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Homebreds from prominent outfits set to contest final Derby preps
By Nicole Russo
A number of homebreds will have a chance to punch a ticket to the Kentucky Derby for their owner-breeders on Saturday afternoon, at the final two major Grade 1 preps for the classic will be contested at Keeneland Race Course and Oaklawn Park.
Of the 14 horses in the main body of the field for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, five will run for their breeders solely or in partnership. Two entrants in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park are homebreds.
A homebred in the winner's circle for the Blue Grass would be somewhat of a rarity in recent history. Only one homebred has won the race in the past decade, Live Oak Plantation's Brilliant Speed in 2011. The group has fared somewhat more successfully in the Arkansas Derby in the same time frame, with Sir Cherokee (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Lawyer Ron (2006) and Papa Clem (2009) capturing the race for their breeders.
The pendulum has swung toward homebreds in the Kentucky Derby in the last decade, with six capturing the classic - Smarty Jones (2004), Giacomo (2005), Barbaro (2006), Street Sense (2007), Super Saver (2010), and Animal Kingdom (2011). By comparison, only two homebreds - Sea Hero (1993) and Grindstone (1996) - won in the prior decade.
This year's Blue Grass features some additional intrigue, as the famed Calumet Farm, which has won a record six editions of the race as an owner, will be represented in the entries by Channel Isle. In May 2012, the Calumet Investment Group trust purchased the historic property for about $36 million from a trust that had been established by the late Henryk de Kwiatkowski. Brad Kelley subsequently leased Calumet from the investment group and moved his Hurricane Hall and Bluegrass Hall breeding and racing operations to the property.
"I think the whole community is happy with it," said John Stuart, president of Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services, which market's Calumet's stallions and who was on hand to represent the farm at the Blue Grass post position draw. "I get stopped daily about how happy everyone is to see the farm full of horses."
Channel Isle, a son of turf champion English Channel, was bred by Kelley's Bluegrass Hall.
“Calumet’s big shot this year is (Arkansas Derby entrant) Oxbow, but we think [Channel Isle] will like the added distance and the Polytrack," Stuart said. "The English Channels like the turf and the Polytrack."
Channel Isle is out of the winning Linamix mare Dandanna, dam of stakes placed Centaurus. Dandanna is a half sister to Group 3 winner Courteous, stakes winner Scriptwriter, and Portmanteu, dam of Group 2 winner Hunter's Light. Their dam is a full sister to French champion Darshaan, as well as a half sister to Group 1 winner Darara, Group 2 winner Dalara, and two other stakes winners.
Another prominent homebred in the Blue Grass field is Charles Fipke's Java's War, who was a closing second to likely Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby. The colt is from the first of just two crops by 2007 juvenile champion War Pass, who died suddenly in late 2010.
Java's War is out of the winning Rainbow Quest mare Java, a full sibling to champion grass mare and stakes producer Fiji. They are also half sisters to Grade 1 winner Capri.
“His female family says grass, and I think that kind of translates well to the synthetic," trainer Ken McPeek said. "I think he’ll run great – I think he’ll actually run a little bit better than he did at Tampa. This colt’s got a lot of class. It’s a fantastic family. Mr. Fipke breeds nothing but top-quality horses, and he deserves a lot of credit here.”
Charming Kitten, a full sibling to Grade 3-placed stakes winner Queen'splatekitten, represents Ken and Sarah Ramsey and their homebred stallion Kitten's Joy, the champion turf male of 2004. The Ramseys also bred Blue Grass entrant Fear the Kitten, another son of Kitten's Joy who was claimed out of his debut at Keeneland last fall by Frank Irvin.
“We’re very proud of Charming Kitten – we’re very proud of all the [Kitten's Joy] offspring," Ken Ramsey said. "We’ve got them running all over the world. We’ve got a lot of kittens out there!”
The Ramseys won nine races through the first five days of Keeneland's spring meeting, and need just four more victories to set a record for owners during a Keeneland meet. Many of their early victories have come with offspring of Kitten's Joy.
“We won the late Pick 3 out at Keeneland on [April 7]," Ramsey said. "What I was proud of was that all three of them were Ramsey homebreds, and by our own stallion. So that kind of speaks well for our breeding program.”
Blue Grass entrant Footbridge was bred by Darley in Kentucky, while West Hills Giant was bred in New York by Robert Castelli and now runs for a partnership that includes the breeder.
At Oaklawn Park, Drs. K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman will attempt to continue their success with homebreds in the Arkansas Derby, sending out Heaven's Runway, a colt from the first crop of Run Away and Hide. Out of the winning Awesome Again mare Heaven's Passport, he is a half brother to stakes winner and multiple graded stakes placed Holy Heavens.
In 2009, the Jayaramans sent out homebred Summer Bird to finish third in the Arkansas Derby in just his third career start. The colt went on to win the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and was named the champion 3-year-old male.
Joining Heaven's Runaway as a homebred in the Arkansas Derby starting gate is Texas Bling, bred and campaigned by the Hall's Family Trust. A son of leading Texas juvenile sire Too Much Bling, he is out of the Country Pine mare Anythingmore. She is out of a half sister to Grade 2 winners Darn That Alarm and Strong Performance, as well as stakes winner Jiggs Alarm.