By Avalyn Hunter
The winter racing seasons in New York and Florida could hardly be further apart. Aqueduct is cold and wet, its inner track hosting mostly hardy locals; Gulfstream Park enjoys the balmier weather of South Florida and the prestige of being the premier Eastern winter/spring meeting.
Races at Aqueduct and Gulfstream February 5 showcased two colts that are as far apart in background as their race venues. At Aqueduct, the winner of the featured Whirlaway Stakes was the modestly-pedigreed Toby's Corner, Florida-bred but apparently right at home in as miserable weather as February in New York can dish out. But farther south, the performance of the day belonged to regally bred Cal Nation , who upstaged a much-ballyhooed allowance race featuring several possible Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopefuls on the same card with an impressive 7¾-length score in a seven-furlong maiden event.
Toby’s Corner perhaps comes by his liking for Aqueduct honestly, for his sire is Bellamy Road , whose eye-popping score by 17½ lengths in the 2005 Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct made him that year’s Kentucky Derby favorite. Seventh in the Derby itself, the colt ran a game second behind Flower Alley in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) before injury ended his attempt at a comeback. Now standing at Pauls Mill, Bellamy Road has sired four stakes winners from his first crop of racing age.
Bellamy Road is the best of 24 stakes winners for the Chief’s Crown horse Concerto, who has enjoyed a useful stud career at Ocala Stud. Also the sire of Puerto Rican champions Special Concerto and Concerto’s Crown and multiple Jamaican champion Chadman, Concerto was a good runner in his own right, capturing the 1997 Jim Beam Stakes (gr. II) and three grade III events and nine stakes overall during his 21-race career.
Toby’s Corner races as a homebred for Diane Cotter, who also bred Bellamy Road and the colt’s dam, Brandon's Ride. A winner on the track, Brandon’s Ride is by Mister Frisky, whose Cinderella run to the Derby took him through sixteen straight wins in Puerto Rico and California, culminating with a stylish score in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). But midnight tolled in the Kentucky Derby as Mister Frisky ran up the track, and a non-threatening third in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) did little to recover his reputation. It turned out that Mister Frisky had an excuse for the dull performances, though. Following the Preakness, a large growth was discovered in the colt’s throat. He recovered following surgery but never regained his previous form in two subsequent starts. As a stallion, his indifferent pedigree apparently caught up with him as he sired just two stakes winners, multiple graded stakes winner Frisk Me Now and three-time stakes winner Mister Crafty.
The weakest part of Toby’s Corner’s pedigree is the tail-female line, which has little to recommend it until one gets to his fifth dam, Phoenix Girl (by Red Hannigan). The dam of 1975 Michigan Mile and One-Eighth Handicap (gr. II) winner Mr. Lucky Phoenix (by Lucky Debonair), Phoenix Girl is out of the high-class Jacola and is, thus, a half sister to 1947 champion 3-year-old male Phalanx. Further back, this stamina-oriented family was one of the pillars of William Woodward’s Belair Stud, its members including the likes of 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha, 1938 Ascot Gold Cup winner Flares, and 1939 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Johnstown. Another important member of this clan is the great race mare Gallorette, who was bred by Preston Burch and raced for William Brann.
Cal Nation, on the other hand, has as high-quality an immediate female family as anyone would care to see. A WinStar Farm homebred, he is a Distorted Humor half brother to grade I winner and 2006 Derby and Belmont runner-up Bluegrass Cat . Dam She’s a Winner is an unraced full sister to 2010 Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) winner Girolamo , to graded stakes winnersAccelerator and Daydreaming, and to Supercharger, dam of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver . Also the dam of multiple graded stakes winner Lord of the Game (by Saint Ballado) and stakes winner Sonoma Cat (by Storm Cat), She’s a Winner is by A.P. Indy out of Get Lucky, a graded stakes-winning full sister to 1989 champion juvenile male Rhythm and to successful sire Not for Love . Get Lucky, in turn, is by Mr. Prospector out of 1983 Beldame Stakes (gr. I) winner Dance Number (by Northern Dancer), a half sister to multiple grade I winner and important sire Private Account (by Damascus) out of 1971 champion juvenile filly Numbered Account. This is, of course, a branch of the great La Troienne family and is a standout line even within that storied clan.
Distorted Humor has generally done well with mares packing Buckpasser or Seattle Slew, and his four stakes winners from 54 foals of racing age out of mares by A.P. Indy (whose pedigree combines both those great sires) include 2007 Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Any Given Saturday, 2007 Boyd Gaming’s Delta Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) winner Z Humor, and 2010 Sunland Derby (gr. III) winner Endorsement. Cal Nation has yet to reach that level, of course, but his maiden win promises much bigger things ahead. Trainer Todd Pletcher has already indicated that those bigger things will probably not include the Kentucky Derby–with the early Derby favorite, Uncle Mo , already in his barn, he hardly needs to rush another promising prospect–but it is always possible that the colt may appear later in the Triple Crown series if he develops as well as he has started.
Toby’s Corner, on the other hand, appears to be right where he needs to be if a trip to Louisville in May is going to be a possibility. With a listed win over a route under his belt, his next task will be to demonstrate whether he has already expressed his maximum potential or has inherited the racing talent of his sire and maternal grandsire. If the latter, his pedigree may start looking a lot better a little way down the Triple Crown trail.