By Alan Porter
Generally, the fall is when the freshman sire race becomes intriguing. Often it’s a question of whether the fast-starting speed horses will get run down by the offspring of some of the later-maturing types as juvenile race distances lengthen.
This year has been something of an anomaly, however, as the sires viewed as the fastest and most precocious of the group never opened up the early lead one might have anticipated. In fact it’s been two sons of A.P. Indy, and a grandson, that have put up the most eye-catching performances to date. First is the Florida-based Congrats , who did win at Saratoga at 2, but who scored his first stakes victory at 4 and had to wait until the age of 5 to gain his first graded triumph, a feat he achieved in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II). Congrats already has 17 individual juvenile winners, including Wickedly Perfect, successful in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II) and Sorrento Stakes (gr. III), and Puerto Rican graded scorer Check My Cheeks. He’s also already represented by eight stakes horses, including Jordy Y, third to Wickedly Perfect in the Alcibiades and runner-up in the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (gr. III), and the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) third I'm Steppin' It Up.
Congrats is being pursued most closely by Bluegrass Cat , who is by Storm Cat, but is out of a mare by A.P. Indy. He has 16 2-year-old winners, including the Oct. 10 Grey Stakes (Can-III) winner Blue Laser. Bluegrass Cat did win three out of four as a 2-year-old and two stakes, but both those victories–the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) and Nashua Stakes (gr. III) –came at the back end of his juvenile year, and Bluegrass Cat had better form the following year, when he won the Haskell Invitational (gr. I), and ran second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, Belmont Stakes, and Travers Stakes (all gr. I).
However, Congrats and Bluegrass Cat are going to have to keep an eye out for Bernardini , who backed up the positive talk about his youngsters with a weekend group/grade I double.
If Bernardini’s race record didn’t suggest that he would make much impact with his 2-year-olds, the possibility was at least latent in his pedigree. Not only did sire A.P. Indy win the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) as a juvenile, but Bernardini’s dam, Cara Rafaela, captured the Alcibiades and Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I), and took second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at that age. Cara Rafaela’s only subsequent stakes win came in the Pio Pico Stakes at Fairplex Park at 4, but she did produce several good efforts at 3, including seconds in the Las Virgenes Stakes, Santa Anita Oaks, and Ashland Stakes, and a third in the Kentucky Oaks (all gr. I).
While a quick glance at Bernardini’s pedigree reveals the transmission of 2-year-old ability was at least a possibility, another aspect of his early success was surely less predictable. To date, Bernardini has been represented by six winners, three of which are stakes winners, and four stakes performers. What is a surprise, at least in these quarters, is that the first two of these, the Chichester Observer Prestige Stakes (Eng-III) winner Theyskens' Theory, subsequently third in the Meon Valley Stud Fillies’ Mile (Eng-I), and Biondetti , who took the Gran Criterium (Ity-I), scored on turf in Europe. More in line with expectations are his U.S. stars, A Z Warrior, who, along with Biondetti, gave her sire an Oct. 9 group/grade I double with a win in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I), her first try on natural dirt, and the promising Stay Thirsty , runner-up to Boys at Tosconova in the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) in only his third outing.
Theyskens’ Theory, the first of the Bernardinis to strike in black type stakes, does have a pedigree that makes 2-year-old success somewhat less surprising. Out of the Summer Squall mare Heat Lightning, she is a similarly-bred half sister to champion 2-year-old and Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) victor Stevie Wonderboy (by A.P. Indy’s son Stephen Got Even ). Since A.P. Indy and Summer Squall are half brothers, this gives a 3x3 inbreeding to the superior runner and producer Weekend Surprise. Before proponents of the Rasmussen Factor–the theorized virtue of inbreeding to superior mares–become overly excited, we should note that from 148 foals of racing age and 87 starters with Weekend Surprise duplicated within four generations, Stevie Wonderboy and Theyskens’ Theory are the only stakes winners to date. (Related article on Rasmussen Factor with Weekend Surprise.)
Biondetti is also out of a mare that has proved her affinity for the A.P. Indy sire line. Her dam, Lyphard’s Delta (by Lyphard), won the Vodafone Nassau Stakes (Eng-II) at Goodwood. To the cover of A.P. Indy, she produced both the Garden City Breeder’s Cup Handicap (gr. IT) captress Indy Five Hundred, and Delta Princess, whose successes included the Locust Grove, Early Times Mint Julep, and Beaugay Handicaps (all gr. IIIT). Lyphard’s Delta is a sister to the Grey Lag Handicap (gr. III) winner Proud Debonair, and is out of Proud Delta, who was champion older mare in 1976.
A Z Warrior is bred on more familiar U.S. dirt lines. Her dam is the stakes-placed Carson City mare Carson Jen. She has proved to be a highly successful broodmare, producing five winners from five foals, including E Z Warrior (by Exploit), victorious in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III) and also placed in the King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I), and J Z Warrior (by Harlan’s Holiday), a four-time stakes winner who also placed third in the Nassau County Stakes (gr. III). The second dam, Calamitious Jen, is a daughter of Deputy Minister. She was unraced but produced six winners from seven foals, and is also granddam of the minor stakes winner Banga Ridge and the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) second and Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf third Coronet of a Baron. The third dam, Robertina, is a black type winner by Roberto out of the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) winner Bring Out the Band. Robertina never produced a black type winner (her 2000 Sir Cat colt did win at stakes level in Mexico), but is granddam of the Renault 119 Deutsches St. Leger (Ger-II) winner Royal Fantasy and Who’s Up, who took last year’s Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT).
The cross of A.P. Indy and his sons over Carson City mares has hitherto been a disappointing one with only one other stakes winner–grade I scorer Rail Trip–from 57 starters. We can note that several of A.P. Indy’s better sons, notably Pulpit, Malibu Malibu, and Mineshaft (as well as Congrats), are out of mares by Carson City’s sire, and breeders seem to have tended to shy clear of inbreeding to Mr. Prospector in this fashion as only nine of the 57 starters are bred in this fashion. Of course, Bernardini does also give a Mr. Prospector inbreeding, but in this case Bernardini brings in Mr. Prospector in the fifth generation of his foals, and through Fappiano, a very different horse from Carson City (and, for the matter, most other Mr. Prospectors).
Bernardini’s other stakes performer, Stay Thirsty, is out of a mare by Storm Bird, so bred on a similar cross as Theyskens’ Theory (although without the Weekend Surprise inbreeding). The dam, Marozia, has previously produced a pair of stakes winners by Fusaichi Pegasus: Andromeda’s Hero, a group winner who took second in the Belmont, and the Champagne third and listed winner Superfly. Marozia was a winner over 1½ miles in England, and is out of the Roberto mare, Make Change a stakes winner who placed in eight grade I events including seconds in the Alabama and Mother Goose Stakes and the Ladies Handicap. Given this background, there is little doubt that Stay Thirsty should thrive when given the opportunity to stretch out to classic distances next year.