One of the most fascinating things about pedigrees is discovering the relationships between today’s horses and top performers of the past. Whether bred in the purple or more of a blue-collar baby, the contenders for Saturday’s 144th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) share key influences and have significant connections of their own.
Here’s a sampling of “pedigree fun facts” for Derby 144:
1. Fourteen of the 20 runners are sired by horses who competed in the Kentucky Derby. A few even competed against each other! Scat Daddy was an uncharacteristic 18th in 2007, exiting with an injury that prompted his retirement, but has four sons going to war for him here: favorite Justify, Irish shipper Mendelssohn, Flameaway, and Combatant. Curlin raced in the same 2007 Derby, finishing third, before going on to compile a Hall of Fame career. Three sons of Curlin seek the trophy Saturday: champion Good Magic, Vino Rosso, and Solomini. And Good Magic is out of a mare by Hard Spun, the 2007 Derby runner-up. A trio from the 2012 Derby have representatives: Creative Cause (fifth) sired My Boy Jack, Union Rags (seventh) has Free Drop Billy, and Take Charge Indy (19th) sends out Noble Indy. Medaglia d’Oro, fourth in the 2002 edition, is the sire of both Bolt d’Oro and Enticed. Tapit, ninth in 2004, sired Hofburg. Shackleford, fourth in 2011, has Promises Fulfilled who is trained, like his dad, by Dale Romans.
2. Mendelssohn, a paternal grandson of past Aidan O’Brien star Johannesburg, is also a half-brother to the sire of Audible. Johannesburg, who shipped in from Ireland to capture the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), brought O’Brien to his first Kentucky Derby in 2002 (joined by stablemate Castle Gandolfo). They ran eighth and 12th, respectively. It would be a case of coming full circle if Johannesburg (sire of Scat Daddy) turns out to be the grandsire of an epic first European-based Kentucky Derby winner. Although most of the pedigree discussion around Mendelssohn involves his famous half-sister Beholder, they have another accomplished half-sibling in Into Mischief (all out of Broodmare of the Year Leslie’s Lady). A Grade 1-winning juvenile who was knocked off the 2008 Derby trail by injury, Into Mischief has emerged as a fine sire. A few of his sons – Goldencents, Vyjack, Vicar’s in Trouble, and Practical Joke – have made it to the Derby in recent years. They have all had stamina limitations exposed, but Into Mischief’s latest hopeful, Audible, stands to receive more help from his female line.
3. Magnum Moon is bred on a cross very similar to 2013 Derby hero Orb. Both are by Malibu Moon, a male-line descendant of 1977 Triple Crown legend Seattle Slew by way of his Hall of Fame son A.P. Indy. Orb was produced by a mare by 1990 Kentucky Derby champion Unbridled, while Magnum Moon’s dam is by Unbridled’s son, Unbridled’s Song (himself fifth in the 1996 Derby).
4. Flameaway is out of a mare by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, and his second dam is by an Epsom Derby (G1) hero. That Epsom champion was Generous, who beat Marju in 1991. Now for the twist to the story. Generous later covered Marju’s dam, Flame of Tara, who had also produced champion filly Salsabil, winner of three classics in 1990 including an historic victory over the boys in the Irish Derby (G1). The Generous-Flame of Tara mating resulted in Rose of Tara, the granddam of Flameaway.
5. Instilled Regard’s granddam is champion Heavenly Prize, recently voted into the Hall of Fame. A homebred campaigned in the 1990s by the late Ogden Phipps, Heavenly Prize won or placed in all 18 career starts including 14 Grade 1s. It would be quite an added honor for her grandson to wear the roses in the year of her induction.
6. Lone Sailor descends from a full sister to champion filly Althea. After crushing males in the 1984 Arkansas Derby (G1), Althea was the better half of the favored entry in the Kentucky Derby, but retreated to 19th behind the victorious Swale. Althea became an influential matron, and her descendants include Arch, the sire of Lone Sailor’s Derby rival Instilled Regard.
7. Combatant traces to Canadian Hall of Fame racemare Fanfreluche. She went on to produce fellow Canadian Hall of Famers L’Enjoleur and La Voyageuse, and a third Canadian champion in Medaille d’Or. Her reach extends around the world through such descendants as Encosta de Lago, Flying Spur, and Holy Roman Emperor.
8. Firenze Fire comes from the immediate family of Promises Fulfilled’s sire, Shackleford. Firenze Fire’s granddam is a full sister to Oatsee, the Broodmare of the Year after producing the likes of 2011 Preakness (G1) winner Shackleford, Lady Joanne, Afleeting Lady, and Baghdaria.
9. Solomini’s dam, Surf Song, is a half-sister to champion Midshipman and an “aunt” of Frosted. Midshipman, winner of the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is a half-brother to Grade 2 heroine Fast Cookie, the dam of multiple Grade 1 victor Frosted. After a fourth to American Pharoah in the 2015 Kentucky Derby, Frosted finished second to the Triple Crown champion in the Belmont.
10. Vino Rosso is out of a mare by Street Cry, sire of Zenyatta, Winx, and 2007 Derby star Street Sense. Vino Rosso’s dam, Mythical Bride, is herself a half-sister to Commissioner, who nearly wired the 2014 Belmont.
11. Bravazo is bred on the same cross as 2013 Preakness hero Oxbow and 2012 Belmont near-misser Paynter. All three are by Awesome Again and out of mares by Cee’s Tizzy, the California stallion best known for siring Hall of Famer Tiznow, still the only two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner. Oxbow and Paynter were produced by full sisters to Tiznow, but Bravazo comes from a different female line.
12. Hofburg, a half-brother to millionaire Emollient, descends directly from the mare who produced breed-shaping sire Northern Dancer, Natalma. Like Hofburg, four-time Grade 1 vixen Emollient was also trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Emollient is by Empire Maker, but Hofburg is a son of Tapit, giving him close inbreeding to Hall of Famer A.P. Indy.
13. Enticed was produced by multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire It’s Tricky. Like his mom, Enticed is a Godolphin colorbearer trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
14. Recently deceased Giant’s Causeway factors in the ancestry of three Derby contenders. An “Iron Horse” for O’Brien who became an outstanding stallion on the world stage, the patriarch of Coolmore’s Ashford Stud is the paternal grandsire of My Boy Jack. The other two receive influence through his daughters. Free Drop Billy is out of a Grade 3-placed Giant’s Causeway mare, and Magnum Moon’s second dam (granddam) is Win McCool, a Grade 3-winning daughter of Giant’s Causeway.
15. Free Drop Billy is a half-brother to Godolphin’s multiple Group 1 turf star Hawkbill. Out of the mare Trensa but by Kitten’s Joy, Hawkbill recently won the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on the same Dubai World Cup card that featured Mendelssohn’s UAE Derby (G2) romp.
Bonus: Also-eligible Blended Citizen won’t get a chance to run unless one of the top 20 scratches by 9 a.m. (EDT) Friday, but he deserves a spot on this list as a half-brother to last year’s Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee. Blended Citizen would have qualified for inclusion in the No. 1 paragraph as well, as his sire, Proud Citizen, was second in the 2002 Derby.
Photo of supersire Northern Dancer, who appears in every contender pedigree, draped in roses after the 1964 Kentucky Derby