Many skilled handicappers treat pedigree analysis as though it should be left for those whose primary aim is the buying, selling, or breeding of horses. There are countless examples, new and old, of the maddening uncertainty associated with this subject.
One hundred years ago, Roamer was the champion three-year-old and is credited with 1914 Horse of the Year recognition. He was sired by a "teaser stallion" named Knight Errant. As a "teaser", Knight Errant's job was to determine a mare's receptiveness to male advances. If the mare wasn't receptive, it was better that she lash out at the otherwise worthless teaser than at the farm's valuable stallion. One day, Knight Errant roamed away from his paddock and jumped a fence to hook up with a blind claiming mare named Rose Tree. The result of this unplanned union was the future Hall of Famer Roamer.
This year's expected Kentucky Derby favorite, California Chrome, is sired by obscure stallion Lucky Pulpit. His dam Love The Chase was a very mediocre racer whose only career win came in an $8,000 maiden claiming race. His 2nd dam Chase It Down won her only career race at Charles Town, and she was beaten by more than a dozen lengths in three of her five Charles Town starts.
Breeding is far from an exact science, and throughout history, a lot reputed experts in the area have been mocked by the sharp racing minds of their day.
The great racing historian John Hervey once wrote: "The pedigree doctors! Oh, for the pen of an O. Henry or Max Beerbohm with which to describe them! There is nothing else in the universe for a moment to be compared with them. They stand alone. If you are a prey to monotony and long for mental dissipation, just attempt to follow them in their gyrations. The result will be a case of vertigo such as could in no other way be obtained."
Make no mistake, there are pitfalls with the study of pedigrees, but you can also use it to find a strong betting edge in situations where it has relevance. Generally, maiden races.
Does pedigree analysis have any relevance in handicapping the Derby? I've went back and re-looked at the pedigrees of Kentucky Derby winners dating back to Y2K. I'll leave it to the reader to draw any conclusions.
2013 winner: Orb
* Sire: Malibu Moon, an A. P. Indy colt who made just two lifetime starts, one was a defeat at 4.5 furlongs and the other a victory at five furlongs. His promising racing career was cut short, but he beat the odds and became a very successful stallion. Most Malibu Moon offspring prefer dirt. He's a good wet track sire. He gets both sprinters and routers. If I had to pigeonhole him, I'd say he's a dirt miler type of sire.
* Dam: Lady Liberty is a daughter of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. She broke her maiden at nine furlongs on the dirt at Saratoga. However, her best form came at 12 furlongs on the turf. Orb's second dam Mesabi Maiden only won three races, but her shining moment came when she captured the Black Eyed Susan Stakes in the mud at 14/1 odds over Cara Rafaela, the dam of Bernardini. Make no mistake about it, there is a ton of stamina in this tail female family.
2012 winner: I'll Have Another
Sire: Flower Alley only sprinted once in his career, and that race yielded an inauspicious debut when finishing a distant third in a Calder Maiden Special Weight race. The stretch out to a route made a difference, and he broke his maiden at 5/1 in career start number two, and upset the Grade 2 Spiral at 10/1 odds in his third career start. Flower Alley was successful at 10 furlongs, winning the Travers and finishing second to Saint Liam in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Offspring of Flower Alley generally prefer dirt. They also generally prefer route distances. They win 16% of their races routing, versus just 12% sprinting.
Dam: Arch's Gal Edith raced only one time in her career, capturing a Maiden Special Weight race at Belmont before going to the sidelines.
There is huge stamina through the male influences on the dam side of I'll Have Another's pedigree. His damsire Arch won the Grade 1 Super Derby at 10 furlongs. I'll Have Another's 2nd dam was by Pleasant Tap, who was a multiple Grade 1 winner at 10 furlongs. He won the Jockey Club Gold Cup over A.P. Indy and Strike The Gold and also won the ten furlong Suburban. Pleasant Tap was third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the BC Classic. I'll Have Another's 3rd dam was by Caucasus who won the Group 1 Irish St Leger at 1 3/4 miles. He also won the 2-mile South Bay Handicap. In America, he was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup at 10 furlongs on dirt and third in the San Juan Capistrano at 14fs on turf. I'll Have Another's fourth dam was by Sea-Bird, who won the English Derby and The Arc De Triomphe.
