04/29/2015 1:07PM

Statebred standard-bearers have big Derby presence

Tom Keyser
Florida-bred El Kabeir is one of several representatives for state and regional breeding programs in this year's Kentucky Derby.

While a majority of the runners in this year’s Kentucky Derby will indeed be returning to “My Old Kentucky Home” when they step onto the track for the post parade, a handful of colts serve as standard-bearers for state and regional breeding programs looking to add to their history or add international flavor to America’s most storied race.

Dual classic winner and 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome highlighted the ability of state breeding programs to produce an elite-level horse last spring. One year after the West Coast darling added his name to the record books, the attention shifts to the East Coast’s hopes, with a trio of New York-breds among the standouts in this year’s field.

The New York breeding program has seen a surge of high-quality runners in recent years, with statebreds combining for 20 graded stakes wins in 2014, including Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner and champion Dayatthespa. The program is on pace to better that mark this year, with seven statebred graded stakes wins through Monday. Four of those victories belong to Kentucky Derby contenders: multiple graded stakes winner International Star, who most recently won the Louisiana Derby, and Holy Bull Stakes winner Upstart, who finished second in the Florida Derby in his final prep. In addition, New York-bred Tencendur earned his way into the field with a surprise runner-up effort in the Wood Memorial.

“It’s a huge marketing boost,” Jeffrey Cannizzo, executive director of New York Thoroughbred Breeders, said prior to the final round of prep races. “It truly shows us the potential of the New York-bred program, with horses like International Star and Upstart, so it’s very exciting. The biggest promotional tool any program can have is what happens on the racetrack.”

Of the 140 winners of the Kentucky Derby, 106 were foaled in Kentucky. The only New York-bred in the lineup was dual classic winner Funny Cide (2003).

All three New York-bred Derby contenders this year are by Kentucky stallions. International Star, bred by Katharine M. Voss and Robert T. Manfuso, was sired by Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who stands at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud. Upstart, bred by Mrs. Gerald A. Nielsen, is by Claiborne Farm stallion Flatter. And Tencendur, a homebred for Philip S. Birsh, is by Spendthrift Farm’s Warrior’s Reward.

Ashford’s Scat Daddy is also represented in the field by a regional standout in El Kabeir, who was bred by Rustlewood Farm in Florida. A Grade 2 winner at Churchill Downs as a juvenile, the colt won the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes and Grade 3 Gotham Stakes this spring before finishing third in the Wood Memorial.

El Kabeir will look to become the seventh Florida-bred winner of the Kentucky Derby and the first since Silver Charm (1997). The other representatives for the Sunshine State were Needles (1956), Carry Back (1961), Foolish Pleasure (1975), Triple Crown winner Affirmed (1978), and Unbridled (1990).

There’s additional intrigue in this Kentucky Derby field with Canadian-bred Danzig Moon and Irish-bred Mubtaahij, both looking to pull off a unique double.

Danzig Moon, a son of Spendthrift’s Malibu Moon bred in Ontario by William D. Graham, will seek to become the third Canadian-born winner of the Derby, joining the great Northern Dancer (1964) and Sunny’s Halo (1983). The colt also will target this summer’s Queen’s Plate, the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Northern Dancer, who went on to become a breed-shaping sire, is the only horse to complete the Derby-Plate double.

Mubtaahij, sired by international standout Dubawi, was bred in Ireland by Dunmore Stud. The colt could become the first winner of the UAE Derby to go on to take the Kentucky Derby. He also would be the first Irish-bred winner of the Derby; seven others have contested the race, with the best efforts seventh-place finishes by Dr Devious (1992) and Hanuman Highway (1998).

Only two Kentucky Derby winners have been foaled outside of North America: Omar Khayyam (1917) and Tomy Lee (1959), both foaled in Britain.