04/30/2015 11:00AM

Kentucky Derby 2015: Who is bred for the distance?

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Barbara D. Livingston
Keen Ice, shown training at Churchill on April 25, was the only member of the Derby field to have both his sire and dam rank in the top four by average winning distance.

This year’s Kentucky Derby might be quite polarizing between the favorites and the longshots, but the great equalizer for them all will be the distance of the race.

The Derby will be the first start at 1 1/4 miles for every horse in the field, and many of the horses running Saturday will never run 10 furlongs in competition again, leaving bettors to speculate on each horse’s capability at the classic distance.

Since there is no prior ontrack performance on which to base an opinion, one helpful tool to measure a horse’s capability is the average winning distance (AWD) of the sire’s and dam’s progeny.

While there are always exceptions, the AWD numbers can provide a snapshot of a sire’s ability to impart stamina on his progeny or a dam’s abilities as a producer. 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 foal by that sire should be more likely to handle a route of ground than one by a sire with a lower AWD number.

Examining AWDs does not promise to identify the winner at the top of the charts, but it can help identify longer-priced horses who are capable of filling out the exotics based on their ingrained stamina. Over the past two years, horses who have made noise at a price in Triple Crown races after finishing at or near the top of the AWD figures include 2013 Derby runner-up Golden Soul at 35-1, 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow at 15-1, and 2014 Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner at 28-1.

Taking into account the comparative AWDs from the sires and dams of this year’s Kentucky Derby entrants, longshot Keen Ice emerges as the horse who appears best equipped to handle the distance from a pedigree standpoint.

COMBINED AVERAGE WINNING DISTANCE RANK OF 2015 DERBY ENTRANTS

HORSE SIRE RANK DAM RANK TOTAL SCORE COMBINED RANK
Keen Ice 3 4 7 1
Frosted 5 5 10 2
Danzig Moon 9 1 10 2
Itsaknockout 2 9 11 3
Materiality 4 7 11 4
Mubtaahij 1 13 14 5
American Pharoah 6 8 14 5
Carpe Diem 1 14 15 6
El Kabeir 12 3 15 6
War Story 14 2 16 7
Dortmund 7 10 17 8
Ocho Ocho Ocho 10 8 18 9
Bolo 7 15 22 10
Tale of Verve 18 6 24 11
International Star 8 18 26 12
Mr. Z 9 17 26 12
Frammento 16 11 27 13
Tencendur 13 16 29 14
Far Right 17 12 29 14
Stanford 9 21 30 15
Upstart 11 19 30 15
Firing Line 15 20 35 16

Keen Ice, owned by Donegal Racing and bred in Kentucky by Glencrest Farm, was the only member of the Derby field to have both his sire and dam rank in the top four by AWD.

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 7.56 furlongs ranked him fourth among the 20 Derby sires, and he is the only sire in the top five with fewer than five crops of racing age.

Keen Ice is the first runner out of the unplaced Awesome Again mare Medomak, who ranked fourth out of the 22 Derby broodmares with an AWD of eight furlongs based on Keen Ice’s maiden victory at Churchill Downs. The sample size is admittedly small compared with more experienced broodmares, but graduating at a non-sprint distance is a feat to which 14 of the 22 Derby hopefuls cannot lay claim.

Wood Memorial winner Frosted and Blue Grass Stakes runner-up Danzig Moon tied for the second-highest combined rank among the Derby entrants. Danzig Moon is the less decorated of the two, but his dam outranks all other Derby broodmares with an AWD of 8.90 furlongs.

Leaveminthedust, a placed Danzig mare, has had four winners from as many runners, including Global Express, a winner at 1 3/8 miles and 1 1/2 miles over the turf. Danzig Moon is a winner at a mile, while half-sibling Horseshoe Hill contributed a victory at 1 1/16 miles. The only foal out of Leaveminthedust without a win at a mile or longer was Back in a Flash, who won once at five furlongs.

AVERAGE WINNING DISTANCE OF DAMS OF 2015 DERBY ENTRANTS

DAM HORSE IN DERBY STARTERS WINNERS AVG. WINNING DISTANCE (FURLONGS)
Leaveminthedust Danzig Moon 4 4 8.90
Belle Watling War Story 2 2 8.80
Great Venue El Kabeir 1 1 8.08
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 7.64
Littleprincessemma American Pharoah 2 2 7.50
Winner Ocho Ocho Ocho 4 3 7.50
Stormy B Itsaknockout 3 3 7.31
Our Josephina Dortmund 5 4 7.18
Ginger Bay Frammento 4 3 7.14
Zindi Far Right 2 2 7.13
Pennegale Mubtaahij 6 6 6.90
Rebridled Dreams Carpe Diem 6 5 6.87
Aspen Mountain Bolo 4 3 6.79
Still Secret Tencendur 5 4 6.74
Stormy Bear Mr. Z 4 2 6.72
Parlez International Star 7 5 6.67
Party Silks Upstart 2 2 6.63
Sister Girl Blues Firing Line 2 2 6.50
Rosy Humor Stanford 2 1 5.50

