Reading the pedigrees: how the Kentucky Derby contenders shape up
There’s no doubt that, from a breeding standpoint, the story of the road to the Kentucky Derby is that of the first crop of 3-year-olds sired by Uncle Mo. Quite remarkably, Uncle Mo has no less than eight first-crop sons who have won or placed in events that might fairly be described as classic preps.
While it goes without saying that Uncle Mo is imparting considerable class to his offspring, to what degree he will be an influence for the kind of aptitude necessary to take a 10-furlong classic is less certain.
Uncle Mo himself was absolutely brilliant in winning all three starts at two, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 8½ furlongs. Illness blighted his second season, but his talent was undiminished, as witnessed by a nose defeat off an extended layoff in the seven-furlong G1 King’s Bishop Stakes and a tremendously impressive victory over older horses at a mile in the G2 Kelso Handicap, an effort that earned a towering 118 Beyer.
Uncle Mo’s sire, Indian Charlie, brought an undefeated record to the Kentucky Derby but tired late to finish third to his stable-companion, Real Quiet, who he’d comprehensively defeated in the nine-furlong G1 Santa Anita Derby. That marked the end of Indian Charlie’s racing career, but he went on to be a very successful stallion, although he was primarily an influence for ability at distances around a mile.
Uncle Mo’s contenders
Uncle Mo’s dam, Playa Maya, was stakes-placed at 8½ furlongs on the turf, and is by Arch, who would generally be regarded as a stamina source. Overall though, we’d say that Uncle Mo’s ability at around a mile diminishes the likelihood that he was a true middle-distance horse.
That, of course, would not rule him out as a sire of horses that could run further if bred to mares with stamina. This leaves a question mark with regards to the likely Derby favorite, Uncle Mo’s undefeated Champion 2-Year-Old Nyquist, who completed his classic preparation with a dominating victory in the G1 Florida Derby.
It certainly doesn’t appear that stamina is the long suit of Nyquist’s family. His dam, Seeking Gabrielle, is a six-furlong winner by the sprinter/miler Forestry, who also sired a sprint stakes winner out of a sister to the dam of Seeking Gabrielle. The second dam, Seeking Regina, won the G2 Adirondack Stakes at two, and she is dam of Seeking the Sky (three-quarters sister to the dam of Nyquist), a graded stakes-winning sprinter, who herself produced G1-winning sprinter/miler Sahara Sky to stamina influence Pleasant Tap.
Of course “is Nyquist a 10-furlong horse?” and “can Nyquist win a Kentucky Derby?” are two different questions.
For 3-year-olds at this time of year there is often a trade-off between maturity – frequently the province of the faster horse – and stamina, and a really stretching miler type might well win a Kentucky Derby without being a true 10-furlong horse. And, while we’re pretty sure that Nyquist, who ran a 101 Beyer in the seven-furlong G2 San Vicente Stakes on his reappearance, but a 94 when winning the Florida Derby at nine furlongs, is not a 10-furlong horse, he may have enough in hand over his contemporaries at this point to prevail in the Run for the Roses.
Uncle Mo’s son Outwork is also a G1 winner, narrowly prevailing over the maiden Trojan Nation (by Street Cry) in the G1 Wood Memorial. This was Outwork’s third win in four starts, his sole defeat being behind his stable-companion Destin in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby.
Outwork is out of Nonna Mia, a three-quarters sister to a one-time Derby favorite, Cairo Prince – who missed the race through injury, and is a daughter of the Kentucky Derby second and Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker (an example of Uncle Mo’s affinity for Fappiano in particular and Tartan/Genter strains in general).
The second dam (by Holy Bull, another Tartan/Genter-influenced pedigree), was a sprint stakes winner, and Nonna Mia, who was G1-placed at two, proved to be a rare sprinting daughter of her sire. Although it’s to Outwork’s credit that he gutted out the victory after battling through near-suicidal early fractions over a muddy track, his final furlong of 14.02, which was preceded by a quarter in 26:59, does little to convince that Outwork will benefit from additional distance.
