(Appears in the June 17, 2006 issue of The Blood-Horse)
Four straight. A mind-boggling eight of the last nine. Ten of the last 12. An even dozen. Those overwhelming figures are the number of Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winners tracing in male line to Mr. Prospector. It was Mr. Prospector's son, Seeking the Gold, who sired this year's winner of America's longest classic. Jazil, bred in Kentucky by Stanley Gumberg's Skara Glen Stables, became his sire's first United States classic winner when he came from last to capture the 1 1/2-mile Belmont for Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Stable. Just three weeks earlier, Sheikh Hamdan's brother, Sheikh Mohammed, won the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with Bernardini. Seeking the Gold held a particularly strong hand going into the Belmont. Another son, Bob and John, who won the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) in April, went off as the slight 9-2 favorite and led for the first part of the race. Bob and John later weakened and finished unplaced. Like Jazil, Bob and John is out of a Deputy Minister mare. Although Jazil was Seeking the Gold's first U.S. classic winner, the 21-year-old stallion has done his share in providing a good dose of stamina to a pedigree and making the Mr. Prospector sire line among the greatest in history. Since entering stud in 1990 at the Hancock family's Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky., Seeking the Gold has sired such champions and/or grade/group I winners as Dubai Millennium, Heavenly Prize, Cash Run, Flanders, Cape Town, Seeking the Pearl, Dream Supreme, Oh What a Windfall, Victory Ride, and 2005 Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner Pleasant Home. With the exception of Pleasant Home, the others mentioned above were foaled from 1991-98, which indicates a recent dry spell for Seeking the Gold.
Jazil and Bob and John have done their best to end that type of thinking. Behind the success of Seeking the Gold lies Mr. Prospector's overwhelming strength as a sire of sires. Few stallions in history have been able to pass on to so many sons a strong propensity for siring top-quality runners, who in turn do the same with their sons, and so on. Charles Koch, breeding shed manager at Claiborne, does his best to explain the Mr. Prospector phenomenon. "When I take groups at the farm and try to explain to them about Mr. Prospector, I say he is like what Michael Jordan was to the NBA times 10, or times 100, whatever, just so they can put it in perspective how important this horse is and how much of an impact he is going to have on future generations in the next 100 years or so," he said. Although Seeking the Gold had two representatives in the Belmont, his strength as a stallion largely has been built as a sire of fillies. "This Belmont win is great for Seeking the Gold because he's (viewed) as a sire of fillies," Koch added, while mentioning Seeking the Gold's international champion son, Dubai Millennium. "Now maybe he'll get a little recognition for throwing some good colts." As good as Mr. Prospector was, he didn't teach his son much in the way of breeding shed manners. But that hardly seems to have mattered, since Seeking the Gold's runners have performed well on the racetrack. "Seeking the Gold is the opposite of Mr. Prospector in the breeding shed," Koch said. "You could lead in Mr. Prospector to the breeding shed like a puppy. He'd come in very professional and breed his mare in one jump. He wanted to breed every mare who came to the farm. "Seeking the Gold is loud and obnoxious. He has no rhyme or reason to what he likes or does. If he likes a mare, you're in good shape. He'll give her three or four jumps and be done in 15-20 minutes. If he doesn't like a mare, it could be two hours. A bird will fly in and he'll get distracted, or he could start looking for his imaginary friend in the barn. We pull our hair out in the breeding shed, but he's obviously worth it." Grade I Winner
Seeking the Gold was a star racehorse for breeder/owner Ogden Phipps and was bred like one. He not only was by Mr. Prospector, but was produced from a winning daughter of 1966 Horse of the Year Buckpasser.
