second in the 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano. Prince Blessed is the sire of Ole Bob Bowers, who sired the great John Henry.
California Chrome’s broodmare sire, Not For Love, is a full-brother to Rhythm, who won the Travers Stakes for Ogden Phipps and was the champion 2-year-old, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
California Chrome’s dam, Love the Chase, is inbred (Rasmussen Factor) 3x3 to the great Hall of Famer Numbered Account, a daughter of Hall of Famer and great classic and stamina influence Buckpasser.
Also in California Chrome’s female family is Sir Ivor, winner of the English Derby and Washington D.C. International; and the powerful stamina influence Vaguely Noble, who won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe by three lengths.
So, there is an abundance of classic and stamina influences on both sides of California Chrome’s pedigree. Combined with his tactical speed, acceleration, and ability to settle behind any kind of pace, it makes him a perfect Belmont Stakes type, especially with his ability to work out a perfect trip for himself.
Let’s move to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness runners-up. Commanding Curve’s running style, long neck and body, and long stride, indicate he should relish the mile and a half, especially the way he closed to finish second in the Derby. But he is one of those in the race whose pedigree is an enigma.
His sire, Master Command, is a son of A.P. Indy who won the Meadowlands Cup and several other graded stakes, out of a mare by Lord at War, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, so no problems with distance there. But his dam, Mother, was trained by Bob Baffert, who said she could not run a step past six furlongs. In her only two-turn try she set the pace and stopped to a walk. And Mother is by Lion Hearted, a pure sprinter who is out of a pure sprinter, Cadillacing. But Cadillacing is a full sister to Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer.
Also, Commanding Curve’s tail-female line traces to top classic and stamina influence Tom Rolfe, a son of Ribot, and to Nodouble, a multiple grade I winner at 1 1/4 miles and one of the toughest horses who ever stepped foot a racetrack.
Commanding Curve also is inbred 5x5 to Buckpasser and 4x4x5 to Secretariat. So, who will be the dominant force on June 7--the stamina influences or the speed influences? Based on his performance in the Derby and his running style, one would presume, unlike the psychiatrist’s line from the movie "Psycho", the “Mother” has not taken over.
Next we come to Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin. Being by Curlin, who was beaten a zap in the Belmont Stakes and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, there is an excellent base to start with.
His dam, Magical Ride, however, was purely a sprinter, whose career tailed off dramatically. Magical Ride is out of Victory Ride, a top-class filly who was effective up to a mile. But once again, there is stamina in the tail-female family through Victory Ride’s sire Seeking the Gold, as well as Flying Paster and especially Youth. Youth was a French-trained distance specialist who captured the Washington D.C. International, Canadian International, French Derby, Prix Lupin, and was third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Ride On Curlin is inbred three times 4x4x5 to Northern Dancer.
So, once again, we have a horse with a good deal of sprinting speed in his female family, but several heavy stamina influences, which, like with Commanding Curve, appear to be the dominant influence.
Just remember, however, that there is a big difference between a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half, especially on a large sweeping track like Belmont. But both colts have running styles to suggest they can get that extra quarter mile, but it’s certainly no guarantee.
The same applies to Tonalist, who is shaping up to be the buzz horse most likely to pull off the upset based on his impressive score in the Peter Pan Stakes and having a race over the track.
Some feel his sire, the red-hot Tapit, is best siring milers to 1 1/8 mile horses, and that has been his strength as a stallion. But a stout female family can compensate for that. His dam, Settling Mist, was not a very good filly, winning only one of 19 starts. But she is by the top classic and stamina influence Pleasant Colony, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness who is by classic and stamina influence His Majesty, a son of Ribot. This also is a superior slop pedigree, which accounted in good part for the colt’s impressive victory in the Peter Pan on a sloppy track.
His third dam, Toll Booth, was Broodmare of the Year in 1991, siring such notable stakes winners as Plugged Nickle, Christiecat, Toll Fee, and Toll Key. Toll Booth is by Buckpasser, out of the Blue Hen producer Missy Baba. Toll Fee, second dam of Tonalist, is by the Round Table stallion Topsider, who is out of Drumtop, one of the greatest distance grass fillies of all time who won eight graded stakes, three against the colts, and set two course records at 1 1/2 miles and one at 1 1/4 miles.
So, regardless of what you may think about Tapit siring a Belmont Stakes winner, you can be sure he will not hinder Tonalist’s chances, based on his powerfully bred female family. It was only two years ago when most everyone said Dixie Union couldn’t sire a Belmont winner, but Union Rags got the job done, thanks to a strong tail-female family.
Another horse who will take a good deal of action is Wicked Strong, based on his victory in the Wood Memorial and strong effort in the Kentucky Derby, despite a troubled trip.
Once again, we have a questionable sire in Hard Spun, a horse with excellent pure speed and tactical speed who was effective up to 1 1/4 miles, finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. By Danzig, out of a Turkoman mare, Hard Spun was bred to carry his speed a distance of ground.
His dam, Moyne Abbey, is by Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic, out of a dam by With Approval, winner of the Canadian Triple Crown and a half-brother to Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold. The tail-female family consists mostly of Fred Hooper-bred sires and dams, and that usually means distances up to 1 1/8 miles, although champion Susan’s Girl, in the fifth generation, could run carry her speed 1 1/4 miles.
So, once again, we have speed and stamina mixed together, and once again, we have a strong closer who has the running style and closing punch to stretch out in distance. How far, we’ll have to wait and find out, just like with Commanding Curve, Ride On Curlin, and Tonalist.
The feeling here is that if one of these four horses runs his peak performance and California Chrome tails off a bit, they have the necessary stamina to get the distance.
Another horse that needs to be mentioned is Commissioner, whose sire A.P. Indy won the Belmont, paternal grandsire Seattle Slew won the Belmont, and broodmare sire Touch Gold won the Belmont. He also has two Triple Crown winners in his first three generations, an English Derby winner in his fourth generation, and he is inbred 4x4 to Buckpasser, 4x5 to Hail to Reason, and his tail-female family traces to Dr. Fager. In short, this is one horse with no concerns getting the mile and a half.
As for Samraat, his pedigree is geared more toward 1 1/8 miles to possibly 1 1/4 miles. He is a five-generation outcross, but there is inbreeding to Ribot in his sixth generation through Tom Rolfe and Irradiate, and he is inbred 5x6 to Hail to Reason.
So, although most of the leading Belmont contenders have conflicting pedigrees, none of them appear to be reaching a long way to get the mile and a half. It should come down the best horse on that day who gets the best trip. I will add additional pedigrees of relevance over the next two weeks.