Pedigree notebook: Johannesburg descendants strike gold at Pimlico

May 23rd, 2023

In this regular feature, we highlight a wide range of pedigree musings.

Two past Aidan O’Brien stars vied for inclusion in this installment of the pedigree notebook. Churchill is red-hot in Europe at the moment. But a Ballydoyle celebrity of an older vintage, Johannesburg, gets the nod after his influence ran deep over the weekend at Pimlico.

The former Coolmore/Ashford stallion, who was ultimately exported to Japan, factored in the pedigrees of several major winners during the Preakness (G1) festival. After Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan (G2) upsetter Taxed and Pimlico Special (G3) hero Rattle N Roll, Johannesburg’s heirs swept a quartet of stakes on the Preakness undercard — Arabian Lion, Straight No Chaser, Cheetara, and Whitebeam.

Johannesburg’s legacy on both sides of the pedigree

Johannesburg’s legacy is secure through his son Scat Daddy. Gone far too soon at the age of 11, Scat Daddy has nevertheless left several outstanding sons to carry on the sire line, including Triple Crown champion Justify (sire of Arabian Lion) and Caravaggio (sire of Whitebeam). Another Scat Daddy stallion, No Nay Never, turned a stakes double May 13 with No Nay Hudson and Royal Ascot-bound No Nay Mets.

But it’s significant that Johannesburg mares are emerging in their own right. Three of the Pimlico stakes winners descend via his daughters, implying that future pedigrees may double down on Johannesburg.

Johannesburg’s bloodlines

From a sire line of juvenile standouts tracing back to Northern Dancer, Johannesburg is by Hennessy, himself a son of Storm Cat, whose sire, Storm Bird, was an unbeaten champion two-year-old for Vincent O’Brien. Storm Bird raced once in a checkered three-year-old season, lost, and retired, in a vague foreshadowing of Johannesburg’s own failure to train on at three.

Johannesburg’s dam, Myth, is by Ogygian, yet another testament to John Nerud’s genius. The Tartan Farms homebred was a dazzling winner of the 1985 Futurity (G1) who went on to capture the 1986 Dwyer (G1) and Jerome H. (G1) (then a top event in the fall).

Myth, herself a half-sister to Tale of the Cat and Irish highweight juvenile colt Minardi, comes from the immediate family of Pulpit (sire of Tapit). Further back, the female line descends from Monarchy, a full sister to Hall of Famer and influential sire Round Table.

Johannesburg the transatlantic champion two-year-old

It’s been two decades since Johannesburg took Europe, and later New York, by storm during a perfect two-year-old season. He didn’t pan out as a sophomore, but his early brilliance is worth recalling as we explore his genetic impact.

The 1-3 favorite in his debut at Fairyhouse in May 2001, Johannesburg stormed 3 1/2 lengths clear to set himself up for Royal Ascot. His 11-8 favoritism in the Norfolk (G3) turned out to be generous, and he went off at odds-on in his remaining European outings that term. Back in Ireland, Johannesburg demolished the Anglesey (G3) and Phoenix (G1) by nine lengths combined. His grand tour took him to Deauville next for the Prix Morny (G1), then to Newmarket to add the Middle Park (G1) to his collection.

Having aced his assignments on turf varying from firm to yielding, Johannesburg tried dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). His pedigree was encouraging for the surface switch, but the 1 1/16-mile trip was a question mark for a colt who’d yet to race past 6 1/2 furlongs. Perhaps the one-turn configuration at Belmont Park helped.

In any event, Johannesburg produced the same sparkling change of gear to win well, taking his fourth top-level prize in as many countries. He was also taking care of unfinished business for his sire and grandsire; Storm Cat was famously chinned in the 1985 Juvenile, and Hennessy was denied in 1995. 

Europe’s undisputed champion two-year-old now clinched an Eclipse Award too. Unfortunately, his 2002 season was anticlimactic, including an eighth behind War Emblem in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Few could have forecast that 16 years later, his grandson Justify would sweep the Triple Crown.

