By Alan Porter
The weekend brought a couple of new players to the 3-year-old scene and also underlined just how strong the second-crop sires are.
Of course, the big story was Rachel Alexandra’s demolition of the colts in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I). Rachel Alexandra, whose pedigree we have discussed a number of times, is from the first crop of Medaglia d'Oro , and the second and third here -- Summer Bird and Munnings -- are from the first crop of two other stallions, Birdstone and Speightstown . The weekend’s other big prep race for the Travers Stakes (gr. I), the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga, saw the Kensei, a son of Mr. Greeley, take one for the established stallions, but his runner-up, Warrior's Reward , is another by Medaglia d'Oro .
As to the two new faces: the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. II), saw Soul Warrior (a member of the first crop of Lion Heart) score from Big Drama , with Mine That Bird (Birdstone ) third, and the off-turf Jersey Derby provided a first stakes win for Endymion (by last year’s leading freshman sire Tapit ), with Despite the Odds (a Speightstown who had previously won the Hill Prince Stakes (gr. III) in similar sloppy going) second, and Code of Honour (a stakes-winning son of yet another second-year sire, Florida’s Omega Code ). So overall, first-crop sophomore sires took nine of the 12 win, place, or show spots in these four races.
The West Virginia Derby was the first stakes winn for Soul Warrior, who has proved to be a progressive type. He didn’t start until last November, when he finished second in a Churchill Downs maiden. His only other start at 2 came at the Fair Grounds, where he won a maiden special weight December 29. Soul Warrior was highly-tried in his first two starts at 3, finishing off the board behind Friesan Fire in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) and Louisiana Derby (gr. II). Dropped back into allowance company, he was a comfortable winner of a one-mile contest in the slop at Churchill Downs. On his only other outing prior to the West Virginia Derby, he took second in the Iowa Derby, beaten five lengths after contesting the early pace.
A $290,000 OBS select sals 2-year-old in training (after realizing $175,000 as a Keeneland November weanling and $95,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale), Soul Warrior’s immediate background suggested he might be an early juvenile. He’s by Lion Heart, a spectacular 2-year-old, out of a mare by Meadowlake, a horse who went three-for-three, including a win in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. I). Of course, Lion Heart, who took the Jack Daniel’s Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III) – running seven furlongs in 1:20.63 – and the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) at 2, did train on to become one of the leading members of his crop at 3. In his second season, he won the Long Branch Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. III) and Haskell Invitational (gr. I), and also took runner-up spots in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), and San Rafael Stakes (gr. II). Lion Heart has seven first-crop stakes winners, and in addition to Soul Warrior, they include Azul Leon (winner last year of the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) and Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III)); Silent Valor, successful in the Sapling Stakes (gr. III) at 2; and Heart Ashley, who has taken the Cicada Stakes and Miss Preakness Stakes (both gr. III) this year.
Soul Warrior was foaled when his dam Urmia was 18 years old. She never won, but previously produced stakes-winning and graded-placed My Miss Storm Cat. Soul Warrior’s second dam, Chaldea (by Cutlass), won the Bed o’Roses and First Flight Handicaps (both gr. III), and is also granddam of near $570,000 earner Better Than Bonds. Chaldea had a talented half-sister in the Kris S. filly Cheval Volant, who garnerned a pair of grade I events. Cheval Volant’s family has made its strongest impact in England, where she is granddam of the Sagitta One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) victress Lahan (GB) and 2009 group-winning sprinter Finjaan (GB), and third dam of 2009 listed scorer and group-placed Alwaary. Soul Warrior’s sixth dam, Flaring Top, is also granddam of Nijinsky II and third dam of brothers The Minstrel and Far North. Of course Nijinsky II is also in the pedigree of Lion Heart’s sire, Tale of the Cat. Soul Warrior himself has a somewhat unusual pedigree pattern, as he is bred on an extended version of the Northern Dancer/Speak John cross, and his own third dam, Flight, is by a son of Northern Dancer out of a Speak John mare. The Northern Dancer here comes through a pair of Windfields Farm horses with a somewhat similar pedigree, Storm Bird and Barachois (a brother to the great Canadian mare Fanfreluche, and also to Night Shift, sire of the second dam of Lion Heart graded winner Azul Leon). Another interesting factor to note with this pedigree is that Lion Heart’s dam has horses bred on the Hail to Reason (Turn-to)/Djeddah (Djebel (FR)) cross 1 x 3 in her pedigree. Soul Warrior’s second dam is by Cutlass, who is inbred 3 x 3 to My Babu (by Djebel out of a half-sister to the dam of Turn-to).
Endymion has also made considerable improvement with age. Unplaced on the turf at Saratoga in his first start at 2, he switched to the dirt to take a maiden at the Meadowlands on his only other juvenile outing. He graduated from his “1x” condition in a Monmouth Park allowance on his third try at that level, and prepped for the Jersey Derby with a third in the Coronado’s Quest Stakes.
Endymion is the tenth stakes winner for his sire Tapit, the others including champion 2-Year-old filly Stardom Bound, grade I winner Laragh, graded scorers Hightap, Careless Jewel, and War Echo, the Japan Dirt Derby winner Testa Matta, and As de Trebol (champion 2-year-old in Spain, a country whose races don’t yet qualify for black type, but also group-placed in France). Endymion has made four trips to the sale ring with wildly fluctuating results. A $210,000 Keeneland November weanling, he was a $22,000 RNA at Keeneland September, then knocked down for $15,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall yearling sale. Last year he was a $195,000 RNA at the Keeneland April 2-year-old sale.
Endymion’s dam, the Shadeed mare Forever Young, is half-sister to French listed scorer Mais Oui (dam of Imperfect World, a group/graded winner in France and the U.S., and stakes winners Monsieur Cat and Awesome of Course), to Petiteness (a stakes-placed runner who is dam of the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. I) victor Scorpion), and to Zakiyya (granddam of the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (gr. IT) heroine Alwajeeha). The granddam, Affirmatively, is a daughter of Affirmed, out of champion older mare Straight Deal, dam of grade I winner Desiree and stakes winners Belonging and Reminiscing, and ancestress of numerous other major winners including Adored, Qualify, the ill-fated Eight Belles, Belong to Me, Persevered, Premiership, Skipaslew, and Compassionate.
Whereas Soul Warrior has two crosses of Nijinsky II’s family, Endymion has three crosses of Nijinsky II himself, appearing 6 x 4 x 3 (coincidentally, one of the Nijinsky II sources is common to Soul Warrior and Endymion, as Tapit’s sire, Pulpit, is out of a sister to the dam of Lion Heart’s sire Tale of the Cat, both going back to Narrate, whose damsire was Nijinsky II). Endymion’s dam is a reverse Nijinsky II/Raise a Native cross to the dam of Tapit, and Pulpit’s dam Preach also combines Raise a Native and Nijinsky II. In addition, Endymion goes back to La Troienne in tail female line, and Tapit has seven crosses of that illustrious mare.