In an age when it is increasingly common for a colt to reach the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with no more than four or five lifetime starts under its belt, one sharp race in February by a lightly tried youngster tends to inspire owners and trainers to start plotting a course to the roses. But Starlight Racing may be bucking the trend. After Thunder Moccasin's visually impressive win Feb. 11 in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II), the stable's tentative plan is not roses in May but one-turn sprint races—at least for now.
History may be playing a role in the decision, for another Starlight runner, Keyed Entry (owned in partnership with Donald Lucarelli—now a partner in Starlight Racing—and Paul Saylor), won the Hutcheson in 2006, setting a Gulfstream Park track record for 7½ furlongs. Unfortunately for his owners' Derby dreams, the Honour and Glory colt (a half brother to this year's classic hopeful Algorithms ) proved unable to transition to longer distances and may have had a promising career as a sprinter compromised.
Rather similarly to Keyed Entry, Thunder Moccasin has a pedigree that close up suggests shorter distances as his forte, but with staying elements further back. He is from the second crop of A. P. Warrior, a grade II winner on both dirt and turf at 8½ furlongs. That distance turned out to be his limit, although he ran third three times in graded events at nine furlongs—somewhat disappointing for a son of Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic (both gr. I) winner A.P. Indy.
A. P. Warrior probably owes his shorter tether to his dam Warrior Queen (by Quiet American), whose wins were both over six furlongs in Ireland. While she had enough class to win a listed stakes as a juvenile, she was badly out of her depth when sent over for the 1999 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) —her lone start at more than six furlongs—and floundered home eighth of nine. Given the difference in both distance and surface from what she had been doing, it was perhaps not a fair test, but she was not given another opportunity to show her mettle over longer trips though her pedigree suggested that a mile should have been within her scope. While she was inbred 3x3 to the speedy Mr. Prospector, both crosses were through sons (Fappiano and Afleet) that were grade I winners at a mile and graded winners at nine furlongs. Further, while Quiet American's biggest win was in the 1990 NYRA Mile Handicap (gr. I), he stayed well enough to finish second in the Charles H. Strub Stakes (gr. I) at 10 furlongs.
Bred in Kentucky by Stonewall Farm Stallions, Thunder Moccasin also has speed close up on the dam's side. He is out of One Stormy Mama, whose sire Storm Cat was a reliable source of both precocity and speed. Appearances can be deceiving, however, for One Stormy Mama took down both her career victories at distances longer than a mile while failing six times from six starts in sprints.
One Stormy Mama was not the only curve ball thrown out by her dam Wicked Mama, for the latter mare also produced grade III-placed Saada, a son of the staying Thunder Gulch , whose five wins were at an average distance of six furlongs. Herself winner of the 1995 Dade Breeders' Cup Turf Classic Stakes over eight furlongs, Wicked Mama was bred along staying lines, being by Devil's Bag (a juvenile champion, but bred to stay classic distances) out of Conjuror, by 1970 English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II. While unraced, Conjuror was closely related to 1983 Prix du Jockey Club (Fr-I) winner Caerleon, a son of Nijinsky II whose dam Foreseer (by Round Table) was also the dam of Conjuror's dam Palmistry (by Forli). The last-named mare was a stakes winner on both dirt and turf at Santa Anita.
Thunder Moccasin is inbred 4x4 to the great Secretariat through his classy daughters Weekend Surprise (dam of A.P. Indy) and Terlingua (dam of Storm Cat), but another interesting angle of his pedigree is the pairing of Storm Cat's sire Storm Bird (Northern Dancer—South Ocean) with his close relative Ocean's Answer, granddam of Warrior Queen. A stakes winner as a juvenile in Canada, Ocean's Answer is by Northern Dancer's son Northern Answer out of South Ocean.
Thunder Moccasin is perhaps lucky to be owned and trained by the same connections as the aforementioned Algorithms. With a promising candidate for the Triple Crown events already in the barn, neither Starlight Racing nor trainer Todd Pletcher have any pressing need to try to stretch out Thunder Moccasin early. This does not preclude the possibility that the athletic bay may not try longer trips later in his career, but it may mean a better chance for him to develop on his own schedule rather than on one dictated by Derby fever. And if he does show up for, say, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) rather than the Kentucky Derby, he could be a very interesting fresh face along the Triple Crown trail.