A third son of Uncle Mo likely to be in the line-up is Mo Tom, who won the G3 LeComte Stakes and finished well for third in the G3 Risen Star and fourth in the G2 Louisiana Derby, both times having rough trips. Mo Tom’s dam is by Champion Sprinter Rubiano (by Fappiano) and has produced mile stakes winner Bella Castani (by Big Brown) and Beautician, a Dehere daughter who was a sprint stakes winner who also took second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The second dam is by Uncle Mo’s male-line ancestor, Caro, but is half sister to a graded stakes-winning sprinter. His strong closing efforts notwithstanding, his pedigree leads to wonder if Mo Tom might be more of a closing miler type.
The Giant’s Causeway line
The biggest obstacle to Uncle Mo’s hopes of siring a first-crop Derby winner may come from his veteran stud companion, Giant’s Causeway (Storm Cat), who is long-established as one of the more reliable sources of stamina among the U.S. stallion ranks.
He has a pair of very well qualified hopefuls in Destin and Brody’s Cause.
Destin will come into the race off victories in the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes and the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, in which he broke the track record. He’s a brother to Creative Cause, a 2-year-old G1 winner who was beaten just a nose by subsequent Kentucky Derby victor I’ll Have Another and who, after finishing off the board in the Derby, rebounded to take third behind I’ll Have Another in the Preakness.
Destin’s dam, Dream of Summer, was a top-class mare who was a graded winner from 6½ to 8½ furlongs, including the G1 Apple Blossom Handicap, and was second in the G1 Santa Margarita Invitational at nine furlongs. So Destin has a good shot to get the trip.
Brody’s Cause took the G1 Breeders’ Futurity and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at two. He failed to fire in the Tampa Bay Derby first out this year, but impressed with a last-to-first victory in the G1 Blue Grass Stakes. The dam, Sweet Breanna, is by Sahm, a nine-furlong turf winner by Mr. Prospector out of Salsabil (a three-time classic winner who conquered colts in the Irish Derby). Sweet Breana was a stakes winner at 8½ furlongs, and is half-sister to stakes winner Jah, who was successful at up to 11 furlongs.
The granddam, Sweet Roberta, won the G2 Selima Stakes and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She’s by Epsom Derby winner Roberto and goes back to a three-quarters sister to Secretariat.
Giant’s Causeway’s previous best shot at Derby would probably have with Eskendereya, who romped in the G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes and Wood Memorial Stakes but suffered a career-ending injury before the classic.
He was exported to Japan for the 2016 breeding season after a disappointing start to his stud career, but in his second crop has Mor Spirit, who has captured the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity and G3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes and goes on to Churchill Downs off seconds in the G2 San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.
Mor Spirit’s dam, Ima Dixie Girl (Dixie Union), was a pure sprinter, winning from 4½-6 furlongs, including a pair of 2-year-old stakes. She’s out of prolific regional stakes winner Im Out First, a daughter of speed influence Allen’s Prospect. Im Out First is half-sister to nine-furlong stakes winner Zenith, the dam of Great Hunter, successful in the Breeders’ Futurity and Robert B. Lewis, and to the dam of last year’s Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, Stellar Wind.
A product of a mating of extremes, Mor Spirit seems to be more his father’s son in aptitude and should be grinding it out to the end in the Derby.
The Tapit representatives
For much of the run-up to the classic, the A.P. Indy line looked to have formidable representation through sons of Tapit and Bernardini, but offspring of both suffered some reversals in their final classic trials.
Tapit, who won the Wood Memorial, wasn’t entirely healthy at the time of that victory and never rebounded on the track, although, of course, he’s gone on to sire superstardom. His offspring are often best at around 8½ - 9 furlongs but he has no trouble getting horses who can stay further out of mares with stamina in the background, and has had a Belmont Stakes winner and a second (Tonalist and Frosted) in the last two years.
Tapit’s son Mohaymen was Derby favorite for much of the spring after extending his graded stakes winning streak to four in the G2 Holy Bull Stakes and Fountain of Youth Stakes but then finished a dull fourth in the Florida Derby.
A half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile scorer New Year’s Day, Mohaymen is out of the talented Justwhistledixie, a multiple graded stakes-winning Dixie Union mare who won at nine furlongs. He has a good chance of getting the trip but is going to need a major rebound to be a Derby factor.
Tapit’s G2 Rebel Stakes scorer Cupid will skip the Derby and undergo surgery for an entrapped epiglottis after a disappointing effort in the G1 Arkansas Derby, but Tapit does have a strong backup team in Lani and Creator.
