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HRN Original Blog:
Past the Grandstand

2014 Kentucky Derby Hopeful: Top Billing

Commissioner Allw 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

 

The result of the 2013 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) was a heartwarming one. When Orb splashed through the mud to attain Derby glory, he granted Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey his first win in America’s most famous race. A Kentucky native, McGaughey has for decades been a household name, conditioning the likes of the champions Easy Goer, Lure, and Personal Ensign. But the garland of red roses had been incredibly elusive for McGaughey. One of the most respected horsemen in the history of Thoroughbred racing, McGaughey had six previous Derby starters, including Easy Goer – who finished second behind Sunday Silence, a horse he would later defeat in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) – before he ever reached the Derby winner’s circle with Orb.


Could a sequel to this fairy tale play out in the 2014 Kentucky Derby? McGaughey has two top Derby contenders in Honor Code and Top Billing, the latter of which has drawn attention without even having competed in stakes company yet. Although back-to-back Derby wins is a rare feat, McGaughey is more than deserving of this accomplishment. Could Top Billing allow him to fulfill that hope?


Racing Performances


Laurel Park is not exactly the first track one would look to in order to find the next Derby winner. But a champion can emerge from anywhere and there is a chance that one appeared at Laurel on December 6, 2013 – the day Top Billing debuted.


Facing seven others in a maiden special weight going six furlongs over a sloppy track, Top Billing was sent off as the favorite. The chestnut colt was squeezed at the start, forcing jockey Alex Cintron to take up. Racing down the backstretch, Top Billing was left more than fifteen lengths behind the leader. But as the horses rounded the far turn, Top Billing found his best stride, quickly gaining ground as he set his sight on the frontrunners. In an eye-catching manner, the colt maneuvered traffic, finding an opening mid-stretch. With breathtakingly powerful acceleration, Top Billing burst away from his competitors, drawing away to win by an effortless 5 ¾ lengths.


Sent to Gulfstream Park, Top Billing made his three-year-old debut on January 3 in a nine-furlong allowance optional claiming. A good break gave Top Billing the opportunity to find a good position behind the leading group as the field of seven galloped into the first turn. He allowed others to pass him around the bend, trailing the field by the time the horses reached the backstretch. He remained in this spot down the backstretch, trailing the leader by 6 ½ lengths with five furlongs left to run. Around the far turn, Top Billing began to make his move, closing into the slow pace. Left with no room to run at the quarter pole, Top Billing was forced through a narrow opening at the top of the stretch, but once he found room to run, he was squeezed by rivals on each side. Continuing to run in tight quarters, the colt became even with Commissioner and those two began to draw away from the remainder of the field. Although Top Billing overcame the trouble he endured and finished very well, he could not get past the highly regarded Commissioner, who crossed the wire a neck ahead.


McGaughey lost no confidence in Top Billing after the colt’s loss, instead pleased that he could again enter the colt in an allowance. That allowance came on the undercard of the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II). Facing six others, including noteworthy Aqueduct maiden winner Surfing U S A and the stakes-placed runners We’re All Set and Rockford, Top Billing had the eyes of the racing world on him as he loaded into the gate for the mile and one-sixteenth contest. In what has become Top Billing’s typical style, the colt immediately settled into a position at the rear of the field as the horses raced into the clubhouse turn. As the horses reached the backstretch, the chestnut was already more than eight lengths behind the leader.


Top Billing remained far off the pace as the horses continued down the backstretch, but as the field rounded the far turn, the colt’s fluent strides carried him past his rivals, allowing him to circle the field around the bend. Taking the far outside route, Top Billing overwhelmed his adversaries with power and ease, beginning to draw away before the horses even reached the top of the stretch. He continued to show his dominance, drawing away under a hand ride from Joel Rosario to win by an effortless 2 ¾ lengths.


Pedigree Analysis


Top Billing is a member of the second crop of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. The richest Thoroughbred racehorse in North American history, Curlin should provide Top Billing with the stamina needed to be competitive at classic distances. As a lightly raced three-year-old, Curlin finished in the money in each Triple Crown race in 2007, crossing the wire third in the Kentucky Derby prior to winning the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and finishing a narrowly beaten second in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Over his two championship seasons, Curlin won at the distance of ten furlongs on five occasions.


