Going the Derby Distance 2013Who has the pedigree to win the 2013 Kentucky Derby?
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
We will post a 2014 version on Thursday 5/1/2014
So many factors come into play when handicapping the Kentucky Derby. Since none of the contestants has yet attempted the distance, prior form provides only some hint at each runner’s capabilities; it ultimately comes down to pedigree in terms of who can traverse the 1 1/4-miles (10-furlong) distance fastest to win. The validity of this approach is confirmed when looking back over our previous posts in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The fact that the 2013 Derby field appears to be (in general) well-qualified to go the distance makes the pedigree handicapper’s job that much more difficult. It’s easy to look at only the sire and damsire as stamina indicators, but the wily bettor will look beyond that and consider additional factors. Given that in recent years brilliant runners have been quickly retired to stud without necessarily given the opportunity to prove their stamina, the handicapper must consider which Derby entrants blend the right combination of speed (usually from the sire) and stamina (proven through the damline). Furthermore, given that the last two Kentucky Derby winners, Animal Kingdom and I’ll Have Another, boasted terrific stamina damlines proven on turf, no longer can those “turf only” pedigrees be ignored.
Best Stamina Pedigrees
Hands down, based solely on pedigree, these four contenders appear best qualified to get the Derby distance:
(War Pass, out of Java, by Rainbow Quest)
Unfortunately, his brilliant Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion sire War Pass had his racing career cut short by injury, and he then tragically died after producing only two crops. From that first crop, he produced Grade 1 Blue Grass winner Java’s War and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby victor Revolutionary, both stamina-rich in their damlines. The damsire of Java’s War, Rainbow Quest, won both the 12-furlong English Group 1 Coronation Cup and the 12-furlong French Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. His stamina was passed on to his daughter, as Java broke her maiden going 1 1/16 miles and easily won a 10-furlong turf allowance race before being retired. The second dam of Java’s War, Island Jamboree, was a fast-closing runner-up in the Grade 1 Gamely Handicap going 1 1/8 miles on turf; her daughter Fiji (a full sister to Java) later won not only the Gamely, but also the 10-furlong Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon en route to being named Eclipse-winning champion turf female in 1998. Other immediate family members of Java’s War include French Group 1 Poule Dessai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) runner-up Marcus Andronicus; 9-furlong Grade 2 Dance Smartly runner-up Moment of Majesty; Subordination, a multiple graded stakes winner on turf and dirt at 9 furlongs; 12-furlong Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner Cacoethes; and 16-furlong English Group 3 Queen’s Vase third-place finisher Capri, who was also a multiple graded stakes winner over 12 furlongs.
Revolutionary – 3rd Place
(War Pass, out of Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy)
Like Java’s War, Revolutionary is by the speedy War Pass, and he, too, features a stamina-rich damline beginning with his dam Runup the Colors, winner of the 10-furlong Grade 1 Alabama Stakes. Her 9-furlong Grade 2 Delaware Oaks-winning dam Up the Flagpole produced not only Grade 2 King’s Bishop winner Top Account, but also the Italian Group 1 open company winner Flagbird, who also captured the prestigious 10-furlong Irish Group 2 Pretty Polly Stakes. This is the immediate family of multiple Grade 1 winner Prospectors Delite, dam of 10-furlong Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap victress Tomisue’s Delight and 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup victor Mineshaft. Through his progeny such as Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro, Belmont Stakes runner-up Fly Down, and Coaching Club American Oaks victress It’s Tricky, Mineshaft has solidified his stamina credentials; it’s worth noting how closely related he is to Revolutionary’s dam, as they are both by A.P. Indy. This is also the family of Kentucky Oaks runner-up Little Belle and Grade 1-placed juvenile Fortify. Like Java’s War, Revolutionary displays a late-running style; for both of them, it won’t be the distance, but the post position and trip that makes or breaks them.
Orb – WINNER
(Malibu Moon, out of Lady Liberty, by Unbridled)
While Malibu Moon has produced some nice stamina-rich fillies (10-furlong Delaware Handicap victress Life at Ten immediately comes to mind), the same can’t be said of his male progeny (the exception being hard-knocking 14-furlong stakes winner Malibu Moonshine). Orb has already twice won going 9 furlongs, so stretching out another furlong isn’t beyond the realm of possibility for this colt, particularly given his stamina-strong damline. His dam Lady Liberty broke her maiden going 9 furlongs on dirt as a 3-year-old, and at age 5 impressively won a 12-furlong turf allowance race at Keeneland before finishing fifth, a mere two lengths back of the winner, in the 12-furlong Grade 3 Bewitch Stakes. Orb’s second dam Mesabi Maiden captured the 9-furlong Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. This is also the family of Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Private Terms; 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers victor Coronado’s Quest; and 12-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks winner Ruffian. He defeated Revolutionary when breaking his maiden and hasn’t lost since. If he makes the Derby starting gate, he’ll be only the second starter for trainer Shug McGaughey, whose Easy Goer finished second to Sunday Silence in 1989.
