Conceived in Kentucky, foaled in Florida, and trained in Southern California, Sahara Sky made another cross-country journey to secure his first grade I victory, traveling to New York to capture the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park on Memorial Day. It was actually the second trip to the Empire State this year for Sahara Sky, the first having seen the 5-year-old fail by three-quarters of a length to peg back Swagger Jack April 6 in the Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct Racetrack, after not enjoying the clearest of runs. In the Met Mile, Sahara Sky was far back off searing fractions in the early stages, but closed strongly to foil by a nose Cross Traffic ’s attempt to go wire-to-wire.
Sahara Sky actually began his racing career in yet another state, breaking his maiden at Delta Downs, in Louisiana, on his only start at 2. Subsequently, Sahara Sky was purchased privately by Jerry Hollendorfer, who now trains him for a partnership of Hollendorfer and Jerry and Kim Lloyd. Sahara Sky won first time out at 3 for his new connections, taking a 6 1/2-furlong starter handicap at Santa Anita Park in March. That, however proved to be his lone win in six sophomore starts, and although he took a trio of thirds in allowance events, it seemed that his limitations were fully exposed when he finished seventh in the El Cajon Stakes on his final start of 2011.
It’s notable that of Sahara Sky’s final five starts at 3, one was on turf and the other four on the all-weather, and 2012 saw him kick off his campaign with a 4 1/2-length allowance/optional claimer score on a Santa Anita track that had switched back to dirt. Sahara Sky’s next two starts saw him take good seconds in an optional claimer and an allowance at Santa Anita, before eking out a narrow win in another optional claiming event on the all-weather at Hollywood Park. Sahara Sky completed his 4-year-old season with a fourth (moved up to third by the stewards) in a June 22 allowance over the same strip.
It would be nearly seven months before Sahara Sky returned, and when he did it was as a far more formidable performer. Starting at 21-1 odds, he heralded his arrival as a graded stakes contender by upsetting the Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita. Then, on his only other start prior to his New York trips, he proved the Palos Verdes was no fluke, taking the San Carlos Stakes (gr. II).
After the Met Mile, Hollendorfer indicated that he might try stretching out Sahara Sky beyond a mile, the longest distance he has attempted to date. If he does he will be attempting to emulate his sire, Pleasant Tap, who made a successful transition from sprinter to middle-distance star at 5. Despite being a son of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I) victor Pleasant Colony, a name generally associated with late-maturing stamina, Pleasant Tap won the Sunny Slope Stakes at 2, added the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) (and also ran third in the Kentucky Derby) at 3, and his best effort at 4 was a second to Sheikh Albadou in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I).
Like Sahara Sky, Pleasant Tap tackled the Met Mile at 5, although he could finish only second to Dixie Brass. He proved his class and versatility, however, not only taking the Commonwealth Breeders’ Cup Handicap and Churchill Downs Handicap (both gr. III) at seven furlongs, but also the Suburban Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup (both gr. I) at 10 furlongs. These efforts, along with a second to 3-year-old A.P. Indy in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), were sufficient to earn Pleasant Tap the title of champion older male of 1992.
Pleasant Tap never became a major commercial sire but was far from a disappointment, getting 60 stakes winners in 18 crops, including David Junior, who won the Coral Eclipse and Emirates Airline Champion stakes (both Eng-I) and the Dubai Duty Free Stakes (UAE-I); Japan Cup (Jpn-I) victor Tap Dance City; the late-running Tiago, who took the Santa Anita Derby and Goodwood Stakes (both gr. I); Premium Tap, successful in the Clark Handicap and Woodward Stakes (both gr. I); the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) heroine Tap to Music; the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) captress I Believe in You; and his only previous sprint star, Pt’s Grey Eagle, victorious in the Ancient Title Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. I).
Sahara Sky’s dam Seeking the Sky was purchased for $80,000 at the 2007 Keeneland November sale by Jim Perrone, acting as agent for Sahara Sky’s breeder and initial owner Jim Martin of Martin Stables, who was looking for mares to support his Ocala-based stallion Spanish Steps (best known as the only full brother to Unbridled's Song). Seeking the Sky proved to be a pretty shrewd purchase, as she was carrying Sahara Sky at the time of her acquisition, and although she made $10,000 when offered in foal to Spanish Steps at the 2009 OBS October sale, the foal she was carrying turned out to be Animal Style, successful this year in the Van Berg Stakes at Fair Grounds.
While Pleasant Tap was clearly a quality sprinter, there’s little doubt considerable credit for Sahara Sky’s aptitude also should be given to his Seeking the Sky. She was bred to be speedy, as she was by Storm Cat out of Seeking Regina, a Seeking the Gold daughter who took the 6 1/2-furlong Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) by four lengths at 2. If not as precocious as her dam, Seeking the Sky did live up to her pedigree’s distance expectations, winning the six-furlong Ruthless Stakes at 3 and the Interborough Handicap (gr. III) at 4. Each of her first five foals are winners but, prior to the appearance of Sahara Sky and Animal Style, none demonstrated any great class.
Sahara Sky’s third dam, the Cox’s Ridge matron Fulbright Scholar, was yet another sprinter but one who could stretch her range, taking the Busher Handicap at Aqueduct, a race in which granddaughter Seeking the Sky would finish second 11 years later. In addition to Seeking Regina, Fulbright Scholar produced two other stakes winners: Oxford Scholar, a sister to Seeking Regina, who took the Valley Stream Stakes and is dam of two stakes winners, and graded-placed stakes winner Tutorial (by Forty Niner, like Seeking the Gold, a son of Mr. Prospector), also the dam of the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) scorer Dixie Band (by Dixie Union). Another daughter of Fulbright Scholar, the stakes-placed Pine Bluff daughter Liberty School, is dam of Just Jenda, winner of a trio of graded contests including the Molly Pitcher Stakes (gr. II).
Sahara Sky’s fourth dam, Matriculation, is the fourth consecutive stakes-winning mare in this female line and, like Sahara Sky, she is by a later-maturing Ribot-line stallion, in this case Horse of the Year Arts and Letters. Matriculation is responsible for producing the most recent grade I winner from this family prior to Sahara Sky, as she is dam of the 1986 Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) victor Bachelor Beau. Matriculation’s third dam, Moon Star II, a Hyperion mare inbred 3x3 to Hyperion’s granddam Serenissima, was imported from England. She is a close relative to the U.S.-foaled Gun Shot (by Hyperion, out of a full sister to Moon Star II’s dam), sire of Kelso’s great rival Gun Bow.
Rated A++ by TrueNicks, Sahara Sky is one of two stakes winners from only four starters sired by Pleasant Tap out of Storm Cat mares. Another Pleasant Colony horse, Pleasantly Perfect, has two stakes winners out of Storm Cat mares, and Pleasant Tap also has a stakes winner out of a mare by the similarly-bred Storm Bird. Sahara Sky is an outcross at five generations, but behind this are some interesting combinations of Ribot or Princequillo (two horse that often combine well) and Hyperion or his family.