06/03/2010 11:00PM

Winning derbies a family tradition


NEW YORK Ultimately, horse races are run to determine the fastest Thoroughbred over a given distance. Equally important is the search to discover who is most adept at passing his talent on to future generations.

That was the reason behind the establishment of the Derby Stakes, better known in America as the Epsom Derby. First run at Epsom in 1780 at one mile, it has been run at 1 1/2 miles since 1781, serving as the template for the definitive 3-year-old race in every country with a Thoroughbred industry.

The Prix du Jockey-Club, or French Derby, followed suit at Chantilly in 1836, although it was reduced to 1 5/16 miles in 2005. The Irish Derby had a pair of false starts in 1818 and 1848 but finally found its footing at the Curragh in 1866. Nine years later, Churchill Downs introduced the world to the Kentucky Derby, which was run at the standard Derby distance of 1 1/2 miles − and on dirt, to boot − until 1896, when it was run for the first time at 1 1/4 miles.

Those four are the most important derbies in the world. As such, they separate the wheat from the chaff in producing the best of the 3-year-old generation in their respective countries.

Three of the Epsom Derby s first five winners were by Eclipse, from whom 80 percent of all contemporary Thoroughbreds are descended. The 1787 winner, Sir Peter Teazle, sired four Derby winners, two Oaks winners, and four St. Leger winners. Waxy, the 1793 winner, sired four Derby winners, including Whalebone, the sire of two Derby winners himself. The 1823 Derby winner, Emilius, sired two Derby winners, including Priam, the sire of three Oaks winners.

The exploits of Derby winners at stud were not limited to males. The 1857 winner, Blink Bonny, foaled the 1864 winner, Blair Athol, who was the sire of the 1877 winner, Silvio. The 1873 winner, Doncaster, sired the 1880 winner, Bend Or, who in turn sired the 1886 British Triple Crown winner, Ormonde.

The 1890 Derby winner, Sainfoin, presaged a sea change in Thoroughbred affairs. He was the sire of the 1903 British Triple Crown winner, Rock Sand, the sire of Mahubah, the dam of Man o War. More recently, 1918 Derby winner Gainsborough sired 1933 winner Hyperion, the great foundation sire and the father of the 1941 Derby winner, Owen Tudor.

Derby winners from any country who sire Derby winners or even classic winners in general are less frequent these days. Over the last 20 years, winners of the Epsom Derby have proved less adept at siring Group 1 or Grade 1 winners than the winners of the Kentucky Derby, the French Derby, or the Irish Derby.

Since 1990, Epsom Derby winners have sired 28 Grade 1 winners of 50 Grade 1 races, but only Galileo has sired an Epsom Derby winner, that being New Approach. Galileo has also sired St. Leger winner Sixties Icon and two other classic winners. Sinndar has sired Irish Oaks winner Shawanda, and Generous sired German Oaks winner Mystic Lips. The Epsom Derby suffered a dry spell from 1993 through 1999, when only one winner, Shaamit, produced a Group 1 winner, that being St. Leger laureate Bollin Eric.

The Kentucky Derby hasn t fared much better. Its last 20 winners have sired 31 Grade 1 winners of 62 Grade 1 races. Unbridled sets the pace with Preakness winner Red Bullet and Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, who was the sire of Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, who in turn is the sire of Belmont winner Summer Bird and Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. Thunder Gulch is the sire of Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given.

But the near future of the Kentucky Derby as a classic producer looks shaky. Recent winners Funny Cide and Mine That Bird are geldings, and Barbaro is dead.

Since 1990, Prix du Jockey-Club winners and Irish Derby winners have sired 44 Grade 1 winners. French Derby winner Hernando has sired French Derby winners Sulamani and Holding Court as well as English Oaks winner Look Here. Sulamani himself is the sire of dual classic winner Mastery. Dalakhani is the sire of St. Leger winner Conduit and Irish Oaks winner Moonstone, but it is French and Irish Derby winner Montjeu who takes the cake as the leading sire of classic winners. He is the father of Irish Derby winners Hurricane Run, Fame and Glory, and Frozen Fire; Epsom Derby winners Authorized and Motivator; St. Leger winner Scorpion; and Australian Derby winners Nom de Jeu and Roman Emperor.

By comparison, winners of the Belmont Stakes, which at 1 1/2 miles resembles a European derby, have sired more Grade 1 winners than any of the four major derbies. Its last 20 winners have sired 53 Grade 1 winners of 79 Grade 1 races, one fewer Grade 1 race than the French Derby and two fewer than the Irish.

The 1992 Belmont winner, A.P. Indy, is responsible for many of them, with Preakness winner Bernardini and Belmont and Kentucky Oaks winner Rags to Riches. The 2004 winner, Birdstone, has sired Belmont winner Summer Bird and Derby winner Mine That Bird. All of which proves that Belmont Stakes winners are still in much demand despite having a distance that is unfashionable − in America at least.