2011 winner: Animal Kingdom
Sire: Leroidesanimaux was a sensational turf miler for Bobby Frankel. As a sire, his offspring generally prefer turf and synthetic surfaces.
Dam: Dalicia won each of her three lifetime races at ten furlongs on turf. There is a lot of stamina through the female side of Animal Kingdom's pedigree, but it's all turf. This pedigree is incredibly turf oriented.
2010 winner: Super Saver
Sire: Maria's Mon was a two-year-old champion. He also sired Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. Maria's Mon offspring generally favor dirt. Even though he's sired two Kentucky Derby winners, his offspring tend to be distance neutral. If you breed him to mares with sprint oriented pedigrees, you're likely to get a sprinter. If you breed him to mares with route oriented pedigrees, you're likely to get routers.
Dam: Supercharger, a daughter of A. P. Indy out of the Graded Stakes winning dirt router Get Lucky, Supercharger was a useful Phipps runner. She was effective sprinting and won one of her two route attempts in her brief racing career. Supercharger is a full sister to stakes winners Accelerator, Daydreaming and Girolamo, as well as the unraced She's A Winner, who is the dam of Haskell winner Bluegrass Cat. Her full brother Accelerator actually won at 12 furlongs on the Turf at Saratoga, but Super Saver's female side is primarily dirt and routing.
2009 winner: Mine That Bird
Sire: Birdstone is a Belmont Stakes and Travers winner. His offspring generally dislike turf and do their best on dirt. He tends to get routers more so than sprinters.
Dam: Mining My Own is an unraced daughter of Smart Strike. She is also the dam of Blue Grass and Pacific Classic winner Dullahan. The second dam of Mine That Bird is Aspenelle. She was fifth in her debut, sprinting at Woodbine. In her second career start, Aspenelle was stretched out to a route and came from off the pace to win by ten lengths. She also won her third career start at a route, before finishing second in the nine furlong Canadian Oaks in her fourth and final career start. This is yet another route oriented female family.
2008 winner: Big Brown
Sire: Boundary was strictly a sprinter throughout his racing career, and was a very good one at that for Bill Mott. Indeed, one of Bill Mott's best ever dirt sprinters. Boundary tends to sire sprinter miler types. While his offspring tend to prefer dirt a bit, they can also handle grass.
Dam: Mien was a Michael Dickinson trainer runner who only raced twice, both times at 8.5 furlongs. Something was amiss and she was eased in her career debut, which came on dirt. She won her second and final start, in a Maiden Special Weight event over the Pimlico turf course. Big Brown's second dam Miasma was a European import, her only North American win came going nine furlongs over the Churchill Downs turf. This is a turf route oriented female family.
2007 winner: Street Sense
Sire: Street Cry, a brilliant winner of the Dubai World Cup at age four. Street Cry is probably most famous now for siring Zenyatta. His offspring generally prefer routing and handle all types of surfaces.
Dam: At long last, we finally have some sign of a sprinter. Bedazzle's best game was seven furlongs, though she was a good second in her only try in a dirt route. Street Sense's second dam Majestic Legend was primarily a turf router, whose best game seemed to nine furlongs on grass.
2006 winner: Barbaro
Sire: Dynaformer wasn't exactly a fearsome racer. Indeed, Dynaformer made eight career starts at the Grade 1 stakes level. Here's how he performed at that level:
1988 Wood Memorial: 7th place finish
1988 Travers Stakes: 5th place finish
1988 Pegasus Handicap: 5th place finish
1989 San Fernando Stakes: 6th place finish
1989 Charles H Strub: 5th place finish
1989 Gulfstream Park Handicap: 6th place finish
1989 Bowling Green Handicap: 8th place finish
1989 Suburban Handicap: 9th place finish
As a racer, the two things Dynaformer had going for him were endurance and surface versatility. He won at 12 furlongs on turf and was second at 13 furlongs on dirt. Obviously, Dynaformer is much better remembered for being a very successful stallion. His good offspring generally carried his strong traits, surface versatility and great stamina.
