How Studying Stallions Can Yield Profitable Pedigree Plays

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

November 18th, 2018

It’s a known fact that the progeny of some stallions prefer racing on dirt rather than turf (or vice versa), but did you know that these preferences can be even more subtle than that—all the way down to showing a preference for certain turf course conditions?

For example, take Kitten’s Joy. A champion racehorse turned champion sire, the vast majority of Kitten’s Joy’s best foals have followed in his footsteps as top-notch grass runners—they don’t seem to care very much at all for dirt. But unlike the progeny of some turf stallions, the “Kittens” aren’t picky about the specific conditions of their preferred surface. Give them grass, and you can pretty much bet that they’ll be happy whether the course is rated firm, good, yielding, soft, or heavy.

For several years now, I’ve had a lot of success playing this angle in major turf races across North America. Remember Stephanie’s Kitten? She was plenty good on firm turf courses, but she was a monster over wet ground, compiling a 6-for-8 record over courses labeled “good” or worse. That included victories in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. II) and the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I), and bettors who were aware of her wet-turf record were suitably rewarded in the latter race as she rallied to victory over the heavy favorite Legatissimo, returning $17.60 for every $2 win bet while headlining a very logical $2 exacta that paid a generous $51.20.

Another good example? Divisidero. When this son of Kitten’s Joy caught a wet turf course at Churchill Downs for the 2017 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. I), I was all-in as he faced a seemingly deep and competitive field. I bet him to win (he paid $9.00), I played him in the exacta with the favorite Beach Patrol (they ran 1-2 for a $30.60 payoff), and I singled him in Turf Classic/Kentucky Derby double (which paid $51.00 when favored Always Dreaming won the Derby).

Then there was Bobby’s Kitten, who exploits on wet turf included a 7-1 victory over a “good” course in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. I). And what do you suppose happened when he traveled to Ireland to contest the Cork Sprint Stakes over a “heavy” course? Naturally, he won by 8 ½ lengths at 5-1.

The list of “Kittens” that have enjoyed wet turf goes on and on, with more emerging all the time. Just last month, Have At It—already an impressive maiden winner over “good” turf at Keeneland—caught another “good” course for the Hill Prince Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont and promptly won at odds of 11-1.

Obviously, betting on the progeny of Kitten’s Joy when they race on wet turf courses can be a profitable angle, though the real lesson here is that subtleties like this one can be found all throughout the sport. If you pay attention to the progeny of top stallions and the circumstances under which they tend to excel, you’ll surely be rewarded with many more lucrative stallion- and surface-related handicapping angles.