Sierra Farms’ Nessy and jockey Mike Smith, right, win the Grade III $100,000 San Juan Capistrano Sunday, April 22, 2018 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA.©Benoit Photo
To whatever reason you assign the absence of distance racing in American racing, do not blame the horses. Grumble about racing secretaries, fuss over the monocular view of super-trainers, or diss the Derby fixation of owners, but do not suspect the Thoroughbred of being ill-made for the job of racing over any distance at all.
That is not the case.
Other reasons, usually money, dictate that a great deal of attention is paid to things other than stamina and distance racing. That does not mean that stamina and distance potential are gone; they emphatically are not.
The genetic diversity of the breed means that staying horses can come from unexpected backgrounds, and a case in point is Order of St. George (by Galileo), winner of his 2018 debut in the Group 3 Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan racecourse in Ireland.
A winner in 11 of 17 starts, Order of St. George is a very high-class performer, was the winner of the Irish St. Leger and Long Distance Cup last year, and is expected to challenge for the Ascot Gold Cup later this year.
A son of the great stallion Galileo, Order of St. George would be a fancy stallion prospect like many other sons of Coolmore’s leading stallion, but Order of St. George is a serious stayer, not a speed horse nor an early-maturing sort who would have some chance of siring the quicker, more readily raceable stock that most owners want for their stables.
As a result, the breeding of stayers is more up to genetic chance than planning, and Order of St. George is an example of that himself. He is by Europe’s foremost classic sire, and the only European sire in the same class with Galileo as a classic influence was Coolmore’s other leading son of their great sire Sadler’s Wells, Montjeu.
Although a “classic” sire, Galileo gets a range of stock. Some are high-quality 2-year-olds; most come to their best form at 3 and later; some continue to upgrade long after and seem to prefer the most extreme distances of modern racing, which are conducted at around two miles.
Back in the days of yore in the 19th century, and especially in America, there was considerable racing at three and four miles, with the winner coming home the best in two of a potential three heats. The third would be a runoff between the two winners if one didn’t win both of the first two.
Even by today’s standards of dash racing (single heats), Order of St. George is an outlier, and that’s how most staying horses of high class would be evaluated on pedigree. The Vintage Cup winner is, for instance, out of a mare by the top-quality Mr. Prospector stallion Gone West. Most breeders and pedigree commentators would mark down Gone West as an influence for horses that perform best at a mile, and most people would expect that mating a Gone West mare with Galileo should result in a performer who might prefer the sharper side the classic spectrum, say in the range of nine or 10 furlongs.
That’s not what happened.
If we humans could predict what the genes would do, it would eliminate an element of fun and interest in the game.
Another generation back, the second dam of Order of St. George is Storm Song (Summer Squall), the champion 2-year-old filly of 1996 when she won the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Frizette. The following year, she was still good, finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks and Ashland Stakes but also demonstrating she was not the dominant force she had been as a juvenile.
As a result, the logical expectation for the champion juvenile as a broodmare would be to see her as a source for early maturity, speed perhaps at the expense of stamina, and so forth.
Instead, she is the second dam of the best staying horse in Europe.
Not everything in pedigrees is as contrary as this. Last weekend’s winner of the longest graded stakes in America, the G3 San Juan Capistrano at 1 ¾ miles, was Nessy, a dark bay gelding by Travers winner Flower Alley (Distorted Humor) out of the stakes winner Flower Forest (Kris S.).
Nessy is a full brother to last year’s G1 Canadian International winner Bullards Alley, who recently died, and to G2 stakes winner Karibu Gardens. All three have high class, and all three like some distance in their racing. Nessy and Bullards Alley are even horses one wonders about in terms of the great international staying events like the Melbourne Cup or the Ascot Gold Cup.
But to compete regularly in races at two miles or longer, horses and their owners would have to leave the country because there is no domestic program for racing stayers.
This is a shame because the staying horses are right there in front of us. We just have to offer them the program to strut their stuff over the proper distances.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank’s lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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