With four victories—each impressive in its own way—from four 2013 starts, reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan has made it clear that taking his crown from him will be no easy task. But there will be no shortage of challengers when the Breeders' Cup rolls around, both in and out of his division.
Whether George Strawbridge's homebred Moonlight Cloud will be among them is by no means certain. But following course-record performances back to back in the LARC Prix Maurice de Gheest (Fr-I) and the Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard— Jacques le Marois (Fr-I), the little bay mare has a Win and You're In ticket to the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), and on her form this year, she would be a more than worthy challenger for Wise Dan.
Moonlight Cloud is a daughter of Invincible Spirit, a popular and successful son of the good Danzig son Green Desert. Like most of his sire's progeny, Invincible Spirit was a sprinter and a good one, his seven career victories including the 2002 Stanley Leisure Sprint Cup (Eng-I) at Haydock Park and group III events at the Curragh and York. But even more might have been expected, given that his dam is 1990 Prix de Diane (Fr-I) winner Rafha, by two-time English champion miler Kris out of multiple group stakes producer Eljazzi (an Artaius half sister to 1980 leading English sire Pitcairn, by Petingo). Still, Invincible Spirit is the best of Rafha's five stakes winners, and his performance and pedigree guaranteed him a reasonable trial at stud.
Any disappointments regarding Invincible Spirit's racing career vanished with his first crop to come to the races, as the horse was represented by 35 winners as a freshman sire of 2006. Those 37 winners included Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Vale of York, and the following year, Lawman became the first Classic winner for Invincible Spirit by capturing the Prix du Jockey Club Mitsubishi Motors (French Derby, Fr-I). Lawman aside, Invincible Spirit is known primarily as a sire of precocious speed, but speed that trains on. To date, The Jockey Club credits him with 68 stakes winners, which in addition to the runners already mentioned include group I winners Fleeting Spirit, Hooray, Mayson, Rosdhu Queen, and Yosei. Invincible Spirit stands at the Irish National Stud.
Moonlight Cloud is out of stakes-placed Ventura, a daughter of 1995 First National Building Society Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) winner Spectrum. Previously the dam of stakes winner and Hollywood Park course record setter Cedar Mountain (by Galileo), Ventura is one of two winners from six foals produced from Wedding Bouquet (by multiple group I winner Kings Lake), a group III winner as a juvenile in Ireland and a grade III winner in the United States at 4. Her other winner was the stakes-winning hurdler Irish Legend (by Sadler’s Wells).
Wedding Bouquet's performance as a broodmare was disappointing not only because of her own racing ability but because of her immediate pedigree, which promised much more. Not only was her sire a winner of the classic Airlie Coolmore Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I), but she herself is a half sister to two dual classic winners in 1991 Irish Horse of the Year Generous (winner of both the Ever Ready Epsom Derby, Eng-I, and the Budweiser Irish Derby, Ire-I) and Imagine, highweighted 3-year-old filly over 11-14 furlongs in England after winning the 2001 Entenmanns Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) and Vodafone Epsom Oaks (Eng-I). Their dam, unraced Doff the Derby (by 1975 Preakness Stakes, gr. I, winner Master Derby) also produced American stakes winner Windy Triple K. (by Jaklin Klugman), Japanese stakes winner Osumi Tycoon (by Last Tycoon), and classic-placed Irish stakes winner Strawberry Roan (by Sadler's Wells).
Doff the Derby's family is in no danger of disappearing, of course. Aside from Moonlight Cloud, the family has been represented in recent years by 2005 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere—Grand Criterium (Fr-I) winner Horatio Nelson (by Danehill) and group II winners Kitty Matcham (by Rock of Gibraltar) and Viscount Nelson (by Giant's Causeway ), all produced from Imagine, and by 2012 Irish group II winner Probably (by Danehill Dancer), out of Ventura's half sister by Sadler's Wells, Wedding Morn.
Doff the Derby was quite well connected as she is a half sister to multiple champion Trillion (by Hail to Reason), a top-class performer in both France and the United States; stakes winner Margravine, a full sister to Trillion; and Hail Maggie (also by Hail to Reason), dam of 1989 Californian Stakes (gr. I) winner Sabona. Their dam, the good stakes winner Margarethen, is by yet another classic winner in 1952 Epsom Derby and St. Leger Stakes winner Tulyar, and the family traces back to Marguery, an unraced full sister to 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox.
Spectrum, Kings Lake, and Master Derby were all sires well below the first rank, but they were all high-class racehorses that reasonably could be expected to make some contribution to their breed somewhere in the course of their careers. In Moonlight Cloud, they now have combined in a performer of the highest class, and have perhaps enhanced her potential as a broodmare by providing some outcross strains not commonly seen in modern pedigrees. But that is for the future. In the meantime, Moonlight Cloud has at least one more start in Europe on her schedule before a decision is made whether she will compete in the Breeders' Cup Mile. If she does, and if she gets a cleaner trip than the one she had last year (she finished eighth in the Mile after being bumped midway through the race), racing fans may be treated to one of the finest races of the year.