by Alan Porter
Given that his shed row housed the Futurity Stakes (gr. II) winner and subsequent Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) fourth, Tale of Ekati, it came as something of a surprise last year when trainer Barclay Tagg suggested that New York-bred Big Truck might be his most promising juvenile.
At that stage, Big Truck had beaten fellow state-breds by 6 1/2 lengths in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden on his debut. He returned to take the restricted Bertram F. Bongard Stakes over seven furlongs by two lengths, but his reputation was dented by a defeat as odds-on favorite for another New York-bred contest, the Sleepy Hollow Stakes. Here, he appeared to be cruising, but failed to find another gear in the closing stages and was beaten a pair of heads by Giant Moon and Coastal Drive. Tried against open company in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II), Big Truck had a horrible trip — the form comment on the race reads "in trouble throughout" — and his fourth, five lengths from winner Court Vision, couldn’t be taken as a fair reflection of his ability.
First time out at 3, Big Truck appeared not to handle the sloppy going when beaten over 11 lengths in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II). He ran a much better race on his second start of the year when a closing second to Fierce Wind in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Downs. He finally fulfilled the hopes that his impressive morning works had raised by running down the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) second, Atoned, to take the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) on March 15.
Big Truck is from the first crop of his sire, Hook and Ladder. Bred in Kentucky by the late Marshall Naify, Hook and Ladder started just twice in Naify’s colors. In his only start at 2, he won a six-furlong maiden at Hollywood Park by 5 1/4 lengths, recording a remarkable 110 Beyer speed figure. A close second in an allowance race at Hollywood Park in his first outing at 3, Hook and Ladder was sold to New Yorkers Chester and Mary Broman for $800,000 at the dispersal of 505 Farms (Estate of Marshall Naify) conducted by Barretts.
Now trained by John Kimmel, who would handle him for the rest of his career, Hook and Ladder next ran at Saratoga in September, when he took a six-furlong allowance race by seven lengths. For his next outing, Hook and Ladder was asked to make a giant leap of class, being sent for a particularly tough renewal of the Jerome Handicap (gr. II). After battling for the lead, he faded after a half. Fusaichi Pegasus went to on score with El Corredor and Albert the Great trailing in second and third, respectively. Given a break until the Gulfstream Park meet, Hook and Ladder started his 4-year-old campaign with easy wins in allowance and optional claiming events. In the Gulfstream Park Breeders’ Cup Sprint Handicap (gr. II), he faced a much tougher task, tackling one of the previous year’s best 3-year-old sprinters, Trippi. The race proved to be something of an epic. After leading through a first quarter in :22.17, Hook and Ladder’s rider attempted to lose Trippi with a :21.72 second quarter, hitting the half in :43.89. The maneuver did open up a 1 1/2-length gap, but Trippi renewed his challenge, and it was only after a fierce battle to the wire that Hook and Ladder got the verdict by a half length, in a time of 1:21.85. It’s arguable that this contest took its toll on both protagonists, as Trippi never won again, and Hook and Ladder never quite regained the same level of form. Hook and Ladder did take third in the Carter Handicap (gr. I) next time out, but his only subsequent placing at 4 was a second in the Forest Hills Handicap (gr. II). He took the Mr. Prospector Handicap (gr. III) first time out at 5, but had only an allowance third to show from three more starts at that age, and he failed to win in three outings at 6.
When it came time to retire Hook and Ladder to stud, the 7-year-old’s reputation had inevitably lost some of its luster. Standing at Sequel Stud in Hudson, N.Y., in a partnership between the Bromans and Sequel Stallions, Hook and Ladder began his stud career at a fee of $3,500. Realizing that support from outside mares was going to be thin, the partnership made a concentrated effort to support the horse with their own mares, and the effort has paid off. After an excellent reception for his first-crop yearlings, 28 of which sold for an average of $49,825, Hook and Ladder covered 80 mares at an advertised fee of $5,000 in 2006, and last year was bred to 124 mares at a fee of $6,000. This year he is again booked full, now at $10,000.
Big Truck — who was bred by Lewis Lakin, a partner of Sequel principal Becky Thomas — is one of four stakes horses to so far emerge from Hook and Ladder’s first crop. The others — all bred by the Bromans — are the New York Stallion Great White Way Stakes winner Spanky Fischbein, also runner-up this year in the Count Fleet Stakes; I Promise, who was beaten inches in last year’s Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III) and who is also stakes-placed this year; and the New York Stallion Fifth Avenue Stakes third, Noble Fire.
A $90,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old in training purchase, Big Truck is out of the Go For Gin mare Just a Ginny. A three-time winner, Just a Ginny is also dam of New York restricted-placed Logic Way, a son of Hook and Ladder’s stud companion, Freud. A half-sister to the graded stakes-placed Storm Cat colt Goodbye Doeny, Just a Ginny is out of Evangelic, a daughter of Halo. Evangelic herself was only a minor winner, but she is half-sister to Malevic, winner in Italy of the Premio Presidente della Repubblica (Ity-I). Big Truck’s fourth dam, Extra Place (by Round Table out of a mare bred on a cross similar to Northern Dancer’s sire, Nearctic), was something of a blue hen. She is dam of 11 winners, four of which won stakes, including the Princess Stakes (gr. III) winner Card Table and her sister Bold Place (both by Bold Bidder), and is granddam of several more, most notably Legal Case (IRE), winner of the Premio Roma (Ity-I) and Dubai Champion Stakes (Eng-I), and Schweppes Australian Oaks (Aus-I) victress Belle Chanson (AUS).
Big Truck has a TrueNicks rating of B+ on the basis of the Dixieland Band/Cormorant cross, Cormorant being the sire of Go for Gin, and it is notable that Dixieland Band has also done well, in general, with mares descending from Cormorant’s sire, His Majesty. Since Cormorant stood a significant part of his stud career in New York, Hook and Ladder should have plenty of opportunity to cross with his daughters. Go For Gin gives the pedigree an extra twist, as his dam is by a son of Prince John out of mare by Never Bend, while Hook and Ladder’s third dam, Fairway Fable, is by Never Bend out of a Prince John mare. Halo, the sire of the granddam of Big Truck, plays into this, as his broodmare sire, Cosmic Bomb, is a half-brother to the dam of Prince John. Of course, Halo’s dam is also a half-sister to the dam of Northern Dancer (grandsire of Hook and Ladder), and since Big Truck also has Northern Dancer’s sire, Nearctic, and the closely-related Sybil’s Sister 4 x 6, there is a considerable reinforcement of his background.
It’s possible that Big Truck may now just train up to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and apparently Tagg has no doubts about his ability to get the distance. On pedigree there has to be a question, however, as Hook and Ladder did all of his best work at up to seven furlongs, and in fact was only once tried beyond that trip. Against that, he doesn’t have the build of a typical sprint specialist, and his pedigree — by Dixieland Band out of a Cox’s Ridge mare — is not a pure sprinting one either. The distaff side of Big Truck’s pedigree is pretty stout, too. Go For Gin won the Derby (and finished second in the Preakness and Belmont (both gr. I)), and the second dam is both by a horse who won up to 1 1/2 miles (Halo) and is a half-sister to a group I winner over the classic 1 1/4-mile distance.