Like father, like son doesn’t always apply in horse racing

November 29th, 2023

It’s tempting to simplify pedigree handicapping down to “Sire X thrived under Y conditions; therefore his foals will also appreciate Y conditions.” But reality is often more complicated.

Simplification is tempting because, quite often, it works. Kitten’s Joy and English Channel were champions running long on grass; for the most part, their progeny have likewise thrived racing one mile or farther on turf. Curlin was a two-time Horse of the Year thanks to his exploits running long on dirt; his progeny have followed suit with abundant success in similar races.

Of course, there will always be exceptions. Kitten’s Joy is the sire of Tripoli, winner of the Pacific Classic (G1) on dirt. Curlin is the sire of Elite Power, a speedster who twice won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).

But once in a while you’ll see stallions completely defy expectations at stud, and recognizing stallions who consistently sire racehorses quite unlike themselves is important if you want to reap rewards with pedigree handicapping.

Consider Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. The 2015 Horse of the Year was renowned for his talent on dirt, and while some of his runners have followed suit, American Pharoah has proven even more successful as a sire of top-class turf horses. Major grass winners sired by American Pharoah include Victory Derby (G1) winner Rift Rocket, New York (G1) heroine Marketsegmentation, Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) winner Harvey’s Lil Goil, Prix Saint-Alary (G1) winner Above the Curve, Criterium International (G1) victor Van Gogh, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) winner Four Wheel Drive.

Speightstown is another good example. Voted champion sprinter of 2004 after winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and three other graded stakes, Speightstown could have turned out to be a sire of dirt sprinters like himself. But while sprinters and milers are common among Speightstown’s progeny, he regularly bucks that trend to sire top-class winners over 1 1/4 miles on both dirt and turf, including Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winners Olympiad and Haynesfield, Belmont Derby (G1) hero Force the Pass, Travers (G1) winner Golden Ticket, Hollywood Derby (G1) winner Seek Again, and American Oaks (G1) heroine Competitionofideas.

Bettors familiar with Speightstown’s sprinting success, or American Pharoah’s Triple Crown exploits, may underestimate their progeny when the Speightstowns tackle classics distances and the American Pharoahs take to the turf. But bettors attuned to stud records know not to judge these stallions (and others like them) in simplified ways. Some stallions sire horses with completely different distance and surface preferences than themselves, and identifying these stallions can be the key to cashing nice pedigree-handicapping payoffs.