Calling this year’s Kentucky Derby a wide open affair is a massive understatement. With unpredictable prep race results, no clear favorite has emerged, thus making handicapping more challenging than ever. As noted last year, so many things about this race can affect its outcome—the large field, deafening crowd noise, weather conditions and post position, to name but a few. However, it ultimately comes down to pedigree in terms of who can traverse the 1 1/4 miles (10-furlong) distance fastest to win. Since none of the contestants has yet attempted the distance, prior form provides only some hint at each runner’s capabilities, so thorough knowledge of stamina pedigree indicators is critical.
Interestingly, as opposed to last year, more of this year’s contestants looking promising on paper. Unfortunately, that also makes it just that much harder to find the winner. Since there’s a clear issue of whether those with strong turf stamina pedigrees can transfer their prowess to dirt, let’s break down the prime contenders into two categories:
Best Proven Dirt Stamina Pedigrees
(Bernardini, out of Marozia, by Storm Bird)
While stablemate Uncle Mo has garnered most of the press this year, Stay Thirsty is the one to pay close attention to come Derby day. Exquisitely bred for the distance, Stay Thirsty is out of a European-raced mare whose only win in nine starts was on turf at 12 furlongs; among her offspring is Stay Thirsty’s half brother, Belmont Stakes runner-up Andromeda’s Hero. Stay Thirsty’s second dam Make Change was Grade 1-placed at 12 furlongs in the Coaching Club American Oaks, as was his third dam Equal Change. Other immediate family members include Italian Group 1 runner-up Age of Reason who, now racing in Dubai, regularly wins or places between 12 and 16 furlongs; and Shamaiel, an English listed stakes winner at 14 furlongs. Even further back, Stay Thirsty’s fifth dam Equal Venture, an unraced full sister to Triple Crown winner Assault, produced the terrific Prove Out who not only defeated Secretariat in the 12-furlong Woodward Stakes, but who also captured the Jockey Club Gold Cup when contested at 24 furlongs. For Bernardini to produce a Derby winner in his first crop would be remarkable, considering that his sire A.P. Indy has yet to enjoy that success.
Pants On Fire
(Jump Start, out of Cabo de Noche, by Cape Town)
How appropriate would it be for Rosie Napravnik to become the first woman jockey to win the Run for the Roses? With Pants On Fire, she’s got an excellent chance. A seasoned horse that’s been mostly flying under the radar, he may peak at just the right time and he’s got the pedigree to do it. Sure, he’s a son of Jump Start (A.P. Indy) out of a Cape Town mare whose only win came on turf, but his second dam Key Flight is a daughter of 10-furlong Santa Anita Handicap winner Bates Motel, which brings into play the tremendous stamina influence of Epsom Derby winner Sir Ivor. Damside, this is also the family of Grade 1-placed Key Hunter, a 10-furlong winner on dirt; Jim Dandy winner A Little Warm; 10-furlong Beldame runner-up Misty Gallore; and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner (and Horse of the Year) Saint Liam. Of sentimental importance to racing fans, Pants On Fire is a direct damline descendant of the great handicap mare Gallorette. As an added bonus, he also has a tremendous 395 Wet Tomlinson figure, which explains why he glided over the sloppy Churchill track in his final pre-Derby workout.
(Arch, out Woodman’s Dancer, by Woodman)
While his dam Woodman’s Dancer never won beyond seven furlongs, there are promising stamina indicators in Archarcharch’s second dam Pattern Step and third dam Tipping Time, both winners of the 9-furlong Hollywood Oaks. A half-brother to Pattern Step, French Group 2 winner Motley ran third in the Grade 1 Washington DC International and later captured the 12-furlong Caballero Handicap in his career finale. In addition, Archarcharch is closely related to European-raced Arch Rebel, who as a 3-year-old broke his maiden going 10 furlongs, and who as a hurdler is a Group 2 winner going 16 furlongs. Another excellent Wet Tomlinson figure (399) bodes well for Archarcharch if there is an off-track.
