Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memories of Pimlico

(First published in Thoroughbred Times Today on May 20, 2011)

I first visited Pimlico Race Course in the spring of 1969, while attending graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. Two weeks previously, Braulio Baeza on Arts and Letters had allowed Bill Hartack on Majestic Prince to get first run on him in the Kentucky Derby and beaten him a neck.

Arts and Letters was drawn outside Majestic Prince in the Preakness, so Baeza's and trainer Elliott Burch's plan for the Preakness was to stay lapped on him and not let Majestic Prince get away. That plan fell apart in the first strides when Al Hattab swerved into the *Ribot colt, knocking him further behind than in the Derby.

Arts and Letters again rallied determinedly in the stretch, but still fell a head short at the wire. The Rokeby Stable colt got his revenge three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes, and raced on undefeated through the rest of the year to earn Horse of the Year, but my first experience of the Preakness was not a happy one.

Pimlico in 1969 was a rather ramshackle old place. The historic Member's Clubhouse had burned three years previously and the Maryland Jockey Club was still two years away from remodeling the grandstand.

My third trip to the Preakness (I saw Personality win in 1970 as well) in 1995 was no better, if not worse. Minutes after pulling into the parking lot of the motel that Thoroughbred Times's Los Angeles-based travel agent had chosen, I was mugged at gunpoint before I could get my room door unlocked. Not a good way to begin Preakness week.

Three years later, things got even tougher when an overloaded electrical transformer at the track exploded, blacking out most of the grandstand, including the press box. I am all for exercise and physical fitness, but sprinting up and down four flights of stairs between races is not my idea of fun. Even before that potentially disastrous incident 13 years ago, many critics had pointed out that the ancient, dilapidated grandstand needed to be bulldozed and replaced. Cosmetics aside, not much has been done since.

I must admit, though, that my most recent (and quite possibly last) visit in 2005 to the rather disheveled old lady on Park Heights Avenue made up for some of the indignities Pimlico has visited upon me. Seeing Afleet Alex pick himself up off his knees at the top of the stretch and win the Preakness by seven lengths remains one of the most remarkable displays of agility, ability, and determination I have ever seen.

It is a short drive along Northern Parkway from the Hopkins campus in the Homewood area of Baltimore to Pimlico, but even in 1969 the two neighborhoods were worlds apart. Then as now, Homewood is stately, tree-sheltered homes for the upper-middle class; Pimlico is bordered by working-class apartment buildings and businesses. Kegasus is not really that out of place in the Pimlico neighborhood.

Like the rest of the world, Baltimore itself is a far different place in 2011 than it was in 1969. The Inner Harbor area, now home to museums, upscale shops, and the ESPN Zone was then known as “the Block”, an ominous euphemism for an area dominated by mob-owned strip joints and bars.

If the Block was not a place that a naïve farm boy from Tennessee was likely to visit, perhaps Pimlico was only slightly more probable for a kid who had not yet decided what to do with his life. Only a couple of hours away in Upperville, Virginia, though, was Rokeby Stud, Paul Mellon's idyllic estate where Arts and Letters and a host of other top racehorses had been born and raised.

If Pimlico was not quite charming and classy enough to lure a young, romantic idealist away from the halls of academe, Rokeby was. The dreams born of visits to Rokeby and Pimlico live on in the heart of this 64-year-old curmudgeon.

In the spring an old man's fancy still turns to Black-Eyed Susans. The old lady in Baltimore is in need of something much more than a face lift, but she is worth saving. If only we can find the will and the way to do it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Drink up!

It's been a long time between drinks here at the Pedigree Curmudgeon. Those of you who read Thoroughbred Times Today will be aware that my workload there increased from one column a week on a pedigree or auction to two every week, a pedigree (occasionally sale) column on Tuesday and a commentary piece on Friday.

What I have found is that I cover the subjects I used to write about on this blog (and more) in the Friday commentary. The increased workload also reduces my motivation to post here because I'm an old curmudgeon who's supposed to be mostly retired, and I only want to do so much of anything that resembles work. This may be fun sometimes, but it sure feels like work too.

At the same time I do not want to let this blog die. There may well be subjects I do not want to talk about in TT Today that I talk about here at some point. Or not....who knows?

