Monday, January 2, 2012

Derby Hopeful: Hierro

In 2011, I posted “Juvenile Spotlights” about two-year-olds I had followed since early on in their careers. Now that it’s 2012, everyone’s focus is on the Kentucky Derby. Some horses from past Juvenile Spotlights will be featured, as well as additional horses on the Derby trail.
A colt I have followed since his second career start, Hierro is one of the newly-turned three-year-olds that impressed me the most last year. After two good efforts – the second of which he landed on my watch list –, the son of the grade one-winning Hard Spun brilliantly broke his maiden at Churchill Downs.
Hard Spun, his sire, was a versatile racehorse and was 2011’s second-leading first-crop sire. A multiple stakes winner at two, the son of the influential Danzig won four graded stakes as a three-year-old, including the seven-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes (GI). He also finished second in two prestigious ten-furlong races: the Kentucky Derby (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). In fact, Hard Spun placed in four grade ones as a sophomore, three of which were classics. The beautifully bred bay won at a range of five and one-half furlongs to nine furlongs and won on two different surfaces: dirt and synthetic. With a versatile sire and dam, Hard Spun should pass on his versatility to his offspring.
Hierro’s dam, the grade-three placed Brief Bliss, has also produced a multiple stakes winner who is also graded stakes-placed, a stakes-placed filly, winners on every surface, and winners in sprint and route races. Through his grandsire Navarone, Hierro traces back to Never Bend, who traces back to the incredibly influential mare La Troienne.
We have frequently seen how important a prior start over the Churchill surface is for horses in the Kentucky Derby. For instance, Super Saver won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs as a two-year-old, Street Sense ran twice at Churchill Downs as a juvenile – including a dominant victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), Monarchos raced under the Twin Spires once as a two-year-old, Real Quiet ran at Churchill three times as a juvenile, and Grindstone made one start at the Louisville track as a two-year-old. If Hierro makes it to the Kentucky Derby, he will already have not only a start at Churchill Downs to his credit, but a win.
It is not just the fact that Hierro already has a Churchill victory to his credit that is impressive. The way he won that start is even more imposing. He showed the ability to rate, sitting just off the leaders for most of the race before taking the lead just before the quarter pole. From then on, he easily drew away from the field to win by 5 ¼, running the final eighth in 12.66 seconds despite never really being asked.
Hierro’s next start should come at the Santa Anita meet, where trainer Steve Asmussen has stabled many horses. The Stonestreet Stables-owned colt has worked five times over Santa Anita’s dirt surface, the most recent an impressive 47.60 half-mile breeze. He is being pointed toward the Sham Stakes (GIII) at one mile at Santa Anita on January 7, where he will likely meet up with my favorite three-year-old colt, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint-winning Secret Circle.
With his versatile pedigree and racing style, Hierro looks like a force to be reckoned with. We should soon find out how he competes against graded stakes company. Should he be competitive and stay sound and healthy, Hierro will be a threat on the Derby trail.

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