Curlin has begun to prove himself as a sire and has seemingly passed on his stamina to his progeny. His most successful runner to date is undoubtedly Palace Malice, winner of the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II). He is also the sire of Russian group one winner Devcalion, as well as four other stakes winners.


Curlin is a son of two-time leading sire Smart Strike, who has produced an abundance of horses that have won grade/group one races at distances of ten furlongs or longer such as English Channel, Nodouble Destiny, and Shadow Cast. He is also the sire of the graded stakes-winning turf marathoners Air Support, Communique, Hit It Rich, Portcullis, Smart Bid, and Strike a Deal, as well as the Russian marathoners Dove Spring and Marble Prospect.


As if the top side of Top Billing’s pedigree is not impressive enough, the bottom side is overflowing with racing royalty. His dam, Parade Queen, found much success on the turf, winning the Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. III) and the Joe Namath Handicap (gr. III). She won up to nine furlongs and since becoming a broodmare, she has produced not only Top Billing, but also Obay – a group one-placed runner that won up to twelve furlongs – and King Gulch – a stakes-winning sprinter. But Parade Queen’s most notable offspring is Untouched Talent, a graded stakes-winning mare that went on to produce the grade one-winning Bodemeister – who finished second in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes – and the grade one-placed Fascinating.


Parade Queen is a daughter of legendary sire A.P. Indy, winner of the 1992 Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). As a sire, A.P. Indy has produced nearly thirty grade one winners, including many that have won at or beyond ten furlongs such as Bernardini, Mineshaft, Music Note, Rags to Riches, and Tomisue’s Delight. He has already served as the broodmare sire of a Kentucky Derby winner, siring the dam of Super Saver. A.P. Indy is also the maternal grandsire of several other grade one-winning distance horses, including the champions Royal Delta and Wait a While, as well as Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes runner-up Bluegrass Cat. Other offspring of A.P. Indy mares include the additional grade one winners Any Given Saturday, Centre Court, and Plum Pretty.


Like his dam, Top Billing’s granddam – Spanish Parade – won the Mrs. Revere Stakes. Spanish Parade is a daughter of Roberto, a major stamina influence. A champion in England and Ireland, Roberto won three group ones, including the Derby Stakes (gr. I) and Coronation Cup (gr. I). As a sire, he passed on his stamina, as evident in his sons Sunshine Forever – Eclipse Champion Turf Horse in 1988 – and Dynaformer – an immensely successful, stamina-influencing sire who produced countless distance runners, such as Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, Melbourne Cup (gr. I) winner Americain, three-time Eclipse Champion Steeplechaser McDynamo, and the multiple grade one-winning turf superstar Point of Entry. Roberto’s role as the sire of Top Billing’s granddam is the same position he has in the pedigree of the champions Giant’s Causeway and Midday – both of which won at or beyond ten furlongs on numerous occasions – as well as the graded stakes-winning marathoner Eagle Poise and the stakes-winning, group stakes-placed marathoner Address Unknown.


To add to the grandeur of Top Billing’s female family, the colt is a direct descendant of the foundation mare of family 1-n – the stakes-winning Reine De Course mare Chelandry – thus allowing him to descend from the same tail female line as Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Swale and the two-mile Melbourne Cup winner Americain.



Top Billing’s royal heritage nearly guarantees the colt will relish classic distances. However, while his pure talent and superior pedigree are incredibly alluring, he still has much to prove. But should he continue to live up to his ancestry and maintain his brilliance, competing at the highest level of racing should not be an issue. This is just the beginning for Top Billing.

 

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Older Comments about 2014 Kentucky Derby Hopeful: Top Billing...

Nice horse,love his come from behind style and wish the best for Shug!
His running style is a major problem or the Derby unless we get a small field which is not going to happen...
If Top Billing progresses on the Derby Trail, he will become a big big favorite!
From your lips to God's ears, Mary! It would be nice to see Shug win the roses in consecutive years.

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About Mary Cage

 

Mary Cage, an 18-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published with the BloodHorse's website, the American Quarter Horse Association's magazine "America's Horse", and Southern Racehorse Magazine. Blogging about the sport of horse racing combines her love for horse racing and writing. In her personal horse experience, she has won several horse judging contests at major stock shows and, in the show ring, is a Texas 4-H State Champion and Appaloosa Youth World Championship Show Top Ten finalist. 

 

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan as she writes about assorted horse racing topics.