Can Pharoah found a dynasty Down Under?

Published: April 2017.

There was very little time between the announcement that American Pharoah (USA) would be shuttling to Australia for the 2017 breeding season, and the news that he was fully booked. That’s scarcely surprising, given that he is the first horse to capture the US Triple Crown in 37 years, and the first horse ever to land the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic-Gr.1.

While the seasons to American Pharoah (Pioneer of the Nile-Little princessemma by Yankee Gentleman) may have been accounted for, it’s likely that many breeders won’t have yet finalized their breeding plans as far as the specific mares they intend to send. In that light, it’s well worth running a quick eye over his racing career and pedigree, to gain some insight into the type of mare that may best suit him in Australia.

Always highly-regarded at home, American Pharoah broke his maiden on his second start by leading throughout to take the seven furlong Del Mar Futurity-Gr.1 by 4.75 lengths, in 1:21.48, a time less than a half-second outside of the track-record. His only other start at two resulted in a 3.75 length victory in the 8.5f FrontRunner Stakes-Gr.1, with the subsequent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-Gr.1 victor Texas Red back in third, an effort that secured him a title as Champion Two Year-Old Colt of 2014.

At three, American Pharoah started twice prior to the Kentucky Derby-Gr.1. He kicked off with a comprehensive score in the Rebel Stakes-Gr.2, which he took by 6.25 lengths from the accomplished Madefromlucky, then romped by eight lengths in the Arkansas Derby-Gr.1. In the Derby itself, American Pharoah tracked the early pace of his highly regarded stable companion Dortmund, and then dueled Firing Line, himself a brilliant track-record breaking winner on his previous start, to the wire, prevailing by a length. That was to be the last time on the trip through the Triple Crown that American Pharoah’s supporters would have a nervous moment. A downpour immediately prior to the second leg, the Preakness Stakes-Gr.1, held no terrors for a horse who had romped in the slop in the Arkansas Derby-Gr.1, and American Pharoah led throughout to score by seven widening lengths. In the Belmont Stakes-Gr.1 American Pharoah’s metronome stride ticked off a relentless pace which saw him power home 5.5 lengths to the good. The time was the fastest since A.P. Indy in 1972, and the sixth fastest ever. American Pharoah’s closing quarter mile of 24:32 is believed to be the fastest ever by a Belmont Stakes winner.

American Pharoah made another trip from his California base, his sixth of the season, for the Haskell Invitational Stakes-Gr.1, and after opening up by five lengths in the straight, was back under a hold as he crossed the wire 2.25 lengths clear of Keen Ice. Making another trip east for Travers Stakes-Gr.1, American Pharoah came under a ferocious mid-race assault from Frosted, a very talented runner who was to win the following year’s Metropolitan Handicap-Gr.1 by a staggering 14.25 lengths. American Pharoah repelled that rival after two exceptionally fast mid-race quarters, but the effort took its toll and the hard-charging Keen Ice caught the champion in the dying strides.

Frosted and Keen Ice again lined up against American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic-Gr.1, but neither proved more than afterthoughts as the Triple Crown winner demonstrated the Travers to be nothing more than a hiccup. Taking charge from the start, American Pharoah was five lengths clear at the head of the straight and then extended that lead to 6.5 lengths over runner-up Effinex at the wire. The time was a new track-record for 10f at Keeneland, and it was a further 4.5 lengths back to the year’s Champion Older Horse Honor Code, with Keen Ice and Frosted still further in arrears. Champion Three Year-Old and Horse of the Year in the US, American Pharoah was also officially rated the Best Racehorse in the World, with a rating of 134 (for the purposes of comparison, the top Australian-trained runner was Chautauqua on 123).

American Pharoah is from the second crop of Pioneerof the Nile, a son of Belmont Stakes-Gr.1 victor Empire Maker (Unbridled-Toussaud by El Gran Senor) and a grandson of Fappiano (Mr. Prospector). Pioneerof the Nile (ex Star of Goshen by Lord at War) took second in the Kentucky Derby-Gr.1 and won four other Graded stakes, including the CashCall Futurity-Gr.1 at two and Santa Anita Derby-Gr.1 at three. With four crops of runners, the youngest are three year-olds of 2017, at the track Pioneerof the Nile has sired 16 stakes winners. In addition to American Pharoah, at the highest level they also include Classic Empire, the Champion Two Year-Old of 2016 and Midnight Storm, a multiple Graded stakes winner on dirt, who has also taken the Shoemaker Mile-Gr.1 on turf. Pioneerof the Nile is also sire of six other Graded winners including Cairo Prince, an early spring favourite for the Kentucky Derby-Gr.1 until his career was interrupted by injury, as well classic placed Social Inclusion.

