Whether it breeds them or buys them, they win. That's been the scenario this spring for Shadwell Stables, which has two top prospects moving toward the Kentucky Derby in Mohaymen and Shagaf, both of whom have yet to lose after a combined seven starts.
Mohaymen, purchased as a yearling for $2.2 million, already has won five races, including four stakes, and his victory in the Fountain of Youth last Saturday at Gulfstream solidified his position as the favorite on the Derby Watch top 20.
Shagaf, a homebred born on Shadwell's Kentucky farm, has raced just twice, and on Saturday at Aqueduct, he will make his stakes debut in the Gotham, which will mark his first try around two turns.
Perhaps from a sentimental standpoint, Shadwell might have a little more of a rooting interest in the one born right on the farm. But considering the investment in Mohaymen and the lofty goals for both colts, all the Shadwell people hope for is that both continue to progress and then settle it at Churchill Downs on May 7.
"Who do you root for -- one you pulled out of his mama's backside or one you bought?" asked Rick Nichols, the longtime vice president and general manager for Shadwell. "You root for both."
Mohaymen, by Tapit, is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who has been associated with Shadwell owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum for two decades. Shagaf, by Bernardini, is trained by Chad Brown, a more recent addition to Shadwell's employ.
According to Nichols, McLaughlin has at least 30 horses to train for Shadwell, while Brown has 10 to 12.
Shagaf might be the best horse Brown has trained for Shadwell. Brown was extremely high on Shagaf last fall, when he rolled to a six-length victory in his debut at Aqueduct, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 88. He has raced just once since, winning a first-level allowance at Gulfstream on Jan. 29 and earning a Beyer of 78. Brown said that both before and after his debut, Shagaf had minor illness, but that physically, he's always handled his racing and training well.
"All his stoppages as a 2-year-old were always due to illness, not lameness," Brown said. "He got sick on us twice. That's what delayed his first start until the fall and delayed him traveling to Florida after he won his maiden race."
Brown said Shagaf is "a good-sized horse, strong build, keeps his weight well."
"He's got a nice temperament around the barn and when he's training," Brown said. "He gets a bit quirky around the gate. Putting him in tight spots is a little bit of a challenge. But he's a kind horse. He's never aggressive with the handlers. It's just when you take him to the gate or put him on a van, you have to take your time doing it."
Whereas Mohaymen has been more straightforward, Nichols said, Shagaf has a "has a little different personality that you have to deal with."
The potential is there, though.
"We haven't really had a chance to judge Shagaf like we have Mohaymen, but Chad is very high on the horse," Nichols said.
Owing to their common ownership, the plan this spring has been to keep Mohaymen and Shagaf separated as long as possible. Once Mohaymen was committed to the Fountain of Youth, the 1-1/16-mile Gotham became the target for Shagaf. The plan is for Mohaymen to have his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Florida Derby on April 2 at Gulfstream. If Shagaf performs well Saturday, the logical spot for his final Derby prep would be the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9.
The approach regarding this year's crop of 3-year-old males for Shadwell began four years ago with the mating that produced Shagaf and was augmented in September 2014 when Mohaymen was purchased at auction.
"You hate to say he ticks all the boxes, but he ticked all the boxes at that sale," Nichols said.
When it comes to its Derby prospects this spring, Shadwell has been ticking all the boxes, too.
In other Derby developments
*A workout at Santa Anita this weekend for Mor Spirit will determine whether he runs in the San Felipe Stakes on March 12 at Santa Anita or is held back a week for the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 19. The San Felipe remains the preferred choice, trainer Bob Baffert said, but he won't commit until after Mor Spirit has what will be his second work since one went awry a little more than a week ago.
*Destin is also possible for the Rebel, depending on how trainer Todd Pletcher decides to divide up Battery, Destin, and Outwork among the Tampa Bay Derby on March 12 and the Rebel.
*Nyquist is scheduled to have his next workout Saturday at Santa Anita as he continues to prepare for a showdown with Mohaymen in the Florida Derby.