09/18/2017 10:44AM

Sparkman: Happy hour for Patrona Margarita

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Patrona Margarita, by Special Rate, wins the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs.

A good horse can come from anywhere.

That racing truism has been used for centuries to explain the emergence of a talented racehorse from unfashionable parents and sometimes unfathomable locations.

Both descriptions apply to Patrona Margarita, the 23-1 winner of the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes on Saturday. Patrona Margarita’s sire is Special Rate, an otherwise obscure son of Pulpit, out of a mare by the Mr. Prospector horse Naevus, and she was bred in Texas, a state whose Thoroughbred racing has never quite matched its horse heritage. But in Patrona Margarita’s case, the story gets more and more strange and interesting the deeper one delves into the pedigree.

It is pretty darned interesting right from the top, since Patrona Margarita is actually the second graded stakes winner produced by her dam, Margarita Mistress. Bred in Texas by APG Holdings, Margarita Mistress won a mile maiden race at Sam Houston and placed in only one other of her 11 starts at 2 and 3. She was claimed by Patrona Margarita’s owner/breeder Craig D. Upham for $10,000 in the 10th of those 11 starts.

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The principal attraction in her pedigree was surely that she was a full sister to Texas stakes winner Guacamole, a Naevus gelding who won $111,696. Her dam, Four O’Clock Post, by Regal Classic, was half-sister to Canadian stakes winner Attraction Fatale, by Dauphin Fabuleux, but the pedigree does not ring any bells until one encounters the name of Patrona Margarita’s fifth dam Carnauba, by Noholme II.

Bred in Florida by Anderson Fowler and purchased for only $20,000 by Nelson Bunker Hunt as a yearling, Carnauba won 8 of her 13 starts in Italy and England at 2 and 3. Winner of the Group 1 Italian Oaks and champion 2- and 3-year-old filly Italy, Carnauba proved herself up to international standard by beating Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks winner May Hill in the Group 3 Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newbury. Shortly after her final start, however, she was kidnapped from her stall at San Siro Racecourse in Milan. The kidnappers demanded a sizable ransom, but Hunt refused to pay and Carnauba was eventually rescued from the backyard of a local butcher.

Carnauba’s stakes-winning daughter Valid Carnauba produced a couple of stakes winners, but her best descendant is her granddaughter Shaanxi, by Zilzal, who was the high-weighted older female on the European Free handicap at 4 after beating colts in the Grade 2 Prix du Rond-Point.

Whether that has very much to do with the fact that Margarita Mistress’s third foal, Texas Chrome, by Grasshopper, has won the Grade 3 Super Derby and Oklahoma Derby and earned more than $1 million is doubtful, but Patrona Margarita’s Pocahontas victory validates Margarita Mistress’s status as an elite broodmare. She has since produced an unnamed 2-year-old filly by Data Link and was bred last spring to Malibu Moon, a considerable and deserved upgrade on her previous mates.

The Juddmonte-bred Special Rate is from the same male line as Malibu Moon, since he is a son of Pulpit, perhaps the best sire of sires to date by Malibu Moon’s sire A.P. Indy. Winner of the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes, Pulpit was a good but not great sire himself, siring 83 stakes winners from 948 foals (8.8 percent), 12 Grade 1 winners, including the great sire Tapit and the good sires Sky Mesa, Lucky Pulpit, and Ecclesiastic (in Uruguay).

Special Rate, a half-brother to the brilliant Grade 1-winning fillies Sightseek, by Distant View, and Tates Creek, by Rahy, won his first start early in his 3-year-old season for trainer Bobby Frankel and was regarded well enough as a dirt horse to run in the Grade 3 Bay Shore in his third, but the only stakes race he won was the mile Bien Bien Stakes over the Santa Anita turf. Those are not credentials that excite breeders in any quarter of the globe, and he has sired only three stakes winners from 169 foals of racing age.

Patrona Margarita is his first graded stakes winner. His previous stakes winners, Patty’s Pride (out of Solo Rio, by Air Forbes Won) and Special U F O (Mysterious Light, by Mystery Storm) both won minor stakes on the Southwest circuit.

After Thoroughbred racing was legalized once again in Texas in 1987, racehorse breeding in the state enjoyed a brief revival, and racing there reached a pinnacle when Lone Star Park hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2004. But the Texas legislature’s unwillingness to support racing has resulted in an inevitable decline. After peaking at about 2,500 foals in the mid-1990s, Patrona Margarita is perhaps the best of only about 500 foals born in Texas in 2015.