When trainer Bill Cesare noticed that a colt by Louis Quatorze about to go through the sales ring at last year's Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's Winter Mixed Sale was foaled June 2, he had to have been the only one in the place who thought the birth date was a good thing. Cesare, who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions during a five-year NFL career, believes in signs and was sure the fact he and the colt shared the same birthday was a message from above that he was meant to buy this horse. He not only purchased the colt, he celebrated his late birth date by naming him Second of June.
To most everyone else, a June foal is bad news.
Most horses are born in February and March. Some show up in April and May, but June foals are rare. Breeders normally want their foals born as early in the year as possible. Otherwise, they will be at a competitive disadvantage once their racing careers start. Since the official birthday for all horses is Jan. 1, a horse born in February will always compete in the same age group as a horse born in June of the same year. The four-month difference can be substantial, especially when horses are in the early stages of their racing careers; the older horse will invariably be stronger and more mature physically and mentally. It's comparable to an 18-year-old human athlete competing against a 15-year-old one.
"Normally, me and any other trainer going to a sale, wouldn't want a May foal, let alone a June foal," Cesare said. "May is worse enough. We go to a sale with that intention and I think that holds true with the majority of people who go to sales."
But Cesare trusted his intuition and purchased the then 2-year-old for $7,500 at the OBS sale, a figure that no doubt would have been higher had Second of June been born in an earlier month. It turned out to be one of the great purchases of the year. With his victory in the Jan. 17 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream for his third straight victory, Second of June has risen near the top of the 3-year-old class heading toward the Kentucky Derby.
He's proven, at the very least, that he can win an early Kentucky Derby prep race against modest competition, but his foaling date remains a curiosity and an issue. Maybe it's a positive. Maybe it's not. There are different ways to look at what is an unusual situation. The case may not be solved until Kentucky Derby Day.
The gestation period for a horse is 11 months. Breeders can normally plan so that a foal is born in February or March, but there can be complications. If a mare does not get pregnant at the first mating, a breeder will often keep trying until she does. If it takes several tries, the foal-to-be could be conceived as late as June or July.
In the case of Second of June, his dam, Whow, a daughter of Spectacular Bid, slipped earlier in the season when also in foal to Louis Quatorze. Co-breeder Roy Lerman had the choice of breeding her again late in the season, with the result being a May or June foal, or writing the year off.
"Normally (after she slipped), I would have said forget about it," Lerman said. "I was probably 95 percent of the way toward deciding not to breed her again. I can't even recall why I changed my mind."
It only got worse after Second of June was born. Not only was he a late foal, but he had poor conformation and sire Louis Quatorze seemed on his way to being a bust. Lerman wasn't that surprised when the colt sold for just $7,500.
None of that seemed to matter once he hit the racetrack. He won his first career start, an Aug. 9 maiden special weight race at Calder and, after two straight losses, began the three-race streak that continued with a powerful win in the Holy Bull. The runner-up in that race was Twice as Bad, who was born Feb. 2. The third-place finisher, Silver Wagon, is a March 4 foal.
That Second June is already capable of beating horses four months older him can be construed as an encouraging sign. One school of thought is that since he can only get better while most of his competitors are closer to hitting their physical and mental peaks. With Second of June, there might be a lot of room for improvement.
"He's got the ability, now he's got to mentally mature," Cesare said. "The best part of it is that he's got to get better, bigger and stronger. He should get dramatically better, physically and mentally."
Or will it eventually catch up to him?
"It's a double-edged sword," Lerman said. "Does his youth and his lack of maturity, with his obvious talent, allow for a potential injury to happen more readily than it would with a more mature horse? That is the opposite side of the other argument, that he is so young that he has to get better. He's so young and has done so much, but has he physically suffered from that? I can't answer that."
Maybe that's why no June foal has won the Kentucky Derby, at least back to 1939, the first year the Jockey Club has a record of a foaling date for a Derby winner. Since then, 1964 Derby winner Northern Dancer, born May. 27, is the youngest horse to have won the race.
"That doesn't mean diddly," Cesare said. And maybe he's right. Second of June is a good horse and certainly doesn't seem to be suffering from any sort of disadvantage right now. He'll go next in the Feb. 14 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. There will be older horses in the race, but maybe none better.