His name is “Sota King,” reflecting his royal heritage. It will be a while, though, before horse racing fans find out whether the Minnesota-bred son of American Pharoah is a prince or a plebeian.
Now 2 years old, Sota King is the first thoroughbred born in Minnesota to be sired by a Triple Crown winner. He is eligible to begin racing this year, but owner Paul Hanifl has decided not to send him to the track just yet. Hanifl, of North Oaks, said his prized colt is a late developer, and Sota King probably will not start his career at Canterbury Park this season.
Given the horse’s bloodlines — and the excitement that surrounded his birth in 2018 — Hanifl knows fans are eager to see what the colt can do. He is, too, but he and his wife, Suzanne, are also patient enough to wait until Sota King is more physically mature.
“We want to bring him along slowly because he’s valuable,” Hanifl said. “Will he run this year in Minnesota? I doubt it. Maybe at the end of the year, but if not, we don’t really care.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s a long-term investment. We don’t have to rush him in to run as a 2-year-old. We will hold onto him and give him every chance we possibly can because we have a huge investment in him. We want him to have the best chance to succeed.”
Sota King currently is living on a farm near Shelbyville, Ky. Like his famous father, the colt is dark bay, but his white blaze and socks add a little extra flash.
“The odds of coming up with a graded stakes winner are very low. But we’re willing to put the money in and take the chance.”
He has been started under saddle at a training facility for young horses, and Hanifl hopes the mineral-rich Kentucky bluegrass will help him add muscle. His late birthday is one reason Hanifl wants to give him extra time to mature. Sota King was born May 6, 2018, but because all thoroughbred racehorses officially have their birthday on Jan. 1, he is younger than many other 2-year-olds.
Hanifl has high hopes for him, given the success of American Pharoah as a competitor and a sire. After sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 2015 — ending a Triple Crown drought dating to 1978 — American Pharoah entered stallion duty the following year.
His first sons and daughters began racing last year. They won a total of $2.8 million, making him the most successful sire of 2-year-olds in North America. Six of them won stakes races, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Hanifl declined to say how much it cost to breed his mare, One More Strike, to American Pharoah. The horse’s stud fee was listed as $200,000 in 2016. Coolmore America, the farm where he stands, lists his 2020 fee as private.
“The odds of coming up with a graded stakes winner are very low,” Hanifl said. “But we’re willing to put the money in and take the chance.”
Canterbury Park’s 52-day racing season will run through Sept. 9, and there’s a chance Sota King could come to the track in August — even if it’s only to continue his education.
In the coming months, he will get more lessons at the Kentucky training facility about what life will be like at the track. He will learn how to spring out of a starting gate, how to run alongside other horses, how to listen to the rider on his back.
If the colt progresses well, Hanifl said, Sota King might join the six horses that the Hanifls’ Suzanne Stables will race at Canterbury this summer. It’s possible he could run in a late-season race there, or start his career this fall at another track. But if the colt does not appear ready, Hanifl will wait until next year, or even later.
And if Sota King doesn’t live up to his name, Hanifl already is working on his next dream. One More Strike has been bred to Justify, who won the Triple Crown in 2018, with the foal to be born next spring in Minnesota.
“Well, why not?” Hanifl said, laughing. “We’re not interested any more in horses that are just OK. We’re too old for that.
“We’ll have a horse from each of the Triple Crown winners in my lifetime. That’s really exciting. This is the fun part of having young horses. You never know what you’re going to get.”