Few people, if any, reading this column will have any clue who Lucky Spell is and can only wonder what is behind the bizarre headline above.
After all, how is a California-bred filly, who died in 2005, the star of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic?
As a racehorse, Lucky Spell was a tough, hard-knocking filly who won or placed in 15 stakes, with victories in the Las Palmas, Las Flores, and Princess Stakes among her five stakes scores for trainer Henry Moreno.
To show how resilient she was, the daughter of Lucky Mel made 69 starts in her career and when she died of a heart attack at Magali Farms near Santa Ynez, she was 34 years old.
As a broodmare, Lucky Spell was pretty mediocre at best, producing 14 foals, 12 of whom made it to the races. But only one earned over $100,000 and that was Goldspell, who earned $186,010.
But two of those foals would go on to make a tremendous impact on this year’s BC Classic.
In 1983, Lucky Spell produced a Caro filly named Trolley Song, who would win only one of seven starts for earnings of $29,000. Nine years later, Lucky Spell produced a filly by Caro’s son Cozzene named Lucky Soph, who would win only one of six starts for earnings of $9,000.
To finally get to the punchline, these two three-quarter sisters out of Lucky Spell, born nine years apart, would produce the sires of California Chrome and Arrogate, the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked horses in the world and the two standout favorites for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Lucky Soph is the dam of California Chrome’s sire Lucky Pulpit, and Trolley Song is the dam of Arrogate’s sire Unbridled’s Song.
To also demonstrate how close the bloodlines are, California Chrome’s broodmare sire, Not For Love, is by Mr. Prospector, while Arrogate’s broodmare sire, Distorted Humor, is by Mr. Propector’s son Forty Niner. In addition, both horses share Danzig in their fourth generation female family. And their dams are both inbred to Northern Dancer.
What makes this connection through Lucky Spell all the more remarkable is that Lucky Pulpit, who won 3 of 22 starts with his only stakes victory coming at five furlongs at Arlington Park, stood in California for a meager $2,500, while Unbridled’s Song was a multiple grade I winner, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and was one of the most sought after stallions in the country.
But history has brought these two grandsons of Lucky Spell together and the result is California Chrome and Arrogate, who now stand in each other’s way for the richest prize in America.
Trainer Phil D’Amato has figured out a way to plan his Breeders’ Cup strategy, regarding in which races to run his horses. Simply let the Breeders’ Cup selection committee make the decision for him. D’Amato pre-entered three legitimate contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, all with a first preference, and pre-entered them in other races as well, with second preferences. All three horses – Midnight Storm, Vyjack, and Obviously – deserve to be in the Mile, but the committee decided to split them all up by putting Vyjack, coming off a record-equaling victory in Santa Anita’s main Breeders’ Cup prep for the Mile, and Obviously, who has run in the Mile the past four years and a grade III winner at Belmont this year, well down on the also-eligible list, forcing D’Amato to run them in the Dirt Mile and Turf Sprint, respectively. With Midnight Storm, they had no choice, as the horse captured a “Win and You’re In” event and automatically made it into the starting field.
It also worked out very well for Breeders’ Cup, because without Vyjack, there was a good chance the Dirt Mile would have only a seven-horse field, a stunningly low figure for a race usually considered one of the most contentious and wide-open of all the Breeders’ Cup races. So, D’Amato is off the hook as far as running his horses in the best race.
In the end, Dortmund looks to be very tough in the Dirt Mile, but I actually feel Vyjack is going to run a huge race and could pull off the upset. People may have forgotten his Kelso Handicap score in 1:34, but as we all know a two-turn mile at Santa Anita is pretty much equivalent to a mile and 70-yard or 1 1/16-mile race, and the only two times Vyjack raced at those distances he won the grade II Jerome Stakes and grade III Gotham Stakes, so he’s been very effective at a mile and as close to a two-turn mile as you can get. So, even though he should be in the Mile, his best shot looks to be in the Dirt Mile, and he’s got my bet.
One of the main surprises was the placement of the Filly and Mare Sprint two races before the Classic, an odd race to be run as one of the lead-ins to the big event, considering there is no big name and with the top-class Curalina pre-entered with a first preference for the Distaff, even though she could very well be the favorite in the Filly and Mare Sprint.
Breeders’ Cup had moved the Mile to the race prior to the Classic several years ago because of the presence of Horse of the Year Wise Dan. The Turf returned to its usual spot last year, with Golden Horn the main attraction, but this year, the Mile was again made the “co-feature,” even though its star attraction, Tepin, is coming off a defeat and the race now looks more wide-open with a huge overflow field pre-entered. But this move certainly is understandable, considering Flintshire also is coming off a defeat and Tepin still is a major attraction, combined with the race drawing four other top-class fillies from the U.S, and Europe in Miss Temple City, Alice Springs, Sceptre, and Photo Call.
But with many people tuning in late to watch the Classic, why not preview next year’s Kentucky Derby horses and run the Juvenile as the 10th race instead of the Filly and Mare Sprint and use that as a lead-in to the Classic, especially with so many Kentucky Derby-type horses running this year who seem to have the class and the pedigree to be legitimate classic horses.
Can anyone imagine the Breeders’ Cup without Aidan O’Brien? Where would the European contingent be without the Ballydoyle horses? With the vast majority of European horses already finished racing for the year, O’Brien has somehow managed to pre-enter an amazing 12 horses to this year’s Breeders’ Cup, including his 14th attempt at the Classic, once again stepping way out of the box by running his filly Found, winner of last year’s BC Turf and this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Found’s sire, Galileo, who was one of the major stars O’Brien sent over for the Classic, has a number of excellent chances to sire a Breeders’ Cup winner this year, being represented by Highland Reel in the Turf, Alice Springs in the Mile, Seventh Heaven and Pretty Perfect in the Filly & Mare Turf, and Hydrangea in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Arlington Million winner Mondialiste, is another son of Galileo heading for the Turf. And another of O’Brien’s beaten horses in the Classic, Giant’s Causeway, is the sire of Not This Time, who will be favorite or second choice in the Juvenile.