12/23/2014 5:08PM

Sparkman: A star at last for Big Brown

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Benoit & Associates
Dortmund gets up on the outside in the Los Alamitos Futurity to give Big Brown his first Grade 1 stakes winner as a sire.

Breeders did not know quite what to make of 2008 champion 3-year-old male Big Brown when he retired to stud at Three Chimneys Farm in 2009. Was he the horse who scored dominant victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, or the one who finished an ignominious last in the Belmont Stakes? What effect did trainer Rick Dutrow’s admitted use of steroids have on the horse’s racing career?

Was he simply the best of a bad lot in a crop where the colt with the second-best record was probably Wood Memorial and Cigar Mile winner Tale of Ekati or Santa Anita Derby and Travers winner Colonel John?

The contemporary stallion market is demanding and unforgiving, and Dortmund’s victory in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 20 was the first top-level victory for the offspring of Big Brown and his 14th stakes winner from his first 416 foals. That has not been enough for Kentucky breeders, and Big Brown has been moved from Three Chimneys in Midway, Ky., to Dutchess Views Farm in New York for the 2015 breeding season.

Bred in Kentucky by Dr. Gary Knapp’s Monticule, Big Brown was the second foal out of Mien, by Nureyev, a maiden winner from only two starts who is a three-quarter sister to stakes winner Queen of the Creek, by Theatrical, and a half-sister to the dams of two minor stakes winners. The next dam, Syrian Circle, by Damascus, was a half-sister to champion Hidden Lake, by Quiet American, and group stakes winner Ginistrelli, by Hoist the Flag, from a good but somewhat sparse family.

Big Brown’s sire, Boundary, by Danzig, had been a talented but not very correct or sound sprinter, winning 6 of 8 starts including the Grade 3 A Phenomenon and Roseben handicaps. Boundary had proven himself capable of siring high-class runners with Group/Grade 1 winners Minardi and Pomeroy, but his overall record of 26 stakes winners from 422 foals amounted to only 6.2 percent of his foals.

Big Brown was purchased by pinhooker Eddie Woods for $60,000 at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale. Six months later, he worked well enough at the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training to elicit a $190,000 bid from Hidden Brook as agent for Paul Pompa Jr.
Big Brown raced only once at 2, scoring a hugely impressive, front-running victory in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race over Saratoga’s grass course, running the distance in a brilliant 1:40.33. That elicited a seven-figure offer from IEAH Stables, which purchased a controlling interest in the horse.

He did not race again until the following March, when he stalked the pace and then galloped away to a 12 3/4-length victory in a mile allowance race on dirt at Gulfstream, running the distance in 1:35.66. A front-running, five-length victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby assured that he would start a heavy favorite in what looked like a weak field for the Kentucky Derby.

Kept outside and out of trouble a few lengths off the pace by jockey Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown overwhelmed the pacemakers at the head of the stretch and drew off for a 4 3/4-length victory, running the 1 1/4 miles in a good 2:01.82. The Preakness two weeks later followed an almost identical script as Big Brown galloped to an easy 5 1/4-length victory in fast time of 1:54.80.

Big Brown’s impressive string of victories had brought unwanted attention to Dutrow’s long history of drug violations, and he admitted before the Preakness that Big Brown had been previously administered muscle-building steroids that had since been discontinued. A week after the Preakness, a quarter crack was discovered in his left front hoof, but that injury was downplayed by Dutrow.

Though he was unbeaten in five starts, Big Brown entered the Belmont Stakes starting gate under something of a cloud, and the result of the race seemed to confirm everyone’s worst fears. The longshot Da’ Tara led all the way for an easy victory, and Big Brown, though placed third in the early running, was never traveling like a winner and was pulled up coming off the final turn when obviously beaten and was pulled up. A few days later a photo surfaced showing a loose shoe on Big Brown’s right hind hoof during the race, but Big Brown’s abysmal Belmont performance has never been explained.

Big Brown raced twice more, winning the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational by 1 3/4 lengths over Coal Play, and the Monmouth Stakes on turf by a neck over the older horses Proudinsky and Shakis. Big Brown was scheduled to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but grabbed a quarter, tearing out a chunk of his right front foot, about three weeks before the race and was retired to stud.

In addition to his sparkling record of seven wins in eight starts, Big Brown carried an intriguing pedigree to stud. He is inbred 3x3 to the ubiquitous Northern Dancer, through Boundary’s sire, Danzig, and his dam’s sire, Nureyev, but also carries a 3x4 double to Damascus through Boundary’s dam, Edge, and his third dam, Syrian Circle. Even more intriguing, both of those daughters of Damascus were out of mares by Round Table, with all of those duplications producing an intense inbreeding coefficient of 5.23 percent through the first six generations.

His first crop made something of a splash at the juvenile sales in 2012 when Darwin (out of Cool Ghoul, by Silver Ghost) elicited a $1.3 million bid from Demi O’Byrne at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale. Darwin, like Dortmund a very big horse, has been Big Brown’s most accomplished runner before Dortmund’s appearance on the scene, winning the Group 3 Minstrel Stakes in Ireland and running third in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes. His 14 stakes winners also include Brazilian Group 3 winner Big Wildcat (Secret Wildcat, by Forest Wildcat), but Big Brown’s annual shuttles to Australia have yet to yield a stakes winner.

Dortmund’s public career to date bears some superficial similarities to that of his sire. Bred in Kentucky by Emilie Gerlinde Fojan, he failed to reach his reserve as a weanling at the 2012 Keeneland November breeding stock sale but sold for $90,000 the following summer at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of selected yearlings to pinhooker Jim Chapman’s Breaking Point Farm. Donato Lanni, agent for Kaleem Shah, paid $140,000 for the exceptionally big colt after he worked an eighth in 10.1 seconds at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Dortmund is the sixth foal and fourth winner out of Our Josephina, a Tale of the Cat mare who won 3 of 14 starts, including the 2004 Ohio Valley Handicap at Mountaineer, and ran second in the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders’ Cup Handicap.

Her dam, Ropa Usada, by Danzig, produced little else of note, but she is a half-sister to 1985 Grade 1 Champagne Stakes winner Mogambo, by Mr. Prospector, out of 1977 champion 2-year-old filly Lakeville Miss, by Rainy Lake. In addition to capturing the Grade 1 Matron, Frizette, and Selima stakes at 2, Lakeville Miss won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at 3, but her immediate pedigree did not inspire confidence, since neither her dam nor second dam produced much else of note.

Dortmund’s six-cross pedigree also reveals a somewhat similar pattern to Big Brown’s since he is inbred 3x3 to Northern Dancer’s great son Danzig, who is the paternal grandsire of Big Brown and the sire of Dortmund’s second dam, Ropa Usada.

The Los Alamitos Futurity was Dortmund’s third win in as many starts, and had he won by the wide margin his 3-5 odds suggested, he might have earned more votes in the wide-open contest for champion 2-year-old male of 2014. Even with his narrow, last-gasp victory, he seems certain to get votes, since the two other primary candidates, American Pharoah and Texas Red, have obvious holes in their résumés.

American Pharoah also raced only three times, capturing two Grade 1 races, the Del Mar Futurity and the Frontrunner Stakes by wide margins, but was withdrawn from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with a minor injury. In his absence, Texas Red, third in the Frontrunner, stormed to a 6 1/2-length win in the Juvenile.

Last year, however, Shared Belief won year-end honors with a similar 3-for-3 record highlighted by a 5 3/4-length win in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity, the predecessor to the Los Alamitos Futurity. Whether Dortmund’s less-impressive third win deserves the same result is up to the voters.