Kentucky Derby veterans feature in today's contender pedigrees

May 01, 2017 Kellie Reilly/

If you’ve been a Kentucky Derby (G1) fan in recent years, you’ll probably remember runners like Pioneerof the Nile, Bodemeister, Curlin, Union Rags, Lookin at Lucky, and Dialed In. Depending upon how far back your Derby memories go, you may have seen Unbridled, Sunday Silence, Real Quiet, Seeking the Gold, Pulpit, Menifee, Demons Begone, Sunny’s Halo, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Riva Ridge, and Secretariat.

Those are some of the Derby veterans who appear in the pedigrees of the 2017 contenders, making a look at their ancestry feel like a walk down memory lane.

The two likely top betting choices, Classic Empire and Always Dreaming, are both by horses who finished second in their respective runnings of the Derby.

Classic Empire is by Pioneerof the Nile, who was best of the rest behind the 50-1 Mine That Bird in the 2009 Run for the Roses. Pioneerof the Nile has gained more than a measure of consolation for that loss – by siring 2015 Triple Crown star American Pharoah. Classic Empire has another recent Derby participant on his dam’s side: his broodmare sire is Cat Thief, who was third to Charismatic in the 1999 Derby. (The hard-charging runner-up to Charismatic, Menifee, is the broodmare sire of J Boys Echo.)

Always Dreaming is from the first crop sired by 2012 Derby favorite Bodemeister, who nearly wired them in a blistering display of speed, only to be caught late by I’ll Have Another.

Classic Empire and Always Dreaming come from the same sire line. Pioneerof the Nile and Bodemeister are both sons of Derby runner-up Empire Maker, who was upstaged by Funny Cide here in 2003. But Empire Maker’s sire, Unbridled, had captured the 1990 Kentucky Derby en route to an Eclipse Award as champion three-year-old male. With Classic Empire and Always Dreaming representing him, the male line of Unbridled has two premier chances of adding to its Derby laurels on May 6.

Unbridled has additional rooting interests through his daughters. Gunnevera, out of an Unbridled mare, has a Derby connection through his sire too: he’s from the first crop of Dialed In, a belatedly closing eighth as the favorite in the 2011 edition behind Animal Kingdom. Unbridled also factors in the dam’s side of Sonneteer (via Unbridled’s Song, fifth as the 7-2 favorite despite battling foot trouble in the 1996 Derby) as well as in the maternal half of Patch’s pedigree. 

Sonneteer’s paternal grandsire is 1998 Derby and Preakness (G1) hero Real Quiet, who missed the Triple Crown by an agonizing whisker in the Belmont S. (G1). Sonneteer has another member of the “Two-thirds Club” on his dam’s side, 1972 Derby and Belmont winner Riva Ridge.

Patch is from the first crop of Union Rags, who was a rallying seventh to I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister after a tough trip in 2012. Another 2012 Derby also-ran, ninth-placer Hansen, has a first-crop representative in Fast and Accurate. Hansen had been the champion two-year-old colt of 2011 after holding off Union Rags in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs, so the duo had a history prior to the Derby.

Hansen’s sire, Tapit, was also ninth in his Derby, the 2004 edition won by Smarty Jones. Now a perennial leading sire, who has broken the North American single-season record for progeny earnings for the past three consecutive years, Tapit sends out Tapwrit in Derby 143. Tapit’s young son Trappe Shot also fields a contender in Untrapped.

Tapit’s pedigree is suffused with Derby influences on both sides. He is by Pulpit, who sustained an injury when fourth in the 1997 Derby to Silver Charm and never raced again. Pulpit was in turn by Hall of Famer A.P. Indy, himself a son of 1977 Triple Crown hero Seattle Slew and out of a mare by 1973 Triple Crown legend Secretariat (who appears somewhere in the overwhelming majority of 2017 contenders). A.P. Indy would have been a prime player in the 1992 Derby, if he hadn’t been scratched due to a bruised hoof. As if the sire’s side of the pedigree weren’t deep enough, Tapit is also out of a mare by Unbridled, underscoring the profound influence of the 1990 Derby winner on contemporary American bloodlines.

Seattle Slew’s legacy, chiefly through A.P. Indy, is another pervasive theme in the Derby 143 pedigrees. Responsible for much more than the Tapit crew, A.P. Indy also appears via his Horse of the Year son Mineshaft (the sire of J Boys Echo and Gunnevera’s sire Dialed In), champion son Bernardini (paternal grandsire of State of Honor), son Malibu Moon (sire of Gormley and broodmare sire of Girvin), and his daughters, the dams of Hence and Patch. (Petrov, who’s almost certainly too low on the points list to draw in, is inbred to A.P. Indy.) Seattle Slew himself factors deeper inside the pedigrees of Irap, Thunder Snow, “bubble” horses Royal Mo and Master Plan, and appears twice in both Patch and Tapwrit.

The Triple Crown winner immediately following “Slew,” Affirmed, lurks further back in the ancestry of Thunder Snow, Gormley, and Practical Joke.

Practical Joke has a few other Derby connections. His paternal grandsire, Harlan’s Holiday, was the 2002 Derby favorite who ultimately wound up seventh. On Practical Joke’s maternal side, one finds 1983 Derby winner Sunny’s Halo and Forty Niner, the near-misser to filly Winning Colors in 1988.

Forty Niner’s subsequent archrival, Seeking the Gold, was only seventh in the Derby. Seeking the Gold now hopes for better fortune for his daughter’s boy, McCraken.

Lookin at Lee has more than his fair share of bad Derby luck in his pedigree. His sire, Lookin at Lucky, went off as the favorite in the 2010 running, only to endure a horrid trip from his rail post. In the circumstances, the two-time Eclipse Award champion performed valiantly to finish sixth. On his dam’s side, Lookin at Lee descends from Demons Begone, the 1987 Derby favorite who bled early in the race and had to be pulled up.

Lookin at Lucky is in turn by Smart Strike, also the sire of Hall of Famer Curlin, the third-place finisher in the 2007 Run for the Roses. Curlin has a major contender this year in his son Irish War Cry. Smart Strike himself is the sire of Battle of Midway, who’s out of a mare by Concerto, ninth in Silver Charm’s Derby. Concerto is in turn by Chief’s Crown, third as the favorite here in 1985.

“Bubble” horse Local Hero is by Hard Spun, second to Street Sense in 2007 (and thus one spot ahead of Curlin). Girvin’s sire, Tale of Ekati, checked in fourth behind Big Brown in the 2008 Derby. Tale of Ekati is himself out of a mare by 1989 Derby and Preakness legend Sunday Silence.

All of these 2017 Derby aspirants carry the genetic heritage of the 1964 winner, Northern Dancer.

Years from now, which of them might pass the torch to Derbies yet to come? 

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