04/11/2014 3:07PM

Hot Sire: Wicked Strong a Derby contender for Hard Spun

Barbara D. Livingston
Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong is by young Darley sire Hard Spun.

Wicked Strong landed squarely on the Kentucky Derby trail last week with an upset win in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The 3-year-old bay colt is the first serious Derby candidate by 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun to emerge from the stallion’s first three crops, and his impressive rallying win from midpack in the Wood – coupled with his encouraging bloodlines – will make him an intriguing contender for the 1 1/4-mile classic should he make the Churchill Downs starting gate May 3.

Hard Spun was the last son of Claiborne Farm’s three-time North American leading sire Danzig to thrive at racing’s highest level in the United States, arriving on the scene several months after Danzig’s death in January 2006. He won two stakes as a juvenile that fall for Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, and then over the next year became one of the standout members of a sensational 3-year-old group that included Preakness winner and eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin; Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Kentucky Derby, and Travers winner Street Sense; Belmont Stakes-winning filly Rags to Riches; and Haskell winner Any Given Saturday.

Trained by Larry Jones, Hard Spun failed to capture any of the top-line races for 3-year-olds but was arguably the most consistent runner of his generation throughout a very busy 2007 campaign. Moreover, he had an ample dose of high cruising speed that augured well for his prospects at stud, particularly as a potential classic sire. That ability was on display during the Derby, when Hard Spun led the field by three lengths through an opening mile in 1:37.04 before succumbing to Street Sense’s late run, still finishing 5 3/4 lengths ahead of Curlin.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s Darley acquired stud rights to Hard Spun while the colt was still in training during the summer of 2007, and he went on to nab a Grade 1 win in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga while continuing to perform well at longer distances (his career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure came in his finale, a second to Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Monmouth Park). Hard Spun began his stud career in 2008 at a fee of $50,000, and his first crop validated that pricing decision when they began racing in 2011. Hard Spun dueled with Ashford Stud’s Scat Daddy at the top of the freshman sire list throughout the year and finished less than $12,000 behind that rival once all of his progeny earnings, totaling more than $1.5 million, were counted.

Two members of that first crop would emerge as Grade 1 winners in 2012, both of them fillies. Zo Impressive won the 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose at Belmont. Questing, who began her racing career in England and was Group 3-placed in 2011, transformed into something special when switched to dirt by Kiaran McLaughlin during the summer of 2012, winning the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama Stakes back-to-back at Saratoga by a combined 13 1/4 lengths. Questing received a 106 Beyer for her conquest of the 1 1/4-mile Alabama.

There weren’t any newfound stars of that caliber for Hard Spun in 2013, but solid runners have continued to surface, several of them late-developing horses. One is the 5-year-old Reload, a Phipps Stable homebred from the family of Inside Information and Educated Risk who impressively took the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream in February and was slated to square off against two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland last Friday. Hard Spun also has established an international presence with stakes winners in Europe, Australia, and Japan – a proclivity that might have persuaded Darley to send him to its Japanese stud farm for the current Northern Hemisphere breeding season.

If that’s the case, Wicked Strong’s continued development could bring Hard Spun back to the States. Darley sent Street Sense to Japan for the 2013 season, only to ship him back to Lexington’s Jonabell Farm last fall after several of his domestic runners captured graded stakes. Hard Spun’s female family includes 1963 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Chateaugay and 1974 Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current, both champions, and Wicked Strong also has a strong stamina foundation on his dam’s side. The Kentucky-bred colt is out of Moyne Abbey, a winning daughter of 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic. His second dam, Classic Approval, was stakes-placed at 1 1/16 miles on turf and produced middle-distance turf stakes winners Gulch Approval and Approval Rating.

Classic Approval’s sire, With Approval, was Canada’s Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year in 1989 who captured a host of route stakes on both dirt and turf. Classic Approval’s half-sister Class Kris, by Kris S., won a graded stakes at 1 1/8 miles and is the dam of millionaire Student Council, by Kingmambo. Student Council won the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic and the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special, both Grade 1 races.

Wicked Strong took a big step forward in the Wood and likely will be a second-tier betting choice if he starts in the Derby, but the colt’s pedigree elements are in place to make Hard Spun a classic sire and further extend Danzig’s impact on the breed into the 21st century.