10/04/2013 1:02PM

Sparkman: Discreetly classy


In 2007, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum changed the landscape of the American breeding industry, and, not incidentally, the trajectory of his own global racing and breeding operation. During that racing season, Sheikh Mohammed purchased three of the four best American 3-year-olds of the year – Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Grade 1 King’s Bishop winner and Derby runner-up Hard Spun, and Grade 1 Haskell Invitational winner Any Given Saturday – and retired all three to stand at his Darley division at Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Ky., at the end of the year.

Joining them in the breeding shed for his first season in 2008 was another American Grade 1 winner Sheikh Mohammed had purchased more than two years earlier, Discreet Cat. Bred by the late E. Paul Robsham, Discreet Cat had been so impressive in his juvenile debut at Saratoga in 2005 that Sheikh Mohammed purchased him privately from the Robshams and sent him to his private training establishment in Dubai.

All four of Darley’s new stallions for 2008 have shown promise with their first two crops at the races, and the victory of Discreet Cat’s daughter Secret Compass in the Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes on Sept. 28 at Santa Anita confirms that the 10-year-old son of Forestry is a young stallion who must be taken seriously.

In that first start at Saratoga on Aug. 27, 2005, Discreet Cat led all the way, recording fractions of 22.47 seconds, 44.85, and 57.52 en route to a six-furlong clocking of 1:09.76, which translated into a dazzling debut Beyer Speed Figure of 106. Despite this, the colt’s pedigree suggested he was something more than just a precocious sprinter. While it was true that his sire Forestry’s only Grade 1 win was in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop, that son of Storm Cat had stayed well enough to win the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes and run a close third in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell.

Discreet Cat’s dam, Pretty Discreet, by Private Account, had won the Grade 1, 1 1/4-mile Alabama Stakes, and his second dam’s full sister, Buryyourbelief, had won the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks, so there were no stamina worries from that side of the pedigree. Discreet Cat duly won his first start in Dubai in March 2006, coming from off the pace to easily capture a 1,600-meter (about one mile) allowance race at Nad al Sheba by four lengths.

Sheikh Mohammed had established the Group 2 UAE Derby basically as a local trial race for his Kentucky Derby prospects, and Discreet Cat looked every bit a Derby horse when winning the about 1 1/8-mile event by six lengths. Sheikh Mohammed’s team decided against sending Discreet Cat to Churchill Downs, however, partly because he was a late (May 1) foal and considered too immature to handle the chaos and pressure of Derby Week.

He thus returned to the races at Saratoga almost exactly a year after his juvenile debut, destroying a field of optional-claiming horses by 11 lengths while running seven furlongs in 1:21.53. The Grade 2 Jerome Handicap almost six weeks later was won just as easily, as Discreet Cat led all the way to win by 10 1/4 lengths in 1:36.46 over Valid Notebook.

Through no fault of his own, Discreet Cat had faced only one top-class opponent (an off-form Invasor, who was fourth in the UAE Derby) in any of those first five starts, but the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in late November at Aqueduct was a different story. Badge of Silver had won the Grade 2 New Orleans and San Gabriel handicaps and was fresh off an excellent third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile. Silver Train was the reigning Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap winner and had won the previous year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Furthermore, the 3-year-old Discreet Cat had to give the 6-year-old Badge of Silver seven pounds and the 4-year-old Silver Train four pounds, huge concessions by the weight-for-age scale.

Discreet Cat made both of them look second rate, with rider Garret Gomez keeping him even with Silver Train behind leader Sharp Humor in the early stages. The colt battled for the lead with Silver Train around the turn and then drew away down the stretch for a 3 1/4-length victory over Badge of Silver at the end of a brilliant 1:32.46 mile.

Clearly one of the best horses in the world at a mile, Discreet Cat was next pointed for his owner’s signature race, the Group 1 Dubai World Cup at about 1 1/4 miles. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor was unable to get a prep race into his charge before the World Cup, however, and Discreet Cat never was a factor at Nad al Sheba, finishing a distant last behind Invasor.

Discreet Cat was reported to have suffered from an abscess in his throat discovered after the World Cup, and he did not run again until the Grade 1 Vosburgh at six furlongs at Belmont Park six months later. Considering the long layoff, he ran well enough, finishing third, six lengths behind Fabulous Strike. Discreet Cat raced only once more, concluding his career by finishing third again, beaten 14 3/4 lengths, behind Corinthian and Gottcha Gold, in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile over a sloppy track at Monmouth.

At his best, Discreet Cat was clearly at least as talented as any of his cohorts who retired to Darley in 2008, but he was perhaps slightly less attractive on pedigree and conformation scores. After his fast start at stud during the mid-2000s, Forestry’s production at stud has tailed off. Though he has since sired 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford, Forestry’s current strike rate of 46 stakes winners from 921 foals of racing age (5 percent) through Tuesday is slightly below the level expected of a top-class sire, even in today’s big-book era.

In conformation, Discreet Cat is correct enough in front and possesses an outstanding shoulder, but he is quite long and rather low in his back, making him look a bit unconventional.

Two colts from Discreet Cat’s first crop showed brilliant promise as early 3-year-olds, but both Out of Bounds (out of Unbridled Elaine, by Unbridled’s Song), the winner of the 2012 Grade 3 Sham Stakes, and Discreet Dancer (West Side Dancer, by Gone West), third in the same year’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, quickly went to the sidelines with soundness issues.

Discreet Dancer came back this year to win the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, and Discreet Cat’s second and third crops both have included Grade 1-winning fillies. Discreet Marq (To Marquet, by Marquetry) counts the 2013 Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks among her five wins from 11 starts, and the Grade 1 Chandelier was the second win in four starts for Secret Compass.

Secret Compass is the third foal, third winner, and first stakes winner out of Maria’s Pride, by Maria’s Mon, a tough, consistent allowance winner of four races and $125,431 at Mountaineer from a family that has not been particularly classy for the past five generations but appears to be improving recently. Maria’s Pride is a half-sister to stakes winner Smoke Mountain, by Smoke Glacken, and their dam, the winning Cure the Blues mare Venting the Blues, is a half-sister to stakes winners Addy’s Appeal and Winning Move, by moderate sires Proud Appeal and Strike the Gold, respectively.

Winning Move also is the dam of stakes winners Stage Stop and Valid Move, both by Valid Expectations, and Stage Stop is the dam of Grade 3 Sapling Stakes winner She Digs Me, by Henny Hughes, and, more significantly, 2013 Preakness third Mylute, by Midnight Lute.

Overall, Discreet Cat has sired 16 stakes winners from 295 foals of racing age (5 percent) through Tuesday, and while one would like to see that percentage rise a bit, it is well above the comparable current figures for the more highly regarded Hard Spun and Street Sense.

Discreet Cat also now has the same number of Grade 1 winners (two) as Street Sense and Hard Spun and really only lacks a horse with a national reputation to become a very hot commodity as a sire. Given his own obvious world-class talent as a racehorse, his growing appeal to breeders should not be a surprise.