Going the Derby Distance 2017
Level: Intermediate
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

More so this year than in any year of recent memory (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), the 10-furlong (1 1/4 miles) Kentucky Derby field presents huge challenges for the handicapper, particularly with regard to stamina. While sires (Pioneerof the Nile, Malibu Moon) of previous Derby winners (American Pharaoh, Orb) are again represented (Classic Empire, Gormley), a seemingly record number of first-crop sires find their progeny being tested at the classic distance for the first time, including Bodemeister (Always Dreaming), Dialed In (Gunnevera), Hansen (Fast and Accurate), Helmet (Thunder Snow), To Honor and Serve (State of Honor), and Union Rags (Patch). It will take a wily bettor to look beyond the apparent factors like current form to find possible longshot plays.

Obviously, 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 two recent 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.

With that in mind, let’s break down this year’s contenders into four categories, all listed in alphabetical order:

Best Stamina Pedigrees

Hands down, based solely on pedigree, these five contenders appear best qualified to get the Derby distance.

Classic EmpireFOURTH
(Pioneerof the Nile, out of Sambuca Classica, by Cat Thief)
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire disappointed in his 3-year-old debut, a distant third (nearly 9 lengths back) in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Holy Bull. After a break of more than two months, he returned victorious in the 9-furlong, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, so the evidence suggests that he may be back in form. Whether he can get the 10-furlong distance is the burning question. It certainly appears that he loves the Churchill Downs track, having posted wins in both of his one-turn races there: an early-season juvenile maiden win over a sloppy track and the 6-furlong Grade 3 Bashford Manor in early July. Runner-up behind Mine That Bird in the 10-furlong Kentucky Derby, Pioneerof the Nile has already sired a Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. The damsire of Classic Empire is 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic victor Cat Thief, while his second damsire is French Group 1 winning sprinter Miswaki, sire of 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Black Tie Affair and 12-furlong Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victress Urban Sea. Classic Empire’s third damsire is the fiery Hoist the Flag, sire of two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged, and his fourth damsire is 16-furlong (2 miles) Jockey Club Gold Cup victor Princequillo. While Classic Empire’s dam Sambuca Classica was winless in eight starts, her dam In Her Glory was twice Grade 1-placed, including a third-place finish in the 9-furlong Gazelle; she also won an Aqueduct allowance race going 9 furlongs, and finished fourth (5 lengths back of the winner) in the 10-furlong Grade 2 Ladies Handicap. Classic Empire’s third dam Forever Waving was a half-sister to champion 3-year-old Revidere, winner of the 12-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.

Gormley
(Malibu Moon, out of Race to Urga, by Bernstein)
Last-out winner of the 9-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, Gormley has already demonstrated an affinity for wet tracks with his dead-game victory in the sloppy (sealed) Grade 3 Sham. Even if the track is dry on Saturday, Gormley’s breeding suggests that he should be a standout performer. Although Malibu Moon’s racing career ended after just two starts, the son of 12-furlong Belmont winner A.P. Indy has proven successful as a stamina sire with progeny such as 10-furlong Kentucky Derby winner Orb, 10-furlong Grade 2 Delaware Handicap victress Life At Ten, 10-furlong Grade 1 Personal Ensign winner Ask the Moon, and 12-furlong listed stakes winner Malibu Moonshine. All eight starts for Race to Urga, the dam of Gormley, were on turf, where she broke her maiden going 1 1/16 miles and ended her career winning the black-type Wait a While Stakes at the same route distance. Her dam Miss Mambo was Group 1-placed in France on turf, and her second dam Troika won four of eight starts, including a 9-furlong turf allowance race and a 10-furlong turf allowance race, both at Belmont. The fourth dam of Gormley, Estrapade won the 1986 Eclipse Award for Champion Grass Mare after defeating males in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Arlington Million and 12-furlong Grade 1 Oak Tree Invitational. Twelve times in her 30-race career she either won or placed in Grade/Group 1 races at distances from 9 to 14 furlongs. It’s not surprising that turf plays a prominent role in Gormley’s damline, given that his damsire (Bernstein), second damsire (Kingmambo), third damsire (Strawberry Road), and fourth damsire (Vaguely Noble) all excelled on turf, particularly Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up Strawberry Road who captured Group/Grade 1 events in Australia, Germany and France between 12 and 13 furlongs, and 12-furlong Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victor Vaguely Noble. That said, one must remember that, as sires, each has also produced outstanding dirt performers, such as Bernstein’s daughter Dream Empress, winner of the Grade 1 Alcibiades and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Crossed with a Seattle Slew mare, Kingmambo produced 12-furlong Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, and with a Kris S mare, 10-furlong Pacific Classic victor Student Council. Also crossed with a Seattle Slew mare, Strawberry Road’s given us Kentucky Oaks runner-up Escena, who was also runner-up in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Alabama. Bred to an Alydar mare, Strawberry Road has also produced 9-furlong Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner and 10-furlong Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks victress Ajina. As for Vaguely Noble, his son Exceller defeated two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, in winning the 12-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1978.