(More Than Ready, out of Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway)
Undefeated in four career starts, Verrazano is better proven at this point than his half brother El Padrino, who finished a troubled 13th in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Their Grade 1 Ashland-winning second dam Chic Shirine produced 10-furlong Grade 2 Ladies Handicap winner Tara Roma, who in turn gave us 9-furlong Grade 1 Go For Wand victress Serra Lake. This is also the family of 9-furlong Grade 1 Haskell runner-up Coal Play; 9-furlong Grade 1 Hollywood Derby victor Brahms; 9-furlong Grade 2 Lake Placid winner Hungry Island; 9-furlong Grade 1 Garden City runner-up Somali Lemonade; multiple 12-furlong Grade 1-placed Al Khali; 12-furlong Grade 2-placed Miss Hellie; and 11-furlong Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club third-place finisher Baraan. Lots of strong distance runners close up in his damline, and not just turf runners. His damsire Giant’s Causeway won three Group 1 turf events in Europe at or beyond 10 furlongs before concluding his career with a narrow second-place finish to Tiznow in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Thus far undefeated, Verrazano will attempt to become the first horse in well over a century to win the Derby without having raced at age 2.
Positive Indicators, But Also Some Questions
The stamina is there, but each of these contenders either lacks dirt experience or possesses other major question marks coming into the Derby:
Lines of Battle
(War Front, out of Black Speck, by Arch)
This Aidan O’Brien-trained colt comfortably won the Group 2 UAE Derby to gain entry into the field, but the big question mark concerns his ability to perform on dirt. His speedy sire War Front was solely a dirt performerâ€”a multiple Grade 1-placed sprinter, although he won a minor 1 1/16 miles stakes race at Belmont by 8 lengths. His Arch dam has produced several black-type turf runners, including French Group 1 Grand Criterium runner-up Battle Paint, but it’s his second dam, 9-furlong Grade 1 Top Flight winner Andover Way, who is worth noting. Chief among her progeny is the great Dynaformer, winner of the 10-furlong Grade 2 Jersey Derby but also graded stakes-placed at 12 furlongs and 13 furlongs. Dynaformer has given us not only Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, but also Americain, a horse who in 2010 won the 2-mile Australian Group 1 Melbourne Cup. This is also the family of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos and 10-furlong Grade 1 Suburban Handicap winner Offlee Wild, not to mention 10-furlong Delaware Handicap runner-up Two Trail Sioux; 11-furlong Grade 1 Man O’War third-place finisher Midnight Cousins; and 12-furlong Belmont Stakes third-place finisher Darby Creek Road. That’s a lot of Kentucky Derby winners in his family.
(Kittenâ€™s Joy, out of Iteration, by Wild Again)
There’s no question of stamina here. His sire Kitten’s Joy was a Grade 1 turf winner at 10 furlongs and 12 furlongs, and his dam has already produced his full brother Queen’splatekitten, who was multiple graded stakes-placed going 9 furlongs. His damsire Wild Again won the 10-furlong inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic; his second damsire Chief’s Crown won both the Grade 1 Travers and Grade 1 Marlboro Cup over 1 1/4 miles. His Irish Group 1-placed third dam Lake Champlain finished second in the then-Group 2 10-furlong Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh. Other family members include multiple 10-furlong Japanese Grade 3 runner-up Sanrei Jasper; 10-furlong Grade 1 American Oaks runner-up Antares World; and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Theatrical. That said, Charming Kitten has yet to start on dirt, although his narrow third-place finish behind Java’s War and Palace Malice in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on Polytrack was promising.
