Making the grade: Far From Over, winner of the Withers Stakes
Making the Grade, which will run through the 2015 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We'll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win important races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Far From Over, winner of the $250,000 Withers Stakes on Feb. 7 at Aqueduct.
It would have been easy to write off Far From Over after a horrific start in the Withers Stakes and, in fact, most fans watching probably did after he dropped more than 10 lengths off the pace. Nine-and-a-half lengths back with only five-sixteenths of a mile left in the Withers, Far From Over closed powerfully to move up to third in the stretch before overhauling 1-2 favorite El Kabeir and second choice Classy Class to record his second win in as many starts. Let's take a closer look at this lightly raced, but talented 3-year-old's chances on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Ability: Far From Over was part of the prestigious first book of the Keeneland September yearling sale when the auction format was redesigned in 2013 to include 950 yearlings over the first four days. As a rule, yearlings in this book are nearly flawless physical specimens that also have some pedigree power on their catalog page. Bred by the respected family partnership of Helen Alexander, Helen Groves and D.D. Matz, Far From Over fit the bill as a first-book yearling.
Far From Over made his career debut on Dec. 12 at Aqueduct. He dueled for the lead and held off Net Gain by a nose to win at 8.32 furlongs, which is a standard distance at Aqueduct that is just a little under 1 1/16 miles. He earned a 97 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut that indicated some serious potential.
In the Withers, Far From Over stumbled badly leaving the starting gate and dropped well behind the field. To jockey Manuel Franco's credit, he did not rush Far From Over forward for positioning and instead allowed him to find a comfortable rhythm and conserve his energy for a final rally. It worked to perfection as Far From Over charged into contention while saving ground along the rail on the far turn, accelerated right behind the top three in early stretch and then swept right on by when tipped angled to the outside in the final furlong. He still looked a bit green in the stretch â not unusual for a 3-year-old making only his second start â but the visually impressive victory showed plenty of promise and, most importantly, he came out of the race in good order.
"He came back well," Pletcher said. "Thankfully, he didn't grab anything when he stumbled leaving the gate."
The 103 Equibase Speed Figure moves him up into the second flight of 3-year-olds this season behind Dortmund, Firing Line and Upstart with plenty of room to improve with a horse who might just be scratching the surface.
Running style: After dueling for the lead in his debut and then battling back after being headed by the favorite in the stretch, Far From Over faced a much different type of adversity in his second race. He overcame the brutal Withers start by relaxing way off the pace and making one big run. It's impossible to guess that this closing style will become the preferred running style for Far From Over. More likely, he will use some of the cruising speed he showed in his debut to find a balance between pressing the pace and closing, depending on the early tempo in a race. This is more than just versatility, it's the ability to overcome adversity in a race and still win. There are plenty of talented horses who will pack it in when things don't go their way. Rarely do you see a 3-year-old, in his second start, overcome the type of adversity that Far From Over fought back from in the Withers.
"I thought it was a pretty impressive effort to do that in his second start," Pletcher said. "I would say the most likely scenario is that he'll stay in New York and run in the Gotham [Stakes on March 7]."
Connections: Trainer Todd Pletcher earned his record seventh career Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer in 2014. Pletcher won the Kentucky Derby in 2010 with Super Saver and also won the Belmont Stakes in 2007 with Rags to Riches and in 2013 with Palace Malice. This year, Pletcher's top Kentucky Derby nominees -- he is loaded with 32 3-year-olds nominated -- include Carpe Diem, Daredevil, Competitive Edge, Itsaknockout, Khozan, J S Back, Materiality and Blofeld. Make room for Far From Over in that group as well after the Withers.
Far From Over is owned by Steven Marshall, who races under the name Black Rock Stables. Marshall is president of Western Energy production company, an oil and gas exploration and production company. Marshall was a part owner in 2009 Wood Memorial Stakes victor I Want Revenge, who was the morning-line favorite for that year's Kentucky Derby before he was forced to miss the race with an injury, and campaigned 2012 CashCall Futurity winner Violence.
Irad Ortiz Jr. rode Far From Over in his debut but opted to stay aboard Classy Class for the Withers. Manuel Franco picked up the mount for the Withers and you'd have to think Pletcher would consider staying with him after he gave Far From Over a nice ride. Ortiz rode in his first Derby in 2014 and finished 14th with Uncle Sigh; Franco has never had a mount in the Kentucky Derby.
Pedigree: Far From Over is from the first crop of 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic winner and champion older male Blame, by Arch. Both Blame and Arch figure to be key to the continuation in U.S. breeding of the Roberto branch of the Hail to Reason line that has been a great source of stamina and soundness.
Dynaformer, by Roberto, sired ill-fated 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro and had an incredibly successful run at stud but has no clear, proven successor. Multiple Grade 1 winner Point of Entry figures to get a great chance to succeed at stud, and Temple City is off to a nice start, so there is hope there for Dynaformer.
Arch, by Roberto's son Kris S., also sired 2012 Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch and is the broodmare sire of 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another. He hails from the family of blue hen Courtly Dee, the 1983 Broodmare of the Year who produced eight stakes winners and seven graded stakes winners.
Blame won nine of 13 career starts, including seven stakes. He won the Grade 2 Clark Handicap, Grade 1 Whitney Handicap and Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at 1 1/8 miles and the Breeders' Cup Classic a 1¼ miles. Expectations for Blame at stud are very high.
Far From Over has an incredibly interesting pedigree for a number of reasons, but most of all because he, like Arch, comes from the family of Courtly Dee, his fourth dam (maternal great-great grandmother).
Far From Over's dam is Grade 3-placed winner Alchemist, by 1992 Horse of the Year and Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, a great source of stamina on dirt in U.S. racing. Alchemist won races from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. In addition to Far From Over, Alchemist is the dam of Grade 1-placed winner And Why Not.
His second dam (maternal grandmother) is Aldiza, a Grade 1 winner by Storm Cat at 1 1/8 miles. Aldiza is the dam of graded stakes winner Altesse, by A.P. Indy.
Far From Over's third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Aishah, was a Grade 2 winner at one mile. Aishah is a full sister (same dam, same sire) to 1983 champion 2-year-old filly Althea, winner of the 1984 Arkansas Derby. Like Courtly Dee, Althea was a pretty remarkable producer with four stakes winners from only five foals, including Arch's dam, Aurora.
In addition to being inbred 5x4 to Courtly Dee, we also find multiple crosses of Northern Dancer, Alydar, Raise a Native, Buckpasser and Secretariat in Far From Over's pedigree. Without getting too technical â OK, perhaps it's way too late for that â let's just say that you probably won't find a better pedigree for a Derby hopeful this year than Far From Over.