Some Dirt on Mr Speaker

Shug McGaughey threw everyone a bit of a curve when he stated that his grass star Mr Speaker was being considered for the Travers Stakes. Now why would McGaughey think that a horse who has won three of his last five starts on grass, including stakes scores in the Belmont Derby Invitational and Dania Beach and a fast-closing second in the Palm Beach Stakes would be up to such a task, especially considering his only start on dirt resulted in a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes?

Because, to put it bluntly, McGaughey ain’t no dummy and has never made it a practice to take wild chances.

Mr Speaker did win his only start on Polytrack, taking the grade II Coolmore Lexington Stakes by four lengths. But that would seem to bode more for him being a grass horse than a dirt horse. But it could simply mean he’s a very good horse when he gets the right set of circumstances.

So, here’s the kicker. Mr Speaker could very well be a live longshot in the Travers, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

First off, Mr Speaker has already won at 1 1/4 miles, and the only Travers horse who has won going that far is Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist.

Second, and the most important reason of all, Mr Speaker is not bred to be a grass horse, and, frankly, it’s a bit of an enigma that he excelled on turf and run poorly on dirt. But we’ll come to that one black eye shortly.

Mr Speaker’s sire, Pulpit, says dirt, as does his broodmare sire, Unbridled. If you were around in 1967 and ’68, you are well aware that the Murderer’s Row during those years were Damascus, Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, and In Reality. All four of these extraordinary dirt horses are in the pedigree of Mr Speaker’s dam Salute, whose two stakes placings were in the Demoiselle Stakes and Tempted Stakes, both on dirt. Salute’s dam is the undefeated Hall of Famer Personal Ensign, who was strictly a dirt horse, as was Personal Ensign’s sire Private Account and Private Account’s sire and dam, Damascus and Numbered Account.

Mr Speaker is inbred top and bottom to Buckpasser and to Mr. Prospector. To demonstrate just how much dirt there is in the colt’s pedigree, in his first five generations he has seven Preakness winners and seven Belmont winners, not to mention three Kentucky Derby winners and four Woodward Stakes winners.

It is not surprising that he has run well on grass, as Salute traces to Hoist the Flag, who despite being a dirt horse and predominantly a dirt sire, his son Alleged did win two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes. And Hoist the Flag’s sire, Preakiness winner Tom Rolfe, was a major influence in Europe whose son, Run the Gantlet, captured the Washington D.C. International. He also traces to Aristophanes, a multiple stakes winner in England who became the leading sire in Argentina.

And, remember, Dr. Fager did win the United Nations Handicap on grass and Damascus was beaten a nose by future Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Fort Marcy in the Washington D.C. International.

But as a whole, Mr Speaker’s pedigree is top heavy with major dirt influences.

So, why did he run so poorly in the Holy Bull? The inclination here is to throw that race out. Mr Speaker’s best efforts on grass were when he came from 10th, a dozen lengths back, to win the Belmont Derby; from 12th, nearly 13 lengths back, to finish a flying second in the Palm Beach, beaten only a half-length; and from eighth, nearly eight lengths back, to win the Dania Beach.

In the Holy Bull, he broke on top, then pressed a fast pace (:46 3/5 and 1:10 1/5), pulling on near-even terms with the leader around the far turn before tiring. This race at this track simply did not fit his style of running.

Yes, he was close to the pace in the Lexington Stakes, but they crawled the three-quarters in 1:13. When he tried those same tactics in the Pennine Ridge Stakes on grass at Belmont, he again tired to finish fifth as the 4-5 favorite. Because of that effort, he was sent off at a ridiculous 23-1 in the Belmont Derby. Stretching out from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles and dropping way out of it this time, he came flying late to nail down the victory.

It goes against all logic and pedigree analysis to think Mr Speaker cannot run on dirt.  If he can’t, it’s because of something other than his pedigree.

Now, whether he’s good enough to handle the likes of Bayern, Wicked Strong, and Tonalist is another matter, but if you take everything under consideration in addition to his recent :59 3/5 work on the Saratoga main track, there is every indication he can compete with these horses at a huge price. 


Leave a Comment:

Smoking Baby

Just another to add more spice and intrigue to what is already shaping up to be an awesome Travers.  Can't wait.

09 Aug 2014 2:14 PM

Have made $ twice on Mr Speaker, but can't understand why Shug didn't give him every chance to be to be a TC dirt star given his super pedigree. The back and forth grass/dirt seems nutty.

09 Aug 2014 2:15 PM

If he can prove as effective on the dirt, his stud career will be through the roof.

09 Aug 2014 2:19 PM

Great article!I really think Mr Speaker has a nice chance in the Travers!

