The rise of Mucho Gusto on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail has a broader significance for the Thoroughbred pedigree world. As a budding star from the first crop of Mucho Macho Man, he’s a sign of renewed hope for the survival of the male line of 1898 Kentucky Derby hero, Plaudit.
Unlike the prolific lines of descent from such well-known patriarchs as Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer, Mucho Gusto’s sire line has long been hanging by the proverbial thread. But each link has done its part to fight off the descent to obscurity.
Plaudit’s new lease on life comes courtesy of Hall of Famer Holy Bull , Mucho Gusto’s great-grandsire. The 1994 Horse of the Year who was an uncharacteristic 12th as the favorite in that year’s Derby, Holy Bull compiled a successful stud career. His son Giacomo famously stunned the 2005 Derby, but another son, Macho Uno, has played the key role so far in advancing the male line.
Here is the top half of Macho Uno's pedigree, illustrating the sire line going back to the fifth generation (from Brisnet.com):
Macho Uno beat Point Given (a future Hall of Famer) and Street Cry (sire of Zenyatta and Winx) in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and accordingly earned the Eclipse Award as champion two-year-old male. Although he missed the classics, Macho Uno went on to win the 2001 Pennsylvania Derby (G3) and 2002 Massachusetts H. (G2).
Macho Uno’s leading son is Mucho Macho Man, who bankrolled more than $5.6 million in his career. Third to Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Kentucky Derby when still immature, the gangly colt developed into a top older horse. Mucho Macho Man captured the 2012 Suburban H. (G2) and Gulfstream Park H. (G2) and ended the season with a half-length loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). One year later, he improved on that performance to win the Classic in a thriller over Will Take Charge.
Retired to stud at Adena Springs near Paris, Kentucky, Mucho Macho Man is the obvious candidate to carry the Plaudit sire line into the future. But history often pitches curveballs, and the best son on the track isn’t necessarily the one who will save the male line in the breeding shed.
A case in point is the Plaudit line’s brightest star, the all-time great Dr. Fager. A world record-setter when blitzing a mile on dirt in 1:32 1/5 in the 1968 Washington Park H., Dr. Fager swept year-end honors in a style unlikely ever to be repeated. In recognition of his virtuosity across distances and surfaces, he reigned as champion sprinter, champion grass horse, and champion handicap horse. It goes without saying that he was also Horse of the Year.
Dr. Fager logically should have set the sire line on a sure footing. And he was a leading sire, getting such champions as Dearly Precious and L’Alezane (in Canada) and Dr. Patches. The first two, however, were fillies, and the latter was a gelding. Dr. Fager sired other notable winners who went to stud, most notably Dr. Blum, but his male line has since slipped from view.
Had Dr. Fager not died at the relatively young age of 12, he might have left a son capable of forging another link in the chain. But thankfully he still exerts a profound influence through his daughters. To cite one prominent example, the Dr. Fager mare Killaloe produced Fappiano, the sire of 1990 Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Unbridled and male-line ancestor of Triple Crown hero American Pharoah.
Instead of Dr. Fager, the preserver of the Plaudit line was another, less accomplished son of the same sire. Dr. Fager’s sire, Rough ‘n Tumble, was responsible for several other high-profile performers, but it was Minnesota Mac, whose only stakes score came in the 1967 Chicagoan H., who tended the flame. Minnesota Mac sired a champion in turf horse Mac Diarmida, but in his case too, a different son stepped up to the plate at stud – the sprinter Great Above, who sired Holy Bull.
Watch Holy Bull cap his Horse of the Year campaign by dusting the top older horses in the 1994 Woodward:
Fittingly, Great Above was related to Dr. Fager on his dam’s side as well. Great Above was out of Hall of Famer Ta Wee, a dazzling speedster and herself a half-sister to Dr. Fager, both offspring of the mare Aspidistra. To sum it up, Dr. Fager’s parents – Rough ‘n Tumble and Aspidistra – later became grandparents of Great Above, on the top and bottom halves of his pedigree respectively. Great Above scored his signature wins over six furlongs at Aqueduct, setting a track record in the 1977 Toboggan H. and annexing the 1978 Paumonok H. (G3).
Now that we’ve looked at the sire line in recent generations, from Mucho Macho Man, Macho Uno, and Holy Bull back to Great Above, Minnesota Mac, and Rough ‘n Tumble, let’s trace the previous half-century to Plaudit himself.
Rough ‘n Tumble, the 1951 Santa Anita Derby winner, was the only top colt sired by Free for All. A leading juvenile during his unbeaten 1944 campaign, Free for All captured the Arlington Futurity and Washington Park Futurity. Unfortunately, he suffered a career-ending injury in the build-up to the 1945 Kentucky Derby, where he was to be the mount of Hall of Famer Eddie Arcaro (according to Abram Hewitt’s Sire Lines, p. 488).
Here is the top half of Free for All's pedigree illustrating his descent from Plaudit (from Brisnet.com):
Free for All was in turn by Questionnaire, perhaps best remembered for nearly upsetting Triple Crown hero Gallant Fox in the 1930 Lawrence Realization. But Questionnaire went on to land the prestigious Metropolitan H. and Brooklyn H. in 1931 and became a fine sire. A few of his sons’ names still live on in pedigrees – nearly all through a mare’s side, with Free for All being the exception in upholding the sire line over the long haul.
Questionnaire was the only major winner for his sire, Sting, a notable handicap horse with marquee victories in the 1925 Metropolitan H. and Suburban H. Sting was by far the best son of the 1916 Travers winner, Spur, whose robust resume includes a runner-up effort in the Belmont S.
Spur’s sire, King James , second in the 1908 Travers, was also third in the Belmont to unbeaten legend Colin and Fair Play (sire of Man o’ War). The following year, King James was recognized as champion handicap horse, in an era before there was a voting system to bestow official awards, by taking such prizes as the 1909 Metropolitan and Brooklyn.
Now we arrive at Plaudit (pictured above), the sire of King James. The winner of the 1897 Champagne S., Plaudit also defeated the 1896 Kentucky Derby victor Ben Brush when facing older horses at two. He snared the 1898 Derby with a frenetic late rally, as an old chart comments:
“Lieber Karl, the favorite, broke in front and made a runaway race of it until nearing the turn for home, when Plaudit came with a terrific rush, and won by a neck.”
Plaudit also garnered the Clark H. at Churchill Downs among four stakes wins during his sophomore season.
That’s nice, you might say, but why care about the long-term stud fortunes of a 19th century Derby winner? Aside from the interest in seeing old sire lines persist for the sake of variety, if not antiquarianism, Plaudit is one part of a larger story of clinging to survival.
Plaudit is by Himyar, runner-up as the favorite in the 1878 Kentucky Derby , and more significantly, a leading sire. Himyar was responsible for the legendary Domino, the “Black Whirlwind,” who left an incalculable influence on the breed from only 19 named foals. Yet Domino’s star-crossed sire line hangs by a thread, via the aforementioned Colin, through the exploits of his far-off descendant Ack Ack, sire of Broad Brush, in turn the sire of Include.
The epitaph on Himyar’s headstone expresses his gift to his descendants:
“Speed springs eternal from his ashes.”
Mucho Gusto, a dozen generations on, would agree.