What’s in a (Race) Name? Mr. Prospector’s Lasting Influence

Though he found some success on the track, Mr. Prospector was a superstar as a sire. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

There’s an old saying in racing that advises horsemen to “breed the best to the best and hope for the best,” the theory being that breeding superior racehorses will likewise produce superior racehorses. In practice, the theory has yielded mixed results; while Northern Dancer, Bold Ruler, and A.P. Indy are among the many champion racehorses to achieve success as stallions, and Personal Ensign and Urban Sea are among the top mares that have produced top-notch foals, many unheralded racehorses have made immeasurable contributions of their own to the Thoroughbred breed, and there might be no greater example than Mr. Prospector.

On the racetrack, Mr. Prospector could hardly have been called the best, though he was reasonably talented and won half of his 14 starts. A speedy sprinter, Mr. Prospector ran six furlongs in 1:09 or faster on several occasions and even ran second behind the great Forego in the 1974 Grade 2 Carter Handicap, but injuries plagued Mr. Prospector’s career and he was retired before the end of his 4-year-old season.

But at stud, Mr. Prospector’s impact was enormous. Standing at first in Florida and later on at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, Mr. Prospector was the leading sire in the U.S. in 1978 and 1979 and quickly proved that though he himself had been a sprinter, his progeny could win at a wide variety of distances. There was Conquistador Cielo, who won the one-mile Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap against older horses and the 1 ½-mile Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in the span of six days in 1982. There was Eillo, winner of the inaugural Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint during a 1984 season that saw him go 8-for-10 and receive an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. It’s in the Air was a champion 2-year-old filly; Gold Beauty was another champion sprinter. Fusaichi Pegasus won the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

But that wasn’t all. Proskona and Woodman excelled racing on turf in Italy and Ireland, respectively, where they were the best in their age groups. Forty Niner was a champion 2-year-old in the U.S. and a runner-up in the Kentucky Derby. Afleet was a Horse of the Year in Canada; Ravinella was a champion 2-year-old filly in Great Britain and France. All told, Mr. Prospector wound up siring 16 champions in six countries.

Yet for all of his success at stud—he sired 181 stakes winners, had 49 of his yearlings sell for a million dollars or more at auction, and was the leading broodmare sire in North America nine times—Mr. Prospector’s most enduring legacy has been his impact on the Triple Crown through his male-line descendants. His sons, grandsons, great-grandsons, and great-great grandsons have combined to win 46 Triple Crown races since 1982, with three of them coming in 2015 thanks to Mr. Prospector’s Triple Crown-winning great-great-grandson American Pharoah.

Considering that Mr. Prospector set a track record at Gulfstream Park during his racing days and initially stood at stud in Florida, it’s only fitting that Gulfstream is host to the $100,000 Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Stakes, a six-furlong sprint that would have been an ideal race for Mr. Prospector himself.

There aren’t too many races scheduled for this quiet pre-Christmas week, but let’s take a look at a couple of others that have historical significance in the sport of racing. …

Gravesend Stakes at Aqueduct

The Gravesend Stakes is named after Gravesend racetrack, a long-gone racing facility in New York that opened in 1886 and shut down in 1910. Back in the day, Gravesend hosted some of the most important races in the country, some of which are still run today, such as the Brooklyn Handicap. Even the Preakness Stakes was held for 15 years at Gravesend before moving permanently to Pimlico.

Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds

It’s hard to wrap up a championship during the first five months of the year, but that’s exactly what the 3-year-old filly Tiffany Lass did in 1986. Trained by Lazaro Barrera of Affirmed fame, Tiffany Lass won her debut in December 1985, then rattled off six straight wins during the early months of 1986, culminating with a determined but narrow triumph in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. Tiffany Lass subsequently went to the sidelines for a year, but even though she was unable to complete the season, her early exploits stamped her as the best of her division and she won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.

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