09 Aug 2014 2:40 PM

Being versatile and winning on turf and dirt is a huge asset to have as he continues his career.  

09 Aug 2014 4:02 PM

Steve, couldn't agree more, and the 23-1 in the Belmont Derby was, well, "manna from heaven."

Bayern should ensure a lively pace - the Travers Stakes couldn't be more eagerly anticipated.

09 Aug 2014 8:10 PM

Great article,  Considering he failed his lone dirt attempt and is fresh off a Graded win on the turf ( in record time) you'd have to believe Shug is a Big Believer. If Bayern gets 47.3 and 1:11.3  without being hounded they"re may all be running for scraps but this is the lone colt with enough talent to challenge.  Tremendous late turn of foot and mentally he just gets "it".  routing for him

09 Aug 2014 8:58 PM
Rachel best 3 yr old filly ever

Steve great article! It's very informative of Mr. Speaker's pedigree concerning dirt influeneces.

Early odds on the Travers:

1. Bayern 4-1

2. Wicked Strong 5/2

3. Tonalist 2-1

4. Mr. Speaker 6-1 to 10-1

I can see with Mr. Speaker running style he can make up ground on a fast pace set by Bayern to hit the board ( maybe win ) can you imagine if he did win this race. Back to back gr.1s turf/dirt. We will have a super star on our hands. Give it a shot Shug! Like you said Steve " Shug ain't no dummy".

09 Aug 2014 9:25 PM

Yes indeed, Mr Speaker belongs in the Travers field based upon pedigree and ability. It is quite likely that notwithstanding his prowess on grass, dirt is his preferred surface and if so, he cannot be ruled out of calculations. However can he motor past the likes of Wicked Strong and Tonalist, not to mention catching the fleetfooted Bayern? It is going to be an interesting race. At the moment, Bayern and Wicked Strong are the principals.

10 Aug 2014 12:33 AM
Pedigree Ann

As Medal Count showed in the Belmont, it may not be so much turf vs. dirt as being on a surface or at a distance that requires more stamina than the typical 9f on an overly-glib dirt course like GP. Real dirt stayers haven't many places to race as 3yos anymore.

10 Aug 2014 5:25 AM

Love this colt. He wasnt ready for a TC campaign. Lucky for him he is with Shug. He will be an awesome 4 year old.

10 Aug 2014 8:01 AM
Rusty Weisner

Steve Haskin,

"Some Dirt on Mr. Speaker"

That's a clever headline.

10 Aug 2014 9:43 AM
Rusty Weisner

Steve Haskin,

Wicked Strong, of course, had some throwout races down at Gulfstream before coming back north.

Is Kid Cruz running?  I'm going to give him a look.  I'm hoping Bayern wins, as I don't like him here and he is bound to take a lot of money if he runs.  

10 Aug 2014 9:47 AM

Thanks, Steve, for sharing these details of his pedigree to help us see how he might possibly fare in the Travers.  It is shaping up to be quite a race!!

10 Aug 2014 11:06 AM

Yes indeed; the pedigree says dirt, and Steve, you provide a valid excuse for Mr Speaker's poor showing on dirt.  My big issue with this colt is his lack of consistency.  Has he ever showed the ability to win back-to-back?  I'll have to look this up, but there is a very good reason he went off at long odds in his last start and paid big to win.  I'd be as worried about the bounce factor as the surface.

10 Aug 2014 12:39 PM

Did not Secretariat win on the turf as well?

10 Aug 2014 2:56 PM

I was very high on Mr. Speaker heading into the Holy Bull. A friend whom I discussed the colt with prior to the HB said he was at Belmont for his debut and was surprised that with his pedigree he was entered in a turf race. In that debut effort he finished 6th to Bobby’s Kitten.  

Despite that 6th place finish on debut, his next start was on the same surface and he won. That victory was followed by a one in the Diana Beach. Then came the experiment in the Holy Bull.

After being close to the pace he stopped like he was hit by a sniper’s bullet. What was his excuse? Was he too close to the pace? A top class dirt colt should be able to sit in that kind of pace and finish. Was it the track? Wicked Strong was in the HB and finished 9th. He followed that effort with a 4th place finish to constitution before heading to NY to win the Wood.

10 Aug 2014 6:25 PM

Why was Mr. Sparker not given another opportunity on dirt after the HB? There were plenty of Derby preps contested at tracks with surfaces far more friendly to his running style. There were a host of dirt races on Belmont Day that he could have entered but was directed to the Belmont Derby a week later.

