Edwin Anthony on ESKENDEREYA

(Giant’s Causeway—Aldebaran Light, by Seattle Slew)

I wrote a series of eight pedigree profiles for horses on the “Triple Crown trail” starting about this time last year, and recent Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Eskendereya will serve as the first horse in our series this season. It’s interesting to look back at the horses we profiled last year (Friesan Fire, Quality Road, Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk, I Want Revenge, Papa Clem, Chocolate Candy, Rachel Alexandra) to see how they fared.

Quality Road is obviously a top horse (he missed the Triple Crown with quarter cracks), while Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile were each able to place in one classic race, and I wrote a token piece about Rachel Alexandra because she looked like a very special filly, even though she had not won anything more than a G2 race at that stage. Only a fortune teller could have predicted Rachel Alexandra’s Horse of the Year campaign after changing hands or the rapid ascension of Birdstone (sire of longshot classic winners Mine That Bird and Summer Bird) as a major classic influence.

Even though I have studied Thoroughbred pedigrees for going on 25 years, no one can get around the folly of bad luck, injuries in training, or the fact that many horses look dominant going nine furlongs (a mile-and-an-eighth) but simply aren’t up to the demanding task of running classic distances at a competitive speed.

That’s the mystery of stamina and genetics that we’re constantly trying to figure out. Of course, even a horse that is capable of competing at classic distances still needs to put out the effort, and sometimes horses have off-days just like people.

If nothing else, we strive to learn about the strengths and limitations of the stallions and ancestors under discussion and hope to come out smarter on the other side. At the very least, we want to learn what strategies are working in pedigrees, even if some of them aren’t up to the classic standard. Who are the soundest horses, where is the stamina coming from, and what ancestors are best to inbreed to? These are the answers we’re looking for.

Storm Cat’s son Giant’s Causeway was a tough campaigner in Europe out of a good racemare by Rahy, with a second dam by English Derby winner and classic influence Roberto. He was undeniably consistent and high class, winning a series of Group 1 races at more than a mile. In his final start, he gave classic distance specialist Tiznow a real run for his money in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, that being his only start on dirt. So, Giant’s Causeway was sound, very fast, and capable of competing with top horses at the American classic distance of 10 furlongs (a mile-and-a-quarter). This makes him an exception among sons of Storm Cat, as most of his sons that have found any measure of success at stud were much better at a mile or less and have passed on this penchant for speed among their progeny.

Giant’s Causeway has already sired Grade 1 winners in America over 10 furlongs like Heatseeker (Santa Anita Handicap), Frost Giant (Suburban), and Red Giant (NWR, Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship), so you can see that if there is a son of Storm Cat capable of siring an American classic winner, then Giant’s Causeway is probably the one.

The runaway win by Eskendereya (by Giant’s Causeway) in the Fountain of Youth (G2) was more than visually impressive. You could see that the horse really relished the opportunity to go two turns, and he is now 3 for 3 on the dirt, his only losses coming in his first start (a maiden event on turf at Saratoga) and a poor effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), contested over the synthetic surface at Santa Anita. He was reported to have a troubled trip in that race as well.

I have often thought that a true classic type horse is able to simply get into a steady gallop and carve out “12’s,” which is to say that he can consistently complete each furlong of a race in 12 seconds. It becomes increasingly difficult to do with each furlong, as the muscles begin to tire, and Secretariat’s world record time of 2:24 in the 1973 Belmont (over 12 furlongs) is the best example of a horse being able to accomplish this feat over such a distance. It’s not about an explosive move or “turn of foot” with classic horses; it’s steady horsepower over a distance. Classic horses “stay” (as the Europeans like to say), while horses more suited to shorter distances simply run out of gas, unable to maintain a steady stream of “12’s” on the toteboard teletimer.

This is exactly what Eskendereya did to the field in the Fountain of Youth (G2)—he galloped them into submission. After taking over after a half-mile in a soft 47.92, he completed six furlongs in 1:12.41, a mile in 1:36.54, with a final time for nine furlongs of 1:48.87, echoing the many 12-second furlongs before the last one. So, like several other sons of Giant’s Causeway, Eskendereya looks capable of running a distance of ground as far as 10 furlongs at a competitive rate of speed. Let’s look at the bottom side of his pedigree to check for more stamina.

Eskendereya’s damsire, Seattle Slew, won the Triple Crown and has been a very successful classic influence, with descendants like A.P. Indy (Belmont, Breeders’ Cup Classic), Bernardini (Preakness, Travers), Cigar (Breeders’ Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup), Lemon Drop Kid (Belmont, Travers), Mineshaft (Jockey Club Gold Cup, Suburban), and Slew o’ Gold (Jockey Club Gold Cup twice) serving as notable examples.

Alydar (second in all 3 Triple Crown races to Affirmed) is the sire of Eskendereya’s second dam, and beyond the fact that he sired two Kentucky Derby winners (Alysheba and Strike the Gold) and a Belmont winner (Easy Goer), Horse of the Year Point Given (Preakness, Belmont, Travers) was produced by a mare by champion Turkoman, he being a son of Alydar.

We know that inbreeding to the family of Almahmoud (second dam of both Halo and Northern Dancer) has been quite successful, and Giant’s Causeway is a very good example of this, as Storm Cat is a grandson of Northern Dancer and Rahy (his damsire) is out of a mare by Halo. The pedigree of Eskendereya shows why a six-generation computer program is a good investment, as his third dam carries intensive inbreeding to the Almahmoud family as well. His third dam is by Northern Dancer himself (giving Eskendereya “balanced” inbreeding to Northern Dancer—through a son and a daughter), and while his fourth dam was sired by the stout stamina influence Ribot (winner of the 12-furlong “Arc” twice) his fifth dam is actually the mare Cosmah, she being the dam of Halo and a daughter of Almahmoud. Thus, Eskendereya is not only inbred to Northern Dancer through a son and a daughter, he is inbred to Halo’s dam, Cosmah, 6 x 5 and carries four total crosses of Almahmoud.

As the ancestors Northern Dancer, Halo, and their granddam Almahmoud get further back in pedigrees, this reinforcement strategy of crossing horses inbred to Almahmoud should continue to find success and revive their influence in classic pedigrees. My parents bred and raced Preakness winner Pine Bluff (inbred 4 x 4 to Almahmoud), and I have noticed him working well with reinforcement of Almahmoud’s genes, crossing successfully with stallions like More Than Ready (by Southern Halo—closely inbred to Almahmoud), Menifee (by Harlan—closely inbred to Almahmoud), and Jules (from the Northern Dancer family and carrying Halo in his pedigree). So, it seems to be a strategy that is paying dividends with stallions and mares already carrying inbreeding to Almahmoud.

Given the fact that Giant’s Causeway has already proven capable of siring runners that excel at classic distances, and the fact that Eskendereya carries a number of other classic influences in his pedigree (Seattle Slew, Alydar, Ribot, and intensive inbreeding to the influential Almahmoud family), I’d say that his classic prospects look very bright indeed. His clear preference for dirt racing and ability to string together one 12 second furlong after another only boosts his stock, in my opinion. If Eskenereya can arrive in Louisville with a solid Florida Derby (G1) effort under his belt, he should be a very strong contender.

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