A little over 20 years ago—for a publication I owned and which eventually merged with The Blood-Horse/MarketWatch—I penned an article called "Maria's Master Plan" which focused on the unusual number of yearlings from the first crop of juvenile champion, Maria's Mon, that had one of the two brothers, Graustark or His Majesty, in the dam. This was a pedigree pattern that immediately intrigued—for reasons that will become apparent—and a call to Pin Oak Stud, which stood Maria's Mon confirmed that it was not coincidental.
The pedigree play yielded almost immediate dividends when Monarchos, a colt from the first crop of Maria's Mon, and with a third dam by Graustark, captured the 2001 Kentucky Derby (G1). Monarchos was a terrible disappointment at stud, but it's notable that his only Northern Hemisphere grade 1 winner, champion female sprinter Informed Decision, was out of a mare by His Majesty, so having the siblings Graustark/His Majesty 5x2.
Although the pattern worked well for Maria's Mon—Graustark and His Majesty appear in the first five generations in the pedigrees of six of his stakes winners, including another grade 1 winner See How She Runs—it turned out that Maria's Mon was a very smart stallion anyway. In a career that ended with his premature death age of 14 he sired 55 stakes winners, more than 30 of them group and graded, and eight group or grade 1, including champion 3-year-old filly Wait a While, and a second Kentucky Derby victor in Super Saver .
Super Saver turned out to be a far better sire than Monarchos—although that wouldn't represented a particularly high bar—and at one point shaped like a coming star. His first crop produced nine individual black-type winners and among the six graded winners were champion sprinter Runhappy , the Hopeful Stakes (G1) and Pat Day Mile Stakes (G3) scorer Competitive Edge , and Embellish the Lace, who took the Alabama Stakes (G1). As so often happens, Super Saver couldn't maintain that pace with his second, third, and fourth crops. In fact, in his case, the drop off was particularly precipitous, with those crops producing just nine stakes winners, only one graded, between them. When the 3-year-olds from Super Saver's fifth—and potential rebound crop—failed to achieve the hoped-for resurgence, Super Saver was sold to Turkey in time for the 2020 breeding season.
Virtually unnoticed at that time was a Super Saver 3-year-old filly who had won her first six starts in Mexico, then captured the Copa Invitacional del Caribe Stakes (for 3-year-olds and upward imported by a representative country of the Confederacion Hipica del Caribe) at Gulfstream Park in December 2019. That filly, Letruska, has gone on to climb to the top of the tree in the U.S., and with five straight graded wins, four in grade 1 events, this term, looms as favorite for an Eclipse Award in the older female division. In the following year's Super Saver crop came another star, Happy Saver, who as a 3-year-old defeated his elders to take the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), and who recently returned off a nearly three-month break to run an excellent second to Maxfield in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (G1).
Super Saver's son Runhappy retired to stud for the 2017 breeding season. Promoted by one of the most intensive advertising campaigns the industry has ever seen, he initially struggled to live up to the hype, and only nine of his 40 starters were able to win as 2-year-olds. What tended to be overlooked, however, was the fact that Runhappy himself wasn't a precocious individual, and didn't make his 2-year-old debut until very late December. With time the statistics on that crop have improved significantly with 41 of 67 starters winning, and true top-class horse appearing in the shape of Following Sea, winner of the Vosburgh Stakes (G2), and most recently a good third in the Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), despite a troubled trip.
Runhappy's second crop has proved more precocious than his first; there are already 15 winners from 38 starters, and when Smile Happy took the Nov. 27 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), while making just his second outing, he became Runhappy's fourth stakes winner from the crop.
Smile Happy's dam, Pleasant Smile, won three times, each time running for a $7,500 tag. She is dam of four winners from four starters, also including Wilko Rum, a son of Wilko who was stakes-placed in the Clasico Angel T. Cardero Jr. in Puerto Rico and Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs. Out of the Relaunch mare, Relax and Smile, Pleasant Smile is a half sister to Miracle Mets, a stakes winner at Turf Paradise. There is an absence of black type under the third dam, and the fourth dam, the Bold Ruler mare Pumpkin Patch, also failed to produce a stakes winner, but she is ancestress of several graded winners, the most notable of which is Funny Cide, champion 3-year-old male and Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner for 2003. Pumpkin Patch is a half sister to Hail the Pirates, a multiple group winner in Ireland and successful in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1), and to Candalita, who took the Spinaway Stakes and Matron Stakes (before the advent of the graded system, but both grade 1-level events).
Pumpkin Patch's dam Bravura (by Nearco's half brother Niccolo Dell'Arca) was bred by John W. Galbreath of Darby Dan Farm, who acquired her in utero when he purchased her dam Terentania from the Aga Khan, who had imported her that year, for $22,000 at the 1953 Breeders' Sales Company (Keeneland) Fall Sale. Bravura turned out to be a hugely influential mare, with more than 57 stakes winners descending from her, among them Empire Maker, who finished second to Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby, but defeated that horse in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1). Empire Maker's dam Toussaud, a grade 1 winner and Broodmare of the Year, was doubled in the pedigree of Saturday's Hollywood Derby (G1T) winner Beyond Brilliant, who is by Twirling Candy (out of a mare by Toussaud's son, Chester House) from a daughter of First Defence (out of Toussaud's daughter, Honest Lady).
There is a very good reason that Smile Happy's pedigree immediately put me in mind of the "Maria's Master Plan" article from two decades ago, or to be more accurate, two reasons. Neither Super Saver, nor Runhappy, have either His Majesty or Graustark in their pedigree, but Smile Happy's dam, Pleasant Smile, is by Pleasant Tap, a grandson of His Majesty, and her second dam is by Graustark, so she has the siblings 3x3. There's no doubt despite the absence of the siblings in their own pedigrees, Super Saver and Runhappy have benefited from the presence of His Majesty and/or Graustark in their mates. The pattern is found in seven of Super Saver's stakes winners, four graded and two grade 1, and four of Runhappy's 10 stakes horses, including another stakes winner, Nicky the Vest.
Of course there was a good reason for expecting Maria's Mon to work well with Graustark and His Majesty, and that was down to the relationship between his grandsire, Majestic Light, and that pair. Majestic Light is by Majestic Prince (whose granddam is Your Hostess) and out of a mare by Ribot; Graustark/His Majesty are by Ribot out of Flower Bowl, a three-quarters sister to Your Hostess. For good measure, Ribot and Your Hostess/Flower Bowl are from the I mitochondrial haplotype, as is Runhappy, and two of Maria's Mon grade 1 winners with Graustark or His Majesty, Monarchos and See How She Runs.