Hence
(Street Boss, out of Floating Island, by A.P. Indy)
Although Street Boss was strictly a Grade 1 sprinter, he has sired a 9-furlong Kentucky Oaks winner (Cathryn Sophia) and a 10-furlong Kentucky Derby third-place finisher (Danza) when bred to mares with a strong stamina sire. With his damsire being the indisputable stamina-rich A.P. Indy, Hence shouldn’t be taken lightly. Although his dam Floating Island never broke her maiden in six starts, she did finish second twice, including once going 1 3/16 miles on dirt. Among his dam’s half-siblings is multiple graded stakes winner Pico Teneriffe, who was Grade 1-placed going 10 furlongs on turf. Bred to A.P. Indy, Pico Teneriffe produced two-time Sovereign Award winner Marchfield, who not only won the 10-furlong Grade 3 Dominion Day and the 11-furlong Grade 2 Sky Classic, but who also captured the 12-furlong Canadian-restricted Breeders’ Stakes. A half-brother of Floating Island, Salmon Ladder was a 12-furlong Group 3 winner in England before finding modest success in hurdle races, where he was twice a runner-up in races contested at 20 furlongs (2 1/2 miles). Other notable family members for Hence include 9-furlong Grade 1 Californian victor Latin American, 10-furlong French Group 2-placed Eightsome, 12-furlong French Group 3 winner Berceau, and 12-furlong French Group 1 runner-up Candarliya (who was also a 14-furlong Group 2 winner and a 15-furlong Group 2 runner-up).

Irap
(Tiznow, out of Silken Cat, by Storm Cat)
It may have taken Irap eight tries to break his maiden, winning the 9-furlong Grade 2 Blue Grass, but this is a colt that looks to have the perfect mix of speed and stamina in his pedigree to present a serious threat. A four-time Grade 1 winner at 10 furlongs (including consecutive editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic), Tiznow has already proven himself to be a quality stamina sire. Among his progeny: 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers winner Colonel John, 10-furlong Group 1 Dubai World Cup victor Well Armed, and 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont winner Da’ Tara. What is particularly interesting about Irap is the balance of speed and stamina in his damside, beginning with his Breeders’ Cup Sprint-winning half-brother Speightstown. As a sire, Speightstown has produced a number of speedy Grade 1 sprinters and milers, including Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Tamarkuz, 7-furlong Ballerina victress Dance to Bristol, and 6-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen victor Reynaldothewizard. On the other hand, he’s also sired a number of 10-furlong Grade 1 winners on both dirt and turf, such as Travers winner Golden Ticket, Jockey Club Gold Cup victor Haynesfield, Hollywood Derby winner Seek Again, and grassy Belmont Derby winner Force the Pass. Irap’s lightly-raced dam Silken Cat won Canada’s Sovereign Award as champion 2-year-old filly after her impressive victory in the 1 1/16-miles listed Mazarine. Among her siblings: her English Group 1-placed half-brother Juyush who twice posted flat turf victories at the 12-furlong distance and was a listed stakes runner-up at 15 furlongs before being converting into a hurdler, winning five races at distances between 16 furlongs (2 miles) and 20 furlongs (2 1/2 miles). Silken Cat’s half-sister Chief Appeal is the dam of 11-furlong Grade 3 The Very One runner-up Turkappeal, and the second dam of 10-furlong Grade 1 Secretariat runner-up Closing Bell and speedy 7-furlong Spinaway victress Mani Bhavan.

