Bloodlines: Haskell Exacta Continues Elevating Gun Runner To Loftiest Company - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Bloodlines: Haskell Exacta Continues Elevating Gun Runner To Loftiest Company

Cyberknife, inside, defeats Taiba and lowers Monmouth Park’s 1 1/8-mile track record in the Haskell Invitational

With a one-two finish in the Grade 1 Haskell on July 23, Cyberknife defeating Tiaba by a head, leading sire Gun Runner (by Candy Ride) is wading into the subtle distinctions that separate truly important sires from the select few who transcend the breed and reshape the sport in their own images.

It is too early to say that, with only one crop at age three, but Gun Runner is stacking up accomplishments that bear scrutiny against the great sires of the past.

One of the most important of those accomplishments is getting multiple top-class performers. That's what makes a sire great – highest-quality offspring – but it's so rare and difficult to achieve.

Thirty-four years ago, Mr. Prospector (Raise a Native) had the one-two in 1988 Haskell. In one of the great rivalries of the 1980s, Forty Niner, the previous year's champion juvenile colt, and Seeking the Gold, a lightly raced and improving 3-year-old, showed the speed and determination that made Mr. Prospector one of the greatest sires in history.

The sons of Mr. Prospector – the chestnut and the bay – turned the 1988 Haskell into one of the best horse races in history. It was a truly thrilling event rarely matched in sport, and yet the same pair of colts came back three weeks later in the Travers at Saratoga and restaged their epic duel with the same result.

In both races, Forty Niner was the winner by a nose.

Twenty-two years earlier, Bold Ruler (Nasrullah) had the one-two finishers in the 1966 Garden State Stakes. Some bold planning in the early 1950s had allowed Garden State Park to boost the purse of their Garden State Stakes to be the richest racing event in the world for 2-year-olds. It drew big fields of the top talent to race over a mile and a sixteenth, and it stood for a generation as a championship deciding event, much in the fashion of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile today.

Coming into the 1966 Garden State, the leading colt was Successor, a full-brother to 1964 juvenile champion Bold Lad. Successor had defeated Dr. Fager (Rough'n Tumble) in the Champagne Stakes, then had a shocking reverse in the Pimlico Futurity when second by a neck to In Reality (Intentionally). Yet a success in the lucrative race in Jersey probably would clinch the divisional championship for the bay colt. (Dr. Fager did not race again in 1966 after the Champagne, which was his only loss at two.)

In the Garden State, Successor ran one of the very best races of his career and won by three lengths over the Bold Ruler son Bold Hour, who had six lengths on the colt in third. Earlier that year, Bold Hour had won the Hopeful and the Futurity; so his second in the Garden State was positively good form. As a 4-year-old, Bold Hour also won a race at Garden State Park called the Amory L. Haskell Handicap, well before that race swapped names with the Monmouth Invitational.

Successor profited from his extra racing at 2 to become the divisional champion of 1966, although he struggled thereafter. Dr. Fager, Damascus, In Reality, and Bold Hour made life tough for everyone else in the division too.

Of all the one-two finishes by great sires of the past, the greatest pairing in the greatest race came in 1948.

Juvenile champion Citation had not met the 3-year-old sensation Coaltown until the Kentucky Derby, when trainers Ben and Jimmy Jones sent both sons of Bull Lea (Bull Dog) out together on one of the worst tracks ever for the Kentucky classic. Churchill Downs that day was a muddy mess.

Coaltown possessed exceptional speed, which he had willingly displayed during his spring preps in Kentucky, and his front-running efforts at Keeneland had swayed local horsemen and observers to believe that not even Citation could cope with his kinsman's ability to turn on the speed early and continue through to the finish.

Both owned by Calumet Farm, Coaltown and Citation ran coupled for betting and were odds-on in the field of six. The unbeaten Coaltown broke alertly and sped away to an open lead by the time he passed under the finish wire the first time. Coaltown continued to lead through quick fractions of :23 2/5 and :46 3/5, by which point Coaltown had whistled away to a six-length lead over the sloppy track.

Citation was racing in second under the capable hands of Eddie Arcaro, however, and the master jockey wasn't going to be trapped into a speed duel with a stablemate. He understood pace far too well. Coaltown's next two quarter-mile fractions of six furlongs in 1:11 2/5 and a mile in 1:38 brought him back to the field, and Arcaro had only to use a hand ride to catch Coaltown by the time he reached the stretch call.

Citation drew off to win “handily” by 3 ½ lengths in 2:05 2/5, and yet none of the other horses could close effectively over the tiring track. That left Bull Lea's two great sons to take the first two positions in the Derby, and Citation went on to win the Triple Crown impressively. The next season, when Citation was on the sidelines regaining soundness, Coaltown took over as champion of the division and Horse of the Year in one of the year-end polls.

One of the barriers to clear comparisons between sires of the past and those of the present is that none of these older sires covered books nearly so large as those of the present. A book of 25 to 40 mares was considered adequate, even preferable, but stallions today are presented with a minimum of 125 mares annually, and some cover close to double that number.

Clearly, there could be some dilution of quality in the mates with such policies, as well as concentration of the top breeding stock in a smaller circle of bloodlines. But it does allow a stallion with the genetic and phenotypic excellence to be a super sire to get more top horses earlier than ever before.

Among contemporary sires, both Tapit (Pulpit) and Into Mischief (Harlan's Holiday) started off far from the perceived “best” stallion prospects of their crops and had some relatively small early crops from relatively moderate mares. Even Curlin (Smart Strike) had quite a bit of commercial pushback until his early crops began to display consistent classic potential.

Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) and Gun Runner have had the steadiest volume in their books of mares and the best results for quality among the stallions with very large books from the start of their breeding careers. Uncle Mo has proven himself both a commercial star and sire of champions, and there seems no reason to expect anything less from the chestnut newcomer to the ranks of leading sires.

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