A Phipps homebred, Buckpasser developed into one of the most influential broodmare sires of modern times, and his influence in pedigrees remains highly important. Like many of Phipps' major winners, Seeking the Gold descended from a mare Phipps purchased from the estate of Col. E.R. Bradley in 1946. Phipps, along with Robert Kleberg Jr. of King Ranch and John Hay "Jock" Whitney, purchased the entire group of horses from Bradley's estate. Phipps' share included the Blue Larkspur mare Businesslike, who was in foal to War Admiral, and a Challedon yearling filly named Flitabout, both of whom figure in Seeking the Gold's pedigree. Businesslike foaled a filly the following year, who under the name Busanda won such major stakes as the Suburban Handicap, Alabama Stakes, and two consecutive runnings of the Saratoga Cup. As a broodmare, she produced Buckpasser. Buckpasser also appears twice in the fifth generation of Belmont runner-up Bluegrass Cat, who also ran second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Flitabout, who failed to win a stakes, became the dam of stakes winner Broadway, who herself produced Con Game, as well as important stakes winners Queen of the Stage and Reviewer for Phipps. Queen of the Stage was the 1967 champion 2-year-old filly. Reviewer became best known for siring the great Ruffian for Phipps' sister, Barbara, and her husband, Stuart S. Janney Jr. Seeking the Gold began his racing career at auspicious grounds, but at an inauspicious time. The track was hallowed Hialeah, but it was in December of 1987 during the track's twilight years. Seeking the Gold won by a dozen lengths in his sole start as a 2-year-old. On the same card, Personal Flag, a Phipps homebred, won the Widener Handicap (gr. I). As a 3-year-old, Seeking the Gold displayed a great deal of heart in several important skirmishes for trainer Shug McGaughey. He won the Super Derby (gr. I) by a neck and finished a nose behind Claiborne homebred Forty Niner in both the Travers (gr. I) and Haskell Invitational (gr. I) Stakes. In the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), Seeking the Gold was beaten a half-length by the older Alysheba, who was an easy choice for Horse of the Year. Seeking the Gold stayed in training as a 4-year-old, but only raced twice. He was retired after a nose loss in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) in May, with eight wins and six seconds from 15 starts and earnings of $2,307,000. He joined Forty Niner at Claiborne and began stud duty the following year. Seeking the Gold's first crop yielded Heavenly Prize, a Phipps homebred and champion 3-year-old filly of 1994, plus seven other stakes winners. Phipps died in 2002, and management of Seeking the Gold was transferred to son Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps. Seeking the Gold, who stands for a syndicate for $125,000, has sired 74 stakes winners and the earners of $72 million. Dam Stamina
The quality of Jazil's pedigree also is expressed in a major way in the colt's female family. His first three dams--Better Than Honour, Blush With Pride, and Best in Show, respectively--were all important stakes winners. And now, with Jazil's Belmont win, Better Than Honour joined the other two as important stakes producers. Better Than Honour and Blush With Pride did their part in supplying stamina to Jazil's pedigree. Better Than Honour, who was bred in Kentucky by Carl Icahn's Foxfield and raced for Robert Waxman, ran the winner to a nose decision in the 1998 Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) at 1 1/8 miles for 2-year-old fillies, then was awarded the win following a disqualification. (Moved up to third was Oh What a Windfall, who had won the Matron Stakes, gr. I, earlier that year.) Better Than Honour also proved tough as a 3-year-old. She was beaten a neck in the Comely Stakes (gr. III) in her seasonal debut, then finished a head behind Three Ring in a runner-up effort in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I). In what was her last race, she ran third in the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I). She was retired with eight wins or placings in eight races and earnings of $250,920. Skara Glen acquired Better Than Honour privately after she produced her first foal, a Storm Cat filly named Teeming, for John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farm, in 2001. For Skara Glen, Better Than Honour not only produced Jazil, who was foaled at William S. Farish's Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky., but also two A.P. Indy fillies. Jazil was bought by Shadwell Estate for $725,000 at the 2004 Keeneland September yearling sale from the consignment of Lane's End, agent. The younger of the two A.P. Indy fillies, 2-year-old Rags to Riches, was in action at Churchill Downs the day of the Belmont for the first time. She finished fourth after a poor start in a maiden race for owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. Rags to Riches was sold to Demi O'Byrne for $1.9 million at the 2005 Keeneland September sale. Lane's End consigned as agent. Better Than Honour went through the 2004 Keeneland November breeding stock sale in foal to Mineshaft . Consigned by Lane's End, agent, Better Than Honour was bought for $2 million by the Irish branch of the British Bloodstock Agency. Better Than Honour's two recent foals, a Mineshaft yearling colt and a 2006 Giant's Causeway colt, were bred in Kentucky by Shell Bloodstock. Better Than Honour is boarded at Ashford Stud near Versailles, and is back in foal to Giant's Causeway, who stands at Ashford. Best in Show was 1982 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year. Her achievement coincided with Blush With Pride's 3-year-old season in which the filly won four graded stakes and earned $516,657 as a Kentucky homebred for Darrell and Lendy Brown. Blush With Pride, who initially raced for Lendy Brown's father, Leonard K. Firestone, captured the 1982 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), Santa Susana Stakes (gr. I, now the Santa Anita Oaks), Ashland Stakes (gr. II), and a division of the 1 3/8-mile Golden Harvest Handicap (gr. IIIT). Blush With Pride's stakes winners not only included Better Than Honour, but also European group winners Smolensk and Turnberry Isle. Blush With Pride died last August in Ireland. Best in Show, bred in Kentucky by Philip Connors, scored her big win in the 1968 Comely Stakes for Norman S. Woolworth's Clearview Stables. Her other stakes winners were Irish champion male Malinowski and European group winners Gielgud and Monroe. The success of Jazil and Bob and John ended a drought for the combination of Seeking the Gold and Deputy Minister mares. According to The Blood-Horse Nicks of 2006, none of the 10 offspring from that cross had won a stakes prior to last fall. The success of those two grade I winners now might have breeders looking more favorably to that pedigree cross. In fact, Robert and Janice McNair, who race homebred Bob and John in the name of Stonerside Stable, returned the colt's dam, Minister's Melody, to Seeking the Gold earlier this year. Minister's Melody has been pronounced in foal.