Thunder Snow
(Helmet, out of Eastern Joy, by Dubai Destination)
As winner of the 9 1/2-furlong (1 3/16 miles) Group 2 UAE Derby, Irish-bred Thunder Snow has successfully run farther than any other Derby contender thus far. That makes him a dangerous challenger if he can adapt to the American style of racing. As a juvenile he raced solely on turf and at sprint distances in England and France; this spring, both of his winning efforts came over Meydan’s dirt surface. The mixture of stamina and speed in his pedigree makes him Godolphin’s truest threat to finally win the most coveted American classic. His sire, the precocious Australian-bred Helmet, was a three-time juvenile Group 1 sprinter-miler; Thunder Snow leads his first Northern Hemisphere crop of foals. Thunder Snow’s damsire Dubai Destination was also primarily a sprint-miler, capturing the 8-furlong Group 1 Queen Anne at age 4. However, he did finish second, beaten by only 2 lengths, when tried over 11 furlongs in a listed race. Thunder Snow’s second damsire is the prodigious sire of sires Nureyev, while his third damsire is Triple Crown winner Affirmed, and his fourth damsire is the profoundly significant broodmare sire Prince John. That sounds like a deeply traditional North American pedigree once you get past his sire and dam. What’s perhaps more impressive about Thunder Snow’s damline from a stamina perspective are its female members and their progeny. In her brief racing career, Thunder Snow’s dam Eastern Joy once finished fourth, beaten only by 1 1/2 lengths, going 10 1/2 furlongs in France, while his Group 1-placed half-sister Ihtimal captured the Grade 3 UAE Oaks going 9 1/2 furlongs. His other two half-sisters are Group 1 runner-up Always Smile and Group 3 winner First Victory. Thunder Snow’s second dam, 10-furlong Group 2 winner Red Slippers, also produced some talented half-siblings to Eastern Joy including 10 1/2-furlong Group 1 Prix de Diane winner West Wind (also a 12-furlong Group 1 runner-up), 12-furlong listed victor Redbridge, and handicap horse Gran Maestro whose flat turf wins have all come at distances between 10 and 10 1/2 furlongs. Gran Maestro is a four-time runner-up at 12 furlongs, and among his third-place finishes on the flat is a 2-mile handicap where he finished a mere 1 1/4 length back of the winner. Other immediate family members include two-time 12-furlong Group 1 winner (English Oaks and Irish Derby) Balanchine and 12-furlong Group 1 English Jockey Club winner Romanov.

Above Average Stamina Pedigrees

There is a lot to like about these contenders in terms of stamina.

Always DreamingWINNER
(Bodemeister, out of Above Perfection, by In Excess)
Unbeaten in three starts this year, Always Dreaming is the only Derby entrant to have contested and won two 9-furlong races, the most recent being the Grade 1 Florida Derby. With his combination of speed and stamina, this colt could become trainer Todd Pletcher’s second Kentucky Derby winner. The speed influence is present both on his damside and in his sireline, beginning with his first-crop sire, wire-to-wire Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister. In his brief six-race career, the son of highly-regarded stamina sire (and 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont winner) Empire Maker established himself as speed demon who liked to race on the lead. He just failed to hold off I’ll Have Another in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the latter being the final race of his career. While the stamina questions about Bodemeister have yet to be answered, Always Dreaming’s damside shows great stamina promise. His damsire In Excess captured the 10-furlong Grade 1 Suburban, while his second damsire Somethingfabulous (a half-brother to Triple Crown winner Secretariat) ran third in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Flamingo. Always Dreaming’s third damsire is rarely seen in pedigrees today: 10-furlong Santa Anita Handicap winner Terrang, a multiple stakes winner from the 1950s who won or placed in 36 of his 66 starts. Above Perfection, the dam of Always Dreaming, was Grade 1 runner-up (to Hall of Fame mare Xtra Heat) in the 6-furlong Prioress. She has also produced a half-sister to Always Dreaming, the speedy 7-furlong Grade 1 Spinaway winner Hot Dixie Chick.

