Owner/breeder Tanya Gunther spied a potentially rich vein of talent while prospecting for mates for her family's graded-placed winner Stage Magic. A mating with Ashford Stud's Scat Daddy created a 4x4 inbreeding to the full sisters Preach and Yarn.
"This is a good family these mares come from, and I was hoping to bring together the best of the best from them," Gunther said about the daughters by Mr. Prospector out of grade 3 winner Narrate. "We tend to breed classic-type distance horses. We look at stamina versus speed. To be a good racehorse, you need that lethal combination of both."
The mating resulted in Justify, the undefeated Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) favorite who will be fighting this weekend to become North America's 13th Triple Crown winner.
Preach and Yarn are the products of a female family that Claiborne Farm has nurtured since 1951 when Arthur Hancock Sr. bought Knight's Daughter, who was bred and owned by King George VI, for 2,500 guineas at the Tattersalls December sale at Newmarket. The second foal Claiborne produced out of Knight's Daughter was Round Table, a six-time champion and 1958 Horse of the Year. Claiborne bred Knight's Daughter back to Princequillo in 1956 and got a stakes-winning full sister to Round Table named Monarchy, who is the third dam of both Preach and Yarn.
Yarn is the second foal out of Narrate, who distinguished herself on the racetrack by winning the Falls City Handicap (G3) and placing in three other graded stakes. Raced as a Claiborne homebred in the care of trainer Steven Penrod for her first four starts and later Robert Desensi, Yarn only managed a win, a second, and a third out of six starts and earned a bit over $19,000. Her lackluster racing career created an opportunity for Bourbon County breeder Shack Parrish, who acquired her privately for his Indian Creek Farm broodmare band.
"We bought her because it was a family on the move and then Preach came along right after that," Parrish said.
Preach was foaled in 1989, just a yearling when Yarn retired from racing. The tough-minded Claiborne homebred trained by Shug McGaughey won her first time out by 5 1/4 lengths in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga Race Course. In her second start she finished third in the Spinaway Stakes (G1) and parlayed that run into a victory in the Frizette Stakes (G1). At 3, Preach won the listed Bourbonette Stakes but would not manage another graded stakes victory. She did finish third in the Prioress Stakes (G2) and Test Stakes (G1). Preach retired with a 4-1-4 record out of 15 starts and $304,656 in earnings.
As Preach wound down her racing career in 1993, Yarn produced her first foal—a filly by Ogygian named Myth. Like her dam, Myth did not turn heads at the races. She won once and finished second three times out of 16 starts and collected $25,110 in purses.
Wayne Lyster III picked up Myth as a broodmare prospect at the 1997 Keeneland November breeding stock sale for $350,000. He bred the young mare to Hennessy and got Johannesburg, who won a dazzling four grade/group 1 stakes in 2001 for Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor, including the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). He was named champion 2-year-old colt in both the United States and Europe.
Johannesburg got three graded stakes winners as a freshman sire, with his chief earner being grade 1 winner Scat Daddy. The colt out of Love Style (Mr. Prospector) went from strength to strength by winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and the Florida Derby (G1) at 3. Scat Daddy injured a tendon during an unplaced effort in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and was retired soon after.
Preach, meanwhile, had earned a place in the Claiborne broodmare band and was mated to A.P. Indy during her first breeding season. She produced a big strapping colt named Pulpit.
"For her first foal, Pulpit was a standout," said Claiborne farm manager Bradley Purcell. "Usually they are not a mare's best effort, but Pulpit was just a big, athletic-looking colt from the day he was born."
Pulpit, like all of Preach's foals, had to be raised on a nurse mare because Preach was aggressively protective of her foals.
"Preach was tough. She didn't want people coming into her stall or paddock with her foals. She would run you out," Purcell remembered. "We had to raise all her foals on nurse mares to be protective of our people."
Without a foal at her side, Purcell said, Preach was not nearly as aggressive but never an easy mare.
"When she is on her regular schedule, turned out with seven or eight other mares, she is happy and easy to get along with," he said. "When the routine was off, whether the vet or the blacksmith was coming, she was smart and knew when these things were coming around. Anything you needed to do with her, she made you work."