Will Take Charge
(Unbridled’s Song, out of Take Charge Lady, by Dehere)
Last year, his Grade 1 Florida Derby-winning half brother Take Charge Indy finished next-to-last in the Kentucky Derby, but with an excuseâ€”post-race, he underwent surgery to remove a bone chip in his left front ankle. In the autumn, Take Charge Indy came back to finish second to Shackleford in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Clark Handicap. Their Kentucky Oaks runner-up dam Take Charge Lady regularly won at 1 1/8 miles, including twice capturing the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes; she also ran second in the 10-furlong Delaware Handicap. Among the other well-performing routers in his family are 9-furlong Mount Vernon Handicap victress Eventail; 9-furlong Grade 3-placed Commendation; Grade 2 Lane’s End runner-up Northern Giant; and 10-furlong Grade 2 Virginia Derby runner-up Straight Story. Similarly bred on an Unbridled’s Song–Dehere cross is 9-furlong Grade 1 Donn Handicap victor Graydar. What’s most questionable about his chances is the fact that he’s never raced beyond 1 1/16 milesâ€”and that race, a victory in the Grade 2 Rebel, was seven weeks ago.
(Awesome Again, out of Tizamazing, by Cee’s Tizzy)
The oft-raced Oxbow certainly has experience on his side, although he has yet to prove himself victorious over 1 1/16 miles. One thing he does have going for him is his stamina breeding. His Queen’s Plate-winning sire Awesome Again won multiple graded stakes at 10 furlongs, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His unraced dam is a full sister to two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. If he were any other horse, Oxbow would be considered a slam-dunk (stamina-wise, that is), but his mid-pack finish in the Arkansas Derby doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. One thing he does have going for him: the services of three-time Kentucky Derby- winning jockey Gary Stevens.
(Curlin, out of Palace Rumor, by Royal Anthem)
A tad of a late bloomer, Curlin may not have won the Kentucky Derby (finishing third behind Street Sense and Hard Spun), but he more than made up for that over the next two years, twice winning the 10-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup, as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. The best (thus far) of his first crop, Palace Malice endured a brutal trip in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, finishing mid-pack, but came back with a strong runner-up performance behind Java’s War in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes. His damside is resplendent with stamina, beginning with his damsire Royal Anthem, a multiple Grade 1 turf winner including the 12-furlong Canadian International and the 11-furlong Gulfstream Park Breeders’ Cup. At stud, Royal Anthem’s best progeny has been multiple graded stakes winner Presious Passion, twice winner of the 11-furlong Grade 1 United Nations Handicap (as well as twice winner of the 12-furlong Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap) and runner-up to Conduit in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Still, in terms of performance, there are some questions about this family. The stakes-winning dam of Palace Malice, Palace Rumor thrived as a turf miler, and her stakes-winning half siblings were all sprinters, perhaps not surprising as they were the product of sprinting sires Stormy Atlantic and Jump Start. Yet among this family’s members (interestingly, by Jump Start) is 10-furlong Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup victor Rail Trip, a gelding whose truly best efforts came at 8 to 9 furlongs. Palace Malice’s half sister Lady June Bug is a claiming-level sprinter, so it remains to be seen if his sire Curlin has infused him with enough stamina to negate some of his dam’s limitations.
(Midnight Lute, out of Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations)
Two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Midnight Lute isn’t a likely stamina influence, but his trainer Bob Baffert has publically expressed on numerous occasions his belief that, given better health, his charge could have gotten the Derby distance. As a son of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quietâ€”who heartbrokenly lost the Triple Crown by a noseâ€”Midnight Lute could very well pass on stamina to his progeny given the right conditions. The problem with Mylute, however, is the multitude of sprinters in his damline, beginning with his damsire Valid Expectations. Stage Stop, the dam of Mylute, and her full sister Valid Move were sprint stakes winners, but their promising 1 1/16-miles stakes-winning dam Winning Move was a daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold. Given all the contradictory evidence regarding his stamina pedigree, it’s probably best to trust more traditional handicapping techniques. His last-out effort in the Louisiana Derby, closing strongly to finish a neck behind Revolutionary, bodes well, as does the Kentucky Derby being his third start off a layoff. Being reunited with jockey Rosie Napravnik who rode him to a nearly 11-length victory to conclude his juvenile campaign is another positive indicator.
(Scat Daddy, out of Skipper’s Mate, by Skip Away)
A multiple Grade 1 winner, Scat Daddy was retired after his 18th place finish in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, so he was only proven at 9 furlongs. It’s his damside that gives hope that Frac Daddy can traverse 1 1/4 miles. While he may have failed in the Kentucky Derby, his damsire Skip Away came back to finish second in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes before proceeding to establish himself as one of the 1990’s top handicap horses, twice winning the 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Grade 1-placed Power Play, the second dam of Frac Daddy, won the 10-furlong Grade 3 Delaware Handicap, but her daughter (Frac Daddy’s dam) was strictly a sprinter. Although another damline family member is 9-furlong Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby runner-up Gala Spinaway, Frac Daddy’s pedigree offers ambiguous conclusions. The most positive thing going for him is the fact that he is the only Derby entrant who boasts a previous two-turn win over the Churchill dirt surface.