Japanese-trained Lani, who comes into the race off a win in the G2 UAE Derby, is unusual in that his pedigree suggests that he might want every bit of the 10 furlongs to be at his best. He’s half-brother to horses who won black type in Japan at 11 and 12½ furlongs, and his dam (by Sunday Silence) defeated top-class colts over 10 furlongs in the Autumn Emperor’s Cup.
The granddam, a three-quarters sister to Irish St. Leger winner Dark Lomond, is by Sadler’s Wells and out of Arkadina, who placed in the English and Irish Oaks.
Creator, like Lani, won his prep in last-to-first fashion, coming from 15 lengths off the pace to take the Arkansas Derby. His dam, the Peruvian-bred Morena (by Chimes of Freedom’s staying brother, Privately Held), was a champion in her native country, where she was a G1 winner at 1½ miles, and she was also G1-placed at 10 furlongs in the U.S.
There is also a Tapit grandson worth a mention in My Man Sam, who has yet to win a black-type race but finished like the proverbial train to takes second in the Blue Grass. He’s from the first crop of Trappe Shot, who was G1-placed at nine furlongs at three but who did his best work as a sprinter the following year.
The dam, by Arch, was stakes placed at 8 ½ furlongs and is half-sister to Hudson Steele, a G2 winner at nine furlongs. Given his running style, he could just be a longshot to watch.
Also from the A.P. Indy line ...
At one point, Bernardini appeared to have trio of prominent prospects for the first Saturday in May, but last year’s G1 Champagne Stakes scorer Greenpointcrusader was a disappointing seventh in the Louisiana Derby after a good second to Mohaymen on his 2016 debut, and Zulu, runner-up to Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth, is also on the sidelines following a 12th-place effort in the Blue Grass.
That leaves Shagaf, who was undefeated in three starts, including in the G3 Gotham Stakes, before floundering in the slop in the Wood. Shagaf, is out of the stakes-winning Unbridled’s Song mare Muhaawara, a half-sister to A.P. Indy’s son Eldaafer, whose 13 victories included the G3 Breeders’ Cup Marathon.
Muhaawara and Eldaafer are out of the Tabasco Cat mare Habibti. A dual G1 winner at two, Habibti didn’t win at three but did demonstrate that she had trained on with seconds in the G1 Santa Anita Oaks and G1 Las Virgenes Stakes and a third in the Kentucky Oaks. This is also the family of Kentucky Oaks winner Gal In A Ruckus and G1 scorer Smart Strike. Whether Shagaf is fast enough is open to question, but he looks sure to get the trip.
A.P. Indy’s veteran Horse of the Year son, Mineshaft, will have a solid representative in Suddenbreakingnews, a late-running closer who came from the clouds for a 2¾-length triumph in the G3 Southwest Stakes and again finished well for second in the Arkansas Derby. Mineshaft relished 10 furlongs, and has generally been a stamina influence.
The dam of Suddenbreakingnews, Uchitel, is a daughter of Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex. She is out of graded-winning and G1-placed Party Cited, a daughter of the long-winded Alleged. Uchitel is half-sister to nine-furlong graded scorer Ready Set, and to Composure, who won the G1 Santa Anita Oaks and is dam of nine-furlong graded winner Penwith, who is by a son of A.P. Indy, like Suddenbreakingnews. So no stamina fears here.
Candy Ride’s candidates
Like A.P. Indy, the Fappiano branch of Mr. Prospector has become major influence for classic types in the U.S. This is primarily through the Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, who of course appeared as great-grandsire of last year’s Triple Crown laureate American Pharoah.
This year there is a well-credentialed candidate from a different branch, one that comes down via Fappiano’s tough son, Cryptoclearance – a winner of four G1 events, who also finished second in the Belmont, third in the Preakness and fourth in the Derby – to Candy Ride.
Candy Ride’s son Gun Runner will go into the Derby as a winner of four of five starts, the most recent of which was a 4½-length tally in the Louisiana Derby.
Gun Runner’s dam, Quiet Giant, is a daughter of Giant’s Causeway and was a G2 winner who was successful at nine furlongs. Quiet Giant is half-sister to Champion Older Horse and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Saint Liam, three-quarters to nine-furlong graded winner Congressionalhonor, and to the dam of of G1 Mother Goose Stakes scorer Buster’s Ready.
