THE Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks took centre-stage in America at the weekend, and both provided an initial top-level winner for their respective sires.
Rich Strike was a shock victor of the Derby at Churchill Downs, and he is one of a pair of stakes winners by the Grade 1 Travers Stakes hero Keen Ice (Curlin), responsible for 30 individual winners at the time of writing. Secret Oath won the Oaks, and she too is one of a pair of stakes winners for the multiple Grade 1 winner Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song), and he has been represented by 27 winners in the same time period.
Arrogate died after three seasons at stud, his final crop are yearlings, and after two seasons at Jonabell Farm in Kentucky commanding $75,000, his fee dropped to $50,000 for his third year as a stallion. Keen Ice started at Calumet Farm at $20,000, but this year breeders are using him for just $7,500. Such are the vagaries of the stallion business.
Keen Ice beat American Pharoah to win the Travers Stakes, but found that adversary too good for him in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational and the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. Incidentally, Keen Ice chased home Arrogate and California Chrome in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Prior to getting a run in the Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike had won once at two and been Grade 3 placed this year. No wonder his victory was greeted with surprise.
That said, The Irish Field columnist Sean Clancy said of Rich Strike in his preview last weekend: “Why he’ll win: in a world asunder, it just makes sense that a $30,000 claim, waiting to get in the race, shocks the world. Why he won’t win: he’s only just got in the race…what a story.”
On pedigree, Rich Strike had every reason to be considered a challenger. He is one of four winners from Gold Strike, the other being the Canadian Grade 2 Natalma Stakes heroine Llanarmon (Sky Mesa). They are out of the Canadian champion filly Gold Strike who was bought by Calumet Farm for $230,000 in 2015, and given away by them for $1,700.
Less of a surprise was Secret Oath’s win in the Kentucky Oaks, and this dual winner as a juvenile had landed a pair of stakes races at three and run third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. A homebred, she is one of three winners to date for the stakes winner Absinthe Minded (Quiet American). Half of that mare’s six wins were in stakes races and she was runner-up in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.
Secret Oath is easily the best of three winners to date, from four runners, for her dam, and one of the others was La Fee Verte (Tiznow), successful three times in the USA and sold to William Hobbs for only $45,000, in foal to Midnight Storm (Pioneerof the Nile).
Absinthe Minded is among nine winners from nine-time winner Rockford Peach (Great Above), herself one of eight winners out of Strawberry Skyline (Hatchet Man). Best of that octet was the two-time Puerto Rican champion El Ordenador (Slew The Knight).