This year’s edition of the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) featured a field that was as tough as any yet assembled on this year’s Triple Crown trail, featuring multiple graded stakes winner Buddy's Saint and the ultra-consistent Jackson Bend as its top contenders. But when the dust settled, the race belonged to Zayat Stables’ Eskendereya, who stepped up into the big time with an emphatic 8 1/2-length win over a game but outclassed Jackson Bend.
The performance was a complete turnaround from last year’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), in which Eskendereya took the worst of traffic problems around the first turn and was never able to get into contention. This time, it was favored Buddy’s Saint who fell victim to a tough trip early, probably making Eskendereya’s job a little easier. But given the way the handsome chestnut strode out through the stretch despite the lack of any pressure, he was a deserving winner regardless of what happened behind him.
Bred in Kentucky by Sanford R. Robertson, Eskendereya has all the pedigree he needs to be a Classic contender. His sire, Giant's Causeway , scarcely needs introduction; the leading sire of 2009, Giant’s Causeway was represented by 24 stakes winners that year, half of them winners at graded/group level. This year, the stallion already has four stakes winners to his credit, including another Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopeful in Connemara, winner of the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) on the same day as the Fountain of Youth.
The premier stallion at Ashford Stud, Giant’s Causeway is best known as a sire of turf and synthetics performers, and Connemara still has to prove himself up to top company on dirt. Such a success wouldn’t be unprecedented, however, Obviously, Eskendereya handles dirt just fine, and Giant’s Causeway’s top earner last year was Swift Temper, winner of the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont. Giant’s Causeway is also the sire of First Samurai , a multiple grade I winner on dirt, and of Frost Giant , winner of the 2008 Suburban Handicap (gr. I).
While Giant’s Causeway has not been as consistent a stallion as was his sire, Storm Cat, he still ranks high among Storm Cat’s leading sons. Through February 23, he has been represented by 1,149 foals in his first six crops of racing age (his seventh crop, foals of 2008, has not yet had the opportunity to race). Of those foals, 512 (45%) have become winners, 80 (7.0%) have become stakes winners, and 44 (3.8%) have become graded/group stakes winners, including 2004 European champion 2-year-old male Shamardal.
On the dam’s side, Eskendereya has a pedigree somewhat like Frost Giant’s in that it combines strains of Seattle Slew, Raise a Native, and Northern Dancer close up. The Fountain of Youth winner is out of Aldebaran Light, a winning Seattle Slew half-sister to grade II winner Blazonry (by Hennessy, by Storm Cat, and so closely related to Eskendereya), and is a half-brother to 2003 Shadwell Stud Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I) winner Balmont (by Stravinsky).
In no small part, Seattle Slew owes his two titles as leading broodmare sire (1995 and 1996) to his maternal grandson Cigar, a two-time Horse of the Year. Even without Cigar, however, the 1977 Triple Crown winner boasts a good record as a broodmare sire. To date, his daughters have produced 187 stakes winners, including 2000 champion older male Lemon Drop Kid and 1998 champion older female Escena.
Aldebaran Light was produced from the unraced Alydar mare Altair, whose dam Stellar Odyssey was a great disappointment considering her regal pedigree. Not only did she fail to race, but only two of her nine foals managed to win. By Northern Dancer out of Queen Sucree, she is a full sister to English stakes winner Wassl and a half-sister to three others, including 1974 Kentucky Derby winner Cannonade. She is also a half-sister to Kennelot (by Gallant Man), dam of multiple grade I winner and Derby runner-up Stephan’s Odyssey and of grade I winner Lotka, and to Princess Sucree (by Roberto), dam of Australian group II winner Rasheek and English group III winner Burooj (GB).
A daughter of Ribot, Queen Sucree was not much of a runner herself, winning one of four starts. Unlike Stellar Odyssey, however, she more than atoned for her deficiencies as a race mare in the breeding shed. She was produced from Cosmah, a stakes-winning half-sister to Northern Dancer’s dam Natalma. No slouch herself as a broodmare, Cosmah produced four stakes winners, headed by multiple champion filly Tosmah and two-time leading American sire Halo. She is also the dam of La Dame Du Lac (by Round Table), dam of five stakes winners and granddam of twice-champion turf female Flawlessly.
On pedigree, Eskendereya should have no trouble with 10 furlongs on the first Saturday in May. The question now is whether he still has room for improvement. If he can continue taking his game to higher levels, look for him to be one of the favorites for this year’s Run for the Roses.