12/28/2015 9:55AM

Sparkman: Kantharos was fast but fragile


Sales of 2-year-olds in training long ago shed their initial reputation as strictly a source of precocious, short-running juveniles with no future as classic horses, but given the nature of the beast, speed is still what is always going to sell best when buyers gather to watch immature horses go as fast as they can at juvenile breeze shows. The contrasting results one can get from that exercise – even when highly successful – are evident in the sire and grandsire of recent Grade 3 Mr. Prospector winner X Y Jet.

At the 2003 Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of selected 2-year-olds in training, an elegant, beautiful Tale of the Cat colt sprinted a furlong in 10 seconds, joint-fastest of the sale. The colt’s first two dams were stakes winners from a not particularly fashionable family, but the colt’s half-sister French Satin, by French Deputy, had won the Grade 3 Florida Oaks the previous year.

That was enough to elicit a sale-topping $1.4 million bid from agent Demi O’Byrne on behalf of Michael Tabor and partners. They named the colt Lion Heart, and he won 5 of 10 starts, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity and Haskell Invitational, and finished second to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

Seven years later, one of Lion Heart’s sons worked a sterling quarter-mile in 21.40 seconds at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training, making him one of the hottest commodities on the sales grounds. A bigger, more substantially built horse than Lion Heart, like his sire he did not descend from a fashionable female family, but his half-brother Ikigai, by Whywhywhy, had won the Mr. Prospector the previous year.

John Moynihan, agent for Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables, signed the ticket at $250,000, 14th-highest price of the sale. Under the name Kantharos, the colt streaked unbeaten through his first three starts, culminating with a 7 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special. That proved to be the final start for Kantharos, however, since he fractured a leg badly in a workout a few weeks later, forcing his retirement to stud. The stud careers of Lion Heart and Kantharos inevitably followed divergent paths. Lion Heart’s Grade 1 successes and close second in the Derby earned him a spot at Ashford Stud in Kentucky with a $30,000 fee in 2005. Kantharos retired to Vinery Florida for the 2011 season at an initial fee of $5,000.

As a racehorse, Lion Heart was just short of championship class, and he might eventually have achieved something like that level as a stallion, but he was unexpectedly exported to Turkey in January 2010 in a deal that included veteran Ashford stallion Dehere, who had performed at a similar level, and Grade 1 winner Powerscourt. At the time of his sale and export, Lion Heart had sired a dozen stakes winners, including a brace of Grade 2 winners, but nothing at the top level.

A few months later, Lion Heart’s son Line of David (out of Emma’s Dilemma, by Capote) won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. And later that year, his son Dangerous Midge (Adored Slew, by Seattle Slew) scored an upset victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Since his export, Lion Heart’s son Tom’s Tribute (Halloween Fun, by El Prado) has won the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap, and his hard-knocking son Bourbon Courage (Shine Forth, by Carson City) won the Grade 2 Super Derby and placed in three Grade 1 races.

Overall, Lion Heart sired 40 stakes winners from 1,145 foals in his six American-sired crops. That 3.5 percent stakes winners to foals ratio is not that of a top-class stallion, but Lion Heart had hardly received the best mares in his spot on the ladder of Ashford’s expansive stallion roster.
Kantharos, who was bred in Kentucky by Lena Hedberg’s Hedberg Hall Inc., was the fourth foal out of the winning Southern Halo mare Contessa Halo, and sold for $80,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale to agent Nick Sallusto on behalf of Pegasus Holding Group. At the time of his sale, his half-brother Ikigai had already won the Mr. Prospector as well as the listed Kaiser Stakes at Calder, but Contessa Halo’s second foal, Bonifacio, by Even the Score, had not yet scored in the Daisycutter Handicap at Del Mar.

Contessa Halo is half-sister to restricted stakes winner Clever Idea, by Matchlite, and stakes-placed Fortune in Gold, by Secret Romeo. The best, though rather distant, relatives along her female line are 2005 Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes winner First Samurai, by Giant’s Causeway, and 2013 Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes winner Jeranimo, by Congaree.

Kantharos showed immediately that his fast work at Calder was no mirage, racing five furlongs in 57.99 seconds in the slop at Churchill Downs two months later to win his maiden by 11 3/4 lengths. The Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes almost two months later at the same track was just as easy, as he cruised six furlongs in 1:09.89 to beat Lou Brissie by 9 1/2 lengths. Six weeks later, 6 1/2 furlongs proved no barrier, as Kantharos stalked the early pace before drawing away to win by 7 1/4 lengths.

Although Kantharos obviously was brilliant, such an abbreviated racing career without the benefit of a highly fashionable pedigree meant that he could not attract large books of high-quality mares, and he has done really well with his first crop under the circumstances. X Y Jet is his fifth stakes winner from 51 current 3-year-olds, a highly promising 10 percent strike rate. That number includes the speedy Mr. Jordan (Miss Skeetd, by Cloud Hopping), winner of the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth.

Bred in Florida by Didier Plasencia, X Y Jet is the fourth named foal out of the winning Lost Soldier mare Soldiersingsblues, whose first foal, Woman Soldier, by Werblin, placed in the Prima Donna Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Soldiersingsblues has since produced a 2-year-old colt by Telling named Telling Tony and a weanling filly by Poseidon’s Warrior.

X Y Jet sold for $56,000 at the 2013 OBS August yearling sale to trainer Antonio Sano. He began his racing career at 2 for Gelfenstein Farm in Sano’s care, and placed in his first four starts before winning his fifth. Transferred to trainer Jorge Navarro for his final start at 2, X Y Jet showed promise last winter, running second in his first start for Navarro in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay. X Y Jet improved again when second to Barbados in the Grade 3 Hutcheson at Gulfstream, but was injured next out when last, beaten 32 1/4 lengths, behind Ready for Rye in the Grade 2 Swale. The Mr. Prospector was his third straight victory since his return to the races in September.

Soldiersingsblues is a full sister to Ladyinblue, winner of the Labatt Cup Stakes, out of the unraced Blue Ensign mare Blue Ensign’s Lady. Blue Ensign’s Lady is a half-sister to restricted stakes winner Next Bandit, by Time Bandit, from a good Argentine family that has been resident in Argentina for about 90 years.

X Y Jet’s six-cross pedigree is pretty conventional for an American Thoroughbred, with three crosses of both Northern Dancer and Hail to Reason, while his sire is inbred 4x4 to Mr. Prospector and his dam at the same distance to Bold Ruler.

Kantharos still has a long way to go before he might earn a transfer to Kentucky, but his early performance shows the same kind of promise he displayed during his brief racing career.