05/29/2014 3:23PM

Hovdey: Bloodlines key to Nashoba's Gold

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Benoit & Associates
Nashoba's Gold, a half-sister to the high-quality Nashoba's Key, has much of the class but little of the attitude her late big sister had.

As usual, a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line is sucking all the oxygen from the room. Life goes on elsewhere, although you’d hardly know it.

Between May 17, when California Chrome added the Preakness to his Kentucky Derby, and June 7, when he will dance with the devil one more time at Belmont Park, there were two other stakes rated Grade 1 on the North American schedule.

The first of those occurred last Monday at a sun-drenched Santa Anita Park, where the Argentine mare Miss Serendipity edged New York invader Emollient in a renewal of the Gamely Stakes that won’t soon be forgotten. Emollient drifted badly to the right through the stretch under Rosie Napravnik, but Brice Blanc was able to get Miss Serendipity’s nose down first to spare the proceedings the indignity of a disqualification.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “Long Rein: Tales from the World of Horse Racing,” a collection of columns and features by Jay Hovdey

The other Grade 1 prize will be offered Saturday, again at Santa Anita, which is now the home of the $350,000 American Oaks. At 1 1/4 miles on turf, it was a good race during its 12-year run at Hollywood Park, and it will continue to be a good race at Santa Anita, as promised by a field featuring 3-year-old fillies from the stables of Tom Proctor, Chad Brown, John Shirreffs, Richard Mandella, Mike Puype, Doug O’Neill, and Richard Mandella.

They’ve all got Carla Gaines to beat, however, because she has Nashoba’s Gold in the Oaks. And Nashoba’s Gold is the most exciting 3-year-old filly in California right now, a shining complement to all things chrome.

Bred and owned by Alyce and Warren “Spud” Williamson, Nashoba’s Gold enters the American Oaks half a length shy of a perfect 4-for-4 record, with two graded stakes wins at nine furlongs in her last two starts. She rates and waits, heeding Joe Talamo’s every move, then finishes her races with an authority found in the best of the breed.

Where does she get it? Ask a tougher one. Nashoba’s Gold is by Smart Strike out of the Caerleon mare Nashoba, which makes her a half-sister to Nashoba’s Key, a chestnut mare who flashed across the racing sky in 2007 and part of 2008.

Nashoba’s Key was Nashoba’s first foal. Gaines and the Williamsons waited until the filly turned 4 before unwrapping the package in public, and they were rewarded with a record of eight wins in 10 starts that included such major events as the Yellow Ribbon, the Santa Margarita, and the Vanity. Nashoba’s Key did not lose a race until she was fourth, beaten two lengths, in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in the mire of Monmouth Park. Gaines was asked how the sisters compare.

“It’s a bit unfair,” the trainer said. “Nashoba’s Key was just a bear, any way you look at it. This one is a lot kinder, more sociable. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the other one more than anyone will ever know. But this one is very pleasant to work with. You don’t have to worry about losing an ear or a finger.”

Talamo was a 17-year-old apprentice when he rode Nashoba’s Key to major victories in 2007, including the Yellow Ribbon. He has been aboard Nashoba’s Gold in all four starts.

“Nashoba’s Key put me on the map,” Talamo said. “An apprentice doesn’t get to ride Grade 1 races like that, let alone win them. She taught me what it was like to ride a good horse.”

And little sister?

“Well, she tries to kick me, just like Nashoba’s Key,” he said. “She’s bigger, though, with a longer stride. Nashoba’s Key got a mile and a quarter because she had so much grit. This filly feels like she’s just warming up at a mile and an eighth. I can’t wait to see what she does at a mile and a quarter.”

After Nashoba’s Key won the 2008 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, Gaines gave her mare a brief break, hoping not only for a restorative physical effect but also on the longshot chance that she might mellow, if only a little. Physically, she bloomed. But as for the other ...

Nashoba’s Key was in her pen outside the Gaines barn at Hollywood Park when, in the predawn hours of May 28, 2008, she somehow got a leg caught in the fencing. In her panic to pull free, she fractured the leg beyond repair. There was nothing to do except put her out of her pain. Veterinarians Chuck Jenkins and Sam Bradley were with her at the end.

“Sometimes it is necessary to tranquilize a horse before they are euthanized, but she was standing calm,” Jenkins said at the time. “Before I did it, though, I told Sam to be careful because she will get you. And don’t you know, she tried to bite him.”

Nashoba’s Key was a chestnut, while Nashoba’s Gold is gray, like Nashoba, which translates as “wolf” from the Native American languages of the Choctaw and Chickasaw. Such a coincidence can be taken seriously or not, but there is no doubt that the ferocity of competitive spirit found in Nashoba’s Key is present in the half-sister who hit the ground eight years later. Nashoba’s Gold has a lot to live up to, and she’s getting there fast.