By Sid Fernando
Darley, like many large Kentucky-based stud farms, has satellites in regional breeding programs. In New York it’s Sequel Stallions, where Darley has now retired the multiple G1-winning Bernardini colt Alpha to stand his first season for $8,500 in 2015, alongside the Darley-owned Desert Party and Emcee, both at $7,500.
Alpha in New York particularly makes sense. He was primarily based at the NYRA tracks with Godolphin/Darley trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and New York is where he registered each of his five stakes wins, including two at Saratoga at the highest level, in the Travers-G1 over 10 furlongs at three and the Woodward-G1 over nine furlongs at four.
Alpha also won the nine-furlong Jim Dandy-G2 at the Spa, as well as his debut at two, giving him a record of four wins from six starts at the upstate track versus a two-for-16 mark elsewhere. Throw in two stakes wins at Aqueduct versus two off-the-board finishes at Churchill Downs and it’s obvious why he’s perfect for the New York program. All told, the bay won six races from 22 starts, placed three times, and earned $1,815,667, which is pretty good performance for the stud fee at face value.
But there’s more to Alpha’s narrative that contextualizes his pedigree with his racetrack performances.
There aren’t too many colts bred these days with the type of classic blood Alpha has, layered generation over generation, which is hinted at in the conventional reading of his pedigree: by Bernardini from Munnaya, by Nijinsky.
Bernardini is a classic winner and a son of classic winner A.P. Indy—the primary source of dirt stamina in North America.
Munnaya’s sire, Nijisnky, was the last English Triple Crown winner, and a great source of stamina as a sire; not surprisingly, Munnaya, a Maktoum homebred like Bernardini, won a Listed race at Lingfield over 11.5 furlongs on testing ground, listed as good to soft.
Munnaya’s dam, Hiaam, by Alydar, was purchased by Darley for $1.5 million as a yearling in 1985. Her sire placed in each of the classics and got horses that excelled over a range of distances, as he did, including the top-class Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer. Hiaam notably won the Princess Margaret Stakes-G3 at two in England over six furlongs.
Hiaam’s dam, Kamar, was a Canadian champion three-year-old filly by champion three-year-old colt Key to the Mint, who won the Travers among other races.
Kamar, who sold in foal to Danzig for $2.6 million in 1987, also produced the Canadian champion three-year-old colt Key to the Moon, multiple G1 winner Gorgeous, and Kentucky Oaks-G1 winner Seaside Attraction.
With the heft of this classics-drenched pedigree behind him, Alpha was sent straight into the Champagne-G1 after his maiden win, with the Kentucky Derby as his long-term goal. He ran second to eventual Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags in the Champagne, then was unplaced in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his next start. McLaughlin took him through a non-traditional route to the Derby, winning two stakes races early in the year at Aqueduct to set him up for the Wood Memorial-G1, a race in which he ran second to Gemologist.
The Wood performance was good enough to get to the Derby, but the colt wasn’t good enough on that day, finishing unplaced. However, his Travers (a dead heat with Golden Ticket) upheld the faith his connections had had, that 10 furlongs at three was right up his alley.
Unfortunately, American racing hasn’t been kind to these types of horses, who are forced to run against milers at shorter trips to make a living. But the climate appears to be changing, with tracks carding more longer distance races nowadays.
Let the record note that Alpha was good enough to win first out at two at Saratoga, was G1-placed at two, was on the classics trail at three, and won the only other 10-furlong G1 race on dirt for three-year-old colts aside from the Derby. These are legit qualifications for breeders.
Bernardini, the sire of nine G1 winners, has crossed well with a wide variety of mares. There are plenty of options when using Alpha, including Deputy Minister-line mares, but he has plenty of class to add to any pedigree.