Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on 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.
After beginning his career with a pair of races on grass, Ete Indien has emerged as a rising star with three straight powerful performances on the main track, including his 8 ½-length romp in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes. That win earned Ete Indien 50 qualifying points toward the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and essentially guaranteed him a spot in the starting gate.
Ability: Ete Indien sold twice at auction. The first time he was purchased by European connections for $80,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale. The second time, he was purchased as a 2-year-old in training in France by Patrick Biancone, a native of that country, and returned to the U.S.
His pedigree – which I’ll take a much closer look at in the final section here – slants heavily toward turf and that was understandably where the Summer Front colt started his career. He won a sprint on turf by a neck in September 2019 at Gulfstream Park in his first career race and then ran eighth, beaten by 5 ¼ lengths, in the Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes in October at Keeneland. In both races, he was reserved early and closed from off the pace.
Everything changed in his third start. Biancone switched him to the main track for a one-mile race at Gulfstream, and Ete Indien used his natural speed to set the pace. He rolled to a 2 ½-length win and boosted his top Equibase Speed Figure 16 points to a 101.
Biancone next entered Ete Indien in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on the main track Feb. 1 at Gulfstream for his 3-year-old bow.
He set a pressured pace through a half-mile in :46.60 before finishing willingly late for second behind highly regarded Tiz the Law. Ete Indien was 11 ½ lengths clear of Holy Bull third-place finisher Toledo, and he improved his Equibase Speed Figure another 12 points to a career-top 113. His Beyer Speed Figure (95) and BrisNet speed rating (104) likewise were impressive.
Next up for Ete Indien was the Fountain of Youth Feb. 29. He broke alertly from the outside post, cleared the field, and set an uncontested pace through a half-mile in :46.72 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.30. From that point, only the margin of victory was in doubt.
Ete Indien completed the final sixteenth of a mile in 6.58 seconds, according to Trakus data, on his way to the 8 ½-length runaway. The final time was almost exactly a full second slower than the Holy Bull (0.98 seconds), but that was because Ete Indien got a breather during the third and fourth quarter-miles. He actually finished his final sixteenth faster than the 6.72 he clocked, according to Trakus, in the Holy Bull.
Ete Indien earned a 106 Equibase Speed Figure but a career-top 97 Beyer Speed Figure and 120 TimeForm US rating. His BrisNet figure was a 103, which gives him a very consistent 103-104-103 line for his three dirt races. From a talent level, Ete Indien is right there with any 3-year-old not named Tiz the Law.
Running style: In two out of three dirt races, Ete Indien has led from start to finish. He has shown the ability to relax on the lead and, as mentioned earlier, he closed from off the pace to win a turf sprint in his career debut. It seems clear that Ete Indien prefers to dictate the pace and has so far had enough natural speed to do so. However, it is a valid concern that he might not have things his own way with more speed in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field and more horses vying for position on or near the front. Ete Indien almost certainly won’t enjoy a scenario like he did in the Fountain of Youth, in which he was clear after a half-mile and got a nice breather on the backstretch and into the final turn.
Connections: The ownership group of Linda Shanahan, Sanford Bacon, Dream With Me Stable, Horse France America, D P Racing, and Patrick L. Biancone Racing owns Ete Indien.
Part-owner Patrick Biancone also is Ete Indien’s trainer and boasts a formidable hand for the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with the Fountain of Youth winner as well as Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Sole Volante.
Biancone shipped All Along from Europe to the U.S. in 1983 and she won three Grade 1 races en route to winning the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year. The France native also trained Grade 1 winners Whywhywhy, Lion Heart, Pomeroy, Magistretti, Sense of Style, Angara, Gorella, Asi Siempre, and Irish Smoke. Lion Heart ran second to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.
Note: Biancone served a one-year suspension that ended in November 2008 for a drug violation from 2007. His trainer’s license in Kentucky was reinstated in August 2017.
Ete Indien’s regular rider, Luca Panici, fractured his collarbone Feb. 21 and was expected to need at least four weeks to recover. Florent Geroux replaced him for the Fountain of Youth and gave Ete Indien a great ride.
Panici also is the regular rider of Sole Volante, so it is possible that Geroux could retain the mount on either Ete Indien or Sole Volante moving forward (he is slated to ride the latter in Saturday’s Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby). Panici began his career as a 16-year-old in his native Italy and moved his tack to full-time to Florida in 2010. He has amassed 24 stakes wins but has never ridden in the Kentucky Derby.
Pedigree: Ete Indien is from the first crop of Summer Front, a four-time graded stakes winner and seven-time stakes winner whose stakes success came exclusively on the grass. Summer Front won at least one stakes race from his 2-year-old season in 2011 through his 5-year-old campaign in 2014 and retired with eight wins from 23 starts and $1,077,140 in purse earnings.
Summer Front is by prominent sire War Front, who is mainly thought of as a turf sire but has shown some versatility with main track standouts such as 2019 Preakness winner War of Will and 2019 Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach.
Other than Ete Indien, Summer Front’s three best runners to date have been Fighting Seabee, a Grade 3 winner on grass last summer at Saratoga; turf stakes winner Speaktomeofsummer; and Summer to Remember, who is Grade 3-placed on the grass.
Likewise, the bottom half of Ete Indien’s pedigree on the surface seems to lean toward grass but there are dirt influences as well.
His dam (mother), East India, is by Mizzen Mast, who was a group stakes winner on turf in France and a stakes winner on the grass in the U.S. on turf. However, Mizzen Mast closed his career with back-to-back dirt wins in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes and Grade 2 Strub Stakes and he has proved versatile as a sire. East India is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to Piquant and Flavor, both stakes-winning dirt/synthetic track sprinters.
Grandam (maternal grandmother), Right Spice, by Salt Lake, made seven starts and both of her wins came on dirt. In fact, she was well-beaten in her only two tries on grass.
Right Spice is a half-sister to Words of War, a multiple stakes winner on both turf and dirt and the dam of E Dubai, a multiple Grade 2 winner on dirt and the 2001 Travers Stakes runner-up; and No Matter What, a Grade 1 winner on the grass who produced five stakes winners, including four group or graded stakes winners on turf/synthetic, including European champion Rainbow View.
Right Spice also is a half-sibling to turf graded stakes winner Ascutney, the dam of multiple Group/Grade 1 winner Raven’s Pass, who won the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic on a synthetic surface.
My main takeaway from the pedigree is that we already know Ete Indien can run on dirt, so there’s little use worrying whether he’s bred for grass or the main track. My bigger concern is stamina in the first two generations, which is somewhat pacified by some notable names who excelled around two turns once you start digging deeper.
Ete Indien looks like a gifted young racehorse and there is a very compelling argument that he belongs in the top half of Kentucky Derby top 10 lists. But I’ll admit I’m a bit lukewarm based on the combination of running style and possible stamina questions. I expect he’s going to be forced to go even faster early to lead or press in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby, and I wonder how much stamina he’ll have left for the Churchill Downs stretch drive on May 2.