Questionable Derby Stamina Pedigrees
In possession of questionable stamina, these entrants could find the Derby distance well beyond their capabilities.
(Into Mischief, out of Golden Works, by Banker’s Gold)
Due to injury, Into Mischief never raced beyond 1 1/16 miles, but, given that his sire Harlan’s Holiday was multiple-Grade 1-placed at 10 furlongs, Into Mischief was certainly bred for stamina; his half sister Beholder, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and Eclipse champion and one of the favorites for this year’s Kentucky Oaks, may definitively prove that fact. The damsire of Goldencents, Banker’s Gold captured the 9-furlong Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes but excelled more as a miler. Given that his sprinter dam Golden Works and his minor stakes-winning second dam Body Works neither exhibited stamina themselves nor passed it along to their progeny, there are certainly questions as to whether Goldencents can stretch out to the Derby distance, regardless of his gutsy victory in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.
(Into Mischief, out of Life Happened, by Stravinsky)
Like Goldencents, Vyjack is a son of the brilliant yet lightly raced Into Mischief, a sire who appears to have passed on his juvenile precociousness. The question is, though, can his progeny stretch out? Like Goldencents, there are serious questions about Vyjack’s damline. His damsire Stravinsky was an English Group 1 sprinter, while his second damsire Apalachee was an English Group 1 miler. His unraced dam is a half sister to Maryland champion sprinter Disco Rico, while his third dam was the Maryland-bred sprint mare Capp It Off. An anomalous stayer in his immediate family is 10-furlong Grade 2 Ladies Handicap winner Miss Slewpy, but his half siblings are all sprint-milers, even Prime Cut who finished a distant third in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Peter Panâ€”his only route victories have come at 1 1/16 miles, exactly like Vyjack.
Black Onyx – SCRATCHED
(Rock Hard Ten, out of Kalahari Cat, by Cape Town)
It’s hard to argue stamina limitations when your sire Rock Hard Ten won the 10-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and your damsire Cape Town won the 9-furlong Grade 1 Florida Derby. Yet there are a lot of sprinters in his damline, beginning with his dam Kalahari Cat who broke her maiden as a 4-year-old going 6 furlongs (her two other victories occurred at 1 mile on turf); his second dam was a full sister to Breeders’ Cup Sprint victress Desert Stormer. Still, when crossed with stamina, the mares of this family have produced a few strong distance runners, such as 11-furlong Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap winner Casino Host (Dynaformer), but many more have been limited to less than 9-furlong success, like Grade 1 turf miler Better Lucky (Ghostzapper). All three half siblings of Black Onyxâ€”Conspicuous (Ghostzapper), Quality Council (Elusive Quality) and Francois (Smarty Jones)â€”have found their limitations at between 8 furlongs and 1 1/16 miles.
(Lion Heart, out of Sea Dragoness, by Sea Hero)
While it’s hard to seriously consider a front-runner who lost the lead and finished weakly in his first effort going 9 furlongs (in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby), Falling Sky does boast a solid (but not spectacular) stamina bloodline. His Haskell-winning sire Lion Heart finished second to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby but never won beyond 9 furlongs. His Kentucky Derby-winning damsire Sea Hero also captured the 10-furlong Travers and ran second on turf in the 11-furlong Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap. That said, there’s much concern about this colt getting the Derby distance. His dam Sea Dragoness was a somewhat precocious juvenile who once (unsuccessfully) challenged the incomparable sprinter Xtra Heat; as a broodmare, she’s also produced nothing but sprinters even when bred to stamina-rich studs like Lemon Drop Kid and Point Given. The same is true for much of this family, so it’s not hard to take a stand against Falling Sky’s chances.
(Dixie Union, out of Unacloud, by Unaccounted For)
A Grade 1 sprinter, Dixie Union did stretch out to win the 9-furlong Grade 1 Haskellâ€”and he’s already produced a 12-furlong Belmont Stakes winner in Union Rags. So why question Overanalyze’s stamina? He’s twice won at 1 1/8 miles, including the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby most recently, but, despite having 9-furlong Obeah Handicap winner Peak Maria’s Way in his family, Overanalyze doesn’t appear suited for the Derby distance. His half sister Meadow Breeze won the 7-furlong Grade 1 Matron and stuck with sprint distances throughout her career. Another half brother, Mighty Monsoon, finished third in the 6 1/2 furlong Grade 2 Best Pal before beginning his tumble through the claiming ranks, also as a sprinter. His full sister Under Wraps was a maiden claiming winner at 6 furlongs.
