Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stately Victor: Ontario sire in the making?

A discussion on Facebook today prompted me to take a look at the records of several horses from this year's North American 3-year-old crop, and in reviewing the labors of one, a thought popped to mind.

Stately Victor just might be positioning himself as a stallion prospect for Ontario.

I realize that even with the swollen purses north of the border -- a maiden special weight on Saturday paid more than $40,000 U.S. to the winner -- the first thought in a stallion prospect-owner's mind is, "Can my colt make the grade in Kentucky?" In the past (and hopefully future) Florida has offered a warm welcome to those who don't quite make the cut in Kentucky, either as freshmen or after establishing themselves as good, but not great, sires. California has its own rich breeding history. And now states with slots, namely Pennsylvania, are attracting some solid stallion talent as well.

But those big purses do permit Ontario to gain momentum. When the grass in Florida began to seem less green than that under the snow in Canada, Adena Springs shifted its stallion operations, packing in its picnic basket a bit of Alphabet Soup and some Milwaukee Brew for a road trip to the Great White North, eh. Old Forester of Ontario's T.C. Westmeath Stud Farm stands No. 2 on the North American freshman sires list on the strength of his first crop's performance at lucrative Woodbine.

So how does Stately Victor fit in?

For starters, he's regally bred. And, most important for the purposes of this recommendation, his performance seems to lean heavily toward Polytrack, which is the main-track surface at Woodbine.

Stately Victor's lifetime mark of three wins and only one other placing from 12 starts (thus far) is hardly one that suggests a top stallion prospect, despite the fact that he's a Grade 1 winner. But it's where those performances have occurred that's catching my attention.

The colt's only on-the-board finish besides his three wins came in his debut, on dirt at Saratoga, where he finished a respectable second to the brilliant, but fragile, Winslow Homer (three starts at 2, three more at 3, sidelined by a condylar fracture).

Stately Victor broke his maiden next out, still at Saratoga, this time going two turns on turf. Sent to Keeneland next out, he ran sixth in the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity-G1 (won by Noble's Promise over Aikenite) but was very wide around both turns and was improving his position all the way to the wire.

The colt, owned by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, made his next start at Churchill (last of seven when heavily favored in a dirt allowance) before running ran thrice at Gulfstream (fifth in a dirt allowance, eighth and fifth in allowance company on grass).

Then came April 10 at Keeneland.

There, Stately Victor shocked ... well, just about everybody ... in winning the Blue Grass S.-G1 at odds of 40/1. He'd earned his way into the Kentucky Derby, as did second place, turf-to-synth-switcher Paddy O'Prado. (First Dude was third and would not race in the Derby, but returned to run gamely in the Preakness.)

On Derby Day, Stately Victor came home mid-pack, in eighth. Skipping the Preakness, he ran in the Belmont Stakes, finishing seventh of 12. Tried back on grass, the surface over which he'd broken his maiden, Stately Victor ran fifth behind Paddy O'Prado in the Virginia Derby-G2.

Shelved for two months, where does Stately Victor return in September with a victory?

In the Ontario Derby at Woodbine, over Polytrack, drawing off by three and a quarter.

While 3-for-12 -- and 8-for-12 off the board -- isn't the typical stallion resume, Stately Victor has pedigree on his side to enhance his attractiveness.

His sire is Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, a son of the successful (and Canadian-bred) stallion Awesome Again, from the distinguished line of Deputy Minister. While Ghostzapper didn't get off to a blazing start with his first-crop 2-year-olds in 2009, finishing 21st among all North American freshman sires in progeny earnings, I'm not sure why anyone would have expected him to get precocious foals. He was only 1-for-2 himself as a juvenile, didn't win a stakes race until well into his 3-year-old season, and only truly came into himself at 4. His foals are performing better as sophomores, with four new stakes winners besides Stately Victor (three of those, surprisingly to me, are on grass). Ghostzapper sits in fourth place at present on the second-year sires list, a huge improvement over his mark of 21 from last year.

Stately Victor's pedigree strength doesn't end with a Horse of the Year for a sire. His dam, Collect the Cash, by Dynaformer, was a Grade 1 winner in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Stakes at a mile and an eighth on turf. She has already produced another stakes-placer in Money My Honey (Red Bullet), and a $100,000-earner from a stout 52 starts in Senor Enrico (El Prado).

Second dam Worldly Possession (Valid Appeal) was a stakes winner sprinting on dirt and Grade 3 placed going short on grass. In addition to the G1-winning Collect the Cash, she produced a stakes-placer bred by Adena Springs in Super Case, and the gelding Montezuma's Gold, who earned $254,763 non-blacktype. Worldly Possession was out of the stakes-winning Dr. Fager mare Cricket Club, who bore three other stakes winners.

So there's a lot of pedigree and performance standing behind Stately Victor. His success on Polytrack, including right there at Woodbine, would bode well for his main-track progeny seeking lucrative Ontario-bred purses. And his Grade 1-winning turf dam and a sire who is getting a surprising number of grass stakes winners (plus his own maiden-breaking win on turf) suggests that breeding turf-oriented mares to Stately Victor might result in runners who could handle Woodbine's grass.

As a potential sire of synthetic runners, why Ontario? Why not California? ... In no small part because Santa Anita is switching back to a true-dirt main track. In either location, horses who don't race at the marquee venues will end up running on courses that have traditional dirt; either Los Alamitos or the fair circuit in California or at Fort Erie in Ontario. But I wouldn't stand the horse in a state where one of the three top tracks (one of the premier tracks in the country) might not prove at all accommodating to his state-bred progeny.

Certainly Stately Victor has more to prove. He's a two-turn horse and the type who should actually be better at 4 than at 2 and 3. So I hope to see him stage a campaign next year (and maybe even the next), racking up many starts to prove he can outrun the 11-race, injury-ended career of his sire, and a few more distinguished wins to prove he's not just occasionally a top-notch performer.

And, if the horse were mine, he'd be running most of those resume-enhancing races on the Polytrack surfaces at Woodbine, Keeneland and Arlington Park. If they want to be adventuresome, perhaps try a couple of California classics, like the Gold Cup at Hollywood Park and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar -- where the "dirt" will still be "plastic."

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