Wicked Strong won the Jim Dandy on the Saratoga but was 9th & 4th in his 2 efforts on Gulfstream Park dirt surface.  Mr. Speaker did not contest another race at Gulfstream after the HB. However, it reasonable to assume that he would have improved on his 6th place effort as to date he has not run consecutive bad races.

Can Wicked Strong Gulfstream/Saratoga performances be used as a measure to determine Mr. Speaker’s likely effectiveness on the dirt surface at Saratoga? Why not! It’s the only angle available as the only things that have changed are the track and distance.

Despite Mr. Speaker’s dirt pedigree, I am reluctant to trust him on dirt. He contested 4 turf races with 2 victories before his 1st dirt start where he finished 6th. He has contested another 4 turf races with 2 victories since. Will his pending 2nd start on dirt after 4 turf races bring an improved result? History suggest no.

No winner of the last 20 renewals of the Travers made its previous start on turf. In fact no of those 20 winners made multiple stats on turf before the Travers. The number could be significantly great but the winner of the last 20 renewals is good enough a sample.

10 Aug 2014 9:04 PM
Seabiscrateriat O' War

Coldfacts, I think that the reason for his Holy Bull flop was the transition from generally softer turf courses to the rock hard Gulfstream dirt. They likely did not point him to any other dirt Derby preps because the $1.25 mil Belmont Derby was their target, and it was on a surface he was proven at. His Pennine Ridge last place finish was just as bad as his Holy Bull, and so that leads me to believe that being closer to the pace hurt his chances. He also added Lasix after the Holy Bull, it's quite possible he bled in that race. I had him at 23-1 last out, I'm not off the bandwagon just yet. I've been watching him since the Dania Beach.

11 Aug 2014 1:34 PM

Hello Steve ~ I just love reading this one! and the FYI concept....

You mention so many powerful names in this article - Damascus, the undeniable Dr. Fager, Buckpasser,  In Reality, Personal Ensign, etc - it's   like a rushing river that leads us to Mr. Speaker whom without a doubt can "speak-out: very well in this Travers that has been full of surprises many times in the past.  Shug McGaughey is as consistent as he is sharp as they come and knows what he has here and the possible outcome.  Mr. Speaker will be facing Bayern, Wicked Strong and Tonalists but if we reverse this they'll be facing him...on the dirt and in Saratoga.   The "Holy Bull" may have just been that and that is good enough reason to "throw it out" as you say thus there is an excellent chance in this race that he will meet  these  contenders easily- he could be a very versatile - all-around runner as some others have proven to be in the past. I like the option! Shug McGaughey seems to like it too.   Thank you Steve~ for the tips that top the Travers!

12 Aug 2014 12:12 AM

Seabiscrateriat O' War,

Your points are valid. However, the fact still remain that Travers winners have been horses that excel on dirt.

He covered the 10F of the Belmont Derby in 2:01.18. It is unlikely he will be able to record such a time on dirt.

The 10F split for the Belmont was 2:02 and a bit. Wicked Strong was closing best of all. With the blinkers now added he appears to be different animal. Mr. Speaker will not run by horses with tactical speed that can kick in the stretch.

Can he out close Kid Cruz who contested the Jim Dandy on short rest and who will contest the Travers on extended rests?

12 Aug 2014 12:34 AM

"Mr. Speaker will be facing Bayern, Wicked Strong and Tonalists but if we reverse this they'll be facing him...on the dirt and in Saratoga.”

The statement above was extracted from your most recent post. I have chosen to comment on it because it has left me baffled. Why consider a reversal to reflect the fact that Bayern, Wicked Strong and Tonalist will be facing Mr. Speaker when they have superior records?

Bayern two G1 victories and a 3rd place finish in a Derby prep. Mr. Sparker was unplaced in his Derby Prep.

Wicked Strong: Two G1 victories including a G1 Derby prep and the other over the Belmont winner. Two 4th place finish in the two TC races.

Tonalist: One G1 win over leading 3YO California Chrome and a runaway victory in the Peter Pan. He scored a victory and a runner up finish at Gulfstream Park whilst Mr. Speaker was unplaced in his effort there.

Based on the cold facts above it is overwhelmingly clear Mr. Speaker will be meeting some extremely talented dirt horses with far superior records. It therefore translates to him facing them as opposed to them facing him. They also have the surface advantage.

Can Mr. Speaker win the Travers? It thoroughbred racing and anything can happen. However, if history is used as a guide a victory for him is unlikely. He will not be facing a group comprised of late developers. He will be facing some of the top 3YOs in the country on their preferred surface whilst vacating his.

12 Aug 2014 9:30 AM

I love that he's got the amazing mare Personal Ensign up close in his female family and also find it interesting to compare his pedigree to California Chrome's.

