09/27/2013 5:10PM

Sparkman: Preaching to the Sky


A.P. Indy’s son Pulpit has developed quite a reputation as a sire of sires over the past few years, primarily through the exploits of his son Tapit, who has soared near the top of both racetrack and commercial sire lists.

One great son does not a sire of sires make, but Pulpit has several other successful sons at stud, led by Sky Mesa, who enjoyed another successful weekend last week, when the 3-year-old filly Sky Girl won the Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes and the 2-year-old filly Aibhilin captured the Selima Stakes.

From the first crop of 1992 Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy, Pulpit (out of Preach, by Mr. Prospector) provided the first indication that A.P. Indy would be just as good a stallion as he was a racehorse. Unraced at 2 because of a dicey ankle, Pulpit was the sensation of the 1997 winter meeting at Gulfstream Park, winning his maiden debut, an allowance race, and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes in rapid succession.

Pulpit did not get the best of trips in the Florida Derby, allowing Captain Bodgit to get first run, and he finished second. The colt rebounded with an easy victory in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes. That made him the morning-line favorite for the 1997 Kentucky Derby over Silver Charm, Captain Bodgit, and Free House, but after maintaining a contested lead into the far turn, he had nothing more to offer and finished fourth behind that formidable trio.

Pulpit emerged from the Derby with a sore ankle once again, and although trainer Frank Brothers tried to get him back to the races, the ankle refused to cooperate, and Pulpit was retired to his owner-breeder’s Claiborne Farm for the 1998 breeding season. Although never the height of fashion and never bred to the huge books of mares that his contemporaries covered, Pulpit carved out a highly respectable stud career before his death last December, siring 70 stakes winners from 863 foals of racing age (8 percent) to date.

From Pulpit’s second crop, Sky Mesa was the first of Pulpit’s 10 Grade 1 winners to date, capturing the 2002 Hopeful Stakes. That 1 3/4-length victory over Pretty Wild and Zavata followed a ridiculously easy 7 3/4-length win in his debut four weeks earlier at Saratoga. Five weeks later, Sky Mesa confirmed his brilliance with a four-length romp in the Grade 2 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. That made Sky Mesa a heavy morning-line favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but a day before the race, he was scratched due to filling in an ankle.

Like many male-line descendants of Bold Ruler, Pulpit himself was a heavily muscled horse whose ballerina legs could not carry the weight of his Mr. America body. As a son of Caress, a daughter of the heavily muscled Storm Cat, Sky Mesa inherited a double dose of that extraordinary muscularity, and his front legs, frankly, were not properly constructed to carry all that weight.

As an undefeated Grade 1-winning juvenile, Sky Mesa was one of the winter-book favorites for the 2003 Kentucky Derby, but despite veteran trainer John Ward’s best efforts, he did not make it back to the races until the following July. Considering his long layoff, he ran an excellent race. Tracking the pace of Strong Hope but lacking a rally when it mattered, he finished third, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes.

Sky Mesa ran even better in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational a few weeks later but could not catch the front-running Peace Rules over the speed-favoring Monmouth track, finishing second, 1 3/4 lengths behind. Sky Mesa faced Peace Rules again in the Grade 1 Travers but ran no sort of race, finishing last behind Ten Most Wanted, beaten 20 1/2 lengths, with Peace Rules second.

He emerged from the Travers with a bruised foot, and since he had already been syndicated to stand the following season at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., Sky Mesa did not race again.

Sky Mesa has carved out a solid but not spectacular stud career at Three Chimneys. Sky Girl is his 32nd stakes winner (6 percent) and 12th graded winner from 566 foals of racing age, a list headed by Grade 1 winners General Quarters and Sky Diva.

Sky Girl is the third foal out of Vargas Girl, a Deputy Minister mare who was either quite slow or totally uninterested in being a racehorse, since she never finished closer than fifth in eight starts on the Midwest circuit. Vargas Girl qualified for the breeding shed, though, because she was a half-sister to 1999 Grade 1 Futurity Stakes winner Bevo, by Prospectors Gamble, and to 2002 Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes winner Moonlight Sonata, by Carson City.

Moonlight Sonata has already produced 2011 Grade 2 Indiana Derby winner Wilburn, by Bernardini, and Sky Girl’s very close relation Beethoven, by Sky Mesa, who won the 2008 Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Sky Girl’s second dam, Wheatly Way, by the moderate sire Wheatly Hall, won a minor stakes at Calder and was a half-sister to stakes winner Olde Elegance, by Diamond Prospect. Sky Girl’s third dam, Family Way, by Cyane, also was a minor stakes winner, counting the Cleveland Cotillion Stakes among her four stakes wins.

Sky Girl’s sixth dam, Misleading, by Sweep, stands as the distant head of an outstanding family developed largely by the late Jane Lunger’s Christiana Stables. The family includes the major runners Endine, Donut King, Thinking Cap, Light Hearted, and To the Lighthouse.

By far the best horse descending from Sky Girl’s fifth dam, Misleading’s daughter Effie B., by Bull Dog, however, is Twixt, by Restless Native, a daughter of Family Way’s half-sister Eveleen, by Quarter Deck. Twixt never made fewer than 16 starts a season in her four-year racing career, and her record of 26 wins in 70 career starts, including wins in the Grade 1 Top Flight Handicap and Grade 2 Milady, Susquehanna, and Firenze handicaps, puts to shame our fragile contemporary racers.

Both Sky Mesa and Pulpit managed only six starts, and Sky Mesa’s broodmare sire, Storm Cat, only eight. And while that was enough to demonstrate their high racing class, it does not promote confidence in the durability of their offspring. Sky Mesa’s foals ages 3 and up, however, average 10.6 career starts, which is not that far off the current average for the breed, while Pulpit’s foals average 11.7 starts, which is pretty close to the current average.

Sky Mesa’s dam, multiple Grade 3 winner Caress, by Storm Cat, was an exceedingly well-bred mare who has produced multiple Grade 3 winner Golden Velvet, by Seeking the Gold. Caress is a full sister to Grade 3 winners Bernstein – a very good sire – and Country Cat, and a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Della Francesca, by Danzig. Another half-sister, Emmaus, by Silver Deputy, is the dam of Grade 3 winner Wiseman’s Ferry, by Hennessy, the sire of 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Sky Mesa’s female line traces to the great La Troienne, his seventh dam, through Buckpasser’s dam, Busanda.

Sky Mesa is inbred 4x4 to Secretariat, 6x4 to both Northern Dancer and Round Table, and has an additional cross of Busanda through Buckpasser, the sire of A.P. Indy’s second dam, Lassie Dear.

Since Sky Mesa already has the three most common close-up names in contemporary pedigrees – Storm Cat, A.P. Indy, and Mr. Prospector – his best progeny are, inevitably, more inbred than average, but Sky Girl is an exception to that rule. Her closest inbreeding is a fairly standard 5x4x6 triple of Northern Dancer, but the most interesting duplication in her pedigree is an additional cross of Buckpasser through Wheatly Hall, a son of Buckpasser’s Canadian champion son Norcliffe.

In addition to Tapit and Sky Mesa, Pulpit’s sons Essence of Dubai, Sightseeing, and Stroll all have sired graded stakes winners. Sky Mesa’s record is clearly better than all of those except Tapit.

Sky Mesa’s best son, 2009 Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes winner and 2010 Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic winner General Quarters, entered stud in Florida in 2013. While General Quarters may be a longshot at stud, Sky Mesa still has an outside chance of establishing his own branch of Pulpit’s male line and making Pulpit a true sire of sires.