Irish War Cry
(Curlin, out of Irish Sovereign, by Polish Numbers)
A New Jersey homebred, 9-furlong Grade 2 Wood Memorial victor Irish War Cry is the product of three generations of breeding by Isabelle de Tomaso, daughter of Monmouth Park’s founder Amory L. Haskell. He’s also her most successful American runner. Previously undefeated and off a wire-to-wire romp in the Grade 2 Holy Bull, Irish War Cry tired badly in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, finishing 20 lengths back of the winner Gunnevera. However, he redeemed himself with a dominating victory in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Wood Memorial, although none of his competitors from that race made the Derby field. Can Irish War Cry, having posted some of the top BRIS speed figures of all the Kentucky Derby entrants, step up in class and successfully traverse the 10-furlong distance? It all may rest on the shoulders of his sire. A narrow runner-up to the filly Rags to Riches in the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes, Curlin went on to capture four 10-furlong Grade/Group 1 races, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup (twice), the Dubai World Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He’s already produced a Kentucky Derby runner-up (Exaggerator), a 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers victor (Keen Ice), and a Belmont Stakes winner (Palace Malice). It’s evident when looking at his damside that Irish War Cry is the product of thoughtful breeding, with his damsire Polish Numbers and his second damsire Beau Genius more notable for infusing profound soundness rather than flashiness in their progeny. Further back on his damside, his third damsire Saint Crespin won the 12-furlong Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, while his fourth damsire Tambourine captured the 12-furlong Irish Derby. This is a sneaky-good stamina pedigree.

McCraken
(Ghostzapper, out of Ivory Princess, by Seeking the Gold)
Winner of the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic, Ghostzapper is a proven stamina sire, counting among his progeny 10-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap victor Shaman Ghost (who has also won the 12-furlong Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap), Grade 1 winner Moreno (who was twice a 10-furlongs Grade 1 runner-up), and 10-furlong Grade 2 New York Stakes winner Mystical Star. In addition to winning the 10-furlong Grade 1 Super Derby, McCraken’s damsire Seeking the Gold was twice a Grade 1 runner-up at 10 furlongs (Breeders’ Cup Classic, Travers). His second damsire is Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Wild Again, while his third damsire Nodouble not only won multiple 10-furlong stakes, but also finished second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup when it was contested at 2 miles. What you often want to see in a pedigree is a balance of stamina with sprinting speed. That’s why it’s a good sign that, in her 20-race career, his dam Ivory Empress was purely a sprinter, including a 6-furlong Grade 2 Endine runner-up finish at age 4. As a broodmare, she has produced one other foal, Bondurant, a War Front half-brother to McCraken who has been twice a Grade 3 runner-up on turf. McCraken’s second dam Madame Pandit was also a sprinter, finishing second in the 7-furlong Grade 1 Santa Monica. Yet her offspring include a half-sister to Ivory Empress, 9-furlong Grade 1 Gamely victress Mea Domina. Also among McCraken’s damline family members is 10-furlong Grade 1 Secretariat runner-up Greek Sun, so the Derby distance potential is there.

Patch
(Union Rags, out of Windyindy, by A.P. Indy)
Thus far, the first crop of 12-furlong Belmont winner Union Rags has been dominated by fillies: Grade 1 Alcibiades winner Dancing Rags, Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks victress Paradise Woods, Grade 2 Forward Gal winner Tequilita, and Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante victress Union Strike. The lightly-raced Patch emerged out of a maiden win at Gulfstream to finish a gutsy second to Girvin in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, giving Union Rags a Kentucky Derby competitor in his first crop of 3-year-olds. In Patch’s damline, plenty of evidence exists for the stamina necessary to be competitive in the 10-furlong Kentucky Derby. A half-sister, Grade 2 Indiana Oaks winner Tiz Windy, was twice graded stakes-placed going 9 furlongs. Another half-sister Makin Sense captured a 9-furlong turf allowance race at Keeneland. Although all three of his dam Windyindy’s victories came at the 8-furlong distance, Windyindy’s full brother Indy Storm finished fourth behind Afleet Alex in the 12-furlong Belmont. Patch’s second dam, Unbridled Wind, once won an off-turf Saratoga allowance race going 9 furlongs. His third dam Banshee Winds, runner-up to subsequent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Eliza in the Grade 2 Arlington-Washington Lassie, proved to be prolific in the breeding shed. Her most notable offspring: a full sister to Unbridled Wind, five-time Grade 1 winner Banshee Breeze whose victories included the 10-furlong Alabama and the 12-furlong Coaching Club American Oaks. Another half-sister to Unbridled Wind, Indy’s Windy is the dam of 8-furlong Grade 3 Sham runner-up American Anthem.

