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A King on Any Surface

Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (gr. I, video below) was, we suspect, a history-making one on more than one count. We have a strong suspicion that the winner, Animal Kingdom, is the first horse to capture the Run for the Roses on his dirt debut, and we’d also nominate him as candidate for the title of “Derby Winner With the Most International Pedigree.”

Animal Kingdom was running for only the fifth time in his life. He’d made three previous starts on all-weather tracks, winning a maiden last year, and the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) in his final start before the Derby. His only other outing was an allowance race over a mile on turf, where an awkward start had more to do with his head defeat than an inability to handle the surface.

Interestingly enough, horses making their dirt debuts finished first (Animal Kingdom) and fifth (Master of Hounds), with Brilliant Speed, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on all-weather, and whose form in two dirt sprints at 2 was modest in the extreme, a respectable seventh. Master of Hounds and Brilliant Speed would probably have been even closer had the pace been as quick as anticipated.

Coupling this with the good third in last year’s Derby by Paddy O’Prado, who on the balance of his form is really a turf horse, gives a few points to ponder, and makes us suspect there could be some more turf background wildcards taking their shot at Kentucky Derby glory in the years to come. One point is that very few U.S. dirt horses are bred to run 1¼ miles, the principal reason being that opportunities for a dirt horse that wants 10 furlongs or more are very limited below the top class, something which is less true of turf horses. In addition, a lot of turf horses come from stout – frequently European – female lines that can confer extremely good aerobic abilities to their descendants. Horses with a turf background frequently don’t have the conformation and biomechanics that would make for a long career on the dirt, but they can run a big “one off” effort on the surface, and Churchill is a track that turf horses do sometimes seem to be able to get hold of.

In terms of his international background, we can start with the fact that Leroidesanimaux, the sire of Animal Kingdom, was foaled in Brazil, and was by a U.S.-born stallion with a French background out of an English-bred mare. Leroidesanimaux ran badly on dirt on his debut, and never tried the surface again. He won his turf debut in Brazil by 11¼ lengths, and in his only other start in his native country was second in a one-mile group I. In the U.S. at 4 and 5 he won eight of 10 starts, earning a title as champion turf horse as a 5-year-old. A graded winner from 6½ to 8½ furlongs, his victories including the Atto Mile (gr. I) – in which he was piloted by Johnny Velazquez, also rider of Animal Kingdom in the Derby – and Frank E. Kilroe Mile (gr. I). Leroidesanimaux has what looks to be a turf background on both sides of his pedigree, and his sire, Candy Stripes (by Blushing Groom out of a Lyphard mare), was second in the French 2,000 Guineas (gr. I). However, Candy Stripes is also sire of Horse of the Year Invasor (ARG) (TrueNicks,SRO), winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) and Dubai World Cup (gr. I) on the dirt, and broodmare sire of Candy Ride (ARG) (TrueNicks,SRO), who scored a spectacular win in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) on dirt. Animal Kingdom is a member of Leroidesanimaux’s second crop, and in his first crop he is sire of Always a Princess, twice a conqueror of champion Blind Luck in dirt graded events this year.

Dalicia, the dam of Animal Kingdom was born in Germany, and raced in Germany, France, and the U.S. She was a stakes winner in Germany over 11 furlongs at 3, and a group winner there over 10 furlongs at 4. She was also listed-placed in France, and in the U.S. won a 10-furlong allowance race at Hollywood Park and took fourth in the Beverly Hills Handicap (gr. II). Dalicia is a daughter of Acatenango (by German Derby winner Surumu), a three-time Horse of the Year in Germany, whose triumphs included the German Derby (gr. I), Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (gr. I), the Grosser Preis von Berlin (gr. I), and back-to-back renewals of the Grosser Preis von Baden (gr. I). Subsequently he was also a highly-successful sire. Dalacia was sold to Shadai Farm for 230,000 guineas at the Tattersalls December Sales. Dalicia’s sister Darwinia is dam of the Black Sam Bellamy (brother to Galileo) mare Daveron, a listed winner in Germany who took the Beaugay Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont on Saturday.

The granddam, Dynamis, is by Dancing Brave, a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (gr. I) winner with a brilliant turn of foot. She is a half sister to champion German 2-year-old filly Desidera and German 1,000 Guineas (gr. I) victress Diacada. The third dam, Diasprina, was another juvenile champion in Germany, and the female line has been a very solid one in Germany for several generations. The sixth dam was foaled in Hungary, where the family arrived from England in the early 1900s. Just to tie it in to something familiar, we’ll note it goes back to Scene (1895), a fairly close relative to Bromus, the dam of Phalaris.

Animal Kingdom was rated A++ by TrueNicks prior to the race (the third time this has happened in the last three years), and the TrueNicks Enhanced Report indicated that he’d get the trip, as the average winning distance for colts on the cross is 10.40 furlongs (click for report).

The previous day’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) further enhanced the reputation of Medaglia d'Oro (TrueNicks,SRO) as a sire of outstanding fillies, as Plum Pretty held off St. John’s River (Include (TrueNicks,SRO) full sister to grade I winner Panty Raid) to win by a neck. TrueNicks rated A++, Plum Pretty is out of the unplaced A.P. Indy mare Liszy. Liszy is a half sister to Gold Case, a undefeated two-time juvenile stakes winner whose career was cut short by injury.

The granddam, Silent Account, won the Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II) and was grade I-placed, and is a sister to grade I winner Secret Hello and stakes winner By Your Leave, and half sister to the speedy English group winner and U.S. stakes winner Hadif.

Plum Pretty is the fourth stakes winner and sixth stakes horse from only 14 starters on the Medaglia d’Oro/Seattle Slew cross. Medaglia d’Oro’s sire, El Prado, is out of a mare who is a Sir Gaylord/Tom Fool cross, the reverse to the granddam of A.P. Indy. There is another interesting factor in this mating, as Cappucino Bay (dam of Medaglia d’Oro) and Silent Account (granddam of Plum Pretty), are both Damascus/Silent Screen crosses.

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