On a visit to Betty Moran’s glorious Brushwood Farm in June 2004, I first met Hard Spun. A spirited five-week old bay colt with a splash of white on his forehead he skittered down a hilly paddock with his mare Turkish Tryst.
Leaning on a paddock fence I watched the colt move effortlessly across the ground.
“If all goes well, he’ll be one of Danzig’s final colts running at the racetrack,” Moran said that day at her farm near Malvern, Pa. “Wouldn’t it be something if he could turn out a little special like his daddy?”
Hard Spun’s sire was born and raised at Marshall Jenney's Derry Meeting Farm in Cochranville. Danzig’s racing career (3-for-3) was cut short by an injury, but then he blossomed into one of the most important sires of the second half of the 20th century. Danzig topped the general sires list from 1991-’93 and a stunning 18 percent of his colts and fillies were stakes winners. He sired 107 graded stakes winners and 10 champions. His progeny earned $101 million.
On the racetrack Hard Spun carved out his own niche. In the group of top-tier three-year olds in 2007, the speedy colt was as tough as nails. He danced all the major dances and ran consistently well. Runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and the $5 Million Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hard Spun won six of 11 lifetime starts, earning nearly $1.4 million. The colt scored his Grade-1 stakes victory in the King Bishop at Saratoga.
That Saratoga victory triggered a staggering bonus. In late May 2007 Hard Spun’s breeding rights were sold by Rick Porter to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum’s Darley Stud. It contained a $15 million bonus if Hard Spun won a Grade-1 stakes. It was part of a deal where Darley reportedly paid $35 million for the breeding rights. With his impressive cruising speed, pedigree and physical appearance the colt had the look of an outstanding stud prospect. He entered stud duty for the 2008 season at Darley at a fee of $50,000.
Hard Spun is off to quick start as a stallion. Last year he finished runner-up on last year’s North American first-season sire list. This year Hard Spun is even better. His 14 stakes winners--in his first crop-- are more stakes horses than any other sire produced at this point in their career. A total of 24 of his colts and fillies have competed in stakes races through early September. Hard Spun 2012 yearlings brought up to $400,000 at auction.
“He is a little iron horse that had speed, soundness and distance capability,” said his trainer Larry Jones. “He is the last very good son of Danzig which makes him the closest breeders can get to the great Northern Dancer (his grandfather). At the sales the Hard Spuns are tremendous looking which is usually a sign he’ll be a very successful stallion.”
Currently, his best runner is Questing who will be one of the three favorites in the $2 Million Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Foaled in Great Britain, the three-year old filly runs in the colors of the Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
While racing in England as a two-year old, the filly recorded a second and third in three races in England when trained by John Gosden. Questing finished a respectable but non-threatening fifth behind divisional champion My Miss Aurelia and G1 winner Grace Hall in the 2011 BC Juvenile Fillies.
Unimpressive in her two starts on turf this season McLaughlin switched to racing on dirt and the light bulb turned on. Questing scored in an allowance for 3-year-olds and up at Belmont Park on June 24 and came into the CCA Oaks with a flashy 106 speed figure rating off that victory.
In the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 21 Questing became the second Grade-1 winner for Hard Spun. A month earlier Zo Impressive won the Grade-1 Mother Goose Stakes. In an impressive Hard Spun exacta Zo Impressive also ran second in the nine-furlong CCA Oaks. The same weekend Hard Spun’s daughter Filare l’Oro took second place in the Virginia Oaks after becoming a stakes winner in the Dauphin Miss at Penn National. Hard Spun ranks second to Scat Daddy among his contemporaries this season. He also sired Red Duke and Hierro, both Grade-2 winners in England.
Questing followed up with her commanding win of Saratoga's $600,000 Alabama Stakes (Grade-1) on August 18. The filly went straight to the lead and extended her advantage at every call, rolling to an eight length triumph. Questing traveled the 1 ¼ mile in a sharp time of 2:01.29. It was the fastest time since Go for Wand won in 1989. Questing notched her third straight impressive victory on dirt. Zo Impressive finished fourth. She was pulled up after the race and diagnosed with a condylar fracture in her right front leg that puts her racing career in jeopardy.
