By Avalyn Hunter
If speed is the essence of a good racehorse, then there is little question that La Traviata is a good one. Undefeated in her three lifetime starts, the filly has demolished her hapless opponents by a combined 27 1/2 lengths – and this after stumbling at the start of her last race, the Victory Ride Stakes (gr. III). One wonders what she might do with a completely clean trip.
La Traviata comes by speed honestly with one major source courtesy of her sire, Johannesburg. The best juvenile in both Europe and the United States in 2001, Johannesburg possessed an excellent turn of foot that was used to good advantage in winning four group- or grade-I races, including the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Unfortunately, he did not train on well at 3 and retired to stud with a slightly tarnished reputation.
That reputation did not carry over to the breeding shed, where the son of Hennessy served 193 mares in his first Northern Hemisphere season in 2003. Per The Jockey Club, his efforts resulted in 149 live foals, of which 10 have won stakes to date. The best of them, Scat Daddy, was considered a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) after winning the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) but disappointed in that race and has since been retired to stud.
Scat Daddy is out of a Mr. Prospector mare, and on paper, the cross of Johannesburg to mares returning Mr. Prospector – particularly through the male line – would seem to be a natural. Both Johannesburg’s grandsire Storm Catand his sire Hennessy have done quite well with mares returning Mr. Prospector, and with a Mr. Prospector mare as Johannesburg’s second dam, mares from the Mr. Prospector male line automatically set up sex-balanced inbreeding to the great sire. Fappiano, in particular, is attractive in theory as he is a grandson of the mare Grand Splendor, also the granddam of Johannesburg’s maternal grandsire Ogygian.
Nothing is ever quite as simple as it may seem in theory, however. So far, Johannesburg has five foals from daughters of Mr. Prospector. Four of the five have started, but Scat Daddy is the only winner. Johannesburg also has 10 foals from mares by sons or grandsons of Fappiano, and of those, only La Traviata has come through as a winner or stakes winner. Such fine Mr. Prospector sons as Gone West, Kingmambo, Crafty Prospector, Miswaki, and Seeking the Goldhave so far had little or no luck when their daughters have been bred to Johannesburg.
As a matter of fact, it is Gulch who has the best record among Mr. Prospector’s sons and grandsons for crossing with Johannesburg, his daughters accounting for 2006 Sterling Insurance Richmond Stakes (Eng-II) winner Hamoody and 2007 Santa Ysabel Stakes (gr. III) winner Baroness Thatcher. These results are all from small numbers, of course – Johannesburg has but five foals from Gulch mares, three of which have started – but are nonetheless interesting. If more than a statistical fluke, the key may well be conformation, for the Fappianos as a group tend to have a little more length of leg than either Johannesburg or Gulch; the latter two sires may simply represent a more compatible cross of body types.
On the distaff side, La Traviata is the first foal of Piedras Negras, an unraced daughter of 1990 U.S. champion 3-year-old male Unbridled. As a broodmare sire, Unbridled had quite a Saratoga meet as he is also the sire of Oatsee, dam of Alabama Stakes (gr. I) winner Lady Joanne, and of Turbo Dream, dam of Darley Test Stakes (gr. I) winner Dream Rush. To date, Unbridled is the maternal grandsire of 26 stakes winners. Regarding his contribution to La Traviata’s genetic heritage, it is worth remembering that while Unbridled made most of his reputation at 1 1/4 miles, he was nonetheless quick enough to defeat two-time champion sprinter Housebuster in the seven-furlong Deputy Minister Handicap as a 4-year-old.
A half sister to 2005 Maktoum Challenge Round 2 Stakes (UAE-III) winner Jack Sullivan, Piedras Negras is out of Provisions, whose four wins from 25 starts included the 1996 Dade Turf Classic Stakes. A daughter of Devil’s Bag, Provisions is out of the stakes-placed Miswaki mare Atzimba; thus, Piedras Negras is inbred 3x4 to Mr. Prospector, while La Traviata carries the inbreeding a step further with Mr. Prospector 4x4x5 in her pedigree (she is also inbred 5x5 to Grand Splendor). Some breeders are leery of doubling up on Mr. Prospector due to the leg faults he was known to pass on, and to be fair, the jury is still out regarding La Traviata’s durability. There is no question regarding her speed, however, which is not too surprising considering the raw speed Mr. Prospector demonstrated during his own racing career.
At present, the tentative season-ending goal for La Traviata is the new Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. On pedigree, La Traviata would seem capable of stretching out to a mile or more, and it is to be hoped that her full capabilities will be explored as a 4-year-old in 2008. In the meantime, racing fans will just have to be content with watching one of the most brilliant distaff speedsters seen in years.