Some horses are capable of defying their pedigrees, excelling under conditions they aren’t necessarily bred to relish. The latest example is Cafe Pharoah, who joined the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby with a late-charging victory in the Hyacinth S. on Feb. 23 at Tokyo Racecourse.

Cafe Pharoah’s obvious affinity for dirt is a bit surprising when you consider his pedigree is packed from top to bottom with turf influences. A brief glance at his lineage suggests Cafe Pharoah is bred more like a superstar turf miler than a contender for the American dirt classics.

That’s not to say Cafe Pharoah doesn’t have any dirt blood in his pedigree. To the contrary, Cafe Pharoah is a son of American Pharoah, whose historic sweep of the 2015 Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) stamped him as arguably the greatest American racehorse of the 2010s.

Cafe Pharoah Pedigree
Pioneerof the Nile
American Pharoah
Littleprincessmma
Cafe Pharoah
More Than Ready
Mary’s Follies
Catch the Queen

But while American Pharoah has sired a range of winners on both dirt and turf, his best foals have been grass stars. Stakes winners Four Wheel Drive and Another Miracle finished first and third in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), Sweet Melania won the Jessamine (G2) before placing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), and Maven won the Prix du Bois (G3).

The bottom half of Cafe Pharoah’s pedigree is similarly packed with turf influences. His dam is Mary’s Follies, a daughter of internationally acclaimed stallion More Than Ready, whose versatile foals have won major races across many distances and surfaces. More Than Ready has sired an abundance of Group 1 turf winners in Australia, including champions More Joyous, Phelan Ready, and Sebring, and many of his best American runners have likewise thrived on grass, including Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Uni and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G2) champion Regally Ready.

Mary’s Follies certainly fits this profile. Winner of the Mrs. Revere (G2) and Boiling Springs (G3) racing 1 1/16 miles on turf, Mary’s Follies has been generally reproducing herself as a broodmare. Her best foals prior to Cafe Pharoah include Night Prowler, winner of the 7 1/2-furlong Dania Beach (G3) and 1 1/16-mile Transylvania (G3) on turf, and Regal Glory, whose affinity for grass has produced victories in the 1 1/16-mile Lake Placid (G2) and 1-mile Lake George (G3) at Saratoga.

Despite the sheer volume of evidence suggesting Cafe Pharoah will prove best on grass, his victory in the Hyacinth leaves no doubt about his ability to handle dirt as well. So perhaps the bigger question for Kentucky Derby handicappers is whether Cafe Pharoah will have sufficient stamina to negotiate 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May.

This is a fair question because we don’t yet know how much stamina American Pharoah is passing on to his progeny. His first foals are 3-year-olds of 2020, and until they get a chance to tackle classic distances, we can’t form a sound opinion.

And we can’t necessarily count on Cafe Pharoah to receive a dose of stamina from More Than Ready, who is much more a source of miler speed than classic stoutness. His best dirt runners include two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion Roy H and Haskell Invitational (G1) winner Verrazano, whose stamina reserves topped out at 1 1/8 miles. As a broodmare sire, More Than Ready is similarly responsible for an abundance of sprinter/milers, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Structor and the above-mentioned Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Four Wheel Drive, who was bred on the same American Pharoah/More Than Ready cross as Cafe Pharoah.

The jury is still out on Cafe Pharoah’s ability to handle 1 1/4 miles, but one thing seems certain—should his Kentucky Derby aspirations fail to pan out, Cafe Pharoah could still have a bright future as a turf miler.