05/04/2013 7:20AM

Kentucky Derby pedigree analysis: Who is bred for the distance?

Barbara D. Livingston
Palace Malice, from the first crop of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, is one of several Kentucky Derby contenders with intriguing pedigrees in terms of distance aptitude..

The Kentucky Derby will be the first start at a mile and a quarter for each of the 20 horses expected to enter the gate for Saturday’s race.

With no previous form at the classic distance on which to base an opinion when analyzing the Derby horses, one of the most important factors will be their pedigrees, which can be a telling indicator of who might succeed when stretched out to ten furlongs.

As it turns out, the Derby sires with the best résumés for getting the distance are represented by many of the horses that probably will be dismissed as longshots by the betting public.

Kitten’s Joy leads the 18 sires with horses entered in the Kentucky Derby with an average progeny winning distance of 7.51 furlongs, meaning the average distance of a race won by a Kitten’s Joy foal is almost exactly between seven furlongs and a mile. The 2004 champion turf male is represented in the Derby by Charming Kitten, with Fear the Kitten on the also-eligible list. The average racing distance of a son or daughter of Kitten’s Joy is 7.48 furlongs

“The sire line is really stamina-oriented,” said Ken Ramsey, who owns, bred and raced Kitten’s Joy and now stands him at his farm in Nicholasville, Ky., “It’s got Roberto and Lear Fan, so they all go a mile, a mile and a quarter. The distance will not bother them.”

Kitten’s Joy was Kentucky’s leading sire of winners on turf and synthetic surfaces in 2012. Ramsey admitted that his stallion is not known for siring dirt runners, but that his reputation is growing piece-by-piece.

“We’ve got four stakes winners out there by Kitten’s Joy that have won stakes races on the dirt,” he said. “If he can transfer any of that over to the dirt, I think we’re in good shape.”

Not far behind Kitten’s Joy is Perfect Soul, sire of Golden Soul, whose average foals race at 7.64 furlongs and win at 7.48 furlongs. The son of Sadler’s Wells, who stands at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Ky., was also a turf champion, winning Canada’s Sovereign Award in 2003.
Tied for third by average winning distance are Rock Hard Ten, sire of Black Onyx; and Awesome Again, sire of Oxbow, both at 7.43 furlongs.

[KENTUCKY DERBY FIELD: Contender profiles and handicapping videos]

One must trace down to the fifth-highest sire by average progeny winning distance to find a horse widely considered to be a serious Derby threat; that would be Normandy Invasion, sired by Tapit. Foals by Tapit, who stands at Gainesway in Lexington, average a racing distance of 7.32 furlongs and win at 7.34 furlongs.

An important factor to consider when analyzing these figures is the sample size available for each sire. Many of the sires represented in this year’s Kentucky Derby field are very early on in their sire careers, and their foals have not yet matured to the handicap levels, meaning their opportunities to race around two turns might not be as plentiful as for progeny of a more experienced sire.

Since their résumés largely consist of sprint races conducted when their first crops were 2-year-olds, younger sires currently may have averages that skew shorter than they will in the future.

With that being said, two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, whose first crop became Triple Crown-eligible this year, compares exceptionally well with his more experienced counterparts, ranking sixth by average winning distance, at 7.15 furlongs to lead the new sires. The Smart Strike horse, who stands at Lane’s End in Versailles, Ky., is represented in the Derby by Palace Malice.

Of course, there are always horses that prove themselves to be the exceptions to the rule. While Dixie Union resides in the bottom half of this year’s Derby sires by average winning distance, possibly limiting Overanalyze's chances in the classic, his son Union Rags bucked the trend and won last year’s 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. As with any angle used to analyze Kentucky Derby horses, there is no such thing as an exact science.

Stallion Foals in Derby Crops of
racing age
Avg. racing
Avg. winning
Kitten's Joy Charming Kitten
Fear the Kitten
5 7.48 7.51
Perfect Soul Golden Soul 6 7.64 7.48
Rock Hard Ten Black Onyx 5 7.45 7.43
Awesome Again Oxbow 12 7.38 7.43
Tapit Normandy Invasion 6 7.32 7.34
Curlin Palace Malice 2 7.32 7.15
Unbridled's Song Will Take Charge 14 7.27 7.15
War Front Lines of Battle 4 6.9 7.07
Malibu Moon Orb 11 7.06 7.05
Lawyer Ron Itsmyluckyday 2 7.16 7.03
Scat Daddy Frac Daddy 3 7.05 6.99
Into Mischief Vyjack
2 6.45 6.96
Dixie Union Overanalyze 10 7.04 6.94
War Pass Revolutionary
Java's War
2 6.52 6.88
More Than Ready Verrazano 10 6.88 6.79
Frost Giant Giant Finish 2 6.5 6.71
Lion Heart Falling Sky 6 6.83 6.69
Midnight Lute Mylute 2 6.88 6.59

* all distances in furlongs