Dam: La Ville Rouge was an incredibly versatile racer. She won at six furlongs on the dirt from close to the pace, but was multiple Graded Stakes placed at 11 furlongs on the Turf, both time coming from off the pace. While La Ville Rouge was a capable sprinter, her best form came in turf marathons.
2005 winner: Giacomo
Sire: Holy Bull was a great racer and he won the Travers with a heroic front-running performance. In that race, he was hounded early by a Lukas trained rabbit, chased by quality stalkers Tabasco Cat and Unaccounted For, and was still able to fend off the late rally of that years Breeders' Cup Classic winner Concern. As a sire, Holy Bull wasn't so special. He also didn't have a specialty lean. He got sprinters and routers, dirt horses and turfers.
Dam: We finally have a horse with a dam who was a speed demon sprinter. Set Them Free was a dazzling and precocious sprinter. She only raced one time at a route distance her entire career, where she set the pace in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, before fading badly to finish 11th. Interestingly, while Set Them Free was a speedy runner, her offspring have been classy distances horses. Besides Giacomo, she's also dropped Multiple Grade 1 winner Tiago, as well as Stanwyck, and Sea Jewel.
2004 winner: Smarty Jones
Sire: Elusive Quality was a brilliant sprinter/miler type for Bill Mott. He was one of those horses that would run eye-popping speed figures in allowance races, and usually fail at a short price when tested by top caliber competition. As a sire, Elusive Quality has been outstanding. He gets runners on any type of surface. While his offspring tend to generally be sprinter/miles, he can certainly pop a very good router here and there.
Dam: I'll Get Along was a very tough racemare for Robert Camac. She was a capable sprinter, but also a very good router as well. Indeed, I'll Get Along won three of her nine route attempts and finished in the top three positions every time. Smarty Jones third dam was also admirably versatile. She was stakes placed at 5.5 furlongs on dirt, and four-times stakes placed in Turf routes.
2003 winner: Funny Cide
Sire: Distorted Humor, much like with Elusive Quality, was a brilliant speed figure horse capable of running dazzling numbers against competition that was a cut-below. His race record certainly indicates he was a better sprinter, but Distorted Humor always ran very respectable speed figures in his route defeats. He's been a huge success as a sire. His offspring prefer dirt. He gets good runners at all distances.
Dam: Belle's Good Cide was a very mediocre racer. She competed at tracks such as Remington Park, Fair Meadows, and The Woodlands. I actually had to Google Fair Meadows to see where it's located (Tulsa, Oklahoma) -- The Woodlands is a now defunct track in Kansas. Funny Cide's second dam Belle of Killarney was an unraced daughter of Little Current, he was a champion three-year-old in 1974 and demonstrated a furious closing kick to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
2002 winner: War Emblem
Sire: Our Emblem, by Mr. Prospector out of the great Personal Ensign, was primarily a sprinter throughout his racing career. As a sire, he generally gets dirt horses. His offspring tend to be sprinter/miler types.
Dam: Sweetest Lady, by Lord At War, was strictly a dirt router. She won 5-of-11 in dirt routes and was winless in five career starts in all other types of races.
2001 winner: Monarchos
Sire: Maria's Mon also sired Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. See him above.
Dam: Regal Band was a dirt router. She was 3-for-11 in dirt routes and zero for seven in all other types of races. The 2nd dam of Monarchos, Regal Road, was a winless daughter of Roberto.
2000 winner: Fusaichi Pegasus
Sire: The legendary stallion Mr. Prospector. He was a confirmed sprinter as a race horse.
Dam: Angel Fever is a full sister to Preakness winner Pine Bluff, and a half sister to beaten Kentucky Derby favorite Demons Begone. She only made two career starts, posting one win and one second place finish. Fusaichi Pegasus was a $4 million yearling purchase.