12 Aug 2014 4:07 PM


What a treat the Travers is turning into! Shug showing his willingness to venture outside the comfort of the lawn onto tierra firma with his wonderful colt.

From the form of this colt it is obvious he has a tremendous amount of talent.

Mr Speaker will be assured of a pace quick enough that he will find himself in a comfortable spot, able to click off fractions that are suitable to his style.

The time of his Belmont derby was compromised by a "good" rated track, the only other race that day on the inner turf was a maiden race won by Striking Style, in a slower than normal time 1:45.53. The mentioned filly flattered herself with a subsequent second in 100K  allowance race at Saratoga. It does appear Mr Speaker's Belmont derby was accomplished on a giving surface. The very subjective nature of classifying track condition, especially turf, makes comparisons of times difficult at best and since the referenced race of Striking Style was the first on the card, some drying had in all probability taken place in the three or so hours between the compared races.

Mr Speaker's recent breeze on August 2nd was excellent and may have well been a "let's see what we have here". His time, 59.76 was second best of 46 that worked five furlongs that morning. His workout 101.99 two days ago reflects back to his previous work, Shug saw what he needed to see on the 2nd so now some maintenance breezes, keeping him in hand, which will serve him well come Traver's day.  

I'm sure a case could be made for quite a few others expected to enter, but Mr Speaker has the "floor" and Steve has us scratching around in the dirt, digging around for some carrots to feed the rabbit Shug might be pulling out of the hat seems appropriate.

12 Aug 2014 5:04 PM

Certainly we are looking at quite an impressive field and with some very strong past performances at G1 levels and so it is that this Travers will be a race that we have not seen in a while.  One can never be too too sure of the results before it happens in Saratoga - the most likely and the most obvious does not always meet the tough criteria of  the demand of this track - it is not just a country landmark but one of the finest and horsemen's dream of what racing is all about that invites the top of the line and the most unexpected.  Of course the question of "whether he is good enough" remains but "imagine" (ref: Rachel best 3 year old filly ever) - there is still time to do so...

12 Aug 2014 5:21 PM


The first time Mr. Speaker came to my attention was in the Diana Beach. I had never seen or heard of the colt before. I just saw him on the monitor and turned to a friend and said any horse that looks that way cannot lose.

With about 1/2 minute to post a secured a win wage. I then turn to my Racing Form check on the horse that had impressed me so much and realized that it was trained by the great Shug. I said to myself I should have wagered more. I was hooked on him thereafter.

I was very high on him heading into the Holy Bull. The 2013  Holy Bull winner Itmyluckyday had contested the 2013 Diana Beach and finished 4th. His next start was in the Gulfstream Park Derby contested on dirt and he won.

Any reservations I had about Mr. Speaker ability to make the transition from turf to dirt with his dirt pedigree, were dispelled after reviewing Itsmyluckday's record at Gulfstream.

He was never going to win The HB closing from off the pace as the GP strip was is a grave yard for closer. The colt therefore placed itself in an ideal position to win.  The fact that he stopped so rapidly suggested he did not like the surface on which he was running.

I have seen reports of turf horses working brilliantly on dirt. However, those works give a false impression that a particular horse will be proficient on dirt in an actual race. Mr. Speaker's sharp 59 plus work suggest he will not be a back marker. Just as Moreno's 58 plus suggested he would be placed in sent mode. If he is close to the pace similar to the HB, I see no path to victory for him. I am also of the opinion he will not display that closing burst on dirt that he does on turf.

Rarely do horses win graded races on two different surfaces. I am not referring to Synthetic to Turf or vice versa as those two surfaces are sufficiently  similar.

Mr. Speaker is too good a turf horse to be a proficient dirt horse. I hope I am wrong for if he is, it would make the 3YO male category just more intriguing heading into the BCC.

Orb was sired by a son of A P Indy and out of an Unbridle mare. He was all dirt but probably had more turf pedigree than Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker was also sired by a son of A P Indy and is also out of an Unbridle mare. He is all turf with more dirt pedigree than Orb.  That makes his transition from turf to dirt more unlikely. It is unlikely that Shug is going to have two G1 winners on dirt with similar pedigree and opposing racing surface records.

13 Aug 2014 9:24 AM
Forbidden Apple

I received this news last Saturday from within Shug's stable. I've heard that it's a done deal, Mr. Speaker will start in the Travers. Bayern will set a fast pace and with blinkers Wicked Strong will be just behind him. Tonalist was not cranked for the Jim Dandy, he's the horse to beat. With the above mentioned three horses, Mr. Speaker will have more than enough pace to run at. The distance is perfect for him, I'll be looking for him in the winner's circle.

