Stronghold – Kentucky Derby Context

April 22nd, 2024

After a pair of seconds in his first two stakes attempts last year, Stronghold improved over the winter, recording a smashing win in the Sunland Derby (G3) and a courageous triumph in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). It’s easy to admire the tenacity shown in the latter, as Stronghold forced his way between rivals turning for home and gamely repelled a serious late bid from the prohibitive favorite, scoring by a neck. And his ability to overcome adversity may serve him well in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby (G1) field. Stronghold showed an affinity for Churchill Downs earlier in his career, breaking his maiden convincingly as the odds-on favorite, and while his pedigree may appear geared toward distances shorter than 1 1/4 miles, Stronghold has shown no limitations while proving highly effective in both two-turn stakes appearances this year.

Owner: Eric and Sharon Waller are set to make their first Kentucky Derby appearances as owners. The Wallers have owned horses for more than 28 years, and they reside in Rancho Santa Fe, Cal. near Del Mar. 

Trainer: After working for Mike Mitchell for 11 years, Phil D’Amato took over the stable when Mitchell retired in 2013. He quickly made a name for himself in Southern California, especially in the turf ranks, and Stronghold will be the first Kentucky Derby starter for the 48-year-old conditioner. D’Amato has won seven training titles at Del Mar and five at Santa Anita.

Jockey: Antonio Fresu will make his first Kentucky Derby appearance. After launching his career in his native Italy, the 32-year-old rider had stints in Dubai and England before moving his tack to America in 2023. He made an immediate impact in the , butSouthern California jockey ranks, finishing second by wins at Del Mar last summer, and Fresu piloted 46 winners to rank second during the recently completed Santa Anita winter/spring meet.

Breeder/Sales: A Kentucky homebred for Eric and Sharon Waller, Stronghold will be their first Kentucky Derby starter as a breeder. 

Sire: Stronghold is from the 15th crop of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, who discovered his best form as an older horse. By Awesome Again, sire of Preakness (G1) winner Oxbow (2013) and Belmont (G1) winner Sir Winston (2019), Ghostzapper passed speed to champion female sprinters Goodnight Olive and Judy the Beauty, but has displayed versatility producing 2021 Dubai World Cup (G1) scorer Mystic Guide and Canadian champions and Queen’s Plate winners Holy Helena, Moira, and Shaman Ghost. Ghostzapper has yet to have any of his own progeny make an impact in a Triple Crown race, but he did sire the dam of Triple Crown winner Justify.

Dam: The only foal from the Grade-2 winning Spectator, Stronghold has some speed influences in his female line. Spectator cut back to sprints after a second in the 2018 Santa Anita Oaks (G1), and she’s a daughter of Jimmy Creed, who is probably best known as sire of graded-winning sprinter/milers Casa Creed and Private Creed. Stronghold’s third maternal dam is by Swiss Yodeler, sire of champion sprinter Thor’s Echo.

Top Brisnet Speed: 99
Top Brisnet Late Pace: 98