Mr. Prospector's Dominance in the Belmont

Mr. Prospector's Dominance in the Belmont
Photo: Dave Harmon
Ruler On Ice wins the 2011 Belmont Stakes.
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Mr. Prospector began his stud career in Florida in 1975. Although regally bred and a horse of brilliant speed, he had never won beyond seven furlongs. Thus, when his son Conquistador Cielo was entered for the 1982 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), many doubted the colt's ability to get the trip. Conquistador Cielo silenced his doubters in emphatic fashion, winning the race by 14 lengths on his way to Horse of the Year honors.

It took nine years for another male-line descendant of Mr. Prospector to win the Belmont, a feat Hansel (by Mr. Prospector's son Woodman) accomplished in 1991. But since then, the Mr. Prospector male line has dominated the race. Of the 20 renewals of the Belmont since Hansel's victory, horses from the Mr. Prospector male line have captured 13: Thunder Gulch (1995), Editor's Note(1996), Victory Gallop (1998), Lemon Drop Kid   (1999), Commendable (2000), Point Given   (2001), Empire Maker (2003), Birdstone   (2004), Afleet Alex   (2005), Jazil (2006), Summer Bird (2009), Drosselmeyer   (2010), and Ruler On Ice (2011).

It seems ironic that a horse that was pretty much a pure sprinter during his own racing days should have become a fountainhead of Belmont winners. There was more to Mr. Prospector than the label “sprinter” suggests, though. His late trainer, Jimmy Croll, had little doubt that the horse would have stayed eight or nine furlongs, possibly more, had he not been compromised by soundness issues that were at least in part the result of a rushed attempt to make the 1973 Kentucky Derby field. And Mr. Prospector did not possess a pure sprinter's pedigree. While he was a son of the brilliant Raise a Native, his dam Gold Digger had been a good performer over intermediate distances and was by the rugged Nashua, whose wins included not only the Belmont Stakes but two renewals of then-two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup.

In fact, while Conquistador Cielo was Mr. Prospector's only Belmont winner, the stallion sired several sons capable of winning top races at 10 furlongs, most notably Forty Niner (1988 Travers Stakes and second in the Kentucky Derby, both gr. I) and Seeking the Gold (1988 Super Derby, gr. I). Both have played a role in Belmont history: Forty Niner is the sire of Editor's Note and the grandsire of Drosselmeyer, while Seeking the Gold is the sire of Jazil.

Gulch (sire of Thunder Gulch and grandsire of Point Given  ), Kingmambo (sire of Lemon Drop Kid), Gone West (sire of Commendable), and Afleet (grandsire of Afleet Alex) have also contributed to Mr. Prospector's Belmont tally. But the most notable branch of the line has been that of Fappiano, which has produced four Belmont winners in Victory Gallop, Empire Maker, Birdstone, and Summer Bird. For good measure, Fappiano's branch of the line has also been responsible for four Kentucky Derby winners and two winners of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).

Yet Fappiano, like Mr. Prospector, made no pretense of staying 12 furlongs. Although he won the 1980 Discovery Handicap (gr. III) over nine furlongs as a 3-year-old, his best race was in the 1981 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), which he won over Irish Tower and Amber Pass. When bred to mares of stouter backgrounds, however, he could sire horses that got longer distances, most notably 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Unbridled and 1989 Widener Handicap (gr. I) winner Cryptoclearance. The latter also won two editions of the 10-furlong Budweiser Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) and ran second in the 1987 Belmont.

While Cryptoclearance sired Victory Gallop, it has been Unbridled who has been the best source of distance runners among the sons of Fappiano. A hulking horse who drew both his massive size and his staying ability from his maternal grandsire, 1964 Prix du Jockey Club winner Le Fabuleux, Unbridled is the sire of Empire Maker and the grandsire of Birdstone, sire in turn of Summer Bird. Empire Maker was sold to Japanese interests last fall, but Birdstone is still in Kentucky and Summer Bird entered stud this year at Pauls Mill in Versailles, Ky., and both stallions will have plenty of other opportunities to extend the line. The latter is especially intriguing as he is from the family of Relaunch and Tapit  , both highly successful sires.

Fusaichi Pegasus   is a newcomer to the Mr. Prospector Belmont parade, but he has plenty of credentials as the 2000 Kentucky Derby winner. His best North American son is arguably Roman Ruler  , winner of the 2005 Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) and now the sire of Ruler On Ice in his second crop. Interestingly, Roman Ruler is inbred 2x4 to Mr. Prospector, which apparently hasn't hurt him a bit as a potential classic sire.

Mr. Prospector's great strength as a sire was the ability to blend his own unquestioned speed with the best qualities of his mates, and this adaptability has resulted in a line well suited to producing both speed and stamina. And in no race is this blending more important than in the Belmont, which is often won by tactical speed used at the right time. Whatever his own limitations, Mr. Prospector contributed the right stuff to produce descendants capable of dominating the “Test of the Champion.”

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