Tuesday, June 9, 2009

If you know what's good for you, you could've stayed on till June

As the Triple Crown trail draws to a close, and I await news of the second (and last) foaling of the year from my Virginia-boarded mares, I'm given pause to consider the prospects of a June foal.

Most breeders do all they can to have their foals as early in the year as possible. Since all racehorses are considered to age a year each New Year's Day, there can be a huge difference in maturity and success in an early race for juveniles between a "2-year-old" born Jan. 15 and one born on June 15. Some advantage likely exists even among 3-year-olds.

The pressure to have the foal born early is likely compounded by the sales where, from weanling to 2-year-old, an early baby is typically destined to be bigger, more developed and a bit more impressive than the rest of those in the sale.

While specific early foaling date records aren't available and I believe it is likely -- before the advent of keeping mares under lights, etc. -- that a better percentage of the great horses from 100 years ago were late-spring or summer-born, it seems June foals are now anathema, particularly at the sales; some breeders and buyers even shy away from May.

But evidence suggests being born early is not all that great an advantage. In the last 55 years or so, I believe there has been just one Kentucky Derby winner -- Grindstone (Jan. 23, 1993) -- who was born in January. Most recent victor Mine That Bird won the race on May 2, eight days before his actual third birthday. In Britain, before Sir Percy (foaled Jan. 27) took the race in 2006, the last Derby Stakes winner at Epsom to be born in January (the 31st) was Larkspur, victor in 1962. And in the case of the Derby, we're talking about a 12-furlong race held on or about the same date as the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes in the States.

There have been plenty of fine racehorses, juveniles included, with May birthdates. Simply noting that Northern Dancer was born May 27, 1961, and went on to win four stakes races at 2, plus nearly the Triple Crown at 3, is reason enough not to dismiss the prospects of a May foal. And with such a late-May foaling date, Northern Dancer is nearly an endorsement for not condemning an early June baby.

Thus, far more intriguing are those June offspring, particularly since "6/1" seems the red-letter date for when not to foal. But while finding a few winners, particularly among average horses, wasn't entirely impossible, with such emphasis on breeding early, finding noteworthy horses has been even more of a task than I expected.

Some I've uncovered so far ...

June 2, 2001: Second of June (Louis Quatorze-Whow, by Spectacular Bid); aptly named Lambholm & Fletcher Florida-bred colt was actually at his best at 2, winning three of five including the What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder and the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream. Maybe he was asked too early, as he only raced three times per year at 3, 4 and 5 and only won once in that span, though he did continue to place in a couple of nice races and eventually earned $528,800.

June 3, 1995: Prosperous Bid (Mr. Prospector-Ubetshedid, by King Pellinore); this June colt debuted at 3 and quickly hit the board in the Grade 2 San Felipe (behind Artax and Real Quiet), then was yanked from trainer Wallace Dollase and handed to Bob Baffert, perhaps to prep for the Wood Memorial in hopes of getting into the Kentucky Derby. Prosperous Bid came unglued after six starts. (Two wins, another Hollywood Park stakes-placing and $92,088; pushed too hard, too soon?)

June 6, 1948: Crafty Admiral (Fighting Fox-Admiral's Lady, by War Admiral); reportedly born June 6, 1948, Crafty Admiral won three times from eight starts and was stakes-placed at 2, but ran poorly with sore ankles at 3. However, he rebounded to eventually take 18 of 39 lifetime starts (12 stakes) for $499,200, becoming champion handicap horse in 1952.

June 6, 1975: Enstone Spark(GB) (Sparkler-Laxmi, by Palestine); though exact foaling dates of the earliest classic winners are not available, it's possible this filly was the youngest English classic winner in history, taking the 1978 running of the One Thousand Guineas-G1 while still 33 days short of her actual third birthday. She was precocious, too, winning the Group 3 Lowther Stakes at 6 furlongs as a 2-year-old.

June 7, 1991: Lite The Fuse (Buckaroo-Annie's Dream, by Droll Role); a Florida-bred who, perhaps more predictably, did take longer to come around. He doubled-up on both the Grade 1 Carter Handicap and the Grade 2 De Francis Memorial Dash at ages 4 and 5 among six graded-stakes wins, evidence that sometimes good things do come to those who wait.

June 7, 2002: Legal Control (Thunder Gulch-Miss Legality, by Skip Trial); a Maryland-bred from the Robert E. Meyerhoff progam, this fellow won three of six at 2 including the Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes at Pimlico, then ran on to win stakes races at 3 and 4, as well, with a lifetime mark of 5-for-26 and $247,502.

June 12, 1994: Running Stag (Cozzene-Fruhlingstag, by Orsini II); nobody will quarrel with this fellow's credentials. While he was only placed from two starts at 2 in France, This Kentucky-bred from Juddmonte Farms eventually raced 36 times in North America, England, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, winning seven including three G2 races (Brooklyn Handicap, Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap, Massachusetts Handicap) for $1,376,178. Now at stud in, errrr, South Korea.

June 19, 2000: Shaconage (El Prado-Carita Tostada, by Gallantsky); a really late foal by any racing standards, this Andrena Van Doren Kentucky-bred nonetheless raced three times -- and won a race -- as a juvenile. Shaconage won stakes races at 3, 4 and 5, including a pair of Grade 3s at Churchill as a 4-year-old, and eventually earned $534,051 from six wins in 29 starts. (Shaconage pictured during the post parade for the 2005 Canadian Stakes at Woodbine, courtesy Cindy Pierson Dulay of horse-races.net.)

Unspecified June birthdate: Kawakami Princess(Jpn) (King Halo-Takano Secretary, by Seattle Slew) is an interesting foreign filly, she did not race at 2, won five of six including the Japanese Oaks to be champion 3-year-old filly in Japan, then has raced nine times since (three this year) without winning another race, though she's placed in four graded-stakes in that time.

I've found a fair number of good harness horses born in June, but I'm looking for gallop-racers. So if you can recall any top June-born thoroughbreds, by all means, submit them in the comments!

And I'll let you know when Lady's Wager foals out her June offering.

Editor's note: Obscure headline from the lyrics to "June," by Pete Yorn.

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