Making the Grade, which will run through the 2017 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers 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 classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Guest Suite, winner of the $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 21 at Fair Grounds.
After finishing third in his stakes debut in October 2016 at Churchill Downs, Guest Suite drew clear late in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes to record his first career stakes victory. With three wins and two thirds in five starts to date, the bay Quality Road gelding has been consistent thus far, but is he good enough to make his mark on the Triple Crown trail? Let’s explore.
Ability: After finishing well to make up five lengths in a sprint when third in his career debut, Guest Suite showed significant improvement when stretching out in distance for his second race. He swept to the front in the stretch at Keeneland Race Course and drove to a 2 ¼-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile race. His Equibase Speed Figure improved by 22 points to a 90 and he hovered right around that mark in his final two races as a 2-year-old. Guest Suite ran third behind highly regarded McCraken in the Street Sense Stakes on Oct. 30 and then won an allowance/optional claiming race on Nov. 26, both at Churchill Downs. Racing on a wet track for the first time in his career in the Lecomte, Guest Suite proved much the best with a 1 ¼-length win. He improved his career-best Equibase Speed Figure to a 101, which was a nine-point jump from the 92 he earned in the Street Sense Stakes.
Three points of caution regarding Guest Suite: I’m not sure the quality of competition was especially strong in the Lecomte; the significant improvement came on a wet track; and he did not finish very fast despite rating comfortably behind a moderate pace.
Running style: Guest Suite prefers to come from off the pace, but he’s not a one-run, deep closer devoid of early speed. He has enough speed to stay within striking range in mid-pack, and he showed the ability to stalk a swift pace and still finish well in his final race as a 2-year-old.
Connections: Guest Suite is owned by William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy and was bred by Farish and the Kilroy Thoroughbred Partnership.
Farish is a Houston native and a lifelong horseman who has raced more than 165 stakes winners. The founder of Lane’s End, one of the Thoroughbred industry’s leading stud farms, Farish has bred alone or in partnership more than 300 stakes winners, including 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic, 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy and 2000 champion older male Lemon Drop Kid. Farish bred both A.P. Indy and Lemon Drop Kid in partnership with Lora Jean “Jeanie” Kilroy’s late husband, William S. Kilroy.
Farish has bred alone or in partnership four Belmont Stakes winners. Farish’s family has a long history in the oil industry in Texas. From 2001 to 2004, he served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom for President George W. Bush.
William S. Kilroy founded the Kilroy Company of Texas, an oil exploration and production company. He died in 1999.
Trainer Neil Howard has amassed more than 1,200 winners during a storied career. He was the trainer of the aforementioned Mineshaft and 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall as well as 2000 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status and Grade 1 winners Prospectors Delite, Runup the Colors, Shadow Cast and America Alive. Summer Squall finished second in the Kentucky Derby in 1990.
Robby Albarado has been aboard Guest Suite in his last four starts. Albarado is best known as the regular rider of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. He earned his 5,000th career win the day after the Lecomte when he guided Vivacious V.V. to victory on Jan. 28 at Fair Grounds. His best finish in the Kentucky Derby was a runner-up finish aboard Golden Soul in 2013.
Pedigree: Guest Suite is from the third crop of four-time Grade 1 winner Quality Road, a racehorse with electric speed and the ability to carry it going longer distances. Quality Road finished first or second in 11 of his 13 career starts. He won the Florida Derby at three and almost certainly would have been the favorite for that year’s Kentucky Derby but missed the race because of foot problems. He was even better as a 4-year-old, winning the Donn Handicap, Met Mile and Woodward Stakes. His best runners to date have been 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Hootenanny, Grade 1 winners Klimt, Abel Tasman, and Illuminant, and multiple graded stakes winner Blofeld.
On the bottom half of this pedigree, we find some serious class with Guest Suite’s dam (mother), Guest House, grandam (maternal grandmother), Welcome Surprise, and third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Weekend Surprise all bred by Kilroy and Farish. Weekend Surprise was a multiple graded stakes winner on the racetrack who really made her mark as a broodmare. She produced four stakes winners, including 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, one of the most influential stallions of the last 25 years; 1990 Preakness Stakes winner Summer Squall; and Welcome Surprise, a graded stakes winner who is Guest Suite’s grandam. Weekend Surprise was the 1992 Broodmare of the Year.
More recently, Welcome Surprise won the Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes at 1 1/16 miles as a 2-year-old in 2000 and finished in the top three in all nine of her races. Guest House won one of 10 races, a 6 ½-furlong sprint.
Guest Suite is an improving 3-year-old with natural ability and a very, very interesting pedigree. But before he joins the upper echelon in the division, he needs to take another step forward. I’d like to see him finish faster and deliver a performance equal to or better than the Lecomte on a fast track before I’d be willing to consider him among my top five Derby contenders. But this is a very solid group early on the 2017 Derby trail, and Guest Suite is right there in the second tier and headed in the right direction.