Kentucky Derby pedigree profile: Stronghold

April 1st, 2024

Stronghold has made a strong name for himself on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Sunland Park Derby (G3) after finishing a close second in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2).

The Kentucky Derby (G1) looms on the horizon for Stronghold, but does he have the pedigree to shine racing 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May? That’s a tricky question that requires a nuanced answer.

Let’s talk about Stronghold’s sire, 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. Versatility was a strong suit for the Hall of Fame inductee, who won Grade 1 races over distances from six furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. Speed was Ghostzapper’s greatest weapon, but he could sustain his speed over route distances, most notably winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

At stud, Ghostzapper has sired major winners over an incredibly wide variety of distances and surfaces. Some have been best as sprinters, including champions Goodnight Olive and Judy the Beauty, who combined to win three editions of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). Others have thrived over middle distances, such as multiple Grade 1 winners Better Lucky and Guarana. And a handful have done their best work over 1 1/4 miles, including Dubai World Cup (G1) hero Mystic Guide and Queen’s Plate S. winners Moira, Holy Helena, and Shaman Ghost. The latter reiterated his 1 1/4-mile prowess with a triumph in the Santa Anita H. (G1).

All told, the progeny of Ghostzapper win at an average distance of 7.2 furlongs, a middle-of-the-road number that restates the obvious: Ghostzapper sires sprinters and routers alike. So which end of the spectrum will Stronghold occupy? The bottom half of his pedigree may provide the answer.

Stronghold’s dam is Spectator, a sprinter/miler who won the 6 1/2-furlong Sorrento (G2) and placed second in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Oaks (G1). She, in turn, is a daughter of Jimmy Creed, who scored his signature victory in the seven-furlong Malibu (G1). The progeny of Jimmy Creed win at a speed-oriented average distance of 6.6 furlongs, with the multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter/mile Casa Creed ranking as the best.

Given the speed in the dam side of Stronghold’s pedigree, we have to ponder the possibility he’ll prove best as a miler rather than a classics type. And there’s one other pedigree factor worth mentioning: the tendency for Ghostzapper’s progeny to peak during the second half of their three-year-old seasons and beyond.

Ghostzapper himself followed that late-maturing path, as did Mystic Guide, Shaman Ghost, Moira, Holy Helena, Goodnight Olive, and Judy the Beauty. Horses who mature early enough to start in the Kentucky Derby have been uncommon among Ghostzapper’s progeny, and he’s yet to sire a winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness (G1), or Belmont (G1).

Even if Stronghold ultimately thrives racing 1 1/4 miles, his pedigree suggests he’ll do so during the second half of 2024 or in 2025. If Stronghold is going to shine on the first Saturday in May, he’ll have to blaze a new trail for the progeny of Ghostzapper.