05/01/2017 7:32AM

Sparkman: A.P. Indy line dominant in Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
Tapwrit is one of seven A.P. Indy male-line descendants who could start in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

The chasm between pedigrees of American dirt horses and the international mainstream of pedigrees of the rest of the world’s elite Thoroughbreds, which race mostly on turf, has widened in the last two decades. Although more than 95% of the world’s Thoroughbreds descend in male line from American-bred stallions, grass racing in the rest of the world has selected different descendants of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector that work better in their local environment than the strains that work here on dirt.

The most powerful illustration over that time period of how equine genetics responds to different environments has been the steady rise of the A.P. Indy male line in the U.S. The A.P. Indy male line now produces about 15% of American graded stakes winners each year, a percentage that is growing steadily, but his influence is almost non-existent in Europe, Australia, and Japan, and only a few sons like Camden Park (South Africa), Adriano (Brazil), Dynamix (Chile), and Indygo Shiner (Argentina) have made even a mild impact in other major racing countries.

The rise of A.P. Indy and his increasing importance in American pedigrees is nowhere more evident than in the 20 likely starters for the 2017 Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Seven of the 20 were sired by A.P. Indy-line stallions, three more are out of A.P. Indy-line broodmares, and one other has a cross of A.P. Indy elsewhere in his pedigree. Thus, more than half the likely field for the 2017 Derby will carry the genes of the 1992 Horse of the Year and two-time leading sire into the starting gate.

Fast and Accurate, Gormley, Gunnevera, J Boys Echo, State of Honor, Tapwrit, and Untrapped are all male-line descendants of A.P. Indy, while Hence, Patch, and Girvin are out of A.P. Indy-line mares. Finally, the second dam of Bodemeister, sire of Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming, is A.P. Indy’s Grade 3-winning daughter Spanish Parade.

Mr. Prospector also has seven male-line descendants among the entries (Always Dreaming, Battle of Midway, Classic Empire, Hence, Irish War Cry, Lookin At Lee, and Sonneteer), and the dams of six entries are by Mr. Prospector-line broodmare sires. Northern Dancer, whose male-line descendants still account for more graded stakes winners each year than any other male line, is the male-line ancestor of five Derby entries, and accounts for nine entries through their broodmare sires.

The true measure of the dominance of the Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector male lines, however, is that all but one Derby entrant, Irap, carries at least one cross of Mr. Prospector somewhere in his pedigree, and all 20 entries carry at least one cross of Northern Dancer. UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow carries six crosses of Northern Dancer in his pedigree, and 17 of the likely 20 starters are inbred to Northern Dancer through at least two lines.

Broodmares, of course, produce far fewer foals than stallions, so it is impossible for females to build up comparable numbers in any sample of pedigrees, but five of the 20 entries (Irap, Lookin At Lee, McCraken, Sonneteer, and State of Honor) come from Bruce Lowe family number nine, and four (Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Hence, and Thunder Snow) from family number four. The closest duplicated name shared among those horses along their female lines is so distant, however, that it only serves to illustrate the irrelevance of Bruce Lowe numbers in modern pedigrees.

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The closest common female line ancestor among the five members of family number nine is an unnamed mare called the Old Spot mare, who was born around 1700 and is around 25 generations back in each pedigree. Similarly, the closest common female line ancestor in the four members of family number four is another unnamed mare from the same era known simply as the Brimmer mare.

Classic Empire and Hence, however, do share a much closer common female line ancestor in the great foundation mare Alablue, by Blue Larkspur, who is the sixth dam of Classic Empire and the fifth dam of Hence. McCraken and Lookin At Lee share Fair Play’s dam Fairy Gold as their 13th dam.

Although he sired a respectable percentage of turf runners in the U.S., A.P. Indy never sired a top runner in Europe, and he was quickly labeled a dirt sire, albeit a great one. His most prominent current representative, three-time leading sire Tapit, also has sired several notable turf performers in the U.S., and it is becoming increasingly likely that he or one or more of his sons may yet successfully transplant the A.P. Indy male line abroad.