The granddam, Quiet Dance, is by Quiet American (giving inbreeding to Fappiano) out of a three-quarters sister to Champion Irish Two-Year-Old Filly Minstrella. Given that Candy Ride was a brilliant G1 winner at 10 furlongs and has sired two G1 winners at that distance, Gun Runner’s chances of seeing out the Derby trip look good.
Candy Ride’s son, Twirling Candy, will have a runner from his first crop of 3-year-olds in Danzing Candy, who won three straight, including the G2 San Felipe Stakes, before fading to fourth after setting a suicidal pace in the slop in the Santa Anita Derby. Twirling Candy was beaten a nose in a 10-furlong G1, and Danzing Candy’s dam is out of a half-sister to top-class 12-furlong turf horse Better Talk Now, from a stout European family.
On paper, Danzing Candy could stretch out, but he’ll need to adopt a more relaxed approach, and it’s worth recalling that his broodmare sire, Songandaprayer, won the Fountain of Youth Stakes (then G1) at 8½ furlongs but imploded in the Kentucky Derby after setting the fastest early fractions on record.
Curlin’s live contender
Another branch of Mr. Prospector emerging as a classic one is that of Smart Strike through his two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. Already sire of Belmont Stakes (gr. I) victor, Palace Malice, in his first crop, Curlin has a live classic hopeful this year in Exaggerator.
A graded stakes winner sprinting at two, it appeared that Exaggerator might have stamina limitations until he charged up from way off the pace to take the Santa Anita Derby by 6¼ lengths. A look at the fractions reveals – contrary to the visual impression – that, rather than accelerating, Exaggerator merely slowed down less than his rivals, which leaves us to wonder whether he really relished the added distance or just benefitted from a shrewd ride on a wet surface, which he’s already shown he likes.
While Curlin is definitely a stamina influence, the distaff side of Exaggerator’s pedigree sends mixed messages. There are plentiful influences for distance-running ability, but the dam broke a track record over 5½ furlongs, and the granddam was a stakes-placed sprinter who never won beyond five furlongs.
It’s very possible that the best 3-year-old in the country is last year’s Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, Songbird, who has been unextended while going seven-for-seven, but who won’t be going to the Derby (and has been sidelined from the Kentucky Oaks after her preparation was interrupted by a low-grade fever). She is by Medaglia d’Oro, by El Prado, from the North American branch of Sadler’s Wells.
The Medaglia d’Oro line
Medaglia d’Oro doesn’t have a Derby-bound colt, but the sire line could be represented by Oscar Nominated and Cherry Wine. Oscar Nominated, who was claimed for $75,000 when breaking his maiden, earned his way to the classic with a win in the G3 Spiral Stakes on the all-weather at Turfway Park, a race captured by Animal Kingdom prior to making a winning dirt debut in the Derby.
Oscar Nominated is by El Prado’s Leading Sire son Kitten’s Joy, primarily a sire of turf horses. The dam is a stakes-winning daughter of Theatrical, like Kitten’s Joy generally an influence for turf and distance.
Cherry Wine, who finished well for third in the Blue Grass, is from the first crop of El Prado’s son, Paddy O’Prado, who claimed third in the Derby before going on to take the G1 Secretariat Stakes on the grass. The dam, bred on a similar cross to Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile victor Liam’s Map, won at 8½ furlongs, and Cherry Wine should have no difficulty with the Derby trip.
Whitmore, Tom’s Ready and Majesto are others that could make the line-up.
Third in the Arkansas Derby, Whitmore is by strong stamina influence Pleasantly Perfect. His dam has an unusual pedigree as she is by Scat Daddy out of a mare by Tale of the Cat, a close relative to Scat Daddy’s sire, Johannesburg.
Whitmore has loomed a threat only to flatten late in his preps, and looks like a closing miler.
Tom’s Ready closed late for second in the Louisiana Derby. The sire, More Than Ready, was a sprinter/miler and isn’t a strong influence for stamina, and Tom’s Ready is a brother to a stakes-winning sprinter.
Majesto, winner of a maiden on his previous start, finished a staying-on second in the Florida Derby. A son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Tiznow, one of North America’s more reliable influences for classic distance performance on dirt, Majesto is half-brother to the Arkansas Derby scorer Overanalyze and shouldn’t be found wanting on the score of distance.