American Pharoah is out of Littleprincessemma, also the dam of American Pharoah’s sister American Cleopatra, runner-up in the Del Mar Debutante Stakes-Gr.1 at two last year. Littleprincessemma is by the very fast Storm Cat horse, Yankee Gentleman, and is three-quarter sister to the Graded-winning sprinters Storm Wolf and Misty Rosette. The second dam, Exclusive Rosette, a daughter of the Exclusive Native stallion Eliptical, was also speedy, gaining a stakes win at two in the 5.5f Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes. The family is one that was developed for several generations by late Florida horseman Fred Hooper and American Pharoah’s third dam Zetta Jet is notable for being inbred 3fx4f,4m to Hooper’s star galloper Olympia, a Hyperion grandson who was quick enough to defeat Champion Quarter Horse mare Stella Moore, in a match over her preferred distance.

Although he was a two year-old champion, and although there is clearly considerable speed in the distaff side of his pedigree, it would be doing American Pharoah a disservice to expect him to be a prolific sire of precocious sprinting juveniles. As a racehorse he was notable for an exceptionally long stride, which must have been coupled to a phenomenal cardio-vascular system. As a result, American Pharoah had tremendous cruising speed, which he could sustain for extended distances. There is certainly every reason to expect him to be able to sire top-class juveniles, but in general they are more likely to win the ATC Champagne Stakes-Gr.1, as a prelude to a classic career, than peak in the Golden Slipper-Gr.1. With that in mind, it may serve breeders best not to send mares that are too extreme a contrast in type or aptitude.

There is little evidence for Pioneerof the Nile with Danzig line mares, but Australian breeders will interested to know that his sire Empire Maker crossed very well with Danzig, including through Danehill and Belong to Me (a Northern Dancer/Exclusive Native cross like the dam of American Pharoah). Empire Maker sired stakes winners out of mares by Danehill and his sons Dansili, and he carries El Gran Senor, who is from the same family as Redoute’s Choice. Holy Roman Emperor is a Danehill son who is bred on the same Northern Dancer/Secretariat cross as Storm Cat, who is in the sire line of American Pharoah’s dam. On the same note, it would be interesting to try Danzig via another Northern Dancer/Secretariat cross, Chief’s Crown.

Pioneerof the Nile’s 2015 Champion Two Year-Old Classic Empire is, like American Pharoah, out of a mare by a son of Storm Cat, and with more than 70 stakes winners featuring Storm Cat inbreeding in their pedigrees, crossing American Pharoah back over mares from that line appeals. There are plenty of options for that line in Australia, including Hennessy and his son, Johannesburg, Tale of the Cat, Giant’s Causeway, and Statue of Liberty. Bluebird is a Storm Bird son bred on the same cross as Storm Cat and is sire of such as Dolphin Street and Lake Consiston. On another variation on a theme, Royal Academy (sire of Bel Esprit, and broodmare sire of Fastnet Rock) is a very close relative to Storm Cat.

 

More Than Ready
(Southern Halo (USA)-Woodman’s Girl (USA) by Woodman)

Interestingly, from an Australian perspective, Pioneerof the Nile is already the sire of a Graded stakes winner out of a More Than Ready mare. His other early black-type winning offspring are from daughters of Holy Bull, Bertrando (from the Relaunch branch of the Man o’War line), Jump Start (by A.P. Indy, who also did well under Empire Maker, and would be interesting through shuttler Bernardini), or Dehere mares here to duplicate the Northern Dancer/Secretariat cross present through Storm Cat and it might also pay to inbreed to Storm Cat himself.

From another branch of the Northern Dancer line, there are two stakes winners by Pioneerof the Nile out of mares by sons or grandsons of Deputy Minister, which would again suggest trying daughters of his son Dehere. There is also a stakes winner out of a mare by Fanfreluche’s brother Night Shift, like Deputy Minister’s sire Vice Regent, a Windfields Farm-bred son of Northern Dancer. Empire Maker is out of a mare by Northern Dancer son El Gran Senor, whose brother Try My Best sired Last Tycoon, and both Empire Maker (Gr.1 winner Grace Hall) and Pioneerof the Nile have stakes winners out of mares carrying Last Tycoon. That would indicate looking for mares by O’Reilly, Written Tycoon and Marju.

Looking at other US strains that have been represented in Australia, we can note that Pioneerof the Nile sired Graded stakes winner Vinceremos out of a mare by More Than Ready, and Graded stakes winner Dark Nile from a daughter of Bernardini (with a second dam by Chief’s Crown). He’s also had multiple graded stakes winner Cash Control from a daughter of Mt. Livermore, who was represented by southern shuttlers Orientate and Housebuster, as well as a Gr.1 placed stakes winner from another branch of Blushing Groom. Pioneerof the Nile’s turf Gr.1 scorer Midnight Storm is out of a mare by Bertrando, from the Relaunch line, which was represented in Australia by Honour and Glory.