05/08/2017 11:09AM

Sparkman: All hail Native Dancer

Joe Labozzetta
Always Dreaming, by Bodemeister, wins the 143rd Kentucky Derby.

The myriad connections of the male line of 143rd Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming to the Kentucky Derby began 64 years ago, when his seventh-generation male-line ancestor Native Dancer finished second, beaten a head, by Dark Star in the 79th Derby. That was Native Dancer’s only loss in 22 lifetime starts, and if the excuses then made for Native Dancer’s defeat in the Derby do not stand up well to closer inspection, he needs no excuses for his profound influence on the subsequent history of America’s greatest classic.

Native Dancer sired his own Derby winner in 1966 in Kauai King, but, in truth, Kauai King only won because the two best colts of his generation, Buckpasser and Graustark, were unable to run due to injury. Two years later, another more talented son of Native Dancer, Dancer’s Image, crossed the line first, a worthy winner, but notoriously became the only Derby winner ever disqualified when Butazolidin, then illegal, was detected in his post-race blood sample.

Native Dancer’s name had first appeared in a Derby winner’s pedigree, however, in 1964, when his grandson Northern Dancer, out of the Native Dancer mare Natalma, won at Churchill Downs. Since that historic victory, the name of Native Dancer has appeared in the pedigrees of 31 of 53 Derby winners through either Northern Dancer or Native Dancer’s son Raise a Native. Over the last 20 years, the pedigree of every Derby winner has included Native Dancer’s name except for Giacomo in 2005.

The path to such dominance from Native Dancer to Always Dreaming is somewhat serpentine, but uniformly top class. Native Dancer’s 1963 champion 2-year-old Raise a Native, sired 1969 winner Majestic Prince, fourth generation male-line progenitor of Derby winners Monarchos and Super Saver.

Raise a Native’s sons Exclusive Native (Affirmed, Genuine Risk) and Alydar (Alysheba, Strike the Gold) each sired two Derby winners, and although Raise a Native’s best sire son Mr. Prospector sired only one Derby winner (Fusaichi Pegasus), Mr. Prospector’s male-line descendants have dominated the Derby over the last two decades. Since Unbridled (by Fappiano, by Mr. Prospector) scored in 1990, 13 male-line descendants of Mr. Prospector have worn the roses.

:: DRF BREEDING LIVE: Real-time coverage of breeding and sales

Always Dreaming’s pedigree carries five repetitions of Native Dancer’s name. In addition to his sixth-generation presence along the male line, there are four crosses of his maternal grandson Northern Dancer in the fourth (2), sixth, and third generations of his pedigree. His sire, Bodemeister, who ran second to I’ll Have Another in both the Derby and Preakness in 2012, is inbred 4x4x6 to Northern Dancer. Bodemeister’s dam, the Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent, is inbred 3x5 to Northern Dancer.

The final cross of Native Dancer through Northern Dancer in Always Dreaming’s pedigree comes through his dam, Above Perfection, an exceptionally speedy sprinter by the outstanding California-based sire In Excess. Above Perfection’s dam, Something Perfect, is a daughter of Secretariat’s half-brother Somethingfabulous, by Northern Dancer.

Always Dreaming was bred in Kentucky by Gerry Dilger’s and Mike Ryan’s Santa Ross Partners and purchased for $350,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September sale by agent Steve Young on behalf of Anthony and Maryellen Bonomo and trainer Dominick Schettino. Vincent and Teresa Viola (consulting clients of the author) purchased an interest in a package of the Bonomos’ horses that included Always Dreaming last September, and Anthony Managnaro’s Siena Farm and Terry Finley’s West Point Thoroughbreds bought into Always Dreaming after he won his first two starts of 2017.

Always Dreaming is the ninth foal to live and second Grade 1 winner (following Spinaway winner Hot Dixie Chick) produced by Above Perfection, who won 7 of 10 starts, including the Grade 3 Las Flores Stakes for Classic Star Stable, and regularly ran the first half-mile of her races in 44 seconds or less. Her unnamed 2-year-old filly by Medaglia d’Oro was purchased for $485,000 by Good Luck Farm at Keeneland last fall, and she has a yearling filly by Pioneerof the Nile, but her 2017 foal by Honor Code died.

Dilger and Ryan purchased Above Perfection for $450,000 at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale in the name of Keats Grove Farm.

Bodemeister also has sired stakes winners O Dionysus (out of Safe Journey, by Flatter) and Bode’s Dream (Frolic’s Dream, by Smoke Glacken), as well as three stakes-placed horses from his first crop of 131 registered foals. He is the second son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker (who also finished second in the Derby) to sire a Derby winner, following Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s sire Pioneerof the Nile.

Bodemeister is the 22nd stallion in the long history of the Kentucky Derby to sire a Derby winner from his first crop, following immediately on the heels of Uncle Mo’s first-crop success last year with Nyquist.