Raced by Claiborne Farm and trainer Frank Brothers, Pulpit did not make his first start until Jan. 11 of his sophomore year when he blasted gate-to-wire through a seven-furlong maiden special weight, winning by 7 1/2 lengths. It was another eight lengths back to the third-place finisher.
Pulpit won an allowance race by 6 3/4 lengths in his second start before winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). He next finished second in the Florida Derby, won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), and finished a respectable fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Pulpit was also injured in the Derby and entered stud at Claiborne in 1998.
Among the 138 black-type performers sired by Pulpit is a grade 1-placed winner named Magical Illusion, who was bred in Kentucky by Joseph Allen and sold for $110,000 as a yearling to William Clifton Jr. by Lane's End as agent. Magical Illusion won three times in six starts and was third in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). She only raced at 3 and was sold as a broodmare prospect for $425,000 to John Gunther, Tanya Gunther's father, at the 2005 Keeneland January winter mixed sale.
Magical Illusion was bred in 2006 during her second breeding season to Adena Springs Kentucky's speedy new sire and 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper . The mating produced grade 3-placed winner Stage Magic, the dam of Justify.
"It has been amazing watching the full sisters go along like they did and some of their younger relatives have appeared to keep going," said Parrish, who noted Yarn's stakes-winning daughter Spunoutacontrol went on to produce multiple graded winner Fed Biz and black-type winner Spun Silk, who is the dam of grade 1 winner Joking. Yarn is also the dam of Castanea, who is at Indian Creek and has two stakes-producing daughters, including Exit Three, who is the dam of graded winner Untrapped.
"Yarn and Preach both seem to be holding up their ends of the family," Parrish said.
Yarn, who died in 2015, produced five winners from five starters out of six foals. Her top performers were multiple group 1 winner Minardi (by Boundary), who was named the 2000 highweight 2-year-old in England and Ireland; and, grade 2 winner Tale of the Cat (Storm Cat), who won the King's Bishop Stakes (G2) and placed third twice in the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) and was second in the Whitney Handicap (G1).
At the sales, Yarn's progeny generated $2,345,000 in gross sales. Minardi rang the bell at the 1999 Keeneland September yearling sale when Coolmore's then-bloodstock agent Demi O'Byrne bought him for $1.65 million from Indian Creek's consignment.
Yarn's progeny and the runners her daughters have produced include 16 black-type performers to date. In addition to the top horses already mentioned are graded winners Stanford and Hedge Fund, and black-type winners Mark My Way, Hard to Stay Notgo, and Haul Anchor.
Preach is now a 29-year-old pensioner at Claiborne, spending lazy days in a paddock with eight companions that include Starry Dreamer, the dam of top international sire War Front ; stakes-placed, black-type producer Cunning; multiple graded stakes producer Hidden Reserve; and, Matlacha Pass, the dam of five-time grade 1-winning sire Point of Entry .
Before her retirement in 2013, Preach produced 12 starters and 12 winners from 14 foals. Pulpit would be her only black-type winner, but her runners included two other black-type performers—group 3-placed English winner Urban Poet (Dynaformer) and stakes-placed U.S. turf winner Tell It (Storm Cat). Preach's progeny raced in England, Ireland, and North America, where they amassed $1,366,941 in collective earnings.
At auction, Preach's offspring generated $7.67 million in gross sales. Her top sellers were Impervious, a son of Storm Cat, who Sheikh Mohammed's former bloodstock agent John Ferguson bought for $3 million at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale; and, Urban Poet, who Ferguson bought for $2.9 million at the 2007 Keeneland September sale.
The runners produced by Preach and her daughters include 12 black-type performers to date. Aside from those already mentioned, they include graded winner Wild Shot, group/grade 1-placed stakes winners Endless Chatter and Whitecliffsofdover, grade 3-placed stakes winner Nun the Less, and black-type winners Nunnery and Dream Nettie.
"There are certain matings, a lot of matings, where you feel it all just clicks. That is when I feel really excited about it," said Tanya Gunther. "Justify was one of those that I had thought about every way and was excited about what the end results would be. I basically had hoped to concentrate good genes. It is amazing when it actually works out."