Yet to contest a points race, or even try two turns, Nadal nevertheless proved a popular choice in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager that ran Feb. 7-9. Indeed, the Bob Baffert trainee was bet down to 8-1 odds – the same as Tiz the Law – to rank as individual favorites.

Nadal is 2-for-2 so far in sprints at Santa Anita, following up an emphatic maiden win with a grittier decision in the San Vicente (G2). He showed determination worthy of his namesake, tennis great Rafael Nadal, but it remains to be seen if he’ll have the same staying power.

The Derby hopeful is expected to stretch out in the March 14 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park. In the meantime, we can entertain ourselves with his pedigree.

Nadal comes from the male line of another named for a superior athlete, Roberto. Honoring Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Roberto was a homebred for Pirates owner John Galbreath.

The equine Roberto was sent to master trainer Vincent O’Brien in Ireland, where he became the champion 2-year-old of 1971. He was even better at three, winning the Derby (G1) at Epsom and upsetting the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup (G1) (the race now known as the Juddmonte International) at York. In the latter, Roberto handed the all-time great Brigadier Gerard his sole career defeat.

Roberto was hailed as England’s champion 3-year-old colt of 1972, and in a tragic twist of fate, the baseball legend was killed in a plane crash on the last day of that very year. The horse added the Coronation Cup (G1) to his resume in 1973, and later that summer, Clemente was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

One of Roberto’s sons, Dynaformer, has sired a Kentucky Derby winner in Barbaro (2006). Nadal, being by Blame, descends from a different branch of the line. Blame is by Arch, a son of the Roberto stallion Kris S.

Blame achieved a feat reminiscent of his great-grandsire in upending a hitherto unbeaten superstar – in his case, thwarting Zenyatta’s title defense in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. The Eclipse Award winner as that season’s champion older male, Blame is beautifully bred on his dam’s side as well. He shares the same female line as influential stallions Sadler’s Wells and Nureyev.

Nadal likewise can claim significant maternal relatives. His dam, Ascending Angel, is by Pulpit (a son of Hall of Famer A.P. Indy who is himself by Triple Crown sweeper Seattle Slew). Nadal’s second dam, Solar Colony by 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (G1) champion Pleasant Colony, is a full sister to Pleasant Stage, the champion 2-year-old filly of 1991. Another sister, Grade 2 heroine Colonial Play, produced 2008 Canadian International (G1) hero Marsh Side. Nadal’s third dam is Meteor Stage, a daughter of 1968 Belmont champion Stage Door Johnny.

Tracing the matrilineal descent further back, Nadal comes from the family labeled 23-b. That family is responsible for a total of eight Derby winners, most recently I’ll Have Another (2012) who has the same fifth dam as Nadal, Patelin (b. 1968). Patelin scored her marquee victories as a juvenile in the 1970 Alcibiades, Schuylerville, and Selima. Others more distantly linked in the maternal tree include Mine That Bird (2009), Lil E. Tee (1992), Winning Colors (1988), Affirmed (1978), Tim Tam (1958), Zev (1923), and Kingman (1891).