(War Chant, out of Midnight Kiss, by Groom Dancer)
Even trainer Bob Baffert seemed surprised when his lightly raced maiden Midnight Interlude won the G1 Santa Anita Derby, but this War Chant colt was hands-down the best distance-bred horse in the field. His New Zealand-bred dam Midnight Kiss raced only four times, with two wins, a second and a third-place finish in the NZ-G1 New Zealand Oaks going 12 furlongs. Her sire Groom Dancer won the FR-G1 Prix Lupin over 10.5 furlongs. This is also the family of G1 Kentucky Oaks-placed Bemissed; 12-furlong G1 English Oaks winner Jet Ski Lay; and G2 Futurity runner-up Wallstreet Scandal. His second damsire Night Shift was a full brother to 10-furlong Alabama Stakes victress (and prodigious producer) Fanfreluche; his third damsire is Triple Crown winner Secretariat. No Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 was unraced as a 2-year-old; fast-maturing Midnight Interlude could break that rule.
Nehro – PLACE (second)
(Mineshaft out The Administrator, by Afleet)
Winner of the 10-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup, Mineshaft has already sired Belmont Stakes runner-up Fly Down, not to mention 10-furlong Hawthorne Gold Cup victor Redding Colliery, so a Derby winner is probably inevitable – and this year he’s got two solid chances, the first being Nehro. While his dam never won beyond seven furlongs, she has produced good distance runners including half-brother Saint Marden, who off his maiden win won a 9-furlong Saratoga allowance race against older horses by over seven lengths. Next out this lightly raced colt was competitive early but failed in the 10-furlong Travers. Back at Belmont, he decisively won an 8.5-furlong allowance race by over eight lengths before capturing the 9-furlong, Grade 3 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct. Another half sister, Sweet Lips, broke her maiden going eieght furlongs on turf and later won the 8.5-furlong Sunshine Millions Distaff before finishing second in the 9-furlong Grade 2 La Canada, both at Santa Anita. Perhaps most impressively, Nehro’s half-brother Battle Planner broke his maiden first out going 8f on all-weather in England and has been twice placed at 12 furlongs on turf. Other family members include JPN-Grade 1 winner and Japanese juvenile champion Goshawk Ken and undefeated Peruvian 10-furlong Grade 3 winner Gautier.
(Mineshaft, out of Miss Doolittle, by Storm Cat)
Mineshaft’s other contender is Florida Derby winner Dialed In, who, based on his performances thus far, will likely be among the shortest prices come Derby day. While his second dam Eliza followed up her victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with a win in the Santa Anita Oaks and a third-place finish against males in the Santa Anita Derby, she couldn’t hold off Dispute in the Kentucky Oaks. Dialed In’s lightly raced dam Miss Doolittle never won beyond six furlongs, and she’s produced mostly sprinters; only his half brother Mambo Master won beyond eight furlongs, both on turf and on dirt. His dam’s half-sister did produce Attempted Humor, who finished third, a mere length back, in the 12-furlong G2 San Luis Obispo Handicap on turf.
Definite Turf Stamina… But Can They Run on Dirt?
Animal Kingdom – WINNER
(Leroidesanimaux, out of Dalicia, by Acatenango)
Possessing the most international pedigree in the Derby field, Animal Kingdom should have no problem traversing 10 furlongs. He’s already twice won going nine furlongs, both on synthetics, so the real question is whether he can run effectively on dirt. His Brazilian-bred sire Leroidesanimaux was most effective as a miler, but his damsire Acatenagno, a legendary German stayer, won multiple 12-furlong Group 1 races in Germany, not to mention the 12.5-furlong Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France. Animal Kingdom’s dam Dalicia was an open company Group 3 winner in Germany going 10 furlongs and a listed stakes runner-up going 11 furlongs. Sent to the U.S. at age five, she won a 10-furlong turf allowance at Hollywood and placed at that distance on two other occasions. Her full sister Darwinia was also a 10-furlong winner who later produced 11-furlong German listed stakes winner Daveron, last year’s Grade 3 Long Island Handicap runner-up going 12 furlongs on turf.
(Dynaformer, out of Speed Succeeds, by Gone West)
Having already produced a Derby winner in Barbaro, Dynaformer has a stamina influence that is indisputable. Combine his sire with his damside breeding, and Brilliant Speed could win at 10 furlongs – if he can run better now on dirt than he did last year. His Grade 1-placed second dam Daijin is a full sister to Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold, not to mention a halfsister to Canadian Triple Crown winner and Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up With Approval, who set a world record in the 11-furlong Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap. As a broodmare, Daijin produced two quality A.P. Indy race mares: Grade 1 Selene runner-up Handpainted and Grade 2 Falls City winner Serenading, the latter who also won the 10-furlong Maple Leaf Stakes. However, while the female family members have excelled on the track, the males have only enjoyed modest success. Patena finished runner-up to Friesan Fire in the Grade 3 LeComte but was a non-factor in both the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. The fourth-place finisher in three consecutive Derby preps, Nowhere to Hide failed miserably in the Derby won by Mine That Bird.