Coming into the $1 million Cotillion Stakes at Parx on September 22, Questing had raised the bar for the 2012 crop of three-year olds, colts and fillies. In a stirring stretch duel she was nipped by a head by My Miss Aurelia, the 2011 champion two-year old filly who is now six for six. Both fillies earned speed figures of 96.
Trainer McLaughlin said Questing came out of the Cotillion in good order and is definite to run in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. He noted that the deep and dry nature of the Parx main track and the fact Questing conceded seven pounds to My Miss Aurelia compromised his filly.
McLaughlin said that Simon Crisford, the racing manager for Godolphin Stable, told him that “seven pounds is equivalent to 3 1/2 lengths over that [1 1-16-mile] distance if you agree with the handicap scale that has existed for more than 200 years.”
“I agree with it for sure,” McLaughlin said. “So we have a seven-pound switch in our favor next time we face her. But we have others to be concerned about in that race.
“We are okay. The Cotillion was a great race and we lost, but we’ve been on a great run and a little bit spoiled too.”
Brilliant Field for BC Ladies Classic
Questing and My Miss Aurelia are headed for a rematch in the $2 Million Breeders’ Cup Ladies classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. They join a group of stellar fillies that will surely upstage the males at Santa Anita Park.
The three-year old colt division has been decimated by injuries, illness and retirement. Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another and Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags are preparing for stud careers. Bodemeister, the runner-up in the Derby-Preakness double, also retired through injury. His stablemate, Paynter, runner-up in the Belmont, has been sidelined for the year while recuperating from colitis and a scare with potential laminitis.
Royal Delta who earned the Eclipse award as the best three-year-old filly will face two other Eclipse winners should she defend her BC Ladies' Classic title. Besides My Miss Aurelia, there is Awesome Feather, unbeaten in 10 starts, the Eclipse two-year-old filly of 2010. Other major contenders are the A. P. Indy mare Love and Pride and the Mineshaft mare It's Tricky, runner-up to Royal Delta in the 2011 and 2012 Beldame Stakes.
But surely most race fans would love to see Royal Delta try to emulate Zenyatta by taking on the boys in the BC Classic rather than score a second BC Ladies' Classic win.
Wise Dan Rolling into Breeders Cup
The beat goes on. Wise Dan rallied five wide to win by a decisive two-and-a-half lengths in the $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes at Keeneland on October 6.
It was his third consecutive victory and the 12th in 19 career outings, pushing career earnings to $2,461,638. Wise Dan is a 5-year old gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry, who stands at Dana Point Farm in Lenhartsville, Pa.
Trainer Mike Lopresti said after the Shadwell Turf Mile that Wise Dan was headed next to the Breeders' Cup World Championships. Questions remain whether Wise Dan would end up in the BC Mile or the $5 Million BC Classic.
"We'll lean toward the Mile, but we won't rule out the Classic," Lopresti said. "Listening to everybody talk, I think he deserves to run in the Classic."
Three weeks prior to his Keeneland victory Wise Dan crushed an international field by 3 1/4 lengths in the Woodbine Mile. He won the Fourstardave Stakes (Grade-3) at Saratoga by five lengths Aug. 11. Wise Dan has been the top ranked older horse in September and October.
The trainer said Horse of the Year will have no bearing on their decision.
"He's a gelding and he's not going to be a stallion, so we're not overly concerned with Horse of the Year,” Lopresti noted. “It would be nice to get it, but I just want to get him to the races and do a good job with him."
Wise Dan has run five times this year, winning four and finishing second by a head to Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster (Grade-1) on the dirt at Churchill Downs.
Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, will make his first start since February in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He has breezed steadily at trainer Graham Motion’s base at the Fair Hill Training Center since the end of August. Animal Kingdom’s lone 2012 start produced a Gulfstream Park turf win going 1 1/16 miles in March. Shortly afterwards he developed a stress fracture of the ilium, a bone in the pelvis.
“Coming off the layoff, the Mile just seems very logical for him,” Motion said of the Team Valor Stables horse. “He certainly has the turn of foot to handle it. The timing is right for his schedule coming back, and the caliber of horse that he is, you’re not going to look for a nice, easy spot.”
“Going a mile, we feel he should be very fit for this race, and he deserves the opportunity.”