It's been a lifetime—almost literally in the case of this writer—since a horse has won the classic prep Derby Trial, and then returned to triumph in the Kentucky Derby itself. The horse in question was Tim Tam, who achieved the feat in 1958 when the Trial was on the Tuesday before the Derby. Previously the double had been achieved by Dark Star (1953), Hill Gail (1952), Citation (1948), and Black Gold (who took the inaugural running in 1924). Other Derby winners, including Iron Liege (whose victims in the Run For the Roses included Bold Ruler, Round Table, and Gallant Man), and Triple Crown winners Assault and Whirlaway, were beaten in the Derby Trial just days before their classic triumphs.
The Derby Trial was moved to the Saturday before the Derby in 1982, but in an era when trainers prefer to space apart efforts by the stable stars in increments of weeks—not days—the only reason for a Derby hopeful to be in the Trial would be a last-gasp attempt for graded earnings. Not surprisingly, then, Derby Trial starters have made little impact in the Churchill Downs classic of late, although Don't Get Mad managed a fourth on the big day after earning his way into field via the 2005 renewal.
Still, given that the race has been captured in that timespan by Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winners Caveat and Creme Fraiche, champion sprinters Housebuster and Cherokee Run, and subsequent grade I scorers Alydeed, Peaks and Valleys, Richter Scale, Midas Eyes, and Macho Again, it often is worth keeping an eye on the winner with a view to the future.
This year's sloppy renewal of The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (gr. III) lacked a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopeful but may have produced a classic prospect in Hierro, who triumphed at the main expense of another promising young horse in Paynter . Now a winner for the second time in six starts—his previous victory having come in his third outing, a seven-furlong maiden at Churchill Downs last November—Hierro could target the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
An $80,000 RNA at Fasig-Tipton’s 2010 Saratoga select yearling sale, Hierro realized $350,000 when offered at the OBS selected sale of 2-year-olds in training the following year.
Hierro is a member of the first crop of Hard Spun , a member of the contentious 3-year-old crop of 2007 that also included Curlin , Street Sense , Any Given Saturday, and Scat Daddy . Hard Spun didn't butt heads with the leaders of his division at 2 but developed into a promising colt somewhat out of the spotlight, three starts resulting in an 8½-length win in a Delaware Park maiden, a five-lengths score in the Port Penn Stakes at the same track, and a 7¾-length tally in the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Philadephia Park (now Parx).
Hard Spun continued in a similar vein on his debut at 3, taking the LeComte Stakes (gr. III) by 6½ lengths. He failed to fire next time out when fourth to Teuflesberg in the Southwest Stakes, but he rebounded to establish his classic credentials with a decisive win in the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II). Hard Spun made a bold showing in the Derby, leading much of the way, before finishing second to Street Sense with Curlin third. Taking third behind Curlin and Street Sense in the Preakness, Hard Spun appeared to find the 1½ miles of the Belmont Stakes too far, finishing fourth, 11 lengths in arrears of Rags to Riches. Hard Spun was four lengths short of another of that generation’s stars, Any Given Saturday, in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I), although he did deprive Curlin of second by a head.
Dropped back to seven furlongs for the King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I), Hard Spun demonstrated his resilience and courage and gained a well-deserved grade I triumph, fighting back after being headed by First Defence in the stretch and drawing off to score by 1½ lengths. That effort was followed by a gate-to-wire victory over old rival Street Sense in the Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II). Hard Spun closed out his career in the Breeders' Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I), run that year over an atrociously wet Monmouth Park main track, finishing second to Curlin after setting the early pace.
Retired to stand at Darley alongside Street Sense and Any Given Saturday—the result of an unprecedented buying spree—Hard Spun was the final U.S. grade I winner for his sire Danzig, having been conceived when that great son of Northern Dancer was 26 years old. As an individual, Hard Spun has more of the size associated with Turkoman, sire of Hard Spun's dam, the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Turkish Tryst. There are strong classic connections in Hard Spun's second dam, Darbvail, as she is by Epsom Derby hero Roberto and is a half sister to Little Current, who took the Preakness and Belmont in 1974.
Hard Spun lost out to Scat Daddy—who will have two Derby starters this year—for the freshman sire title in a nail-biting finish that came down to the final day the year. He currently sits second to Scat Daddy on the second-crop sire table, but with six individual stakes winners, leads all second-season sires in that category.
Hierro is out of 2001 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (gr. III) runner-up Brief Bliss. She is dam of five other winners, accounting for all of her racing-aged foals. They include Cherokee Triangle, winner of three stakes events, including the listed Sunday Silence Stakes, and runner-up in the Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIT); and the stakes-placed Sam's Bliss (by another Danzig horse, War Front ). Brief Bliss is by Navarone, an Irish River son who did best going long on the turf, his most prestigious victory coming in the Oak Tree Invitational Stakes (gr. IT).
Brief Bliss was the only stakes performer produced by her dam Annul, a winning daughter of Conquistador Cielo and the Lyphard mare Bygones, in turn a half sister to the Engish group III winner At Risk, and to Cuidado, the dam of the Tampa Bay Derby victory Wheelaway. Hierro’s fourth dam, Misgivings, won the Chrysanthemum Handicap (gr. IIIT) and was runner-up in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I). She is one of a number of notable producers sired by the Turn-to horse Cyane out of mares from the family of her dam Instant Sin (a half sister to champion handicap mare Tempted) and granddam Enchanted Eve, their number including Menage a Trois (granddam of grade I-winning millionaire Lazy Slusan); Nimble Folly (whose descendents include Sagitta One Thouseand Guineas (Eng-I) victress Wince and group/grade I winners Contredance, Skimming, Quiff, and Pryka); Lush Pad (granddam of grade I winner King of the Heap); and Turn to Me (who is ancestress of grade I winners Rutherienne and M One Rifle).
Hierro is one of the 10 stakes winners sired by Danzig and his sons out of Irish River-line mares, the best being Australian group I winner Aqua d'Amore.