10/02/2015 11:05AM

Sparkman: Branches of the Danzig tree

Shigeki Kikkawa
Smooth Roller is the latest Grade 1 winner for sire Hard Spun.

The male line of three-time leading sire Danzig is secure, but exactly how many branches may grow on that highly colorful and varied tree remains unclear. Danehill and Green Desert have emerged as prolific sires of sires in their own right, and there are still possibilities, however remote, that branches from Anabaa, Boundary, Lure, and National Assembly could somehow flourish if the right horse comes along.

In recent years, Danzig’s surprising son War Front has shown signs of becoming a sire of sires, but Danzig’s last good son, Hard Spun, has been more noted in public perception as a sire of fillies, partly because of his first-crop champion filly Questing. Recent Awesome Again Stakes winner Smooth Roller can do nothing to extend Hard Spun’s branch of the Danzig male line since he is a gelding, but he is actually the fifth male among Hard Spun’s eight Grade 1/Group 1 winners.

Bred in Pennsylvania by Michael Moran and Brushwood Stable, Hard Spun was purchased privately as a yearling by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms after failing to meet his reserve at a hammer price of $485,000 at the 2005 Keeneland September yearling sale. From the last full crop of Danzig, his dam, Turkish Tryst, was a stakes-winning daughter of champion older male but moderate sire Turkoman from the great Banquet Bell family, which gave Darby Dan Farm classic winners Chateaugay and Little Current, champion Primonetta, and Grade 1 winners Prayers’n Promises, Cum Laude Laurie, and Prince Thou Art.

Sent to trainer J. Larry Jones, Hard Spun was unbeaten in three front-running starts at 2, including the Port Penn and Pennsylvania Nursery stakes, never winning by less than five lengths. Hard Spun was even more impressive in his first start at 3, outrunning Teuflesberg for the lead in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds before drawing off to a 6 1/2-length victory.

With an eye on races over longer distances, jockey Mario Pino tried to rate Hard Spun for the first time in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, but the experiment was not a success. He rated kindly enough and moved to within a length of Teuflesberg on the home turn but hung to finish fourth, beaten three lengths. Rating worked better on Pino’s second try in the Grade 2 Lane’s End Stakes when he kept Hard Spun wide and in the clear from an outside post. They stalked the pacesetters in third before pulling away easily to win by 3 1/4 lengths.

Racing on the lead is one thing against Grade 2 and Grade 3 opponents. Trying to lead all the way in the Kentucky Derby is something else entirely, but Hard Spun won innumerable fans under an intelligent ride by Pino. With the obvious non-stayer Teuflesberg his primary pace contender, Hard Spun set legitimate fractions of 22.96 and 46.26 seconds before Teuflesberg’s collapse allowed Pino to slow the pace through three-quarters in 1:11.13 and a mile in 1:37.04. Hard Spun fought off the challenges of Sedgefield and Any Given Saturday but had nothing left to hold the charge of champion 2-year-old male Street Sense, finishing second, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, with Curlin third.

Hard Spun ran a similar race in the Preakness, but this time, Curlin as well as Street Sense passed him in the stretch. Pino tried rating him off the pace again in the Belmont, but the distance was never going to be in his favor despite his gameness, and he finished fourth, beaten 11 lengths by Rags to Riches and Curlin, with Tiago third. After a two-month break, Hard Spun managed to beat Curlin in the Haskell Invitational, but Any Given Saturday ran the race of his life to win by 4 1/2 lengths.

Grade 1 wins are a necessity for a stallion prospect, and Jones found the right one for Hard Spun in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop at Saratoga. The talented but mercurial First Defence headed him a furlong out, but Hard Spun repelled the challenge to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Hard Spun finally beat Street Sense in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park, and he repeated the dose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Curlin was simply too good, racing past in the slop at the head of the Monmouth stretch to a 4 1/2-length win.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum had purchased the breeding rights to both Street Sense and Hard Spun just before the Belmont Stakes, and Hard Spun was retired to Darley at Jonabell at a $50,000 fee for the 2008 breeding season with the highly consistent record of seven wins, three seconds, one third, and two fourths from 13 career starts for earnings of $2,673,470. A tall, powerfully made horse, he had just about every qualification breeders desire in a stallion prospect and was wildly popular for his first several seasons.

