Horse running through field

Fine Tuning the Distorted Humor-A.P. Indy Nick

by Roger Lyons

Because of injury, Endorsement (Distorted Humor-Charmed Gift, by A.P. Indy) didn’t get to compete in the 2010 Kentucky Derby after qualifying with a runaway win in the Sunland Park Derby, but he did enough to confirm the value of the Distorted Humor-A.P. Indy nick. He also illustrates that the fortunes of a sire-line cross are not just a matter of chance, that nicks always arise from specific pedigree contexts, and that what can be learned about those pedigree contexts can profoundly affect the fortunes of the cross.

Distorted Humor has an especially discriminating taste for mares with Northern Dancer in their ancestries, perhaps because his own dam is by Northern Dancer’s son, Danzig. Let’s see how Northern Dancer plays in the pedigree context of the Distorted Humor-A.P. Indy cross.

Two mares by A.P. Indy contributed superior runners to Distorted Humor’s record through his 2006 crop, from 11 chances, yielding Any Given Saturday and Z Humor. His 2007 crop has yielded Endorsement and Bank the Eight, recent winner of the Frederico Tesio S. (L), bringing his strike rate with A.P. Indy mares to 4/23.

However, note that Z Humor is the only one of these four to be produced by a mare with Northern Dancer in her ancestry and that his dam, Offtheoldblock, has Northern Dancer through a daughter, Linda North.

This contrasts sharply with the opportunity Distorted Humor had through 2006. Seven of 11 mares with A.P. Indy in their ancestries also had Northern Dancer. Two were out of mares by Danzig, Distorted Humor’s broodmare sire, and, therefore, closely inbred. Two were out of Nijinsky II mares, with which Danzig himself crossed pretty well (8/33), but which tends to take the winning edge off runners by Distorted Humor. Another was out of a Deputy Minister-line mare, another out of a mare by Nureyev, and another out of a mare by Storm Cat. In other words, in all cases Northern Dancer descended through a son.

But, contrast those mares with the 13 contributing to Distorted Humor’s 2007 crop. Seven of those mares had Northern Dancer, six of them through sons. However, none of them had Northern Dancer through Danzig, and only one had Northern Dancer through Nijinsky II. A seventh mare had Northern Dancer as the sire of her second dam, and one out of a Deputy Minister mare also had Northern Dancer as the sire of her third dam.

Among the 12 Distorted Humor-A.P. Indy crosses of 2008, the shift away from linebreeding through Danzig and Nijinsky II–and the avoidance of male strains of Northern Dancer generally–is even more pronounced. Only three mares had Northern Dancer through a son, including The Minstrel, Deputy Minister, and Storm Cat–the latter two of the three being among the most adaptable strains of Northern Dancer in the North American racing environment. Even more significant, four of those 12 mares had Northern Dancer through females, ranging from the first to the third dams of the mares.

That 2008 crop is also locked and loaded as to quality. It includes Supercharger (dam of 2010 Ky Derby winner, Super Saver, by Maria’s Mon), Weekend in Indy (dam of G1 winner Any Given Saturday, by Distorted Humor), Tomisue’s Delight (dam of G1 winner Mr. Sidney, by Storm Cat), and Offtheoldblock (dam of G3 winner Z Humor, by Distorted Humor). That crop also includes a foal by Showpiece, by Holy Bull and a daughter of multiple graded stakes producer She’s a Winner (by A.P. Indy and dam of G1 winner Bluegrass Cat, by Storm Cat, and G2 winner Lord of the Game, by Saint Ballado), and a mare by A.P. Indy son Pulpit, but 10 of the 12 foals are out of mares by A.P. Indy.

Opportunity for the Distorted Humor-A.P. Indy cross has undergone a profound tranformation since 2006, not only as to the quality of mares, but also as to the form of Northern Dancer’s presence in, and absence from, their pedigree contexts. It will be interesting to see how that adjustment works out.

Drosselmeyer Equipped with Dynaflow

by Roger Lyons

The first car I drove as a teenager was a 1950 Buick Special. The starter was engaged by switching on the ignition and pressing the accelerator all the way to the floor. It never failed to start. The way Mike Smith guided Drosselmeyer to the outside, keeping him in stride and in the clear and then wore down the leaders in the stretch reminds me of that 1950 Buick Special. When you take off in a 1950 Buick Special, it goes from zero to whatever without any gear changes. That’s because the 1950 Buick Special had a Dynaflow transmission, and that’s exactly what Drosselmeyer has.

Bob Baffert has been quoted on his preference for horses with tactical speed, horses that can adapt their run to the way a race unfolds. That’s certainly an advantage in most races, just as surely as not having tactical speed–quick acceleration, the ability to shift gears during the running of a race–is a limitation. It’s been a problem for Drosselmeyer all along.

It’s truly a beautiful thing, though, when observation yields a plan based on a realistic assessment of a horse’s strengths, and then that plan is perfectly and successfully executed. Bill Mott, Mike Smith, and the team behind Drosselmeyer showed how the Belmont, perhaps more so than any other race, can play to the smooth ride, the horse equipped with Dynaflow.

Ice Box and the Graustark Jinx

by Roger Lyons

Pulpit gets a superior runner out of about every 11th mare that produces at least one foal by him, which is not as good a strike rate as is expected of the very best stallions. This is due in great part to Pulpit’s extremely low strike rates with certain important ancestors of his mates. One of those is Graustark, which, by the way, is nemesis to a lot of stallions.

And the word “nemesis” is meant here to be understood in its mythic sense, fully loaded with as much determinism as it can carry. Maybe it takes an ancestor like Graustark to remind us that a horse’s pedigree is its fate. Graustark is one of those ancestors that asserts his influence routinely and persistently across multiple generational divides, despite ordinary inducements to variation. This can be inferred from the abysmal strike rates some stallions have with mares in descent of Graustark, including Pulpit.

Whatever traits are implicated must disagree profoundly with Pulpit’s idea about what his offspring should be like. Through his 2007 crop, he’s gone through 54 mares with Graustark in their ancestries, and Spice Island, the dam of Ice Box, is the only one of them that has managed to produce a superior runner by Pulpit. Spice Island is by Tabasco Cat, whose broodmare sire is Sauce Boat, by Key to the Mint, by Graustark. That’s how far Graustark’s influence has to descend in order to affect Ice Box adversely.

Spice Island’s ancestry is otherwise loaded with ancestors highly favorable to Pulpit. He has a strike rate of 7/43 with Tabasco Cat’s sire, Storm Cat. Ice Box’ second dam is by Alysheba, with whose sire, Alydar, Pulpit has the phenomenal strike rate of 10/43. With Speak John, sire of his third dam, Pulpit’s strike rate is 2/13. Moreover, the numbers in the background of those ancestors are so strong that, in spite of Graustark’s theoretically negative impact, Spice Island scores in the 96th percentile of mares that have produced foals by Pulpit, as determined by an aggregation of strike rates with all ancestors within six generations of each mare.

Graustark lurks in the shadows of ancestors that have had highly positive effects on Pulpit’s stud record. Therefore, whatever limitations Ice Box might have as a racehorse, especially insofar as they distinguish him from Pulpit’s more typical runners, are most likely attributable to Graustark’s influence. However, if it has anything to do with his distinctive closing style, it might actually be an advantage in a race like the Belmont.