One of the highlights of 2013 was the victory of Orb in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). The triumph was a historic one, being the first for two of racing's more storied names: Orb's owners and breeders, the Phippses and Janneys, as well as for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Orb, who retires to Claiborne Farm for the 2014 breeding season, is by Malibu Moon , an A.P. Indy/Mr. Prospector cross, out of an Unbridled mare from a famed Phipps/Janney family.
A rather similar description fits Mr Speaker, who carried the Phipps Stable colors to victory in the Dania Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park Dec. 21. The one-mile turf event was the first black-type appearance and fourth lifetime start for Mr Speaker, who recorded a comfortable 2 3/4-length triumph. Like Orb trained by Shug McGaughey, Mr Speaker had shown relatively little on his debut, an 8 1/2-furlong maiden on the turf at Saratoga at the end of August. The youngster performed with greater promise at second asking, finishing third, beaten a head and 3/4 length over a mile on the grass at Belmont Park the following month, after leading at the head of the stretch. Mr Speaker's only other outing prior to the weekend came in an 8 1/2-furlong turf maiden at Belmont and saw him lead throughout for a 2 3/4-length tally.
If Mr Speaker is to follow in Orb's footsteps, he will have to make the switch from turf to dirt at some point, and according to his trainer that switch may come as soon as his next start. It's worth recalling that recent Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown made his winning debut on the grass, and Animal Kingdom had never even started on dirt prior to his Churchill Downs triumph. From a pedigree standpoint, we'd also note that Mr Speaker certainly doesn't have the background of a turf specialist.
As we've said, like Orb, Mr Speaker is by a stallion bred on the A.P. Indy/Mr. Prospector cross, in this case the late Pulpit. A member of the first crop of A.P. Indy, Pulpit was actually the only colt from that crop to win above the grade III level. Pulpit was unraced at 2 but established himself as one of the most exciting performers on the Triple Crown trail the following spring. The bay captured his first three starts, stamping his credentials as a Kentucky Derby candidate with a 1 1/2-length win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). He was upset by Captain Bodgit, who he'd defeated in the Fountain of Youth, when odds-on in the Florida Derby (gr. I), but he rebounded to take the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) by 3 1/2 lengths. Third choice in the Kentucky Derby, Pulpit battled for the lead in the early stages, was in front after three-quarters, but then faded gradually to take fourth behind Silver Charm, Captain Bodgit, and Free House. Subsequently, he was found to have suffered a career-ending injury.
At stud, Pulpit went on to lead the way in establishing the A.P. Indy/Mr. Prospector nick as a sire-producing one, his example being followed by Malibu Moon, Mineshaft , Flatter , Congrats , and the very successful South American sire Indy Dancer. Pulpit himself was tied (with Malibu Moon) as A.P. Indy's leading sire son by stakes winners, with 63, at the time of his death in December 2012. His best included grade I winners Pyro, Rutherienne, Corinthian , Ice Box , Purge, Stroll , Sky Mesa , Tapit , Mi Sueno, and Power Broker (one of five graded winners from Pulpit's 2010 crop). He had an earlier stakes win from his current crop of 2-year-olds in the filly Tea Time, successful in the Sharp Cat Stakes at Belmont Park.
Although she was only successful once in 10 starts, Mr Speaker's dam, Salute, was also a well above average performer, taking second in the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) and third in the Tempted Stakes (gr. III). Mr Speaker's second dam, Personal Ensign, was not only one of the finest runners to carry the Phipps silks, but also one of the greatest racemares seen in North America. Despite competing at 3 and 4 with five screws in her left hind leg—a legacy of a pastern fracture suffered after her victory in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) on the second of two juvenile outings—she returned late in the year to add four more victories in as many starts at 3, among them the Rare Perfume Stakes (gr. II) and Beldame Stakes (gr. I). Personal Ensign's 4-year-old season saw her take her lifetime record to 13-for-13 and retire as the first undefeated North American champion since Colin in 1908. Her seven victories that year included a triumph over champion sprinter Gulch in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) and an unforgettable last gasp effort to defeat Kentucky Derby heroine Winning Colors and Goodbye Halo in a muddy renewal of the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).
Personal Ensign subsequently became an equally outstanding broodmare. Her offspring included Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) scorer Miner's Mark; multiple grade I winner My Flag, whose successes included the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), and who in turn produced champion 2-year-old filly Storm Flag Flying; Traditionally, a brother to Miner's Mark who took the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. I); and Our Emblem, another brother to Miner's Mark and Traditionally who was beaten in a photo finish in the Carter Handicap (gr. I) and who sired dual classic winner and champion 3-year-old colt War Emblem. Personal Ensign is the dam or granddam of several other good winners, among them Parading, a colt by Mr Speaker's sire, Pulpit, who won the Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) on the turf and the Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) on all-weather.
By another Phipps star, Private Account, Personal Ensign was also a sister to Personal Flag, a high-class handicap horse who took four graded events including the Suburban Handicap (gr. I) and Widener Handicap (gr. I). The next dam, Grecian Banner, a maiden winner in six starts, was something of an example of the "international outcross" that was in vogue in the 1970s. She was by the brilliant runner Hoist the Flag, a grandson of the undefeated Italian runner Ribot, a two-time winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, out of Argentine mare Dorine. An outstanding champion in her native country, Dorine, who Ogden Phipps purchased in 1970, was by Aristophanes out of a mare by Advocate (both English-bred), and so bred on the same cross as Forli, a great Argentine runner who made a tremendous impression in a brief North American career before going on to great success as a sire, his get including three-time Horse of the Year Forego.
Mr Speaker is one of only two stakes winners from 22 starters by Pulpit out of mares by Unbridled, but the other is the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) victor Tapit, who now of course is one of the world's top sires. Pulpit does, however, have a total of seven stakes winners from 40 starters out of all mares by sons of Fappiano, including other graded winners Guilt Trip, Ecclesiastic, and Title Contender. Pulpit also has a trio of stakes winners, including graded scorers Fiftyshadesofhay and Super Ninety Nine (out of a mare by Unbridled's Song, a son of Unbridled), out of mares by grandsons of Fappiano. Five of the seven graded stakes winners on a Pulpit/Fappiano cross have earned their graded black-type on dirt, so it will be no surprise if Mr Speaker makes the transition successfully. Given that he is a May 14 foal, it will also be no surprise if he makes more than average progress from 2 to 3, and with that in mind, he's going to be one to keep an eye on heading towards the Triple Crown trail.