Power Plays - By Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the May 5, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds  

By Evan Hammonds Stallion managers pop a few buttons with pride if one of their sires comes up with the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) or Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner. This coming weekend two sires have the potential to win-win their way to the top of the sire list with a double. One would prove to be an “a-ha” moment; the other perhaps an “uh-oh.”

Brereton Jones, master of Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky., stands Proud Citizen, a son of Gone West who ran second to War Emblem in the 2002 Run for the Roses. Proud Citizen is the sire of Derby hopeful Went the Day Well, and Jones is the breeder and owner of Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) winner Believe You Can, a strong contender in the May 4 Kentucky Oaks. Proud Citizen has stood at Airdrie throughout his stud career that began in 2004.

Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Empire Maker, who ran second to Funny Cide in the 2003 Derby and spoiled that one’s bid for the Triple Crown five weeks later in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), figures to have the strongest hand to win a pair. In the Oaks, Empire Maker will likely be represented by Grace Hall, a 6 1/2-length winner of the Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II). Bodemeister, the 91?2-length winner of the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and likely first or second choice in the Run for the Roses, is a son of Empire Maker trained by three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert.

Empire Maker, by 1990 Derby winner Unbridled out of the blue hen Toussaud, began his stud career at Juddmonte Farm near Lexington in 2004 for a $100,000 fee. After six seasons at stud, he was sold to the Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan in November 2010.

The early May double play has happened for only two sires since World War II and not in the last 44 years. Calumet Farm’s Bull Lea had an Oaks/Derby double with homebreds Real Delight and Hill Gail in 1952, while Alfred Vanderbilt’s Native Dancer, who stood at Sagamore Farm in Maryland, sired 1966 Oaks/Derby winners Native Street and Kauai King. Native Dancer also finished second in the Derby.

Here are a few points to ponder while we wait for post time:

• In the late 1990s Sheikh Mohammed vowed to one day win the Kentucky Derby while sending the horse from his training center in Dubai. China Visit and Curule ran sixth and seventh in the 2000 Kentucky Derby after running one, three, respectively, in the UAE Derby at Nad Al Sheba.

It’s ironic that in this year’s Kentucky Derby, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing’s outfit may be represented by Alpha, who has trained in Florida and raced exclusively in New York this winter and early spring, while the Coolmore contingent—Darley’s main competitor for stallions and stallion prospects around the globe—will send Daddy Long Legs to Louisville off a victory in his lone start this year, a win in the UAE Derby Sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (UAE-II) at Meydan.
• Since World War II there have been 18 unbeaten horses to run in the Derby—from Coaltown (1948) to Big Brown (2008). Five have won: Majestic Prince (1969); Seattle Slew (’77), Smarty Jones (2004), Barbaro (’06), and Big Brown. All except Barbaro went on to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Seattle Slew remains the only undefeated Triple Crown winner in history.

WinStar Farm’s Gemologist is five-for-five to date with a pair of two-turn wins over Churchill’s main track in his back pocket from last year. The son of Tiznow will be the 19th unbeaten Derby contender, but figures to be anywhere from third to fifth choice on May 5.

• Hansen, last year’s 2-year-old male champion, appears to have a big shot in the Derby despite the “Breeders’ Cup jinx.” In the first 27 runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), only one, Street Sense, has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby the following year. That’s a paltry 3.7% strike rate…but let’s try to look at it from a different angle.

Hansen could join Street Sense as the only Derby winners to have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when it was hosted at Churchill Downs. Considering Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners Is It True (1988), Macho Uno (2000), and Uncle Mo (’10) didn’t start in the Derby, a win by Hansen would make the Churchill Breeders’ Cup/Kentucky Derby strike rate 40% (two of five of the combo)…a sizable percentage play.

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