06/08/2013 11:45AM

Belmont Stakes: Who is bred for the distance?

Tom Keyser
Belmont Stakes starter Incognito (left, in training with stablemate Irsaal) sports the best distance pedigree in the field based on the racetrack performance of his sire and dam's progeny.

The 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes will be the longest distance test to date in the careers of all 14 horses entered in Saturday’s race and for most, if not all of them, it will be the longest they will ever have to run in competition.

Even with several horses returning from high-profile two-turn starts in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the added distance of the Belmont places each horse into unknown territory. With no direct on-track form to gauge who is best suited to handle the distance, pedigree becomes a much bigger factor in handicapping the race.

One measurable way to estimate how a horse’s pedigree could affect his or her performance in a longer race such as the Belmont Stakes is to examine the average winning distance for the progeny of the field’s sires and dams. For example, if a stallion’s average progeny winning distance (AWD) is 7.75 furlongs, then the average distance of a race won by one of his offspring is between 7 1/2 furlongs and a mile.

In the Kentucky Derby, surprise second-place finisher Golden Soul represented the sire with the field’s second-highest AWD, in Perfect Soul. Meanwhile, Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow tied for the field’s best combined rank in the second leg of the Triple Crown by average winning distance for his sire and dam, and won at odds of 15-1.

In the Belmont, a horse who will likely go overlooked by the betting public sits at the top of the list by combined rank of his sire’s and dam’s AWD for the Belmont Stakes – Darley homebred allowance winner Incognito.

Incognito is by Lane’s End pensioner A.P. Indy, who led the 13 sires with Belmont Stakes entrants by AWD of 8.24 furlongs, making him the only stallion in the group with a figure longer than a mile.

A.P. Indy was himself adept at the longer route distances, winning the Belmont Stakes and the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1992 to secure Horse of the Year honors. His success in the Belmont continued with his progeny, including 2007 winner Rags to Riches and 2000 runner-up Aptitude.

On the dam’s side, Incognito is out of the multiple Grade 1-winning Unbridled’s Song mare Octave, who is the dam of two winners from as many foals to race. In her young broodmare career, Octave’s foals have an AWD of 8.17 furlongs, putting her fourth among the Belmont dams.

Octave’s two foals to race have a combined three wins. A.P. Indy colt Quarto won his maiden in a 1 1/16-mile race at Delaware Park, while Incognito has won a pair of races at a mile. In her own right, Octave won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles and the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.

Despite the colt’s relatively light résumé heading into his first Grade 1 race, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said that Incognito’s distance-based pedigree and the relatively few opportunities to race at 1 1/2 miles were key reasons for targeting the Belmont.

“Mainly, he wants the distance,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a big step up in class, but the 1 1/2 miles is a big factor if you can’t get it. We hope for the best and hope his pedigree kicks in at the quarter pole.”

Finishing behind Incognito in the combined rankings was Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul, by Perfect Soul, who once again ranked second in the field with an AWD of 7.51 furlongs. Perfect Soul has been able to pass on the stamina he showed in his own racing career, where only one of his 21 career starts came at less than a mile, with wins as far as 1 3/8 miles.

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Golden Soul is out of the unraced Mr. Prospector mare Hollywood Gold, whose six winners from eight foals to race have won at an average distance of 8.13 furlongs, fifth best among the Belmont dams. The biggest contributor to that figure was the Lit de Justice gelding I Testify, whose 16 career wins all came at a mile or longer.

Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow was third among the Belmont field in his combined ranking, led by his sire, Awesome Again, who placed third with an AWD of 7.42 furlongs. His dam, the unraced Cee’s Tizzy mare Tizamazing, posted the sixth-best AWD in the Belmont field at 8.06 furlongs.

Kentucky Derby winner Orb tied for fourth place in the combined rankings with Frac Daddy, whose dam, the stakes-placed winning Skip Away mare Skipper’s Mate, topped the Belmont producers with a whopping 12.13-furlong AWD. That figure was helped along greatly by her Lemon Drop Kid son Lemon Drop Red, whose four wins ranged from 11.89 furlongs to two miles racing on turf and all-weather surfaces in England.

An important factor to consider when analyzing these figures is the sample size available for each sire and dam. Many of the horses represented in this year’s Belmont Stakes field are in the early stages of their breeding careers, and as a result, most of their foals have not yet matured to the older ranks. This means their opportunities to race around two turns to date are not as plentiful compared with runners from veteran sires.

Of course, there are always horses capable of outrunning the apparent limitations of their pedigrees. Dixie Union, who is represented by Overanalyze in this year’s edition of the Belmont Stakes, ranks 10th among sires in the 2013 field with an AWD of 6.93 furlongs. Questions about the sire’s distance ability mattered little last year when his son Union Rags charged up the rail to win last year’s Belmont as the second betting choice.

As with any angle used to analyze a race, there is no exact science.

Combined rank of Belmont starters based on sire and dam progeny AWD:

Horse Stallion Rank Dam Rank Total Score Combined rank
Incognito 1 4 5 1
Golden Soul 2 5 7 2
Oxbow 3 6 9 3
Frac Daddy 9 1 10 4
Orb 8 2 10 4
Will Take Charge 6 7 13 6
Revolutionary 12 3 15 7
Freedom Child 8 8 16 8
Unlimited Budget 4 13 17 9
Midnight Taboo 7 12 19 10
Palace Malice 5 14 19 10
Overanalyze 10 10 20 12
Giant Finish 13 9 22 13
Vyjack 11 11 22 13

Sire progeny AWD:

Stallion Horse(s) in Belmont Crops of Racing Age Avg. Racing Distance Avg. Winning Distance
A.P. Indy Incognito 18 8.21 8.24
Perfect Soul Golden Soul 6 7.64 7.51
Awesome Again Oxbow 12 7.39 7.42
Street Sense Unlimited Budget 3 7.16 7.21
Curlin Palace Malice 2 7.35 7.16
Unbridled's Song Will Take Charge 14 7.27 7.15
Langfuhr Midnight Taboo 13 7.09 7.09
Malibu Moon Orb
Freedom Child
11 7.06 7.06
Scat Daddy Frac Daddy 3 7.06 6.94
Dixie Union Overanalyze 10 7.03 6.73
Into Mischief Vyjack 2 6.49 6.73
War Pass Revolutionary 2 6.47 6.73
Frost Giant Giant Finish 2 6.55 6.73

Dam progeny AWD:

Mare Horse in Belmont Starters Winners Avg. Winning Distance
Skipper's Mate Frac Daddy 3 2 12.13
Lady Liberty Orb 3 2 9.19
Runup the Colors Revolutionary 7 6 8.31
Octave Incognito 2 2 8.17
Hollywood Gold Golden Soul 8 6 8.13
Tizamazing Oxbow 3 3 8.06
Take Charge Lady Will Take Charge 5 4 7.72
Bandstand Freedom Child 3 3 7.55
Apocalyptic Giant Finish 5 4 7.45
Unacloud Overanalyze 8 6 7.3
Life Happened Vyjack 3 3 6.97
Hot Red Midnight Taboo 2 2 6.88
Unlimited Pleasure Unlimited Budget 8 5 6.5
Palace Rumor Palace Malice 3 3 5.79