(Lawyer Ron, out of Viva La Slew, by Doneraile Court)
A multiple Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles, Lawyer Ron gave Curlin all he could handle in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, finishing a neck behind the eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year. That said, Lawyer Ron was himself a flop in the Kentucky Derby, racing mid-pack but tiring to finish 12th, so his stamina credentials are mediocre at best. The damsire of Itsmyluckyday, Grade 2 miler Doneraile Court, also hasn’t produced stamina-rich progeny. Viva La Slew was an allowance winner at 1 mile, as is Summer Sunset, a gelding by Lawyer Ron who is a half brother to Viva La Slew. The third dam of Itsmyluckyday, Viva Sec was Grade 3-placed at 8 furlongs; among her many descendents is French Group 1 miler Astronomer Royal and the 12-furlong Grade 2 Pan American Handicap victor Navesink River. Clearly outfinished by Orb in the 9-furlong Florida Derby, Itsmyluckyday is unlikely to successfully traverse 10 furlongs.
Normandy Invasion – 4th Place
(Tapit, out of Boston Lady, by Boston Harbor)
Since breaking his maiden, Normandy Invasion has done little wrong, including two game runner-up efforts in 9-furlong races, the Grade 2 Remsen (behind Overanalyze) and Grade 1 Wood Memorial (behind Verrazano). His sire Tapit has produced a bevy of speedy (although a tad fragile) graded stakes winners, but none that thrived beyond 9 furlongs. His damsire Boston Harbor offers even less stamina, and there are few performers in his dam’s family that excelled beyond a mile. His dam’s half sister produced Derrianne, winner of the 1 1/16 miles Grade 3 Martha Washington Breeders’ Cup over Pimlico’s turf course, and 9-furlong turf allowance winner Present Danger. Much more distant relatives include 10-furlong Grade 2 Vineland Handicap winner Gulls Cry, dam of two-time 12-furlong Group 2 Blandford Stakes victor Nemain. Still, how can one ignore the fact that the second damsire of Normandy Invasion, Raise a Native, produced not only a Kentucky Derby winner (Majestic Prince), but a Exclusive Native, who gave us two more, Triple Crown winners Affirmed and Genuine Risk?
Golden Soul – 2nd Place
(Perfect Soul, out of Hollywood Gold, by Mr. Prospector)
A mere maiden winner who finished 11 lengths behind Oxbow in the Grade 3 Lecomte and failed to hit the board in both the Grade 2 Risen Star and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, Golden Soul made the Derby field only due to the defections of othersâ€”a fact that hardly inspires confidence. His breeding raises other questions. Although his sire Perfect Soul was Grade 2-placed at 12 furlongs, he thrived as a turf miler. A half brother to Golden Soul, Quintons Gold Rush won the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Lexington Stakes to qualify for the 2004 Kentucky Derby, but after a strong start was eased out of the race, finishing dead last. Another half brother, I Testify broke his juvenile maiden going 1 1/16 miles on dirt before kicking around allowance and then claiming company before being retired in 2011â€”after making 126 starts over 9 years! It’s the second dam of Golden Soul that most impresses: after capturing the French Group 1 Prix de Diane, Lady in Silver ran a game second in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Arlington Million against males. Still, she didn’t produce much as a broodmare. Golden Soul’s damsire Mr. Prospector has an exemplary reputation as a broodmare sire, including Mineshaft and Rock Hard Ten, but both of those horses had strong stamina influences via their sires, A.P. Indy and Kris S, respectively.
(Frost Giant, out of Apocalyptic, by Hickman Creek)
To say this underachiever’s late entry into the Derby is surprising would be an understatement. Talk about aiming for fencesâ€¦he’s never competed against the best of this crop, but he has earned points on the road to the Kentucky Derby via a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes on March 23, his last race. Let’s just talk pedigree, though. His sire Frost Giant does have two 10-furlong victories to his nameâ€”the Irish Group 3 Kilternan Stakes on turf and the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap on dirt (the last year the Suburban was so graded). Not to dismiss him too lightly, but the Suburban that year was one of the absolute weakest in recent memories. The damsire of Giant Finish, Hickman Creek was Grade 2-placed at 1 1/16 miles, while his second damsire stakes winner Silent Screen never won beyond 1 mile. Among his family members are Grade 1-placed sprinter Crafty C T; Grade 2 Lexington Stakes runner-up Starbase; and 9-furlong Grade 1 Wood Memorial runner-up Screen King. His third damsire is the great Nashua, a rarity to find so close up in a bloodline today.