By Alan Porter
Few races have a sobriquet more misleading than Churchill Down’s Derby Trial. Created in an era when horses competed far more frequently than they do now, the Derby Trial originally was run four days before the classic. The race had an auspicious beginning when, in 1924, Black Gold took the inaugural running before going on to add the Kentucky Derby. However, it’s more than 50 years since the double was last completed (by Tim Tam in 1958), and it’s five years since a Derby Trial starter actually made the Derby line-up (fourth-placed Don't Get Mad in 2005). It’s a fair bet that few contemporary trainers would plan to target both events, but this year, a few conditioners turned “old school” as their charges bid for the graded earnings necessary to get them into the Derby field.
As it turned out, the 2010 edition of The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial Stakes (gr. III) won’t affect the Kentucky Derby, neither third-placed Pleasant Prince nor early pacemaker Eightyfiveinafifty adding sufficient funds to their bankrolls. Ironically, however, the race may still have launched a classic candidate in Hurricane Ike. Owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash, who will be represented in the Derby by upset Arkansas Derby (gr. I) victor Line of David , Hurricane Ike will not head to the Derby but may well be pointed to the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), for which the Derby Trial, run three weeks before the second leg of the Triple Crown, is by modern standards a perfectly well-placed prep.
A $115,000 OBS August yearling purchase, Hurricane Ike captured a five-furlong Hollywood Park maiden special weight on his debut. Highly-tried in his other juvenile starts, he then ran fourth in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II), fifth in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) and 11th in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I), before ending the year second by a neck to Macias in the six-furlong Jack Goodman Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet. He began 2010 with a show effort in a 6½-furlong Santa Anita allowance race. In his only other start before the Derby Trial, he tried dirt for the first time in the Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III, and produced a good effort to take second to Eightyfiveinafifty.
Hurricane Ike is a son of the Dehere horse Graeme Hall . One of the first good runners to carry the blue-and-yellow colors of Eugene Melnyk, Graeme Hall earned a place in the 2000 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) with a 3¾-lengths win in the Arkansas Derby. Eased after pressing the early pace, Graeme Hall rebounded later that year to take second in a Monmouth stakes and then win the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga on his only other 3-year-old outings. At 4, Graeme Hall added the Eclipse Handicap (gr. II) and Stuyvesant Handicap (gr. III) and ran second in the Cigar Mile (gr. I) to champion Left Bank. He returned at 5 but injury ended his career after three additional starts, the second of which saw him take second in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II).
Retired to his owner’s Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala, and with his oldest runners now 6-year-olds, he’s risen to the top of the local stallion colony (he was second on the Florida earnings list last year and is currently leading Florida sire by 2010 earnings). From his first four crops, he now has 15 stakes winners, six graded, including Hurricane Ike; the 2010 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) victor Duke of Mischief; Graeme Six, who took the 2008 Winning Colors Stakes (gr. III); and last year’s Generous Stakes (gr. IIT) winner Who's Up.
Hurricane Ike’s dam, Parental Uproar, is an unraced daughter of the Storm Cat stallion Future Storm. She’s dam of three winners with her first three foals, and they also include Drums of Thunder, winner of the What a Pleasure Stakes and runner-up in the 2007 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III). The granddam, My Mom Ginny, was a stakes winner and placed in the Little Silver Handicap (gr. IIIT). Dam of the stakes-winning and graded-placed Lord Juban (by Lord Avie), she was half-sister to the Boiling Springs Handicap (gr. IIIT) victor Rullah Runner. My Mom Ginny was by Wardlaw (by the Kentucky Derby winner Decidedly), and the next two dams are by two other relatively little-remembered names, Tampa Trouble and Pluck. However, My Mom Ginny’s third dam, Rope Yarn Sunday, is a sister to Turn-to. An Irish-bred son of Royal Charger, Turn-to was early-season favorite for the 1954 Kentucky Derby but was retired with a bowed tendon after winning the Flamingo Stakes. Co-highweight on the Experimental Free Handicap at 2 and Highweight on The Blood-Horse Handicap for Three-Year-Olds, Turn-to of course became a ninfluential sire, particularly through his sons Hail to Reason and Sir Gaylord.
The cross that produced Hurricane Ike, that of Deputy Minister-line stallions over Storm Cat-line mares, has been a surprisingly unproductive union, and Hurricane Ike is only the third stakes winner and first graded winner bred on the cross. What is a little different here, however, is that both Graeme Hall’s sire, Dehere, and Storm Cat are Northern Dancer/Secretariat crosses, and there are at least two indications that the success of that combination here is no accident. The first is that Hurricane Ike’s stakes-winning and graded-placed half brother, Drums of Thunder, is by Concerto, in turn, a son of Northern Dancer/Secretariat cross Chief’s Crown. The second is that, while Hurricane Ike is the first stakes winner by a Dehere-line horse out of a Storm Cat-line mare, there have been six stakes winners from 60 starters by Storm Cat-line stallions out of Dehere mares. One, First Passage, is by Giant's Causeway , but three of the others are by High Yield, Cat Thief, and Sea of Secrets, who wouldn’t be anyone’s idea of leading sons of Storm Cat, suggesting that the Northern Dancer/Secretariat duplication a very worthwhile one.