by Alan Porter
It is beginning to look as if the freshman stallions of 2008 might have been an extraordinary group. Ten of this stallion class have already sired graded stakes winners, among them Speightstown who had a particularly good weekend Jan. 3 -4 with Haynesfield taking the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct and Gemswick Park scoring a game victory in the Old Hat Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park. Speightstown now has 18 individual first-crop winners, and in addition to his weekend black type scorers, he’s also been represented by Lord Shanakill, winner last year of the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes (Eng-II), and beaten in a photo finish for the Darley Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I); the Champagne Stakes second and Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (both gr. I) third Munnings ; Saratoga Special (gr. II) third Reynaldothewizard; and black type-placed Congor Bay.
That Speightstown’s runners have already achieved so much while only a week into their sophomore year is highly promising, given the race record of their sire. A $2 million yearling purchase by the Melnyk Racing Stable in 1999, Speightstown did come to hand early enough to make a juvenile debut at Saratoga, and he had clearly impressed at home, as he started favorite. He wasn’t able to live up to those expectations, however, and tired after racing greenly in the early stages. Away from the track until the following February, Speightstown returned to capture a six-furlong Gulfstream Park maiden special race by 6 3/4 lengths. Third in an allowance event next time out, Speightstown then tried tougher in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III), but finished unplaced, almost certainly finding the mile beyond him. Shipped to Woodbine, Speightstown reeled off three allowance wins before returning to the U.S. for the Amsterdam Stakes (gr. II). There, he battled through torrid fractions of :21.69 and :44.6 before succumbing to City Zip, who beat him a length on the Saratoga track.
It appeared that it would not be long before Speightstown would show some serious repayments on his purchase price. However, he then suffered a fractured shoulder, and disappeared for the better part of 21 months. When the now 5-year-old returned, it was in a seven-furlong allowance at Belmont Park in May 2003. In front early, Speightstown yielded the lead, but rallied gamely to score by a neck from Volponi (the upset winner of the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I)). Returning later the same month, Speightstown finished second in the Jaipur Handicap run over seven furlongs in the slop at Belmont, but once again his career was interrupted, this time by some minor problems, and he was sidelined until late the following March.
Speightstown’s reappearance saw him capture a long overdue first stakes win, as he took the Artax Handicap at Gulfstream Park by 4 1/2 lengths. This effort promised that the persistence of Speightstown’s connections was about to be rewarded, and on his next three starts Speightstown fulfilled that promise. The seven-furlong Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) saw him tally by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:21.38. He took the shorter six-furlong True North Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II) in 1:08.04, following fractions of :21.58 and :43.72, then equaled Saratoga’s six-furlong mark while winning the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II). Speightstown’s triumphant progress was interrupted in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I), where he finished third to the redoubtable Pico Central (BRZ) after stumbling at the start. However, he set the seal on his championship season in his only other outing, capturing the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) by 1 1/4 lengths.
Given that Speightstown appeared to continue to improve with age, and despite his various setbacks, his start at stud looks especially encouraging, particularly if one considers that 59 of his first crop have yet to make their debut.
Interestingly enough, Speightstown’s two weekend stakes winners also have pedigrees that suggest improvement with age. New York-bred Haynesfield, third on his debut at Saratoga in August, was winning his third straight race in four lifetime starts, having taken his maiden by 4 1/2 lengths in a 6 1/2-furlong Belmont contest, and the Damon Runyon Stakes (for New York-breds) by 5 1/4 lengths at 1 mile 70 yards on the Aqueduct oval. Haynesfield’s dam, Nothing Special, was unraced at 2 and minor stakes-placed at 3 and 4, but reached her peak at 5, when she captured the Cumberland Stakes and was several other times stakes-placed, including when third in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II). She has produced three other winners, the most notable of which is Mama Theresa, a Carson City filly who twice placed in New York-bred stakes. Nothing Special’s sire, Tejabo, was also late-maturing: third in the Canadian classic Prince of Wales Stakes at 3, he won the Fair Play Stakes at 4, and the Autumn Handicap at 5. Tejabo is a son of Deputy Minister, meaning that Nothing Special is bred along similar lines to one of Deputy Minister’s best sons, the Belmont Stakes and Buick Haskell Invitational Handicap (both gr. I) winner Touch Gold, who was out of Passing Mood, a half-sister to Nothing Special’s dam, Moody Maiden. A daughter of Buckpasser, Passing Mood produced four other black type winners, including Canadian Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner With Approval, and Touch Gold’s sister, Daijin, a listed stakes winner and grade I-placed performer who subsequently produced stakes winners Handpainted and Serenading, and is granddam of 2008 juvenile stakes scorer Patena.
