Making the Grade, which will run through the 2018 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the 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.
“He’s a fighter,” trainer Mark Casse describing Flameaway after he won the Sam F. Davis. “The one thing about him is, if he gets in a battle, he’s going to win the battle.” Flameaway is not nominated to the Triple Crown, which Casse told Daily Racing Form after Saturday’s win was an “oversight.” Casse intends to supplement him to the Triple Crown races for $6,000 before the March 19 late-nomination deadline. Let’s take a closer look at the Scat Daddy colt’s chances on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve trail.
Ability: Owner John Oxley purchased Flameaway for $400,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings in August 2016. He won his career debut nine months later on the synthetic surface at Woodbine in a 4 ½-furlong (a little more than a half-mile) sprint, powering away in the stretch to win by 2 ½ lengths as the odds-on favorite.
After the synthetic surface win, Casse opted to test Flameaway on the grass in the Skidmore Stakes, but the race was rained off the grass and held on the muddy main track at Saratoga Race Course. Flameaway overcame trouble near the quarter-pole to win by 1 ½ lengths after rallying from fifth in the six-horse field.
A disappointing (and troubled) sixth, beaten by 12 ¼ lengths, in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs prompted a return to grass for the Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, but Mother Nature would once again intercede. Heavy rain led to the race being moved off the grass and onto a sloppy, sealed main track. Sent off as the third betting choice in a 14-horse field, Flameaway stalked the pace from third and outfinished Tigers Rule and Tap Daddy to prevail by a nose.
The Bourbon earned Flameaway a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, which is where he made his next start and ran eighth of 14 but beaten by only 3 ¼ lengths. That race earned Flameaway a new career-best 104 Equibase Speed Figure, 16 points better than his previous top.
Casse kept Flameaway on the grass for his next race and he won the Kitten’s Joy Stakes by a neck in January at Gulfstream Park for a 102 Equibase Speed Figure, before owner Oxley convinced his trainer to try dirt one more time to see if he might have a Kentucky Derby contender.
“I was kind of wishy-washy about trying him on dirt, and Mr. Oxley said ‘Can we do it one more time?’ He is the boss, so I said ‘Of course,’ ” Casse said.
The decision proved a wise one. Flameaway went right to the front and set an uncontested pace in the Sam F. Davis. Catholic Boy, the 7-10 favorite, put his head in front in early stretch, but the winner would not be denied and battled resolutely to win by a half-length.
It was a victory that showcased Flameaway’s determination and also his talent. He set a new stakes record by completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.44 (0.69 seconds off the track record), completed the final sixteenth of a mile in a solid 6.38 seconds, and earned a new career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure.
After the race, Casse said the colt will be supplemented to the Triple Crown and probably will make his next start in the Grade 2, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 10.
Running style: Versatility is the key here. Flameaway has led from start to finish, pressed the pace, stalked the pace, and closed from off the pace to win races. He has natural speed and is mature enough to dole it out when his rider deems it necessary. Speaking of versatility, it’s also important to note that Flameaway has wins on grass and synthetic surfaces as well a muddy, sloppy, and fast dirt main tracks.
Connections: Owner John C. Oxley won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos and last year finished fourth in the Derby with Classic Empire, who went on to a runner-up finish in the Preakness Stakes. Classic Empire was Oxley’s sixth Kentucky Derby starter. The Oklahoma native won Sovereign Awards as outstanding owner in Canada in 2012 and 2013.
Oxley founded Oxley Petroleum, an oil and gas exploration firm based in his hometown of Tulsa, in 1962, before selling the company in May 2003. He is the son of Hall of Fame polo player John T. Oxley and also was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame.
A six-time Sovereign Award winner as outstanding trainer in Canada, Mark Casse has amassed more than 2,400 career wins since taking out his trainer’s license in 1979, including 342 stakes wins and 136 graded stakes wins through Feb. 12. His best finish in the Derby came with the aforementioned Classic Empire. He has four wins at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, all of them coming in the last three years.
Flameaway has had four jockeys to date in his career. Julien Leparoux has been aboard four times and Jose Lezcano guided him to victory in the Sam F. Davis. Leparoux is a two-time Eclipse Award winner whose best finishes in the Triple Crown are a pair of seconds in the Preakness (2017, Classic Empire; Macho Again, 2008). Lezcano finished second in the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Ice Box.
Pedigree: Flameaway is from the seventh crop of Scat Daddy, who died at age 11 in 2015 and has emerged as a terrific dual-hemisphere sire with multiple champions in South America. The 2007 Florida Derby winner’s best horses based in the U.S. include elite sprinters Lady Aurelia and No Nay Never, 2017 Beverly D. Stakes winner Dacita, and Grade 1 winners Celestine, Daddys Lil Darling, Harmonize, and Lady of Shamrock. Scat Daddy’s Mendelssohn won the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and is nominated to the Triple Crown. Many of his best runners have excelled on grass, which probably is part of the reason Casse has been reluctant to commit to the main track with Flameaway, but Handsome Mike won the 2012 Pennsylvania Derby for Scat Daddy and graded stakes winners Daddy Nose Best, El Kabeir, Frac Daddy, and Nickname were best on dirt.
Flameaway’s dam (mother), Vulcan Rose, by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, made her first five career starts around two turns on either turf or synthetic surfaces before earning her only win in her sixth start, sprinting on the synthetic main track at Woodbine. Flameaway’s one-year older half-sister (same dam, different sire), Ellan Vannin, won the 2016 Ontario Lassie Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Woodbine main track.
Vulcan Rose is a half-sister to Essential Edge, a Grade 2 winner at 1 1/8 miles on the grass, as well as graded stakes producer Flaming Rose.
Flameaway’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Rose of Tara, was a winner at 1 3/8 miles on turf.
This pedigree becomes really interesting with third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Flame of Tara, a group stakes winner in England and Ireland and winner of the Group 2 Pretty Polly Stakes at 1 1/4 miles. Flame of Tara produced 1990 English One Thousand Guineas and Oaks winner Salsabil, who also defeated males in the 1990 Irish Derby. Salsabil is dam of three stakes winners, including graded stakes winner and sire Sahm.
Flame of Tara also produced Group 1 winner and sire Marju, Irish classic-placed group stakes winner Danse Royale, and group stakes winner Flame of Athens.
There are quite a few additional elite racehorses in the third and fourth generations of this pedigree, led by 1995 champion turf horse and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Northern Spur.
Between Scat Daddy and the bottom half of this pedigree you find speed and stamina as well as success on turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces. It’s easy to see where Flameaway gets his versatility: from everywhere.
I confess, I have no idea what surface ultimately will be Flameaway’s best, but he’s a damn good racehorse who handles just about anything thrown at him and relishes a fight. I can’t wait to watch this 3-year-old race again – short/long, dirt/turf, rain/shine, it doesn’t matter. With a racehorse like this, Casse’s and Oxley’s options are wide open.