08/15/2014 11:10AM

Sparkman: Juddmonte finds success again with Seek Again

Barbara D. Livingston
Juddmonte homebred Seek Again set a course record winning the Fourstardave at Saratoga.

In almost every way, Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms serves as the modern model of how to build a world-class racing and breeding organization. Abdullah bought first-class racehorses and broodmares on the open market, but he also has utilized a tactic that consistently has rewarded growing operations by buying intact broodmare bands from other successful breeders on more than one occasion.

Abdullah’s purchase of Belair Farm and its broodmare band from Herbert Schnapka (who had bought Belair from Brownell Combs II in the late 1970s) in 1982 has not produced anything as good as Frankel, who descends from one of a group of mares purchased from the estate of John Hay Whitney. The Belair purchase, whose 1,100 acres form the core of the current Juddmonte Farm near Lexington, Ky., did, however, include Juddmonte foundation mares responsible for the production of at least 10 Group 1/Grade 1 winners. The most recent of these, Seek Again, won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby last December and added a sharp victory last weekend in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap to his résumé.

Seek Again’s third dam, Donut’s Bunnie, was bred by the late Verne H. Winchell, whose son, Ron, campaigns the prominent 3-year-olds Untapable and Tapiture this year, and was purchased by Belair after her racing career. Winchell built his first fortune through a chain of doughnut shops in California, earning the sobriquet the “Donut King,” a name he passed on to the first horse he bought at public auction. One of the best horses sired by the 1954 Kentucky Derby winner Determine, Donut King won the 1961 Champagne Stakes and ran second in the Garden State Stakes and Hawthorne Gold Cup, all Grade 1-caliber events at the time.

Donut King stood in California and was moderately successful, siring 16 stakes winners from 266 foals. Donut’s Bunnie was not among the stakes winners, but she showed some ability on the racetrack, winning four races and placing in stakes on the Northern California and California fair circuits. Donut’s Bunnie was the best thing in her immediate family, but her fourth dam, Blonde Belle, by North Star III, was a full sister to 1926 Kentucky Derby winner Bubbling Over.

At the time of Abdullah’s purchase, Donut’s Bunnie’s best produce had been Prove Me Wrong, a Prove Out gelding who placed in a stakes race at Finger Lakes. Abdullah always has had the Midas touch with breeding stock, however, and Donut’s Bunnie paid an immediate dividend, producing the high-class Blushing Groom filly Nashmeel from the first mating for Donut’s Bunnie planned by Juddmonte.

The winner of the Group 2 Prix d’Astarte and the Prix des Lilas, Nashmeel also finished second in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois in France and the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon and Matriarch in the United States. She passed on that quality to her offspring, producing stakes winners Lynton to the cover of Lyphard and Battle Dore to Juddmonte’s French Derby winner Sanglamore.

Far and away her best offspring, though, was Light Jig, Nashmeel’s daughter by the great Juddmonte-raced sire Danehill. Trained initially in France by Pascal Bary, she did not race at 2 but won her second start at 3 and placed in the listed Prix de la Seine and Prix de Thiberville. Just as so many other Juddmonte fillies did, Light Jig dramatically improved after being transferred to the barn of Bobby Frankel as a 4-year-old. Light Jig won allowances at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park and was beaten a nose in another before rallying to win the Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood. Unplaced in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee, she rebounded with a four-length romp in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon. Light Jig closed her career with a disappointing effort, finishing seventh, 7 1/2 lengths behind Ouija Board, in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Lone Star Park.

Light Jig’s first foal, Luxury Brand, by Dynaformer, was unplaced in her only start. Her second, Treble Jig, by Gone West, won twice in eight starts for Abdullah from ages 2 to 4 in England but blossomed in the Middle East after being sold for about $19,000 at the Doncaster sale of horses in training in 2011. Treble Jig has won five stakes in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, including the Group 3 Jebel Ali Mile.

Light Jig’s third foal, Make Light, a filly by Empire Maker, is unraced, but her fourth, Merry Jaunt, a filly by Street Sense, won once in six starts in England. Seek Again is her fifth foal. Trained initially in England by John Gosden, he won the first of his two starts at 2 and the first and last of his five starts in England at 3, none in stakes. Shipped to California for his final start at 3, Seek Again outkicked Admiral Kitten to win the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

Seek Again has run well in all three of his starts this year at 4 for trainer Bill Mott, running a superlatively game second to two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, falling short by a head, and finishing third behind Real Solution and Kaigun in the Grade 1 Manhattan before his Fourstardave victory.