Also of note, Danzig Moon’s sire, Malibu Moon, is the only stallion represented in this year’s field to have sired a Derby winner: Orb in 2013. However, Malibu Moon is tied for ninth among the Derby sires with an AWD of 7.06 furlongs.

Tied for the field’s top stallion with an AWD of 8.52 furlongs are Giant’s Causeway, the sire of multiple Grade 1 winner Carpe Diem, and Dubawi, the sire of UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij.

AVERAGE WINNING DISTANCE OF SIRES OF 2015 DERBY ENTRANTS

STALLION HORSE(S) IN DERBY CROPS OF RACING AGE AVG. RACING DISTANCE (FURLONGS) AVG. WINNING DISTANCE (FURLONGS)
Giant's Causeway Carpe Diem 12 8.58 8.51
Dubawi Mubtaahij 7 8.19 8.51
Lemon Drop Kid Itsaknockout 12 8.15 8.04
Curlin Keen Ice 4 7.58 7.56
Afleet Alex Materiality 7 7.40 7.49
Tapit Frosted 8 7.42 7.43
Pioneerof the Nile American Pharoah 3 7.25 7.39
Big Brown Dortmund 4 7.11 7.21
Temple City Bolo 2 7.03 7.21
Fusaichi Pegasus International Star 12 7.25 7.12
Malibu Moon Danzig Moon 13 7.11 7.06
Malibu Moon Mr. Z 13 7.11 7.06
Malibu Moon Stanford 13 7.11 7.06
Street Sense Ocho Ocho Ocho 5 7.11 7.04
Flatter Upstart 9 7.01 6.94
Scat Daddy El Kabeir 5 6.95 6.91
Warrior's Reward Tencendur 2 7.06 6.76
Northern Afleet War Story 14 6.80 6.72
Line of David Firing Line 2 6.39 6.65
Midshipman Frammento 2 6.75 6.51
Notional Far Right 4 6.65 6.48
Tale of Ekati Tale of Verve 2 6.65 6.44

Five first-crop sires are represented in this year’s Derby, meaning their AWD numbers could fluctuate as more of their foals mature and compete in longer races.

That makes the output of Temple City, the sire of Bolo, especially interesting. The son of Dynaformer’s foals are winning at an average distance of 7.21 furlongs, tying him for seventh among the Derby sires and putting him well ahead of the next-closest first-timer, Warrior’s Reward, the sire of Tencendur, in 13th at 6.76 furlongs.

Rick Olszewski More than 1 year ago
Anyone for a mint julep?
Brad Cohen More than 1 year ago
In reading this storied publication for the last few weeks, I find it hard to believe that all of these "life-long horse racing experts" are all missing the obvious play in the 2015 Derby. Dortmund has been getting praise for being as tough as nails in his close races. However, I see the opposite of that as I believe FIRING LINE had been tough as nails in his battles with Dortmund. Firing Line was then sent out of the state of California to see what he could do away from the fun and sun at the ocean. Firing Line was hand-ridden to a track record performance in the Sunland Park Derby and was eased up in the final 100 yards by Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens. Fans of racing are immediately discounting the performance as "the track was lightning fast" or "the field he beat was so weak" or "the race was not even a Grade 1". To me, Firing Line looks to be a sure and live win/place play in the KY Derby at an overlooked entrant of 15:1. If this horse performs true to my expectations on Saturday, I would welcome the opportunity extended from Mr. Crist to be a fresh perspective writer/analyst for the historic DRF.
jon More than 1 year ago
A track record that lasted only a month because s New Mexican bred broke it in a state level allowance. Maiden Claimers were running a mile in 134 and change that day., Firing Line giving up the lead to Dortmond disqualified him from being on a ticket.
Frank Ramirez More than 1 year ago
All my handicapping points to Frosted as the winner.
Brian Durocher More than 1 year ago
Could be, but I really hope not. I don't think he's nearly the quality of horse that the favorites are, and I hope to see a super horse win.
Jason More than 1 year ago
I will play three frosted, upstart, and materiality to break the jinx.
AbdulRehman Ahmed Ali AlTurki More than 1 year ago
Mr Prospector grandson International Star Kentucky Derby Hero