Thursday, April 5, 2012
Favored Mark Valeski could not get past a stubborn 109-1 shot April 1 in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), resulting in an unpredictable outcome. Hero of Order, a $3,000 Keeneland September yearling who has made three starts in claiming company, is by a stallion that was banished to Korea after being represented by just one crop of 3-year-olds.
Looking at Hero of Order’s early race record, one might have thought his appearance in a $1 million event was an April Fool’s Day joke. Although he made his first start—in a 5½-furlong maiden at Arlington Park—back in August, it wasn’t until ninth outing, which came at Fair Grounds in January, that Hero of Order was able to get his head in front. Three of those defeats came in maiden claimers, one on the all-weather by 23¼ lengths, and he could have been haltered for $25,000 at Hawthorne in October. After finally winning his first race—a six-furlong maiden run February 11 at Fair Grounds, which he took by five lengths—Hero of Order did begin to show some improved form. He was fifth, beaten 4¾ lengths, in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III) on his first try in stakes company, then finshed third in a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming event. In the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) he made much of the running, then kept on well enough to take fourth, six lengths behind El Padrino and Mark Valeski. Prepping for the Louisiana Derby on the turf, Hero of Order was beaten just a half-length in the Black Gold Stakes but was demoted from second to fourth after drifting out in the stretch.
Two factors might explain Hero of Order’s seemingly unfathomable improvement. One is that although he’s been kept pretty busy with 14 starts in 7½ months, he has a very sparse work tab, mostly showing pedestrian clockings, so he may just have raced himself fit. The second point to ponder is that he is a grandson of Distorted Humor, a horse whose offspring sometimes demonstrate significant progress through the spring and summer of their 3-year-old seasons. It appears that Sharp Humor, the sire of Hero of Order, may have been one that fit that mold. He was certainly useful at 2 when he won three of his five starts, including the Betram F. Bongard Stakes and Sleepy Hollow Stakes (both restricted to New York-breds) and finished third in the New York Breeders’ Futurity, another restricted stakes.Sharp Humor took a marked step forward at 3, however, beginning the year winning a strong renewal of the Swale Stakes (gr. II) in which he accounted for subsequent grade I winner In Summation, as well as Court Folly, Praying For Cash, Beacon Shine, Yes He’s the Man, City Attraction, and Catcominatcha, all of whom were or would become graded winners. Stretched out to nine furlongs for the Florida Derby (gr. I) Sharp Humor topped that effort, losing out to Barbaro only in the final 50 yards. While Barbaro would go on to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Sharp Humor finished 19th in the Run for the Roses, coming out of a race with an injury that would sideline him until the third week in October. Returning to the races in the six-furlong Hudson Stakes, another New York-bred contest, Sharp Humor took third. However, he failed to build on that next time out, finishing fifth in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile (gr. I), and was retired to stand alongside his sire at WinStar Farm.
Sharp Humor’s first crop reached the races in 2010 and he ended the year as sixth leading freshman sire by earnings, but tied with Pomeroy and Congrats by number of individual winners (25), as well as being second to Congrats by stakes horses (10).. Unfortunately, that crop didn’t progress in the way that the history of the sire line might have led one to hope, and with scant support from his second-crop juveniles, Sharp Humor dropped to 12th on the second-season sire standings. That falling off sealed his fate in Kentucky, and Sharp Humor is serving his 2012 breeding season at KRA Jeju Stud Farm in the Republic of Korea. The overall record shows that Sharp Humor has been represented by 148 starters from his first two crops, 97 winners, six stakes winners, and 14 other stakes horses. Hero of Order is his lone graded winner, and his only other listed scorers are Mildly Offensive, who took the Santa Paula Stakes, and Glint, who was successful in the Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial Juvenile Stakes.
Hero of Order’s dam Ocean Sprite is a daughter of the Storm Bird horse Ocean Crest. She was unplaced in two starts but is dam of three winners from her first three runners. Ocean Sprite is half sister to the listed-winning Dinner Break (by Storm Bird’s grandson Tale of the Cat) and also to Things Change, a Stalwart daughter who was a talented 2-year-old, wining the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) and Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) and running second in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I). Hero of Order’s second dam, Romanticat—by 1982 Kentucky Derby hero Gato Del Sol—is half sister to another good Storm Bird-line horse in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) victor and short-lived but successful, sire Harlan (by Storm Cat). Another of Romanticat’s siblings, Firey Affair, is dam of the multiple stakes-winning and graded-placed stakes placed Swearingen, herself second dam of Pomeroy’s Pistol, one of the better sprint fillies of 2011. The Halo daughter Country Romance, dam of Harlan and Firey Affair, was a prolific stakes winner, albeit at the Western Canadian venues of Northlands Park and Stampede Park. The family is South American, having arrived from Argentina in the shape of Hero of Order’s fifth dam, Suiti, a four-time stakes winner in Argentina and also runner-up in the Ladies Handicap while racing in the U.S. Suiti subsequently produced a good winner in Our Suiti Pie, who took the Del Mar Okas (gr. IIT) and was closely related to Hero of Honor’s granddam, as she was by Cougar II, the sire of Gato Del Sol.
Hero of Order, who is rated A++ by TrueNicks, has quite an outcross pedigree.,We can note, however, that his sire is inbred to Mr. Prospector 3x4, with a cross of Nothern Dancer in between the Mr. Prospector double. It often pays to inbreed to a strain that is between a close duplication, as is Northern Dancer here. With that in mind, it is interesting to observe that Hero of Order is one of three stakes winners and seven stakes performers sired by Sharp Humor from 29 starters out of mares by Northern Dancer or his sons and grandsons. That is 10.3% stakes winners-to-starters, and 24% stakes horses-to-runners, against the two stakes winners (1.7%) and 10 stakes horses (8.4%) for the sire with all other mares.
Despite his graded stakes earnings, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Hero of Order in the Kentucky Derby as he was not nominated and now requires a $200,000 supplementary entry, and then only if fewer than the maximum of 20 nominated horses are entered. Perhaps he’ll turn up to try to ambush the Derby winner in the Preakness.