06/02/2015 4:35PM

Belmont Stakes: Who is bred for the distance?

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Barbara D. Livingston
Keen Ice might be best equipped to handle the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont Stakes, according to a statistical analysis of his pedigree.

Much like the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes puts its competitors on a level playing field in that none of the horses have started at the race’s 1 1/2-mile distance.

The distance of the Belmont Stakes is unique for 3-year-olds in this part of the racing calendar, and it’s likely that most of the horses who run Saturday will never cover that much ground in competition again.

A helpful statistic in analyzing which Belmont entrants might be capable of thriving at 12 furlongs is the average progeny winning distance of a horse’s sire and dam. Those numbers can provide a snapshot of a sire’s ability to impart stamina on his progeny or a dam’s capabilities as a producer.

A stallion or broodmare’s average winning distance (AWD) is determined by combining the distances of every race won by that horse’s offspring and finding the average. For example, if a stallion’s 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 one mile. A typical foal by that sire is more likely to handle a route of ground than one by a sire with a lower AWD. The figures do not take surface type into consideration.

Last year, the relatively unheralded Commissioner topped the Belmont AWD standings, combining the field rankings of his sire and dam to have the best overall score. Commissioner went on to finish second in the Belmont, a head behind Tonalist, at odds of 28-1.

By these criteria, Grade 2-placed Keen Ice appears to be the Belmont Stakes entrant most capable of handling the trying distance.
Keen Ice, owned by Donegal Racing and bred in Kentucky by Glencrest Farm, boasted the best score when the AWD rankings of his sire and dam were combined, and he was the only horse in the field in which both sides ranked third or better.

His sire, two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, established his distance credentials early at stud, siring Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice in his first crop and Preakness Stakes runner-up Ride On Curlin with his next group of foals. Curlin’s AWD of 7.57 furlongs ranked him second among the eight Belmont sires.

Keen Ice is the first runner out of the unplaced Awesome Again mare Medomak, who ranked third out of the eight Belmont broodmares with an AWD of eight furlongs based on Keen Ice’s maiden victory. The sample size is admittedly small compared with more-experienced broodmares, but graduating at a non-sprint distance as a juvenile is certainly an above-average accomplishment.

“He has just been so good even before the [Kentucky] Derby, and he just keeps on improving,” said trainer Dale Romans. “I think the farther, the better. A mile and a half shouldn’t be a problem. I really like my chances.”

American Pharoah certainly will be the post-time favorite in his bid to clinch the Triple Crown, and his AWD rankings suggest that he has the foundation to achieve the historic feat. The Zayat Stables homebred ranks second overall, just one point behind Keen Ice.

American Pharoah comes from the second crop of Pioneerof the Nile, who ranks fourth with an AWD of 7.46 furlongs. Pioneerof the Nile, a 9-year-old son of Empire Maker, had a classics-placed horse in his first crop in Social Inclusion, who was third in last year’s Preakness Stakes.

Littleprincessemma, American Pharoah’s dam, was second-best by progeny AWD among the Belmont’s broodmares, with two winners from as many runners posting an average winning distance of 8.06 furlongs.

The Yankee Gentleman mare’s first foal was Xixixi, by Maimonides, who has won twice at six furlongs. American Pharoah has won six times at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, and the last five wins have come at 1 1/16 miles or longer.

Finishing third by combined sire and dam AWD rankings was Peter Pan Stakes winner Madefromlucky. He is from the first crop of sire Lookin At Lucky, who ranked sixth with an AWD of 6.92 furlongs.

Madefromlucky’s dam, the Pulpit mare Home From Oz, led all Belmont broodmares with an AWD of 8.56 furlongs. The full sister to leading commercial sire Tapit is the dam of three winners from four runners.

Dubawi, the sire of United Arab Emirates Derby winner Mubtaahij, was the field’s leading stallion with an AWD of 8.53 furlongs, making him the only Belmont sire whose foals’ wins have come at an average distance of a mile or longer. In fact, the average distance of a race won by sons and daughters of Dubawi has been just over 1 1/16 miles.

Horse Sire Rank Dam Rank Total Score Combined Rank
Keen Ice 2 3 5 1
American Pharoah 4 2 6 2
Madefromlucky 6 1 7 3
Mubtaahij 1 8 9 4
Materiality 3 6 9 4
Frosted 5 4 9 4
Tale of Verve 8 5 13 5
Frammento 7 7 14 6
Stallion Horse in Belmont Crops of Racing Age

Average

Racing Distance (furlongs)

Average 

Winning Distance (furlongs)

Dubawi Mubtaahij 7 8.20 8.53
Curlin Keen Ice 4 7.59 7.57
Afleet Alex Materiality 7 7.40 7.48
Pioneerof The Nile American Pharoah 3 7.29 7.46
Tapit Frosted 8 7.42 7.42
Lookin At Lucky Madefromlucky 2 6.86 6.92
Midshipman Frammento 2 6.75 6.51
Tale of Ekati Tale of Verve 2 6.66 6.42
Mare Horse in Derby Starters Winners

Avg. Winning

Distance (furlongs)

Home From Oz Madefromlucky 4 3 8.56
Littleprincessemma American Pharoah 2 2 8.06
Medomak Keen Ice 1 1 8.00
Fast Cookie Frosted 3 3 7.75
Verve Tale of Verve 5 5 7.71
Wildwood Flower Materiality 5 5 7.60
Ginger Bay Frammento 4 3 7.14
Pennegale Mubtaahij 6 6 6.86