Thirty-three years ago, as spring was pushing away winter, a bay colt with a splash of white above his eyes romped with a pack of youngsters up and down the hilly terrain of Marshall Jenney's Derry Meeting Farm in Cochranville, Pa. Turned loose from their mares the previous fall, the young horses galloped, played, and carried on in the open air that forged muscle and toughness in them. It was a grand start for a racing career.
Danzig was that white-starred colt. He grew to be deep-chested and 15.3 hands, a lengthy son of the great Northern Dancer. Winner of all three of his races during his 3-year-old season, Danzig was retired due to left knee joint problems in 1981. He went on to be a world super sire at Claiborne Farm, producing consistent winners that could race on dirt and turf, and at sprint or classic distances.
At the time of his death in 2006, Danzig led all North American-based sires in number of stakes winners and percentage of stakes winners from foals. In 22 crops Danzig boasted 21 champions in America and Europe. Today, Danzig’s influence is spreading and increasing-- his sons and grandsons spending life at stud as important sires, in Japan, Ireland, England, America and points in between.
The spotlight shines brightly on a quartet of Danzig’s descendents on the 2011 Kentucky Derby Trail.
He makes it look so easy. The Factor (a Danzig grandson) crushed a field of nine rivals with a 6 ¼-length victory in the $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oakland Park on March 19. It was yet another wire-to-wire win for the War Front colt in his first start around two turns. Trained by Bob Baffert, the brilliant colt controlled the pace through a half-mile in :46.77 and six furlongs in 1:10.98 before spurting away in the stretch. He completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.19 for his third win from four career starts.
“He is really that fast," said jockey Martin Garcia. "He surprises a lot of people. He doesn’t look like he’s going as fast as he is. He just keeps going. Today was his first time going that distance and look what he did. Nobody was going to catch him today.
"I had a lot left," added Garcia, who feels more distance is not a problem for The Factor.
"It was pretty amazing what he did today," marveled Baffert, who won the Rebel last year with Looking at Lucky. "This was a more demanding track than Santa Anita and he probably got more out of this than any race so far. This should really set him up."
The Factor emerged as a strong Derby contender with a gate-to-wire win in the $150,000 San Vicente Stakes in February. The powerful colt went straight to the front and never looked back, churning out blistering fractions of :22.20, :43.41, and 107.31. In early January, The Factor broke a 21-year-old track record winning a six-furlong maiden race by 8 1/4 lengths in 1:06.98.
Questions surrounding The Factor's ability to harness his speed and to stay 1 1/16 miles were quickly put to rest in The Rebel as he took an uncontested lead and rolled home never really challenged. The Factor might return to Oaklawn for the April 16 $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles.
Out of the Misawki mare Greyciousness, The Factor was bred in Kentucky by H & W Thoroughbreds. The gray/roan colt was purchased for $250,000 as a 2-year-old at Barretts last May by Fog City Stable and George Bolton.
On a postcard day at Santa Anita Park, Anthony’s Cross stole the show and thrust himself into the classic spotlight with a game victory in the $250,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park in mid-February.
Anthony’s Cross took it to the much heralded Tapizar who was the heavy favorite (1-5) based on his easy victory in last month's Sham Stakes, as well as his seeming pace domination. After the break Tapizar got way too aggressive, wildly pulling his way to the front and setting blistering fractions under Garrett Gomez covering six furlongs in 1:09.52.
Entering the stretch Tapizar tired and faded badly as Anthony’s Cross rolled past the pacesetter. He showed true toughness in the deep stretch as he repelled Riveting Reason for a nose victory positively responding to jockey Joel Rosario’s handling. Anthony’s Cross covered 1 1/8 miles on a track rated as fast in 1:48.63.
Back in 2008 Anthony’s Cross roamed the pastures of Derry Meeting Farm. Longtime best pals with the late Jenney, George Strawbridge Jr. keeps a substantial broodmare band at the farm where his young horses are raised. Strawbridge bred Anthony’s Cross. Sired by Indian Charlie out of Screening (by Unbridled), the colt was purchased for $300,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale in 2009. He is a great grandson of Danzig.
Trained by Southern California-based Eoin Harty, in the Sham Stakes in January Anthony's Cross finished third, 9 1/4 lengths behind Tapizar. Harty added blinkers to him for the Lewis.
"Tapizar had me scared after his last start,” Harty acknowledged. "But other than Tapizar, the others were unproven, mostly turf horses. I thought he (Anthony’s Cross) would come around more mentally on his own, but it didn't happen, so I added blinkers and worked him twice in them before the race.”
Anthony’s Cross improved to two wins in six starts and earnings of $195,020. Anthony’s Cross is the 55th stakes winner for Indian Charlie, who is also the sire of current leading Derby hopeful Uncle Mo, last season’s champion two-year-old male. An assistant trainer to Bob Baffert, Harty was associated with many top runners owned by the late Lewis and his widow, Beverly, including Indian Charlie and Silver Charm, the 1997 Kentucky Derby winner.
