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Pedigree potential and patient trainers

December 15, 2005

by Tim Holland

When Pleasant Home (Seeking the Gold) won this year's Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), it was a reminder that the ability to spot improving horses is one of the most valuable assets a horseplayer can own. By researching bloodlines, handicappers are able to speculate as to how much improvement, if any, a horse may still be capable of showing. While many sharp pedigree followers are able to recognize this "Pedigree Potential" with just a quick glance, an effective and easy to use tool is the Bloodstock Research American Produce Records, or APR, on CD-ROM.

Many top class trainers, such as Bobby Frankel, Neil Drysdale and Richard Mandella, have an uncanny ability to successfully point horses for major races, maybe months down the road. They know the potential of their runners and are able to have them peak at exactly the right time. Shug McGaughey is another with this talent and his handling of Pleasant Home is a good example. Being a full sister to multiple Grade 2 winner Country Hideaway, and from a hugely successful family including champions Sky Beauty (Blushing Groom [Fr]), Dayjur (Danzig) and Gold Beauty (Mr. Prospector), Pleasant Home owned the potential, pedigree wise, to be the best in the nation.

Freshened after a disappointing effort over an off track in the spring at Pimlico, the four-year-old miss was prepped for her fall races with two sprints, the latter one being a fast-closing runner-up finish behind the in-form Happy Ticket (Anet) in the Ballerina S. (G1). Following her next race, a good second in the Spinster S. (G1) at Keeneland, Pleasant Home drew off to an easy victory in the Distaff at odds of more than 30-1. McGaughey had known the ability of his filly, it was just a matter of bringing it all out at the right time.

Unfortunately, it is rare that the pedigree handicapper is able to find a $60 winner coming from a high profile barn and more often one has to look a little deeper to find value. On Sunday, a good score could have been attained by spending 10 minutes or so with the APR CD looking a little deeper into the pedigrees of the field for the Damon Runyon S. at Aqueduct.

Run at 1 1/16 miles and restricted to New York-bred two-year-old colts, the stakes drew a competitive cast of 11. While a few competitors owned some "black-type" in their immediate family, including Benlayla, an Aptitude colt out of the Grade 3-winning Pentatonic (Cure the Blues), none had a pedigree as eye-catching as Platinum Couple. Without even looking far, a tip as to the quality of his background should have been that he is by the successful Kentucky-based stallion Tale of the Cat who, at $65,000, easily commanded the highest stud fee of any of the sires of runners in this race. Closer inspection revealed that he is a half-brother to the Grade 2-placed stakes winner Dance Away Capote (Capote) and, more importantly, that his mother is a half-sister to the 1998 Horse of the Year and three-time champion Skip Away.

For handicappers that use pedigrees and trainer angles as their main focus, rather than times and speed figures, it is important to pay attention to the smaller details. Indeed, additional research found that the trainer Joseph Lostritto and owners Tri-Star Stables purchased the mare, Ingot's Dance Away, carrying Platinum Couple for $60,000 at the 2002 Keeneland November Sale. By foaling the mare in New York the next spring, the Tale of the Cat colt became a registered New York-bred. Essentially, except by designation, Platinum Couple is a Kentucky-bred competing against the somewhat easier New York-bred fields. Another horse that became a "New York" bred in similar circumstances was Funny Cide (Distorted Humor), who was conceived at WinStar Farm near Lexington, Kentucky, but foaled in the Empire State.

A slightly unrelated, but interesting, side note is that after foaling Platinum Couple, Tri-Star stables had Ingot's Dance Away bred to the New York-based stallion Good and Tough, which resulted in a two-year-old filly for 2006. Last year, the mare was bred to Jump Start before being sold again at Keeneland, this time bringing $165,000. After taking away the original purchase price ($60,000), and the two stud fees (Good and Tough, $6,000 and Jump Start, $5,000) this partnership was left with money to cover expenses and basically two "free" horses. Some good bloodstock work had been helped with a little luck when Dance Away Capote brought some more black-type to the family in 2004.

Having ascertained that Platinum Couple owned the pedigree to be competitive in any New York-bred stakes, a look at his past performance lines revealed that he was still improving. The patient Lostritto rarely wins with first- or second-time starters, and Platinum Couple was no exception. While racing greenly in his first race and encountering trouble at the start in his second, he showed promise in both races while indicating that extra distance was needed. When stretched out to a mile for the first time, the gray colt encountered some bad luck when drawing the 13 post over a sloppy tack in the Sleepy Hollow S. He may also have bled in that unsuccessful effort as he reappeared with Lasix added for his next start, which resulted in a game win after a wide move.

On paper, there appeared plenty of speed to set the race up for a closer, but that was not the case when the leaders ran the first six furlongs in 1:15. Platinum Couple, according to the BRIS chart, was "outrun early, rallied three wide approaching the stretch, responded when roused, finished fast from the outside and was clear under the line." The colt paid a healthy $35 for a $2 win bet and, with further improvement expected, the colt should be worth betting again, even if he makes the transition away from state-bred competition.

One of the trickiest parts of handicapping is knowing how much emphasis to place on various factors. In the case of Platinum Couple, the public paid too much attention to his lower speed figures and less famous connections. However, they underestimated his pedigree potential and the trainer's patience.


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