The Preakness Stakes (G1) is contested in Maryland, but this year's winner, Early Voting, has a sire and dam with deep roots in neighboring Virginia.
His sire, Gun Runner , traces to the famed Gallorette, once voted the greatest race mare of the first half of the 20th century by readers of The BloodHorse. Gallorette was foaled in Maryland but spent her breeding career as a resident of Virginia, and it's there that her stakes-winning Native Dancer daughter, Courbette, was foaled.
A branch of the family returned to Virginia in the 1990s when Edward P. "Ned" Evans purchased Courbette's great-granddaughter Quiet Dance. The $75,000 the daughter of Quiet American cost at the 1994 Keeneland September Yearling Sales proved to be money exceptionally well spent. Quiet Dance was a smart runner, taking the Gala Lil Stakes in 1997—appropriately enough at Pimlico Race Course—and second in the Demoiselle Stakes (G2), but was an even better broodmare. In addition to Gun Runner's grade 2-winning dam, Quiet Giant, she produced four other stakes winners, headed by Horse of the Year Saint Liam and the 2018 United Nations Stakes (G1T) scorer, Funtastic , and she's granddam of another winner at the highest level in Buster's Ready, successful in the Mother Goose Stakes (G1) of 2011. Both Quiet Dance and Quiet Giant were purchased by Besilu Stables—breeder of Gun Runner—from Dispersal of the Estate of Edward P. Evans at the 2011 Keeneland November Sales.
If not yet quite "the greatest sire the world has ever seen," as described in the heat of the moment by Steve Asmussen, who trained both Gun Runner and this year's Preakness Stakes runner-up, Epicenter, Gun Runner has made a truly exceptional start to his stud career. Third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) in his only try in a Triple Crown event, Gun Runner shook off his big-race bridesmaid tag to win the Clark Handicap (G1) over older horses late in his 3-year-old season, then returned as a dominant Horse of the Year at 4 (adding the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) in his sole start at 5).
Retired to Three Chimneys Farm in Lexington, Ky., in 2018, he stood at an initial fee of $70,000. Gun Runner has sired 11 individual stakes winners from his first crop, seven graded, including, in addition to Early Voting, champion 2-year-old filly of 2021 Echo Zulu; last season's Hopeful Stakes (G1) scorer, Gunite; Cyberknife , successful in the Arkansas Derby (G1) this year; and Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) victor Taiba.
The triumph of Early Voting in the Preakness means that the first two legs of the Triple Crown and the Kentucky Oaks have all fallen to the offspring of first-crop sires (the others being Keen Ice and Arrogate). The success of freshman sires is generally attributed to attracting, for commercial reasons, books of disproportionate quality. We've believed for some time that there is something special about a sire's first (or very early) crops that goes beyond that, and we've frequently observed that even very good sires who start at modest fees frequently don't substantially improve on their first crop, even with much better books of mares.
Gun Runner's sire, Candy Ride , is a good example. After retiring to stud at a fee of $10,000—the lowest at which he ever stood—he was represented by four first-crop, grade 1 winners, and despite having subsequent runners from crops conceived at fees of up to $80,000, has never produced more than two grade 1 winners in a single crop since. Three Chimneys stood an extreme example in Slew o' Gold, who sired seven of his 12 lifetime graded winners in the first two of his 17 Northern Hemisphere crops.
Turning to the female line, Early Voting traces to one of the most notable foundation mares from one of Virginia's most famed nurseries, the Meadow Farm of Christopher T. Chenery. Although most celebrated as the birthplace of Secretariat in 1970, Meadow Farm was founded much earlier, back in 1936, and Early Voting's ancestress, Hildene, was among the farm's first mares. Only placed at the track, Hildene became an exceptionally successful broodmare. Five of her sons won stakes, and they included Hill Prince, a champion at 2, 3, and 4, 1951 Horse of the Year, and the Preakness Stakes winner of 1950; 1958 champion 2-year-old colt First Landing (whose son, Riva Ridge won two legs of the Triple Crown in 1972, but could only manage fourth on a wet track in the Preakness). A daughter of Hildene, Satsuma, produced another great runner in Cicada, champion 2-year-old filly of 1961, champion 3-year-old filly in 1962, and champion older mare in 1963.
Another of Hildene's daughters, First Flush, failed to win in three starts, but she also made her mark as a broodmare, and she appears as ancestress of more than 100 stakes winners, 11 of them grade 1 (or winners of races at an equivalent level prior to the advent of the graded program). The branch from which Early Voting stems comes down through First Flush's stakes-winning daughter Copper Canyon (by Bryan G., also the sire of Cicada, making Copper Canyon a three-quarter sister to that mare). None of Copper Canyon's offspring won black-type events, but three of her daughters did produce grade 1 winners. The multiple grade 1-placed Copernica appears as dam of the Hopeful Stakes (G1) victor of 1987, Crusader Sword; Cherokee Phoenix is dam of the 1988 Flamingo Stakes (G1) winner Cherokee Colony; and the unraced Buckpasser mare Insilca is dam of the 1995 Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (G1T) scorer, Turkpasser.
Insilca also appears as dam of Silken Doll, and it's Silken Doll's Storm Cat daughter Silken Cat, the champion 2-year-old filly in Canada for 1995, who is the second dam of Early Voting. Silken Cat had already made a significant impact before the arrival of Early Voting, as her offspring include 2004 champion sprinter and very successful sire Speightstown ; Irap, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), Ohio Derby (G3), and Indiana Derby (G3) all in 2017, and also three-times placed in grade 1 events; and to Cableknit, whose son Capezzano took the 2019 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 Sponsored By Emirates Airlines (G1). Early Voting's dam, Amour d'Ete, never ran, but as a daughter of Tiznow, she's a full sister to Irap.
Early Voting is the only starter for Gun Runner out of a Tiznow mare, but his sire, Candy Ride, is represented by stakes winner Lovely Ride on the cross. The reverse cross, that of Tiznow over a Candy Ride mare, came up with the Hopeful Stakes (G1) winner of 2017, Sporting Chance. We'll also note that Early Voting is one of six Gun Runner stakes winners, three graded, with inbreeding to Storm Cat, the sire of Gun Runner's maternal grandsire, Giant's Causeway.