Tapwrit
(Tapit, out of Appealing Zophie, by Successful Appeal)
He may have thrown a clunker in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Blue Grass last out, but don’t toss out Tapwrit. With two 12-furlong Belmont winners (Tonalist and Creator) and a runner-up (Frosted), Tapit’s stamina influence is unquestionable. Perhaps what’s most appealing about Tapwrit is the combination of sireline stamina and a speedy precocious dam, Grade 1 Spinaway victress Appealing Zophie. In mid-April of her juvenile campaign, she won by 10 1/2 lengths in wire-to-wire fashion at Keeneland. Later that year, she finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies behind a truly all-star trio of Grade 1 winners: Dreaming of Anna, Octave, and Cotton Blossom. While she did win the 1 1/16-miles Grade 3 Silverbulletday to open her 3-year-old campaign, Appealing Zophie never found the winner’s circle again and was retired. Among Tapwrit’s family members are 9-furlong Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Croeso, four-time Grade 3 winner (and prominent Louisiana sire) Ide, 10-furlong Grade 3 Pan American winner Buddy’s Humor, and 12-furlong Grade 2 Sunset Handicap runner-up Super May. While Tapwrit’s damsire Successful Appeal was most notably a sprint-miler, he has produced Kentucky Derby runner-up Closing Argument. Tapwrit’s second damsire is 12-furlong Grade 1 Oak Tree Invitational winner Hawkster, while his third damsire is Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

Positive Indicators, But Also Some Questions

The stamina may be there, but each of these contenders either lacks dirt experience or possesses other major question marks coming into the Derby.

Battle of MidwaySHOW (3rd)
(Smart Strike, out of Rigoletta, by Concerto)
Whether sprinting or staying, on dirt or on turf, Smart Strike delivers as a sire. He has already given us four-time 10-furlong Grade 1 winner Curlin, not to mention 12-furlong Breeders’ Cup Turf victor English Channel and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky. Off a gutsy runner-up performance behind Gormley in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, Battle of Midway seeks to become Smart Strike’s first Kentucky Derby winner. His dam Rigoletta won the 1 1/16-miles Grade 1 Oak Leaf as a juvenile but retired following an injury early in her 3-year-old campaign, leaving questions unanswered as to her stamina. While a number of his immediate family members excelled as sprinters (most notably Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Musical Romance), those adept at routing are also present in Battle of Midway’s family, such as 9-furlong Grade 2 Fountain of Youth runner-up Gourmet Dinner and 1 3/16-miles, Grade 3 Queens County winner Nome. His damsire Concerto finished out of the money in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but later ran second behind Awesome Again in the 10-furlong Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders’ Cup and then ended his career with a victory in the 10-furlong listed Congressional Handicap at Laurel. His second damsire Montbrook is notable for producing sprinters (like Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Big Drama), but his third damsire Who’s for Dinner was an 11-furlong Grade 2 winner and twice Grade 1-placed.

J Boys Echo
(Mineshaft, out of Letgomyecho, by Menifee)
His recent poor fourth-place performance in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Blue Grass may dissuade horseplayers from wagering on J Boys Echo, but plenty of positive pedigree indicators make him worth a second look. Twice a 10-furlong Grade 1 winner (Jockey Club Gold Cup, Suburban), Mineshaft has already proven himself a stamina sire of quality, with progeny including three-time 10-furlong Grade 2 winner Effinex, 10-furlong Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro, and 12-furlong Belmont runner-up Fly Down. J Boys Echo’s damsire Menifee was twice a Grade 1 runner-up at 1 1/4 miles (10 furlongs), including in the Kentucky Derby, while his third damsire Sir Ivor counts the 12-furlong Epsom (English) Derby among his top staying performances. The dam of J Boys Echo, 7-furlong Grade 2 Forward Gal victress Letgomyecho, has also produced Grade 3-placed Unbridled Outlaw, who races mostly at sprint distances or one mile. Another immediate family member is 9-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby runner-up One Lucky Dane, but overall there aren’t actually many distance runners in his damside, thus the lingering question mark.

