By Frances J. Karon
Coolmore Stud’s Kentucky-based Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (by Pioneerof the Nile) was not an early 2yo, despite being champion 2yo (as well as Horse of the Year at three). He didn’t debut until August 9th (when he was fifth over 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather at Del Mar), and he didn’t win until September 3rd, his second start. That was in the G1 Del Mar Futurity, over seven furlongs on the all-weather course. His next start, also in September, was a win in the G1 FrontRunner S. at Santa Anita, at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt.
American Pharoah didn’t race from September 27th until his 3yo debut, the March 14th Rebel S. at Oaklawn. Three of his sophomore season wins — and he won everything, bar the G1 Travers (a second to Keen Ice) — came between 10 furlongs (Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic) and 12 furlongs (Belmont S.). Taking all of that into consideration, he would be forgiven if he were still waiting to get off the mark with a first winner.
That, of course, is not the case, and for American Pharoah to have sired four winners, including two Group stakes horses, this early really whets the appetite for what is yet to come, because it is fully expected that his progeny will appreciate more distance than the early maiden races offer.
But that’s not all. As my colleague Sid Fernando noted in his June 28th Thoroughbred Daily News “Taking Stock” column, American Pharoah’s Unbridled sire line — American Pharoah is by Pioneerof the Nile, by Empire Maker, by Unbridled — has not found its footing on the turf, but, he wrote, “Coolmore has bet heavily that he’ll succeed” on grass.
It’s not too soon to say that Coolmore can cash in on that bet already: All four of American Pharoah’s winners have won on the turf. One, Maven, has won on two surfaces (dirt and turf).
It is too soon to unequivocally identify an exact pattern in what American Pharoah is siring, but so far, it looks like he is giving his mares a lot of the say in the resulting progeny, a versatility in the breeding shed that adds another element of excitement to what he’s capable of adding to the breed. Generally speaking, some successful stallions, such as Tapit and Uncle Mo, tend to stamp their foals and other successful stallions — Scat Daddy and Kingmambo, in my experience — don’t. It doesn’t make a difference one way or the other, so long as they are throwing class.
Maven’s dam, Richies Party Girl (Any Given Saturday), was a stakes-winning sprinter on the turf. The colt broke his maiden going 4.5 furlongs at Aqueduct and was sent to Great Britain with the intention of running in the G2 Norfolk S. at Royal Ascot, but a soft turf course derailed those plans. Maven was instead diverted to the G3 Prix du Bois at Chantilly, five furlongs on the turf. Ironically, the course came up “good to soft,” but Maven won anyway. His trainer, Wesley Ward — who also co-owned the dam and bred Maven — bred a number of his mares to American Pharoah in the stallion’s first season, believing — like Coolmore — that his progeny could excel on grass.
Monarch of Egypt, who is a five-furlong winner and Group 2-placed in Ireland, is out of a mare by turf influence Galileo, broodmare sire of three of American Pharoah’s 2yos. In addition to the turfy contributions of her sire, Monarch of Egypt’s dam Up has a very turf-oriented pedigree.
Envied, winner of a mile race on the grass at Ellis Park on July 5th, is a daughter of Halljoy, who earned black type over both seven (at two) and 12 furlongs (at four) on the turf. Halljoy is a full sister to 7-furlong turf SW An Tadh — who took after broodmare sire Cadeaux Genereux, a top European sprinter, unlike Halljoy, who favored their sire Halling. Halling won five Group 1 races from nine to 12 furlongs, and judging from her win, where she needed every bit of the mile to overtake the leader at the wire, Envied is going to be a filly to keep an eye on as the races get longer and longer.
The sole anomaly among American Pharoah’s four winners is Saqqara King, whose dam Joyful Victory (Tapit) was a G1SW who earned over $1.2 million almost exclusively on the dirt. (She ran second in one start, an allowance/optional claimer, on the turf.)
So three months into the 2yo racing season, we are seeing American Pharoah do two things he’s not supposed to do: he’s getting some early winners, and he’s getting turf horses. These positive early results bode well for when conditions are right for him to do what he is supposed to do.