I was on Steve Byk’s radio show At the Races yesterday discussing Triple Crown colts. These conversations—if you’ve listened over the last year or so, you know this—are unscripted and can meander all over the place, mostly because Steve is up on pedigree and turf history and has the ability to swim to depths most talking heads couldn’t, but yesterday we kept it fairly contained to some specific sires (Tapit, A.P. Indy, Candy Ride) and horses (Candy Boy, Shared Belief, Tonalist, Honor Code, Top Billing, Commissioner).
Pedigree analysis at this time of year can yield clues for distance ability with young, developing classics aspirants , especially as most horses nowadays are bred to run only as far as nine furlongs, and mostly in the range of seven to eight and a half furlongs before the main Triple Crown preps begin at nine furlongs. And as Steve pointed out yesterday, a lot of these colts on the classics trail will eventually find their true metier at sprints or at a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and an eighth later in life, if they survive the rigors of a Triple Crown campaign that asks horses to race at distances of between a mile and three-sixteenths and a mile and a half not common on the racing landscape. Steve pointed to recent G3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes winner Falling Sky (19th Derby; 4th Arkansas Derby; 3rd Tampa Bay Derby; and winner of the Sam F. Davis) as a recent example of this recalibrating, post-classics, and I countered with Pyro (won Risen Star and Louisiana Derby; 8th Derby; won G1 Forego the next year at 4). In both cases, Falling Sky and Pyro at this stage of their 3-year-old campaigns were thought of (wishfully by their owners and trainers) as classics colts. What they were, as it turned out, were sprinters who were physically more advanced than their contemporaries at a mile and a sixteenth in February and early March. Keep this in mind when evaluating preps over the next few weeks.
At this stage of the game, as I mentioned on the show, there are three unproven colts that I particularly like on pedigree and recent form: Tonalist (by Tapit out of Settling Mist, by Pleasant Colony), Commissioner (A.P. Indy out of Flaming Heart, by Touch Gold), and Top Billing (Curlin out of Parade Queen, by A.P. Indy). A.P. Indy (sire of Pulpit, the sire of Tapit) is one of the best current sources of dirt stamina, and he is prominent in the pedigrees of each. It’s notable, too, that each has raced at a mile and an eighth already, just as last year’s Derby winner Orb (also from the A.P. Indy male line) showed some stamina by winning a late January conditions race over the same trip at Gulfstream Park.
Tonalist won this Gulfstream maiden at a mile and an eighth impressively and is probably the best suited (on pedigree, of course) of the 16 Tapits nominated for the Triple Crown. Tapit stands for $150,000 at Gainesway and is the most expensive sire in America along with War Front at the same fee at Claiborne. Tapit’s colts have been finding the winners’ circle at Gulfstream with alacrity this winter, and they are ideally suited for dirt racing at up to a mile and an eighth. The Tapits are supremely classy, if flighty, but they probably need some help from the bottom side of a pedigree to get the Derby trip, and Tonalist has this. His broodmare sire is Pleasant Colony, a great source of stamina, and the tail-female line is one of the best in the Stud Book, tracing to Uvira II through Missy Baba and her daughter, Broodmare of the Year Toll Booth (Tonalist’s 3rd dam). This is the immediate family of Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and the extended family of A.P. Indy himself (his 4th dam is Missy Baba and his 5th dam is Uvira II, the same as Tonalist).
Tonalist, bred by Woodslane Farm in Kentucky and owned by R.S. Evans, has a classic-type of Dosage Profile, with the highest representation of chefs-de-race in the middle—or classic—category. His DP=5-13-14-1-1 (the five aptitudes range from speed to stamina, left to right) suggests the Derby distance is within his scope.
At Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., where I work during the day, the brilliant pedigree analyst Roger Lyons has developed an index which he calls the DLI (dam line index) that gives an indication of the class of a tail-female line, dam by dam, over seven generations. As a frame of reference, here are the DLI’s for the Derby contenders from the 2010 Derby. [As a general rule, higher numbers are better; quality “blue hen” families are usually those in an “inverted pyramid,” with more depth farther back; higher DLI’s up front indicate improving families; for more information, read this and this from Roger Lyons.]
Tonalist/Settling Mist has the inverted DLI profile.
Here it is: 0.00/2.00/2.89/9.57/11.34/8.75/5.46
I’ve included this here to indicate the class of the family.
So, to tie the strings together on Tonalist, he’s shown he can get nine furlongs already; he’s got the best young dirt sire in the country; he’s from the A.P. Indy line; his broodmare sire is a Derby-winning source of stamina; he’s represented by quite a number of chefs-de-race in his pedigree, an indication of quality; he’s got the preferred classic-heavy DP; he’s from the family of A.P. Indy; he’s inbred 5×4 to Northern Dancer; and his DLI is extraordinarily strong.
Commissioner is one of four A.P. Indys from the stallion’s last crop of 36 foals nominated to the Triple Crown. He, like Tonalist, is a winner at a mile and a eighth—in fact, twice. He won this race defeating Top Billing in January, and before that he won this race at 2. Bred and raced by WinStar, Commissioner has a classic-heavy DP of 5-11-20-0-0, and he’s bred on the successful A.P. Indy/Deputy Minister nick responsible for, among others, Belmont winner Rags to Riches. He doesn’t have the high-end female family of Rags to Riches, but he’s got the best sire of all the Triple Crown nominees. Commissioner is inbred 4×4 to Buckpasser and 5×5 to Hail to Reason—two quality sources of class and stamina.
Top Billing flattered Commissioner by reappearing after the the second to him with this win at a mile and a sixteenth, giving every indication he’d have been even better at a mile and an eighth. Like last year’s Belmont winner Palace Malice, Top Billing is by Curlin, a Preakness winner who lost a memorable Belmont to Rags to Riches. W.S. Farish stands Curlin (and stood A.P. Indy) at his Lane’s End Farm and bred Palace Malice and is co-breeder and co-owner with longtime partner E. J. Hudson Jr. of Top Billing.
Top Billing has the preferred classic-heavy DP, 6-9-20-1-0, and he’s inbred to Nashua 5×5 and to Northern Dancer 5×5. He’s from the immediate family of Derby runner-up Bodemeister.