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On the Road to Greatness?

While others could doubtless offer worthy alternatives, Quality Road (TrueNicks,SRO) impresses us as the most naturally talented U.S. runner we’ve seen since Ghostzapper (TrueNicks,SRO). His latest exploit saw him return from a near four-month break to take the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I). In doing so, he lead throughout, turning back a pair of well-credentialed early challengers – Le Grand Cru and Warrior’s Reward – and then holding off the accomplished Musket Man to score by 1½ lengths, under top-weight. Oh, and the time of 1:33.11 officially equaled the second fastest time in the 111 year history of the race.

This effort earned Quality Road a 114 Beyer, the sixth time in ten starts (and sixth time in seven wins) that he’s recorded a figure of 110 or higher. His best is a lofty 121 earned in his 12¾ length demolition of the Donn Handicap (gr. I) last time out. In that race he eclipsed his own Gulfstream Park nine furlong track record, set in the previous year’s Florida Derby (gr. I). He also set a 6½ furlong track-record at Saratoga when taking the Amsterdam Handicap (gr. II), running 1:13 3/5, after a six furlong split of 1:07 1/5.

The race record of Quality Road’s sire, Elusive Quality (TrueNicks,SRO), has been overshadowed by his subsequent deeds at stud. He never achieved anywhere near as much as Quality Road, but it’s worth recalling that on occasions, Elusive Quality too showed exceptional raw talent. At three he was beaten just a nose in the King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. II) – by Honour and Glory, with Distorted Humor (TrueNicks,SRO) and Gold Fever behind – the winner just appearing to want it more. At four, Elusive Quality set a new track record for seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park, running the distance in 1:20 flat. However, it wasn’t until he switched to the turf at five that Elusive Quality became stakes winner, capturing the seven furlong Jaipur Handicap (gr. III) and the Poker Handicap (gr. III), in a then world record mile time of 1:31.63. Elusive Quality’s sire, Gone West, was another outstanding miler, and has proved capable of siring top-class winners at anywhere from sprint distances to 1½ miles depending on the influence of his mates. Elusive Quality’s dam, Touch of Greatness, never ran but had a blend of attributes in her background. Her sire, Hero’s Honor, won the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. I) at 11 furlongs, but her dam, Ivory Wand, scored her most prestigious victory in the seven furlong Test Stakes (gr. III). Ivory Wand’s sire, Sir Ivor, won an English Derby at 1½ miles, and her dam, Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Natashka, stayed well enough to take the 1¼ miles Alabama Stakes.

Elusive Quality himself has been predominantly an influence for speed at up to a mile, but, somewhat paradoxically, his two most talented runners prior to Quality Road, Smarty Jones (TrueNicks,SRO) and Raven’s Pass recorded their greatest triumphs at 1¼ miles. Elusive Quality’s other notable runners include Champion Sprint Filly Maryfield; Elusive City (TrueNicks,SRO), Champion Two-Year-Old Colt in France, and a classic sire with his first crop; and Camarilla, a grade I winner at two in Australia. This year, Elusive Quality currently sits in third on the Leading Sire table, and has been represented by 11 stakes winners, including in addition to Quality Road, English group winner Elusive Pimpernel, and the record-breaking turf sprint filly West Ocean.

While Quality Road has broken two track-records at nine furlongs, it’s not quite clear whether he can be as effective at a mile and a quarter. His two starts at that distance have both come in the slop. The first, a third in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) came with only a sprint prep, following a four-month layoff. In the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), he pressed the early pace, led through the second and third calls, but eventually succumbed by a length to Summer Bird. From a pedigree standpoint, one would be inclined to argue that Quality Road has more stamina in the distaff side of his pedigree that either Smarty Jones or Raven’s Pass, Elusive Quality’s two ten furlong grade I winners. His dam, Kobla, never won, but she is a sister to Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Ajina, whose victories included the CCA Oaks (gr. I) at 1¼ miles. Strawberry Road, the sire of Kobla and Ajina, was an Australian-bred grandson of Nijinsky II. A Champion at three in his native country, where took several major events at 1½ miles, Strawberry Road, subsequently raced in Europe where he captured the Grosser Preis von Baden (gr. I) at 1½ miles, and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (gr. I) at 12½ furlongs. Sent to the U.S. at the end of his six-year-old season, Strawberry Road took second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I), and the following year won the Arcadia Handicap (gr. II).

Winglet, the dam of Kobla and Ajina, was by Alydar, who of course was second to Affirmed in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Winglet herself won the Princess Stakes (gr. II) at 8½ furlongs, and was second in the La Canada Stakes (gr. II) at nine furlongs. To Theatrical, Winglet produced the good turf colt, Rob’s Spirit, winner of the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) and Saranac Handicap (gr. III). Quality Road’s third dam, Highest Trump, a daughter of Champion Handicap Horse Bold Bidder, was Champion Two-Year-Old in Ireland, and took the Queen Mary Stakes (gr. II) at Royal Ascot. She trained on the following year to take third in the Irish 1,000 Guineas (gr. I). She produced a pair of Irish group three winners by Northern Dancer – Dance Bid and Northern Plain – who both won the Tetrarch Stakes (gr. III), with Dance Bid going on to take third in the Irish Derby (gr. I). Another brother to Dance Bid and Northern Plain, Jugah, was only stakes placed, but subsequently did well as a stallion in Australia, getting 18 stakes winners, including the redoubtable gelding Juggler. Highest Trump’s Nijinsky II daughter, Wasnah, was stakes placed, and is dam of Bahri (by Riverman), the leading three-year-old miler in England in 1995.

One thing that we can say about Quality Road’s pedigree is that it represents one of the best structured that we’ve seen for a while. Starting at the most elementary level, Elusive Quality has crossed very well with Nijinsky II line mares – the cross is rated A++ by TrueNicks. In the center of the pedigree we have a 4 x 5 duplication of Northern Dancer. In Elusive Quality, this is through Hero’s Honor, who is by Northern Dancer out of a mare by Graustark, and if we look at Strawberry Road’s sire, Whiskey Road, we see he is by a son of Northern Dancer, out of a half sister to Graustark. At the top and bottom of the pedigree, we find Gone West and Winglet (granddam of Quality Road). Both are by sons of Raise a Native (Mr. Prospector and Alydar, themselves genetic relatives who combine very well together), and both are out of mares by sons of Bold Ruler who also have Princequillo close up in the dam (Secretariat and Bold Bidder). Gone West and Alydar also give two crosses of the outstanding Calumet mare Two Lea, one through a Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner (Tim Tam) and the other through On-and-On, the sire of a Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner (Forward Pass). Finally, Mr. Prospector and Winglet are also related. Both are from the Raise a Native line, out of Nasrullah line mares, and Mr. Prospector’s third dam, Miss Dogwood, is a three-parts-sister to Duranza, the fourth dam of Winglet (for good measure, Elusive Quality is himself from that same Frizette family as Miss Dogwood and Duranza).

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