Lookin At LeePLACE (2nd)
(Lookin At Lucky, out of Langara Lass, by Langfuhr)
With a bad habit of thrice finishing behind Classic Empire (including most recently in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby), Lookin At Lee has won only two of nine starts, and his last victory was seven races back. Perhaps his biggest challenge is his current form, not his potential stamina. A five-time Grade 1 winner, Preakness victor Lookin At Lucky fell short both times he raced 10 furlongs; he finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The good news is that he has produced 10-furlong Grade 3 Excelsior runner-up Madefromlucky, 10-furlong Grade 3 Dominion Day runner-up Breaking Lucky, and 12-furlong Grade 1 Sword Dancer runner-up Money Multiplier. On his damside, Lookin At Lee also possesses some interesting stamina potential. While his damsire Langfuhr was purely a sprint-miler, he’s produced 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup runner-up Lawyer Ron, 10-furlong Queen’s Plate victor Mobil, two-time Grade 1 winner Jambalaya (who was victorious in stakes company running between 10 and 12 furlongs) and Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando. Lookin At Lee’s second damsire is 9-furlong Grade 1 Arkansas Derby victor Demons Begone, while both his third damsire (Conquistador Cielo) and his fourth damsire (Damascus) were 12-furlong Belmont winners. The female members of Lookin At Lee’s family have also demonstrated staying abilities. His dam Langara Lass was Grade 3-placed going 9 furlongs on dirt, while her full sister Madeira Park was a 9-furlong Grade 3 winner. A half-sister to Lookin At Lee, Grade 1 Alcibiades third-place finisher Battlefield Angel (Proud Citizen) found most of her success at the one-mile distance, but still there’s plenty to like about this deep closer.

Questionable Derby Stamina Pedigrees

In possession of questionable stamina, these entrants could find the Derby distance beyond their capabilities.

Fast and Accurate
(Hansen, out of It’s Heidi’s Dance, by Green Dancer)
A son of Tapit, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Hansen never quite lived up to his potential as a 3-year-old; after a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, he tired to finish ninth in the 10-furlong Kentucky Derby. Fast and Accurate is out of Hansen’s first crop, leaving plenty of stamina questions yet to be answered. While Fast and Accurate was a last-out winner of the 9-furlong Grade 3 Spiral over Turfway’s all-weather surface, a major concern is his abysmal previous performance on dirt, the worst of his young career. Three of his winless dam’s four starts were on turf (going one mile), and all three times she finished third, with her sole dirt effort also being her only out-of-the-money finish. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering the strong turf sires in his damline, including his damsire Green Dancer, a French Group 1 winner at 10 1/2 furlongs; his second damsire Halo, who captured the 9 1/2-furlong Grade 1 United Nations on turf; his third damsire Dance in Time, victor in the 12-furlong Breeders’ Stakes over Woodbine’s turf; and his fourth damsire Saint Crespin, winner of the 12-furlong Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Admittedly, in terms of stamina, all four of those sires present a positive stamina profile, but Fast and Accurate’s immediate family members haven’t demonstrated an ability to win beyond 1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs). His dam is a half-sister to 9-furlong Grade 2 Super Derby winner My Pal Charlie, 9-furlong Grade 3 West Virginia Derby runner-up Bwana Bull, and 6-furlong Grade 2 Amsterdam victor Bwana Charlie. Other immediate family members include 7-furlong Grade 2 Woody Stephens runner-up Cinco Charlie, and Fast and Accurate’s Grade 1-placed third dam White Mischief, who won the 9-furlong Grade 3 Hillsborough.