“There aren’t a lot of similarities between him and Indian Charlie, but there are a lot of similarities between him and his broodmare sire, [1990 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner] Unbridled,” Harty said. “I think he can get the mile and a quarter.”
Anthony’s Cross is owned by ADK Racing stable of Arianne de Kwiatkowski. She is the daughter of the late Henryk de Kwiatkowski, the prominent owner of such top horses as Conquistator Cielo, female turf champion De La Rose, and 1986 Belmont Stakes winner Danzig Connection. de Kwiatkowski bought Danzig, bred by Chester County’s Jenney and William S. Farrish, for $310,000 at the 1978 Saratoga Yearling Sale.
As for Anthony's Cross, he seems to do best running on or close to the lead, so it will be interesting to see how the pace scenario shapes up for the Santa Anita Derby, April 9.
Red-hot Danzig stallion War Front (sire of The Factor) also produced the highly regarded Derby contender Soldat who captured the (G-2) Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in February.
“War Front was pretty easy to fill up in his first year at stud,” said stallion manager Bernie Sams of Claiborne Farm. “He stood for a reasonable price and is by Danzig, looks like Danzig, and was fast on the track, so it wasn’t any trouble.”
With the Fountain of Youth victory Soldat soared into most pundits’ top five Derby horses. In control right from the start of the 1-1/8-mile encounter, along the backstretch the colt relaxed nicely under Alan Garcia and continued to show the way into the far turn. Soldat was challenged coming into the homestretch by To Honor and Serve to his outside and a three-wide Gourmet Dinner, but spurted away a two length winner over runner-up Gourmet Dinner.
The victory backed up his January explosive allowance win in the slop at Gulfstream. Soldat now heads to the Florida Derby (April 9) with a record of three wins and four seconds in seven career starts. This victory was perhaps the most important in terms of public perception as his other two triumphs came on an off-track and on the turf. His 8-1 odds in Future Wager Pool 2 trail only Uncle Mo at 7-2.
“It’s on to the Florida Derby (G1) now. He’s always done everything right and that day we got the fast track we wanted,” said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “He has been on the lead simply because no other horse has challenged him early, but he demonstrated in his grass races that he’ll rate behind other horses.”
“This race was a stepping stone to May 7 (the Derby),” said McLaughlin. “’I said to Alan (Garcia) when you turn for home and you ask him to (really run), if you’re going to win by five, win by two. And please pull him up soon after the wire.’ He did just what I asked. The horse came out of the race better than he did the allowance race. It was easier on him.”
The race came days after Soldat’s owner Harvey Clarke sold minority interest in the colt to Paul Braverman, Terrence Murray and John Conley. Craig Robertson also is a part-owner. Soldat is out of the unraced Coronado’s Quest mare Le Relais, a half sister to Grade 3 winner Mulrainy.
With $410,000 in graded stakes earnings, he has a spot sewn up in the starting gates at Churchill Downs on May 7. The Florida Derby is shaping up as a tough, competitive race. Soldat doesn’t need to win, just turn in a nice performance. Thus far, you have to love his versatility and the way he can run with horses on the lead then pull away with authority.
The $1 million Florida Derby looks like a showdown between Soldat and another dazzling colt from the Danzig line, Flashpoint. In only his second lifetime start it was hard to miss the grey lightning bolt that scorched the Gulfstream track and demolished the field in a graded stakes race in the (G-3) $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes in late February. By Pomeroy (by the Danzig stallion Boundary), Flashpoint pressed pacesetter and 7-to-10 favorite Travelin Man from the outside through swift opening fractions, then easily drew away from him in early stretch and powered home to a eye-popping 7¼-length win covering the seven furlongs in 1:22.03.
Bred by David Hutson's Silverleaf Farms and raced by Peachtree Stable, Flashpoint began his career at Aqueduct in New York in January, where he romped in a maiden race by 6¼ lengths. The Hutcheson victory was worth $90,000 in graded stakes earnings for the colt who is trained by the controversial Rick Dutrow, Jr. Peachtree Stable bought the colt for $100,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale.
His sire Pomeroy stands at Vinery Florida for $5,000. With three stakes winners from his first crop, Pomeroy currently ranks as the leading-second crop stallion in Florida.
A Beyer comparison between the two graded stakes yesterday at Gulfstream illustrates just how well Flashpoint ran. Soldat, in his relatively easy win in the Fountain of Youth, earned a 96 while Flashpoint received a 102 in the Hutcheson. The big question-- can Flashpoint handle the 9-furlong distance? The Florida Derby should answer that and also indicate whether he gets the graded earnings to go to post for the 1 ¼ miles at Churchill Downs.