Seek Again is closely related to Treble Jig, since his sire is Speightstown, one of the best sons of Treble Jig’s sire, Gone West. Bred in Kentucky by Aaron and Marie Jones, Speightstown was a slightly small but spectacular-looking yearling at the 1999 Keeneland July sale of select yearlings, where Eugene Melnyk paid $2 million for him.

Speightstown showed considerable ability almost from the outset, but injuries interrupted the natural flow of his racing career at critical moments and delayed recognition of his true worth until he was 6. Favored at 5-2 for his debut at 2 at Saratoga, he finished last, beaten 15 lengths. Speightstown immediately made amends when he resurfaced at Gulfstream Park the following winter, winning a six-furlong maiden race by almost seven lengths.

Trainer Philip England took a stab at the Kentucky Derby trail by running Speightstown in the one-mile Gotham Stakes, but the Gone West colt is built like a sprinter – small, compact, short-coupled, and extraordinarily muscular. He was beaten almost 25 lengths in the Gotham and never raced beyond seven furlongs again.

Speightstown regrouped to win three straight allowance races at Woodbine that summer and was beaten only a length after setting fast fractions in the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga by the speedy City Zip, but he suffered an injury in that race and did not run again for almost two years. Switched to Todd Pletcher’s stable, Speightstown ran only twice at 5, beating the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Volponi, in an allowance and running second in the Jaipur Handicap, in which he was injured again.

Speightstown finally made it through a season without injury as a 6-year-old in 2004, and he showed what he could do when healthy, winning 5 of 6 starts and earning champion sprinter honors. He captured the seven-furlong Artax Handicap at Gulfstream Park in his first start back, then wired a good field in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap, beating McCann’s Mojave by 3 1/2 lengths.

Cutting back to six furlongs for the Grade 2 True North and Alfred G. Vanderbilt made no difference, and Speightstown extended his winning streak to four, but he weakened late after stumbling at the start in his first attempt at a Grade 1 in the Vosburgh, finishing third behind Pico Central and Voodoo. Speightstown showed a new dimension in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, allowing longshots Abbondanza and Gold Storm to set the pace before sweeping by in the stretch to beat Kela by 1 1/4 lengths, running the six furlongs in a sizzling 1:08.11. He eclipsed the 100 Beyer Speed Figure mark in each of his six starts at 6, topped by his 117 in the Vanderbilt.

Retired to WinStar Farm in 2005, Speightstown has been a success from the outset of his stud career. He showed in his first crop that he could sire horses with more stamina than he possessed when Haynesfield (out of Nothing Special, by Tejabo) beat the eventual champion Blame in the 2010 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles. That first crop also included Grade/Group 1 winners Lord Shanakill (Green Room, by Theatrical), Jersey Town (Jersey Girl, by Belong to Me), Mona de Momma (Society Gal, by Linkage), and Reynaldothewizard (Holiday Runner, by Meadowlake), who emulated his sire by not winning his Grade 1 until he was 7.

Speightstown has since sired Grade 1/Group 1 winners Golden Ticket (Business Plan, by Deputy Minister), Dance to Bristol (Dance to Dawn, by Louis Quatorze), Poseidon’s Warrior (Poised to Pounce, by Smarten), Lighthouse Bay (Pay Lady, by Seeking the Gold), and She’s Happy (She’s An Angel, by Sadler’s Wells), in addition to Seek Again. He ranked second on the North American general sire list in 2013 and third in 2012.

Overall, Speightstown has sired 60 stakes winners from 552 foals ages 3 and up, an outstanding 10.9 percent strike rate. With Seek Again as his leading earner this year, Speightstown now ranks third on the 2014 sire list through Thursday behind runaway leader Tapit.

Light Jig has since produced the current 3-year-old filly Likelihood, by Mizzen Mast, who has won 1 of 7 races in England. Her 2-year-old filly by Quality Road, Reeltop, is unraced to date, and she has a yearling filly by Rock Hard Ten. Light Jig was bred back to Speightstown this year.

Donut’s Bunnie’s female line may not have been as productive as some others for Juddmonte, but it appears to have found a genuine star once again in Seek Again.