Girvin
(Tale of Ekati, out of Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)
Although he has won three of his four starts including the 9-furlong Grade 2 Louisiana Derby most recently, Girvin has never raced outside of Louisiana. Of greater concern is his pedigree. His sire Tale of Ekati never won beyond 9 furlongs, so there’s a lot resting on the strength of his damside in terms of providing stamina. Unfortunately, it does appear lacking. His half-brother Cocked and Loaded (by 10-furlong Travers winner Colonel John) won the 1 1/16-miles Grade 3 Iroquois as a juvenile, but most of his races have been sprints. Deep in Girvin’s damline descendents are Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile victor Silver Max, who also won the 10-furlong Grade 2 Virginia Derby on turf, and Grade 1-placed Kiss a Native, who was a four-time Grade 2 or Grade 3 winner at 9 furlongs. More typical close-up, however, are family members like 6-furlong Grade 1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash victor Yes It’s True, who, due to close cross-breeding, is also Girvin’s second damsire.

Gunnevera
(Dialed In, out of Unbridled Rage, by Unbridled)
A speedy winner of the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, Gunnevera disappointed with his distant third-place finish (as the even-money favorite) in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Florida Derby. Was he taken too far back in that race and unable to make up the distance, or is he simply unable to be competitive at longer distances? On the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby often harshly exposes and separates the contenders from the pretenders. When it comes to the necessary stamina pedigree, Gunnevera may fall in the latter category. Winner of the 9-furlong Grade 1 Florida Derby, Dialed In finished a disappointing eighth as the favorite in the 2011 Kentucky Derby; in the Preakness, he was fourth, closing well late, but still more than 4 lengths back of the winner. Gunnevera is from his first crop of foals, so Dialed In still has much to prove as a stamina sire. On his damside, a dearth of quality performers among his many half-siblings and other damline family members makes it difficult to assess Gunnevera’s ability to get the Derby’s 10-furlong distance. His damsire Unbridled won both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic during his 3-year-old campaign, and at stud he’s produced a host of Grade 1 stayers including Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, 10-furlong Travers victor Unshaded, 12-furlong Coaching Club American Oaks victress Banshee Breeze, and 12-furlong Belmont winner Empire Maker. Gunnevera’s second damsire is 9-furlong Blue Grass runner-up Graustark, whose progeny included 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic victor Proud Truth, 12-furlong Woodward winner Key to the Mint, and 12-furlong Belmont victor Avatar. Gunnevera’s third damsire is three-time 12-furlong Group 1 turf winner The Minstrel, so there’s plenty to like. Just not sure it’s enough.

Practical Joke
(Into Mischief, out of Halo Humor, by Distorted Humor)
A Grade 1 juvenile winner, Into Mischief was essentially a sprint-miler, and his best progeny, such as 2-time Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents, have excelled at those distances. In rather atypical fashion, some Into Mischief offspring have stretched out a bit more; Goldencents captured the 9-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and Vicar’s In Trouble the 9-furlong Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, but there’s nothing pedigree-wise to suggest that Into Mischief can pass on the stamina necessary to win at the classic distances, starting at 10 furlongs. Practical Joke also appears to have some endurance questions in his damline, although not with his damsire Distorted Humor, sire of 10-furlong Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, 10-furlong Travers victor Flower Alley, 11-furlong Grade 1 Man o’War winner Boisterous, and 12-furlong Belmont winner Drosselmeyer. His second damsire, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Gilded Time, has produced mainly sprint-milers, such as 6-furlong Grade 1 Ancient Title victor Gayego, while the best progeny of his third damsire Kentucky Derby winner Sunny’s Halo were 9-furlong Grade 1 Woodward victor Dispersal and 10-furlong Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Sunny Sunrise. Practical Joke’s dam Halo Humor was a stakes-placed sprinter; Practical Joke is by far her most successful foal, but there’s just not enough evidence of quality runners in his damline several generations back to support 10-furlong stamina in Practical Joke.

