Hodges Photography/Lynn Roberts

Oxbow's Decisive First Steps

He began the road to the Kentucky Derby with an 11 1/2-length victory in the Lecomte.

If we regard the road to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) as a metaphorical “journey of a thousand steps”—as goes the popular, albeit slightly inaccurate, translation of Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu—than some 3-year-old hopefuls for this year’s classics already have taken an essential “first step” in 2013 stakes competition.

Few of those primary steps have been as decisive as that taken by Oxbow , who powered away from the highly-rated Golden Soul to score an 11 1/2-length victory Jan. 19 in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds. Oxbow has come a long way from his first outing, which saw him start at 22-1 for a Saratoga maiden special weight in August, then finish by being vanned off after failing to complete the course. Whatever ailed Oxbow there cannot have been serious, as he returned to action in mid-October, taking fourth in a seven-furlong maiden on the Keeneland all-weather surface. Less than two weeks later he was back to take third in a maiden over the same trip at Churchill Downs.

Returning off a three-week break, Oxbow delivered an improved effort to lead throughout in a seven-furlong main track allowance race under the Twin Spires, scoring by four lengths. Shipped west for the CashCall Futurity (gr. I), Oxbow turned in a respectable stakes debut, checking in fourth behind Violence , currently considered one of the leading prospects for this year’s classics. The Lecomte was the bay colt’s first start of 2013.

Should Oxbow capture a Triple Crown event, he will reclaim a little compensation for the narrow defeat of his close relative Paynter  in last year’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I). The offspring of full sisters, both Paynter and Oxbow are by the Deputy Minister horse Awesome Again , who was unraced at 2 but progressed quickly enough to take the Canadian classic Queen’s Plate and the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at 3. As a 4-year-old, Awesome Again was arguably the best horse in the country—many believe he deserved the champion older horse and Horse the Year titles that went to Skip Away in 1998—going 6-for-6, with five of his wins in graded stakes, culminating in a Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) victory over Silver Charm, Swain, Victory Gallop, Coronado’s Quest, Skip Away, Running Stag, Touch Gold, Arch, and Gentlemen, possibly the best field ever to face the starter in that event.

Although Awesome Again has not yet been represented by a winner of one of the U.S. Triple Crown events, he’s been a highly successful sire who counts a dozen grade I scorers among his 50 stakes winners, among them Ghostzapper , possibly the best horse to race in the U.S. in the current century; champion older mare Ginger Punch; Paynter, Awesome Gem, Game On Dude, Wilko, Round Pond, Toccet, Spun Sugar, Daaher , Dubai Escapade, and Sugar Shake.

A $250,000 Keeneland yearling, Oxbow was bred by Colts Neck Stables from Tizamazing, a daughter of Cee’s Tizzy. Tizamazing’s other two racing-aged foals are both winners, and include Oxbow’s brother Awesome Patriot , winner of the Alydar Stakes and also placed third in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III).

Tizamazing was unraced but she is a sister to no fewer than four stakes winners, three of them graded. The most decorated of the siblings is Tiznow : Horse of the Year and multiple champion, still the only two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and now a major sire. The other stakes-winning siblings to Tizamazing are Budroyale, who captured five graded stakes and took second in the Classic; the Sorrento Stakes (gr. II) victress Tizdubai; and Tizbud , who took the California Cup Classic Handicap and was graded-placed. Tizso, another sister to Tizamazing, failed to place in two starts, but has more than made up for the omission as a broodmare. She is dam of three stakes winners, including the graded scorer Tiz West and—more pertinent to the discussion regarding Oxbow—the Awesome Again colt Paynter.

This time last year, Paynter had yet to make his first appearance in public. His debut came in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight Feb. 18 at Santa Anita Park, and he immediately became a “talking horse,” scoring by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:02.98. Tackling the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on only his second start, Paynter was fourth, beaten 3 3/4 lengths by subsequent dual classic winner and champion 3-year-old colt I'll Have Another . Paynter’s next effort was a second in The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial Stakes (gr. III), in which he fell short by 1 1/2 lengths at the wire. Sidestepping the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Paynter scored a 5 3/4-length win in an allowance at Pimlico Race Course on the Preakness undercard, earning his place in the Belmont Stakes lineup.

He made a bold bid to annex the third leg of the Triple Crown, taking command from the off and only yielding to Union Rags —who had been allowed to sneak through on Paynter’s inside—in the final stride. Paynter’s only other start saw him record a dominating victory in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I), an effort that earned him a rating as the third leading 3-year-old dirt performer of 2012, behind only I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister . Paynter subsequently suffered a life-threatening illness, his recovery from which earned an Eclipse Award for Moment of the Year, and he is now back in training with Bob Baffert in California.

Cee’s Song, the second dam of Oxbow and Paynter, is a winning half sister to stakes winners Ceetoit (by Tizamazing and Tizso’s sire Cee’s Tizzy) and Leery Baba (subsequently granddam of graded scorer Bridge Game). Oxbow’s third dam, Lonely Dancer, is a winning half sister to Quantra (winner of the Maple Leaf Stakes) and stakes winner Mr. Kapacity. She was out of Sleep Lonely, a winning half sister to stakes winner Swinging Lizzie (dam of grade I winners Swing Till Dawn and Lively One) and to Snow Bower (granddam of English champion 2-year-old Digression, a son of Seattle Slew, the grandsire of the Cee’s Song). The family descends to Sleep Lonely’s granddam Blue Canary, a close relative to juvenile champion and influential sire Crimson Satan (both by grandsons of Black Toney out of the same mare, Papila). Papila was imported to the U.S. from Argentina in 1947, the family having come to Argentina from France in the late 1800s.

It’s likely that the inspiration for the cross that led to Awesome Patriot, Paynter, and Oxbow was Ghostzapper, who was by Awesome Again out of a mare by Relaunch, the paternal grandsire of the dams of the closely related trio). It is interesting to note, however, that while the cross of Awesome Again over the Cee’s Tizzy daughters of Cee’s Song has produced three stakes winners from six starters, Ghostzapper is the sole stakes winner from 31 other runners by Awesome Again out of Relaunch-line mares, so other factors likely are at work. (Relaunch apart, the nearest commonality between the Cee’s Tizzy–Cee’s Song daughters and Baby Zip, the dam of Ghostzapper, is that Cees’ Song’s granddam, Sleep Lonely, is by Pia Star, an Olympia/Blenheim II cross, over a mare by a son of Tom Fool, and Baby Zip is out of Thirty Zip, whose sire Tri Jet is by a son of Tom Fool, out of a mare bred on an Olympia/Blenheim II cross.) Finally, we’ll note that since he is by a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, out of a mare by a Breeders’ Cup Classic–getting sire, and closely related to a Belmont Stakes winner, there should be few concerns about Oxbow’s ability to stay classic distances.