Well, that was propitious. The “that,” of course, was the pugnacious victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) by Always Dreaming who provided a perfect segue to this column by following up on the last several paragraphs of our previous analysis (“Unbridled Unleashed”). In that piece we began to explore the growing impact of the Unbridled sire line through Unbridled’s Song and Empire Maker .
Because of his longer record at stud, much of the article concentrated on Unbridled’s Song, but we pointed out the line through Empire Maker, though much younger, was coming on through his son, Pioneerof the Nile , who sired both 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2016 champion 2-year-old male Classic Empire.
We also pointed out that another son, Bodemeister , had been the third-ranking first-crop sire of 2016. In addition, his son Always Dreaming was coming up to the classics off a win in the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1). That Always Dreaming came home on top and Classic Empire finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby might not have surprised handicappers. However, the result underscored the importance of this rapidly emerging branch of a line which is often misidentified as that of Fappiano, sire of Unbridled.
The latter distinction is better applied to the second- and third-place finishers in the Derby, Lookin At Lee and Battle of Midway: the former is by Lookin At Lucky , a son of Smart Strike, who sired Battle of Midway. Smart Strike is now the most prominent son of Mr. Prospector on the sire list, where his Smart Strike’s son, Curlin , is firmly ensconced as well.
We have before us a historical pedigree and biomechanical conundrum that deliciously corresponds to the man-made evolution of the North American Thoroughbred within the confines of a nation with conflicting cultural issues.
Say what? Translation: The breed has been affected by a desire on the part of buyers (i.e., trainers) for larger horses over the past two decades because larger horses supposedly have longer strides and tougher
There is no proof of this theory, but as we stated earlier, in respect to the Unbridled line, these horses are larger than average, which often is coupled with lighter body mass, which in biomechanical terms suggests inconsistency. This is best shown in terms of the Empire Maker branch by the accompanying biomechanical Phenotype target. (The closer the dot is to the center, the more balanced the horse in terms of weight, power, and stride, and regardless of sex, the more likely it is to become a consistent producer.)
This target shows Fappiano in red, Unbridled in blue, and the seven active stallions from the Empire Maker branch that we have analyzed biomechanically, in green. Note that while most horses from Empire Maker’s branch are light in body weight, they are also fairly well balanced between stride and power, or tilted toward power—which is the dominant phenotype of the 21st century.
But more interesting is the way the branch, and the line, has moved from its founder, Fappiano, who is in the center of the target. It is ironic that while he had at least two dozen sons who achieved some success as stallions, most of them were lightly made. Aside from Unbridled, only two carried on beyond the first generation in North America—Quiet American, through Real Quiet, and Cryptoclearance, through Victory Gallop. In Argentina, Cryptoclearance’s look-alike son, Ride the Rails, had a modest record but did sire Candy Ride—and he is hardly what one would think of as a Fappiano—or an Unbridled. He is his own interesting type.
The bottom line is that what we hypothesize about sire lines and what we subsequently experience are often two different things. Whether we will ever get to the point where hypothesis meets reality might only be a dream…but dreams are what this game has always been about.