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Northern Dancer and the Epsom Derby

John Donnelly, an employee of Darley America and keen pedigree student, has penned the following guest post for TrueNicks. He takes a slightly different look at the influence of Northern Dancer on the Epsom Derby. With the 50th anniversary of Northern Dancer's birth, May 27, 1961, just recently passing, and the Epsom Derby being run and won, we thought that this was a timely post.

The name Northern Dancer first sprang to the attention of European owners and breeders forty years ago when he sired one of the greatest race horses of the twentieth century in Nijinsky II, who under the tutelage of the great Vincent O’Brien won the Two Thousand Guineas, Epsom Derby, and St. Leger, thus becoming the first horse since Bahram in 1935 to win the English Triple Crown.

Since that time, Northern Dancer’s influence on the Epsom Derby has grown significantly, if tempered by the fact that his name has become almost all-pervasive in the breed. There has not been a winner of the Epsom Derby since High Rise in 1998, some 13 years, to not have the presence of Northern Dancer in his pedigree, and quite interestingly this year's third placegetter, Carlton House, is the first placegetter in the Derby without Northern Dancer in his pedigree since Beat All in 1999.

The following is a more detailed look at the influence of this super sire on the race once described by legendary breeder Federico Tesio as "the race that shapes the evolution of the Thoroughbred." Because of the closeness of some of the finishes, and the fact that the first three horses each running should be considered the elite of their generation, I consider it best to give equal merit to the winners and the placed horses. Northern Dancer's influence on each horse will be calculated on principles similar to those of the dosage index. The first five generations of each horses pedigree will be examined and points awarded according to where Northern Dancer appears in that horse's pedigree. The points will be awarded as follows:

GenerationPoints
1st
16
2nd
8
3rd
4
4th
2
5th
1
6th
0.5

For example, here is the breakdown for the top three Epsom Derby finishers of 2011:

FinishHorsePoints
1st
Pour Moi6 = Northern Dancer in 3rd and 4th generations
2nd
Treasure Beach5 = Northern Dancer in 3rd and 5th generations
3rd
Carlton House0 = pedigree free of Northern Dancer
Total11

If Northern Dancer appears more than once in an individual pedigree, then the total amount of points will be cumulative. What is noteworthy from the figures below is that even though Northern Dancer is recessing back further into pedigrees, the numbers, especially in the past 15 years, have remained rather constant, indicating that breeders are far from reticent about inbreeding to this wonderful sire.

A horse sired by Northern Dancer is awarded 16 points but the total pedigree influence Northern Dancer has on that horse is only 50% which is 16/32. Therefore in a given year the point totals must be divided by 96 (32 x 3) to give the a fractional figure as to the influence of Northern Dancer that year.

YearPoints% influence
1970
1616.7%
1971
00.0%
1972
00.0%
1973
00.0%
1974
00.0%
1975
00.0%
1976
88.3%
1977
1616.7%
1978
00.0%
1979
1616.7%
1980
00.0%
1981
00.0%
1982
88.3%
1983
00.0%
1984
3233.3%
1985
00.0%
1986
1616.7%
1987
88.3%
1988
66.3%
1989
160.0%
1990
1010.4%
1991
1212.5%
1992
88.3%
1993
88.3%
1994
2020.8%
1995
1818.8%
1996
1212.5%
1997
1212.5%
1998
44.2%
1999
1616.7%
2000
1818.8%
2001
1313.5%
2002
1414.6%
2003
1414.6%
2004
1818.8%
2005
1111.5%
2006
1515.6%
2007
1515.6%
2008
88.3%
2009
1414.6%
2010
1212.5%
2011
1111.5%
Total
40910.1%

DecadePoints% influence
1970s
565.8%
1980s
707.3%
1990s
12012.5%
2000s
14014.6%
2010s
2312.0%

The results highlight the trend of Northern Dancer's strong influence on England's great classic race, with the 2000s showing the most significant concentration. Considering the multitude of top-level Northern Dancer-line sires standing in Europe (primarily through Sadler's Wells and Danehill), Northern Dancer's continued influence on the English classics seems secure for years to come.

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