Johannesburg’s rich vein of results at Pimlico

Taxed’s victory in the Black-Eyed Susan was not only a breakout performance for herself, but for her young sire, Collected, who now has a high-caliber filly in his very first crop. Collected is by the Mr. Prospector-line stallion City Zip and out of Helena Bay, by Johannesburg.

The winner of the 2017 Pacific Classic (G1) and runner-up to Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Collected garnered six other dirt stakes, including the Californian (G2) and 2016 Lexington (G3). Yet he started out on turf as a juvenile, winning his sprint debut and placing in the Cecil B. DeMille (G3). Although he was obviously faring well on dirt, what else might have Collected achieved if he’d reverted to turf later in his career? He is transmitting that versatility at stud, since his other stakes scorer over the weekend, Conclude, prevailed in the Desert Code S. on the downhill turf at Santa Anita.

Pimlico Special victor Rattle N Roll is himself out of a Johannesburg mare, Jazz Tune. Trainer Ken McPeek has won a marquee race at Pimlico before with a grandchild of Johannesburg. McPeek’s champion filly Swiss Skydiver, who won the epic 2020 Preakness over Horse of the Year Authentic, is likewise out of a mare by Johannesburg. While Swiss Skydiver is by Daredevil, Rattle N Roll is by Curlin’s son Connect.

The Scat Daddy clan was out in force on the Preakness undercard. Arabian Lion might have conjured up memories of sire Justify as he bossed the Sir Barton on the front end. By covering 1 1/16 miles in a stakes-record 1:41.13, Arabian Lion left Bob Baffert second-guessing himself about not running him in the Preakness. Out of the Distorted Humor mare Unbound, the $600,000 OBS April purchase traces to unbeaten Hall of Famer Personal Ensign.

Arabian Lion was completing a unique transatlantic double for Justify, whose son Bertinelli landed Saturday’s valuable Newbury handicap dubbed the London Gold Cup. The 1 1/4-mile affair is often a pointer to future Group performers, although Aidan O’Brien is in no rush to throw the big, still-developing colt into the deep end.

Trainer Chad Brown was effusive about Whitebeam’s potential after her emphatic display in the Gallorette on the Pimlico turf. The Juddmonte homebred inherits speed from sire Caravaggio, a brilliant sprinter from Ballydoyle whose Royal Ascot wins include the 2016 Coventry (G2) and 2017 Commonwealth Cup (G1).

Whitebeam’s stamina comes via her dam, Sleep Walk. Although by Oasis Dream, Sleep Walk is a half-sister to 2019 St Leger (G1) conqueror Logician and another stout performer in Suffused. That trio is out of stakes-placed Scuffle, by globetrotting Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero Daylami.

Skipat S. upsetter Cheetara is by another son of Scat Daddy formerly with Ballydoyle, Daddy Long Legs, hero of the 2011 Royal Lodge (G2) and 2012 UAE Derby (G2).

Cheetara, as a Chilean import, illustrates the South American success of this sire line. Johannesburg sired a couple of major winners in his time in Argentina, but Scat Daddy was a prolific source of champions when shuttling to Chile. Cheetara is out of a mare by Thunder Gulch, reinforcing the Mr. Prospector cross.

The star turn on Saturday, though, was Straight No Chaser in the Maryland Sprint. By the much-lamented Speightster from the Mr. Prospector line, Straight No Chaser was produced by the Johannesburg mare Margarita Friday.

This is the family of Hall of Fame sprinter Housebuster, who also won over as far as a mile. While it’s premature to cast Straight No Chaser as his successor, the up-and-coming four-year-old simply blitzed them by 7 1/2 lengths in a stakes-record 1:08.27.

To get a bit further ahead of ourselves, Straight No Chaser could one day join Collected as promising stallions out of Johannesburg mares. Watch how many Scat Daddy-line mares might be interested in visiting them.