Editors Note: The wonderful husband originally wrote this back for me in December when everyone was digging into their OTTB’s pedigrees but I have been lax about posting it. Hopefully you will still appreciate reading all about Gus’ family even if I am a little late. Eric is my thoroughbred pedigree guru and I think this is probably the most fun he’s had writing for my blog yet!
So it all starts with a benign little bit of economic manipulation by a powerful politician trying to stack the deck in his favor, hoping to make a seven figure profit at the end of the deal. It ends up backfiring in reasonably spectacular fashion, which of course prompts the politician to try the same trick a second time, making millions of dollars to line his pockets, and solidifying his status as a local Kentucky hero.
Now … it’s not quite as nefarious as it sounds above (actually – it’s not nefarious at all!), but how Gus came to be DOES have a lot to do with the former Governor of Kentucky, two former favorites for the Kentucky Derby, a Kentucky Oaks, a $900,000 yearling, and … Gus, a hopefully soon-to-be Novice level eventer living in relative anonymity (unless you count the fact that he’s now semi-known in the prestigious equestrian blogging community) in rural northwestern Georgia.
Gus was bred by Brerton Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud and a major player in the Kentucky breeding industry. Airdrie has a long history of standing promising stallions that slightly underachieved, didn’t quite fit the pedigree mold to command a huge stud deal with the larger Kentucky farms, or simply tailed off due to injury or performance at the end of their career and dropped out of the public mindset. In short – they seem to acquire a lot of once promising now odd ducks. Those horses need a lot of support from a farm owner who has deep pockets, lot of high quality broodmares, and the willingness to breed those mares to his farm’s stallions, instead of to proven, established Kentucky sires.
One of those broodmares is a gray mare named El Fasto by El Prado. She never made it to the track, but her pedigree has lots to like – El Prado earned a little bit over $200,000, is a son of one of the most successful stallions in history (Sadler’s Wells), and sired such North American standouts as Medaglia d’Oro (sire of Rachel Alexandra and Songbird) and Kitten’s Joy, currently the consensus best sire of turf horses in North America.
El Fasto’s dam, Taegu, was a mediocre racehorse and El Fasto was her first foal. Despite never making the racetrack, Taegu’s second two foals likely prompted Jones’ to hold on to El Fasto – Classic Elegance won multiple stakes as a 2yo and has herself produced a series of useful if not exceptional horses, and her next effort was First Degree who was raced by the same connections of Silver Charm to career earnings of $175,000. Not bad.
El Fasto came home to Airdrie and visited a series of Airdrie stallions – Proud Citizen, Canadian Frontier, Indian Charlie … nothing special from her first three foals … so far, Jones’ strategy seems to be failing in spectacular fashion. Swing and miss three times in baseball and they send you back to the dugout. In horse racing, as long as you can fund it you’re allowed as many strikes as you want. So despite the first three attempts blowing up in their face (or at least not yielding meaningful returns), Airdrie kept at it. El Fasto went back to Proud Citizen for her 2008 cover, which proved a brilliant move – she produced Believe You Can, who would go on to win more than $1.25 million and take the Kentucky Oaks in what is (obviously) her signature victory.
When Believe You Can was just a few weeks old, and nobody knew that she was a superstar in the making, El Fasto visited Stevie Wonderboy – another Airdrie special, who had won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Eclipse Award as champion male in 2005, and was at one point over the winter of ’05-’06 the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. He was retired after suffering an injury on the 2006 Kentucky Derby trail and was out of sight, out of mind for nearly 11 months before surfacing at Airdrie in 2006. Stevie Wonderboy was a gorgeous horse, with obvious racetrack talent, by a stallion who at the time was talked about as a potential heir to his grandsire, A.P. Indy. He received plenty of support from Airdrie. He was … an epic disappointment as a sire and was sold to Chile in 2013, where he is today. Welp. So much for that.
Gus’ grandsire, Stephen Got Even, suffered a similar if less extreme fate. Retired to a little more pomp and circumstance to Lane’s End Farm, Stephen Got Even was a former 2nd choice in the 1999 Kentucky Derby (won by Charismatic, Editor’s Note: Only my favorite racehorse of all time… Love him), and at the time, was the most accomplished son of A.P. Indy to retire to stud having tacked on a win in the G1 Donn Handicap at age 4. At the time, Stephen Got Even looked like he was the best chance yet to carry the A.P. Indy sireline forward (this was well before Tapit & Bernardini). And to be fair, he wasn’t terrible – he sired three millionaires, highlighted by Stevie Wonderboy, but ultimately didn’t fulfill his potential and was pensioned recently at age 19. He now lives at Old Friends in Kentucky (along with, as of recently, Charismatic – his 1999 Derby nemesis, recently returned back from Japan).
Stephen Got Even is by A.P. Indy – 1992 Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and one of the most prolific influences in American pedigrees since his own sire, Seattle Slew. A.P. Indy best known these days as the sire of Tapit (who is, along with Unbridled’s Song, responsible for the explosion of talented grey runners over the last decade) and Bernardini (who won the Preakness in 2006 when Barbaro broke down, and would go on to sire such standouts as Stay Thirsty, Alpha, and Cavorting).
The family continues to produce, and Believe You Can was sent back to the same A.P. Indy sireline that Gus came from for her first foal, a Tapit colt that Jones wound up selling for $900,000. I wish we had a portion of that $900,000 to help finance our home renovations, but alas – I have the gelded close relative to a $900,000 colt, not the ungelded yearling who is actually WORTH $900,000!
Meanwhile, we’ll keep bouncing around the foothills of the north Georgia mountains, amused but not really affected by the fact that Gus is one step removed from one of the most prolific characters in horse racing today. Rather than worry about $900,000 yearlings, we’ll just worry about figuring out a way to get around a Novice course at Chatt Hills next year without Gus deciding that snakes live in ditches. Maybe we’ll take a trip up to Kentucky and see if we can stop by and meet El Fasto, Believe You Can, and Stephen Got Even – Chile might be a little bit far to go to visit Stevie Wonderboy!