Sonneteer
(Midnight Lute, our of Ours, by Half Ours)
Still a maiden after 10 starts, Sonneteer was the runner-up behind Malagacy in the 1 1/16 miles Grade 2 Rebel, his best result thus far. Can he become the first maiden since Brokers Tip in 1933 to win the Kentucky Derby? Not without the necessary stamina. At first glance, it may not appear that two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint victor Midnight Lute has the potential to be a solid stamina-enriching sire. However, in addition to his Preakness third-place finisher Mylute, Midnight Lute has already produced a 10-furlong Queen’s Plate winner Midnight Aria. Unfortunately, that stamina potential isn’t reinforced in Sonneteer’s damline, beginning with his sprinter damsire Half Ours, whose progeny have also turned out to be (not surprisingly) sprinters. In addition to Sonneteer, his unraced dam has produced La Nina, a Laurel Park allowance winner sprinting on turf. Sonneteer’s second dam is 7-furlong Grade 1 Ballerina winner Classy Mirage; she once finished third in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Beldame, but there were only four fillies running that day and, weakening as she entered the stretch, she finished 16 lengths back. As a broodmare, Classy Mirage produced a half-brother to Sonneteer’s dam, 7-furlong Grade 1 Hopeful winner Dublin. Classy Mirage’s half-sister Missy’s Mirage did win the 9-furlong Grade 1 Hempstead Handicap in wire-in-wire fashion, but overall this family leans heavily towards sprinting.

State of Honor
(To Honor and Serve, out of State Cup, by Elusive Quality)
The Canadian-bred State of Honor has only one victory in 10 starts, his maiden victory last October over Woodbine’s all-weather surface. Most recently he finished a respectable but distant second (5 lengths back) in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Florida Derby. Winner of the 9-furlong Grade 1 Woodward, his sire To Honor and Serve twice fell short when tested in the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic. Like several other first-crop sires with starters in this year’s Derby, a number of questions remain about just how much stamina he’ll passed on to his progeny. State of Honor’s damsire Elusive Quality has produced a Kentucky Derby winner (Smarty Jones) and a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner (Raven’s Pass), while his second damsire, 9-furlong Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Lord Avie, finished third in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers in his career finale. State of Honor’s second dam, Grade 1-placed Avie’s Fancy, won the 1 3/16-miles Grade 2 Matchmaker on turf. Among her progeny was a half-brother to State of Honor’s unraced dam, the Grade 1 runner-up St Averil, who was a Grade 2 winner at 1 1/16 miles. State of Honor’s third dam Fancy Pan was a multiple stakes winner and a stakes runner-up going 9 furlongs; her son Gulliver (a full brother to Avie’s Fancy) was Grade 3-placed at 9 furlongs. Up closer, State of Honor’s half-brother Thingvellir broke his maiden on dirt in Japan going 9 furlongs. It appears that the 10-furlong Derby distance will be just a little too much for State of Honor.

Untrapped
(Trappe Shot, out of Exit Three, by Giant’s Causeway)
Untrapped broke his juvenile maiden over the Churchill Downs track last November; he hasn’t won a race since, hitting the board in three but failing dramatically in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. His BRIS speed figures have also been in decline, so it’s difficult to imagine his being a serious threat. Even though he ran second to Lookin At Lucky in the 9-furlong Haskell, his sire Trappe Shot was much better sprinting, winning the 6-furlong Grade 2 True North and finishing second in the 6-furlong Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt. Last year, his first crop found only modest success, with My Man Sam running second in the 9-furlong Grade 1 Blue Grass and Fish Trappe Road winning the 8-furlong Grade 3 Dwyer. The good news for Untrapped on his damside is the stamina strength of his damsire Giant’s Causeway and his second damsire Horse Chestnut. A six-time Group 1 winner at distances up to 10 1/2 furlongs, Giant’s Causeway ended his career narrowly losing the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic to Tiznow. Winner of 10 of 11 starts, Horse Chestnut won the South African Triple Crown with a victory in the 12-furlong Group 1 South African Derby. Unfortunately, both Untrapped’s dam Exit Three and his second dam Castanea were unraced, and their progeny have demonstrated very little on the track. A full sister to Exit Three, Kulik Cat made only one lifetime start, but her Curlin son Kulik Lodge did win a Santa Anita turf allowance race going 1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs). Where it really gets interesting for Untrapped is his third dam is Yarn, whose full sister Grade 1 winner Preach is the dam of top sire Pulpit. This family also includes top sires Johannesburg and Tale of the Cat, as well as 6-furlong Grade 1 Vosburgh winner Joking and 9-furlong Grade 1 Awesome Again runner-up Fed Biz.

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One comment

  • Jackson Mahoney

    Surprised on the Gunnevera pedigree analysis. Everything I’ve heard is that he has a great pedigree for Classic distances… who knew?

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