Despite the fact that his first American crop included 2012 champion 3-year-old filly Questing (out of Chercheuse, by Seeking the Gold); Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes winner Zo Impressive (Zoftig, by Cozzene); multiple Grade 1 winner Hard Not to Like (Like a Gem, by Tactical Cat); graded winners Big John B (Baldomera, by Doneraile Court), Easter Gift (Angel Gift, by Allen’s Prospect), Reload (Hidden Reserve, by Mr. Prospector), and Hierro (Brief Bliss, by Navarone); and 10 other stakes winners, that popularity has cooled somewhat.

That is partly because other than Questing, none of his offspring has reached championship or classic caliber. Still, Smooth Roller is his 46th stakes winner from 775 foals ages 3 and up, numbers that include annual, less successful, sojourns to Australia for the Southern Hemisphere breeding season through 2013 but do not include results from his 2013 Northern Hemisphere season in Japan.

Bred in Kentucky by John R. Cummins, Smooth Roller was sold for $160,000 to Miguel Angel Rubio Fernandez at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale. Owned by Lucky Charm Stable and trained by Victor Garcia, he did not race until June 27 this year, when he rallied to win a seven-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita by 2 1/2 lengths. Following a nose victory in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer at Del Mar five weeks later, he finished a modest fourth in the Harry F. Brubaker Stakes at Del Mar. Thus, his 5 1/4-length win in the Awesome Again was something of a surprise, especially with multiple Grade 1 winners Hoppertunity and Bayern finishing second and third.

Smooth Roller is the fourth foal out of Catch the Moment, an unraced daughter of Unbridled who was purchased, in foal to Smart Strike, for $130,000 by John Cummins at the 2006 Keeneland January sale. Cummins sold the resulting filly, Magicalcarpetride, for $220,000 to Fox Hill Farms at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of select yearlings, and she won 3 of 9 starts and earned $89,685. Catch the Moment’s second foal, Caught Me Looking, by Afleet Alex, failed to meet his reserve at a $35,000 hammer price at Keeneland September and won 2 of 11 starts and $31,272.

Catch the Moment’s third foal, Elite Alex, by Afleet Alex, was purchased for $300,000 by trainer Tim Ritchey on behalf of CJZ Stable at Keeneland September and won 1 of 6 starts and ran third in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. Smooth Roller is her fourth foal, and her only subsequent reported foal, Jungang Sinhwa, by Harlan’s Holiday, was purchased for $30,000 at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale by the Korean Racing Association but has not yet started.

Catch the Moment’s dam, Fluid Move, by Nureyev, placed in stakes in both the U.S. and Canada but produced nothing of note. Fluid Move, however, was a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Sealaunch, by Relaunch, and from there on back, the pedigree gets much better very quickly indeed. Smooth Roller’s third dam, From Sea to Sea, by Gregorian, was a stakes-placed half-sister to Epsom Derby winner Secreto, by Northern Dancer, the great Irish hurdler Istabraq, by Sadler’s Wells, and stakes winner Interrex, by Vice Regent.

Smooth Roller’s fourth dam, Betty’s Secret, by Secretariat, was a half-sister to French Derby winner and champion 3-year-old Caracolero, by Graustark, from the immediate family of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince and his English champion 2-year-old full brother, Crowned Prince, both by Raise a Native, all from the great family founded by Your Host’s full sister Your Hostess, which also includes champions Real Quiet, Daiwa Major, and Hippodamia.

Though it looks rather light on the catalog page, Smooth Roller’s pedigree is good enough for anything. That may not carry much weight against what looks like a very salty field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but if he remains sound, he may well add to his sire’s rehabilitated reputation.