I'm also looking forward to the speed of the Big Beast going up against a stalking Wildcat Red in the King's Bishop.

Mr. Lo Presti, please bring Wise Dan back in the Woodward. He has nothing to prove at 1 mile on turf.

13 Aug 2014 10:29 AM
English Pete

To those of you wanting to forgive Mr Speaker his HB run, I fully agree with you. Forced to adopt a running style that doesn't suit him due the track being no use to his preferred style, he can have a line drawn through that race. Also he is bred to go on dirt.

Mr Speaker's biggest problem - if indeed he does go in the Travers - is the step up in grade. His form is G2 at best (Belmont Derby G1 in name only), and there are several proven G1 horses aiming at this race. He might run on well enough to pick up a piece of the board, especially if the pace is hot, but I can't see him running past all of the proven G1 horses.

13 Aug 2014 11:02 AM

English Pete,

As a big fan of Mr. Speaker I am still struggling to accept the forecast that he can be competitive on dirt despite the positives highlighted by the moderator and many contributors.

Wicked Strong and Medal Count were two colts that were in my Derby Dozen with WS my choice to win. They had sub-par performances at Gulfstream Park but performed much better at other tracks.

Moreno was unsuccessful in 5 attempts to break his maiden in CA and went from gate to wire in his 1st race in NY. He returned to CA to contest the BCC and finished 11th of 12.

I guess surface does play a role in performance.

How many turf proficient horses win on the Saratoga dirt? I have no records but I doubt there have been many. Is the dirt surface at Saratoga friendly to turf horses? His trainer is one of the best in the business and I have never seen him campaign a horse on turf that was capable of winning on dirt at the highest level. This is an unknown area for him There must be some salient reason why this colt has been primarily restricted to turf.

The colt has contested 9 races to date with his sole effort on dirt unimpressive. He was unusually close to the pace but good horses can adapt and win races. How can anyone be now convinced that he will be competitive on dirt in a G1 race against some of the top 3YOs. If the Travers was being contested at Churchill Downs I would have no reservation as that surface is friendly to turf types.

Mr. Speaker was close to the leaders in the HB. He showed tactical speed then. What can we infer from that effort? Does it mean on dirt he is more into the bridle? I believe he will be similarly close in the Travers and the end result will similar to the HB.

He should have been directed to the either the Secretariat or the Million.

14 Aug 2014 9:22 AM
English Pete

Hi Coldfacts, nice to hear from you. I don't think we're a million miles apart on Mr Speaker for the Travers, though we get there by slightly different routes. For differences, I'd say there must be some salient reason why his trainer (who I agree is of the highest standing) is keen to give the horse a chance on dirt in this grade. I'd also put a line through his Holy Bull run for the reason I stated earlier.

However, as I said I think Mr Speaker is a G2 horse on turf. While I think he'll act on dirt, I don't see why he'd improve for it and I'd expect him to be G2 on that surface as well. I agree that if he runs prominently the end result will be similar as in the HB. I think he'll be held up though, and that he may be good enough to run through beaten horses late on. Having said that, I wouldn't put money on him being held up - it's only what I would do if it were up to me and we'll find out at the weekend.

I also would have aimed him at the Secretariat. It looks a weakish race, and I don't think he could beat Magician and Real Solution in the Million.

By the way, I wholeheartedly agree that surfaces can make a big difference to performance, although I'd hesitate to use Moreno's BCC run as an example as the trainer said the horse went wrong and he did go out like a light after half a mile. All I'm saying with Mr Speaker is that he should act on dirt, but I doubt he'll thrive for it. He may, on the other hand, thrive for the distance if it's a hot pace and perhaps pick up some pieces late on to hit the board. It's possible the distance and pace scenario could outweigh the surface issue in this case. Regardless, I'll be expecting one of the proven G1 dirt horses to win this.

14 Aug 2014 4:51 PM
Forbidden Apple

I keep reading about proven Grade I winners on dirt. Tonalist has a Grade I win in the Belmont. And Wicked Strong has a Grade I win over a suspect group in the Wood. In my opinion Mr. speaker has little to fear.

15 Aug 2014 9:08 AM
English Pete

Forbidden Apple, I don't think so many people have referred to Grade 1 winners, rather we've referred to Grade 1 horses. In other words, those who have proved they can compete - win or not - at the top table. Right now Mr Speaker wouldn't recognise a G1 horse if a they blew by him accompanied by a brass band playing 'Grade 1 horses are here again'.

As always, we'll know more after the race. I think he has plenty to fear, though.

15 Aug 2014 5:15 PM

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