Master of Hounds
(Kingmambo, out of Silk and Scarlet, by Sadler’s Wells)
A multiple Group 1 turf miler, Kingmambo has produced some excellent 10- to 12-furlong Group 1 runners when bred to Sadler’s Wells mares: El Condor Pasa, Campanologist, Divine Proportions, and Henrythenavigator. Silk and Scarlet never won or placed farther than seven furlongs, although she finished fifth, five and a half lengths back, in the 12-furlong Group 1 English Oaks. By Giant’s Causeway, her Japanese Group 1-placed son Eishin Apollon finished a mere half-length behind Victorie Pisa in last year’s JPN-G2 Yayoi Sho going 10 furlongs on turf. Still, it’s not a hugely proven distance family, as Silk and Scarlet’s Group 3 winning half-brother Danger Over was strictly a sprinter, and none of her other siblings won much if at all. However, Master of Hounds’ second dam Danilova is a half sister to 12-furlong Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) winner Sanglamore—again, on turf.
Questionable Stamina Derby Pedigrees
Solely based on pedigree and family performers, Mucho Macho Man (Macho Uno, out of Ponche de Leona, by Ponche) shouldn’t persevere at 10 furlongs; neither should Decisive Moment (With Distinction, out of Lady Samira, by Dehere), or Watch Me Go (West Acre, out of Sabbath Song, Deputy Minister). Also highly questionable is Comma to the Top (Bwana Charlie, out of Maggies Storm, by Stormy Atlantic) whose breeding suggests a good sprinter or one turn miler at best. Even Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie, out of Playa Maya, by Arch) appears distance-limited, without many damside family members successful beyond eight furlongs.
In spite of his sire being a Dubai World Cup runner-up, Twinspired (Harlan’s Holiday, out of Historical Drive, by El Prado) doesn’t have a lot damside in terms of actual performers to support getting 10 furlongs. On the other hand, despite being out of a sprinter sire, Soldat (War Front, out of Le Relais, by Coronado’s Quest) has some upside, as his damsire Coronado’s Quest won the 10-furlong Travers over Belmont winner Victory Gallop. Yet both Soldat’s second dam Malbay and her Grade 1-placed daughter Mulrainy had no success beyond 8.5 furlongs, while other high-class family members Lightning Pace and Shilla were strictly sprinters.
Both the sire and dam of Shackleford (Forestry, out of Oatsee, by Unbridled) performed best around seven furlongs to one mile, yet his dam has produced terrific distance runners, including 10-furlong Alabama winner Lady Joanne and multiple Grade 3 winner Baghdaria. Other family members include 9-furlong Holy Bull runner-up Bear’s Rocket and 10-furlong turf Academy Award Stakes winner Distorted Reality. With a 419 Wet Tomlinson figure, Shackleford is second only to Twice the Appeal (Successful Appeal, out of Double Boarded, by Cormorant) in wet track potential, but there’s more to like about Twice the Appeal than just jockey Calvin Borel aboard. His damsire Cormorant gave us Derby winner Go For Gin, while his dam Double Boarded has also produced Board Elligible, who not only won or placed numerous times going nine furlongs, but also was runner-up in the 10-furlong G3 Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct.
Judging by his sire, Santiva (Giant’s Causeway, out of Slide, by Smarten) should be blessed with stamina. However, his unraced dam belongs to a long line of sprinters, including Grade 2-placed Partner’s Hero and Breeders’ Cup Sprint victress Safely Kept. Despite that, Slide has produced an Old Trieste mare D’este who broke her maiden going 8.5 furlongs on turf before winning a 9-furlong turf allowance race; Santiva’s full-sister Her Majesty finished third in the 8.5 furlong Alcibiades. Not a slam-dunk by any means, Santiva poses more questions than answers in terms of stamina breeding, so proceed with caution.