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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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11 Comments:

But of course.  (Nothing more need be said about the St. Simon of the 20th Century)

However ... I am also interested in his influence in classics in other countries and I believe that it is as all prevasive in Australia.  In France, although I do not believe the Aga Khan had many Northern Dancers, is it not as important through Lyphard?  I am not so certain about Germany but Japan, despite Sunday Silence, still has some Northern Taste influences.

With respect to lines from ND: is Nijinksy hanging on?  Too bad Golden Fleece didn't live longer.

mz 10 Jun 2011 4:07 PM

Thanks MZ for reading it. It must be noted that the above is my first journalistic piece.  I recall reading a reprinted interview which the Aga Khan gave to Pacemaker in 1988.  He stated that he was not using Northern Dancer as a sire because he felt it was a small breed of horse physically and he preferred the Never Bend sire line. But now he has so many quality broodmares with relatively little or no Northern Dancer blood that can all be outcrossed to Northern Dancer line sires.  He also has the sire Dalakhani who has no Northern Dancer blood.  

Nijinsky appears on a lot of bottom lines in pedigrees.  Dansili carries the Nijinsky line through his dam who is out of a mare by Kahyasi.

John Donnelly 10 Jun 2011 5:56 PM

I'd love to see the influence on the Canadian and American Classic races. Huge! And the Breeders' Cup would be equally impressive.

Terry M. 10 Jun 2011 9:20 PM

Nice work, and interesting stats on Northern Dancer's contribution to Epsom Derby top finishers. Many may take this as further evidence of Northern Dancer's positive contribution to the breed. His record as direct sire was certainly excellent, and he was arguably quite good as a sire of sires. But, while indicative of his popularity, the figures cited above, TAKEN ALONE, should not be seen as added testimony of his genetic prowess...As a small aside (and not as example of my point), the "% Influence" figures cited are not absolutes, but rather approximations (as we learn from meiosis).        

sceptre 10 Jun 2011 11:49 PM

You say Northern Dancer and the Epsom Derby, I say Northern Dancer and all races down to the lowest of claiming races.

In the history of thoroughbred racing I have never come across a sire like this one ''Truly A Sire Of Sires''

John T 11 Jun 2011 12:44 AM

When you consider that 96% of the whole field for the Derby Stakes, in the last 15 years.. had Northern Dancer in their pedigrees, is it so surprising the the first three carry his blood.?, how about all the horses that finished last in each Derby since then, they also carried Northern Dancer Blood.

Hal Dane 13 Jun 2011 5:22 AM

Hal Dane,

John made it pretty clear that "his name has become almost all-pervasive in the breed".

The purpose of the post was not to make some type of qualifying statement - i.e you need Northern Dancer in some form to be successful, rather it was to show just how much influence the horse has had on the place-getters in the race.

Byron Rogers 13 Jun 2011 1:46 PM

Byron.,  In the same period, you could say the same for the Derby winner Shirley Heights, or his sire the Derby winner Mill Reef.

I'm pointing out that the fourth, fifth, sixth, etc, etc, also had Northern Dancer somewhere in their pedigree, so what does it all mean.? except that today's pedigrees are all the same.

Hal Dane 14 Jun 2011 5:11 AM

Hi John,

Thank you for writing this interesting article.  Kudos to you on your first shot at journalism.  Keep up the good work!

Ryan 14 Jun 2011 8:06 PM

John, a very good article, you should do more of them. I feel that not enough Americans know much about racing outside of the United States.I was that way until I obtained a Kahyasi colt out of a Darshaan mare and a friend from England schooled me on racing and bloodlines in other parts of the world.The NTRA sums it up saying that Northern Dancer is one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history.Again good article and keep writting.

glenn canale 31 Oct 2011 2:10 PM

Hi, just researching the Northern Dancer line as I have a 6yrold by Beat All out off Kashana. Never raced trained or named but I know he has it in him. I have researched his breeding and he's related to Nasrullah 5th generation on both sire and dam side. Sire side through Never Bend and dam through Red God. Am not familiar with TB inbreeding r linebreeding ...if anyone can shed any light on this??

laney 02 Dec 2011 8:35 PM

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