In the meantime, I plan to post some of those Today pieces here, a day or two after they appear in Today. Let me know if you think this is a waste, or something worthwhile.

So here pedigree story on Animal Kingdom, winner of the 137th Kentucky Derby. And perhaps I'll have some follow up comments once I get the hang of this thing again.

(Previously published in the May 10 edition of Thoroughbred Times Today)

Turf pedigree comes up roses in the Derby

Animal Kingdom is bred for the turf but proves a superior runner on dirt

by John P. Sparkman

It would be difficult to write a more turf-oriented pedigree than that of 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Animal Kingdom. In the first three generations of his pedigree, only two horses, his sire Leroidesanimaux (Brz) and Bubble Company (Fr), dam of Leroidesanimaux's sire Candy Stripes, even ran on dirt, and neither won. And yet, in his first start on dirt, Animal Kingdom blew away the field in the final eighth of the Derby.

Only two horses in the fourth generation of Animal Kingdom's pedigree, his great-great grandsire Red God and Navajo Princess, dam of Dancing Brave, the sire of Animal Kingdom's second dam, won on dirt. That did not stop Animal Kingdom from winning the first jewel of the American Triple Crown on May 7.

Animal Kingdom is from the second crop of 2005 champion turf male Leroidesanimaux, whose defeat in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) by Artie Schiller ended an eight-race win streak that stretched over two racing seasons. Winner of one of three starts and placed in the Grande Premio Associacao Brasileira de Criadores e Proprietarios de Cavalo de Corrida (Brz-G1) in his native Brazil, he lost his first North American start, before sweeping all before him for the next eighteen months. That streak included wins in the 2004 Citation (G1), Inglewood (G3), and Morvich (G3) Handicaps, and the '05 Atto Mile (Can-G1), Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (G1), and Fourstardave Handicap (G2).

A half-brother to Brazilian Group 1 winner Uapybo, by Blush Rambler, out of a half sister to the dams of leading French sire Dansili and Grade 1 or Group 1 winners Banks Hill (GB), Cacique (Ire), Champs Elysees (GB), Heat Haze (GB), Intercontinental (GB), and Promising Lead (GB), Leroidesanimaux retired to Richard and Audrey Haisfield's Stonewall Stud at a fee of $30,000 in 2006. A lengthy, handsome, correct horse very much in the mold of his line-founding grandsire Blushing Groom (Fr), Leroidesanimaux's stud career may have been hampered by the financial difficulties Stonewall encountered. Leroidesanimaux transferred to Stonewall's Ocala, Florida farm for the 2011 season, where he stands for a fee of $7,500.

Animal Kingdom is his third stakes winner and third graded winner from 140 foals age three and up, following multiple Grade 2 winner Always a Princess (out of Gabriellina Giof [GB], by Ashkalani) and Grade 3 winner Leroy's Dynameaux (Dyna Peak, by Dynaformer).

Animal Kingdom is the first foal of his dam, Dalicia (Ger), by the great German racehorse and sire Acatenango, a mare whose pedigree is German or Hungarian for nine generations. Bred in Germany by Carlton Consultants Ltd., Dalicia won only three of 21 starts, but one of those three wins came in the 2005 Preis der Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe (Ger-G3), where she beat multiple Group 1 winner Soldier Hollow by two lengths over 2,000 meters (9.96 furlongs). Imported to America by Team Valor and the Haisfields's Nevertell Racing Stable, Dalicia won one of five starts, a ten-furlong optional claimer over Santa Anita's turf course.

Dalicia is a full sister to Darwinia, dam of Daveron (Ger), by Black Sam Bellamy, winner of the Beaugay Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park on Derby day. Dalicia's dam Dynamis, by Dancing Brave, is half sister to Henckel Rennen (Ger-G2) (German One Thousand Guineas) winner Diacada, by Cadeaux Genereux), German highweight Desidera, by Shaadi, and stakes winner Diable, by Big Shuffle, from a family that has been producing top Central European stakes winners for 100 years.

Animal Kingdom is inbred 4x4 to Lyphard, with an inbreeding coefficient of 0.88%. Although his pedigree is basically an outcross, he is, in theory, inbred for ability on the turf.

That did not slow him down in the 2011 Kentucky Derby.