Speightstown’s sire, Gone West, failed to sire a stakes winner from 20 foals out of mares by Deputy Minister and his sons, but the story has been different for his stallion sons, and Mr. Greeley, Elusive Quality, and Grand Slam – Gone West’s most successful U.S.-based stallion sons – all have graded stakes winners out of mares by Deputy Minister or his sons. Earlier stakes horses on the cross include grade I winners El Corredor (by Mr. Greeley) and Visionaire (by Grand Slam), graded scorers Strong Hope (who campaigned in the same colors as Speightstown) and Fire Slam (both by Grand Slam); Miraculous Miss and Time’s Mistress (both by Mr. Greeley); and Omega Code (by Elusive Quality).
Nothing Special’s dam, Moody Maiden, is by Apalachee, the product of a Princequillo/Nasrullah cross, so Nothing Special’s background (Northern Dancer over Princequillo/Nasrullah) is not too dissimilar to that of Speightstown’s broodmare sire, Storm Cat (Northern Dancer over Nasrullah/Princequillo).
Gemswick Park became her sire’s first U.S. graded scorer in a thrilling renewal of the Old Hat Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park. Coming off a third in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) and a second in the Tempted Stakes (gr. II), Gemswick Park narrowly outfought two other extremely promising fillies in Elusive Heat and Frolic’s Dream, who between them were undefeated in four starts entering the Old Hat.
A homebred for Eugene Melnyk, Gemswick Park is out of the Relaunch mare Queen’s Park. She did win twice at 2, but gained her black type at 3, with a win in the Jack Hardy Stakes at Assiniboia. Like the dam of Haynesfield, Queen’s Park has also previously produced a black type performer by Carson City, in her case the Shady Well Stakes second Queen’s College. Queen’s Park is half-sister to the Seeking the Gold filly Gold Tiara, an outstanding performer in Japan. Bright Tiara, their dam, is a sister to Chief Honcho, whose most prestigious victory came in the Brooklyn Handicap (gr. I) at the age of 5; and also half-sister to American Dance, dam of the three-time graded stakes winner American Chance and black type scorer Ophidian. The third dam, Expressive Dance, was a three-time graded stakes winner by Riva Ridge out of Exclusive Dancer, a stakes-winning and similarly-bred half-sister to Exclusive Native. Expressive Dance was also half-sister to General Assembly (one of the best sons of Riva Ridge’s one-time stable-companion, Secretariat), winner of the Travers and Hopeful Stakes (both gr. I).
Gemswick Park has a rather interesting pedigree background. Speightstown’s broodmare sire, Storm Cat, and Chief’s Crown (sire of the granddam of Gemswick Park) are both Northern Dancer/Secretariat crosses. In addition, Speightstown goes back to a half-sister to champion First Landing, whose son Riva Ridge is responsible for the third dam of Gemswick Park. As a result, Speightstown’s dam, Canadian champion 2-year-old filly Silken Cat, and Bright Tiara, the second dam of Gemswick Park, have rather similar backgrounds, both combining the Meadow Stud strains of Secretariat and Hildene (dam of First Landing and tail-female ancestress of Speightstown).