Special Circumstances Elevate Special Duty

“It’s better to be lucky than good.” So runs the old saw, but of course, it is still better to be both lucky and good. Such is the case for Juddmonte Farm’s homebred filly Special Duty, who may well be the first Thoroughbred in history to inherit two classic victories – the StanJames.com One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) and its French counterpart, the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (Fr-I) – via disqualifications.

Without debating the merits of the stewards’ decisions, Special Duty still had to have the talent to be in there at both finishes despite any problems she encountered, marking her as a classy and consistent filly regardless of the circumstances. Such is no more than should be expected given both her performances last season, when she was the top juvenile filly in England, and her regal pedigree, which is replete with miler speed.

Special Duty is from the penultimate crop of Hennessy, a talented son of Storm Cat and the Hawaii mare Island Kitty. Although from the immediate family of 1996 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Editor’s Note, Hennessy’s forte was precocious speed rather than stamina. The colt reeled off victories in the 1995 Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes (gr. II), Sapling Stakes (gr. II), and Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) before running unplaced in the Moet Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and then losing a tough stretch battle to Unbridled's Song in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Injury prevented Hennessy from further displaying his talent at 3, and the colt entered stud at Ashford Stud in 1997, where he stood throughout his American stud career. He also shuttled to Australia, Japan, and Argentina, dying of an apparent cardiac event in the last-named country in August 2007.

As Hennessy demonstrated in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he was capable of staying at least a mile, and a number of his best progeny similarly have excelled at intermediate distances. The best of them, 2001 U.S. and European champion juvenile male Johannesburg, emerged from Hennessy’s second crop. Succeeding where his sire had failed, he won the 2001 Bessemer Trust edition of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before entering stud at Ashford in 2003. Hennessy also sired Henny Hughes, a multiple grade I-winning sprinter who stayed well enough to finish second in both the Champagne Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Now a stallion at Darley, Henny Hughes is a freshman sire of 2010 and a top pick of many analysts to win this year’s freshman sire championship.

Quest to Peak, dam of Special Duty, ran unplaced in her only start but brought sterling family credentials to her mating with Hennessy. A Juddmonte homebred like her daughter, she is a full sister to seven-time grade I winner Sightseek and a half sister to dual grade I winner Tates Creek (by Rahy). All were produced from the Nureyev mare Viviana, herself a two-time listed stakes winner in France for Juddmonte and a half sister to grade II winner Revasser (by Riverman) and listed stakes winner Hometown Queen (by Pleasant Colony).

Nijinsky Star, the dam of Viviana, was bred by Carl Rosen from his champion Chris Evert (by Swoon’s Son). The leading 3-year-old filly of 1974, Chris Evert stands at the head of one of the better modern branches of the family descended from Gallopade (or Galopade), who was imported to North America from England in 1833 or 1834. Gallopade’s daughters Reel, Fandango, and Cotillion each founded important branches of the “Dance Family” (so called because so many of its early members were named for dances), which includes such modern notables as Sky Classic, Dance Smartly, Smart Strike  , Criminal Type, Winning Colors, and Affirmed.

Chris Evert produced five foals, all fillies. The first, the Secretariat mare Six Crowns, became a minor stakes winner before producing Chief’s Crown (by Danzig), the champion juvenile male of 1984 and a good sire, and two-time grade I winner Classic Crown (by Mr. Prospector). The next, stakes-placed Tournament Star (by Nijinsky II and so a full sister to Nijinsky Star) became the granddam of grade III winner Delay of Game. She was followed by Wimbledon Star, a minor stakes winner by Hoist the Flag; Nijinsky Star; and Center Court Star, a full sister to Six Crowns who became the dam of South African group I winner Lambent Light.

Special Duty has another Juddmonte connection through her broodmare sire, Distant View (Mr. Prospector–Seven Springs, by Irish River), who retired to his birthplace after winning the 1994 Sussex Stakes (Eng-I). Highweighted among European milers that year, Distant View might have fared better at stud had he not transmitted his own foreleg faults with some regularity, but his 18 stakes winners from 502 foals did include not only Sightseek but multiple group I winner Observatory (highweighted miler at 3 in England), multiple Italian group I winner Distant Way, and 1999 Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I) winner Distant Music.

Special Duty is inbred 4x4x5 to Northern Dancer, not an uncommon pattern in Europe nowadays; in fact, it seems likely that, in future generations, it will be as hard to find a good racehorse that is free of the blood of Northern Dancer as it was becoming a half-century ago to find one completely free of St. Simon. Special Duty will doubtless do her part in spreading the Dancer’s genes that much further when she retires to the Juddmonte broodmare band – but given the excitement she has already provided on the race course, one can hope that she won’t be retiring too soon.

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