It's a fair bet that if we were to go back a week, we'd find few lists of the contenders for leading 3-year-old prominently featuring Saudi Crown, a horse that had yet to score in stakes competition. Now, however, the record shows that he stands just two noses shy of being an undefeated grade 1 winner and three-time graded stakes winner.
The gray didn't appear in public until mid-April this year, when he captured a six-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland by 4 3/4 lengths, a victory that was followed by an allowance optional/claiming tally at Churchill Downs. Bidding for a hat trick, Saudi Crown stretched out to a mile for the Dwyer Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park and missed by a nose to Fort Bragg after setting demanding fractions of :22.47, :44.63, and 1:08.84. In the nine-furlong Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), Saudi Crown rationed his front-running speed more conservatively but was nosed on the wire by last year's champion 2-year-old colt, Forte , who survived a stewards' inquiry that generated much subsequent controversy. On Saturday, Saudi Crown gained rich compensation for that defeat, controlling the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) throughout to score by a half-length from the strong-closing Dreamlike. Saudi Crown would likely need to win the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) to earn an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old—and he's not a certain starter—but on form and speed figures it's hard to deny that he's very close to the top of what is a very even division.
Saudi Crown is from the first crop of his sire, Always Dreaming . Unlike the later-developing Saudi Crown, Always Dreaming was at his best in the winter and spring of his 3-year-old season, when a rich vein of form saw him take in succession a maiden, an allowance/optional claiming event, the Florida Derby (G1) by five lengths, and the Kentucky Derby (G1) by 2 3/4 lengths. Following his Churchill Downs triumph, Always Dreaming made five more starts at 3 and 4 but never returned to the same level of form, his best efforts being a third in the Jim Dandy Stakes and a second in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) the following year. Retired to WinStar Farm, Versailles, Ky., for the 2019 breeding season, he was previously represented by 2022 first crop 2-year-old winner Grand Isle.
Similarly, Always Dreaming is from the first crop of his sire, Bodemeister . A son of Empire Maker, Bodemeister scored a runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and was second in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) after a pair of bold front-running performances. Always Dreaming was the best of six stakes winners from Bodemeister's initial crop, but Bodemeister was unable to sustain that level of performance, although he did get another grade 1 winner, the Clark Stakes scorer Bodexpress , in his third crop, and he was exported to Turkey for the 2020 breeding season.
Saudi Crown is one of two winners from two starters out of the unraced New Narration, a daughter of Tapit and the Natalma Stakes (G3) winner New Normal. By Forestry, New Normal is out of the Red Ransom mare New Economy, a smart turf performer who won a trio of black-type events, including the La Prevoyante Handicap (G3) and My Charmer Handicap (G3). New Economy is half sister to the dam of Breeders' Futurity (G1) winner Noble's Promise.
Saudi Crown's fifth dam, Far Beyond, is by Nijinsky II out of the famous tap-root mare Soaring and has been a significant enough producer to be considered as having founded her own branch of that family. Overall, she is ancestress of nearly 80 stakes winners, including other grade 1 winners Plenty of Grace, Military, Soaring Softly, Molly Morgan, Super Cool, and Fahed Jr. Other than Far Beyond, Soaring is best known for her descendants via her daughter Miss Swapsco, also ancestress of such top performers as Devil's Bag, Saint Ballado, Glorious Song, Rahy, and Singspiel. A daughter of Swaps, Soaring was bred by Darby Dan Farm and was out of Skylarking II, a high-class European 2-year-old and sprinter bred by Prince Aly Khan.
Saudi Crown is an example of the increasingly successful cross of Unbridled line stallions with mares by Tapit (who is out of an Unbridled mare). The cross has produced at least a dozen stakes winners, also including this year's Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1) hero, Arcangelo , and grade 1 winner Harvey's Lil Goil. The reverse cross is also very effective, as is the cross of Unbridled line stallions with Bernardini, a horse bred on similar lines to Tapit.
Behind this there are quite a lot of complex patterns. Bodemeister, the grandsire of Saudi Crown and Saudi Crown's dam, New Narration, both combine Unbridled, Storm Cat, and A.P. Indy. Bodemeister is an Unbridled/Storm Cat cross out of a mare who is a Storm Cat/A.P. Indy cross, and New Narration is an A.P. Indy/Storm Cat cross. Tapit's dam is similarly an Unbridled/Nijinsky II (bred on a similar cross to Storm Bird, the sire of Storm Cat). The Storm Cat in the dam of Saudi Crown is through Forestry, whose granddam is by Dr. Fager out of a three-quarter sister to Mr. Prospector, where Unbridled's sire, Fappiano, is by Mr. Prospector out of a Dr. Fager mare. We can also note that the two Storm Bird crosses are combined with no less than four of the similarly bred Nijinsky II, and that the pedigree also has Somethingfabulous, who is by Northern Dancer out of the dam of Secretariat, while Storm Cat is by a son of Northern Dancer out of a mare by Secretariat.