All In the Family by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the June 2, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell

Most of us comb through pedigrees looking for signs—indicators of quality, stamina, and speed—and for those individuals capable of passing these traits along.

But pedigrees also tell us stories. In the case of Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another, his family tree’s branches are laden with tales of triumph and revenge.

Foremost, the cross of Flower Alley with Arch’s Gal Edith includes four Triple Crown winners if you go back nine generations where the earliest generation includes horses born largely in the late 1920s and early-to-mid-1930s. The Triple Crown champions to be found include Gallant Fox (1930, the second Triple Crown winner), Omaha (1935, a son of Gallant Fox), War Admiral (1937), and Count Fleet  (1943). Count Fleet is found twice in the pedigree of Flower Alley, both times coming through Mr. Prospector, who is the grandsire of Distorted Humor (the sire of Flower Alley) and is in the sire line of Flower Alley’s dam, Princess Olivia. All four Triple Crown winners can be found in the pedigree of Arch’s Gal Edith—all as broodmare sires.

Besides the American Triple Crown winners, Arch’s Gal Edith includes on her dam side Nijinsky II, who was the last winner of the English Triple Crown (1970 Two Thousand Guineas, Epsom Derby, and St. Leger). These Triple Crown winners are the heroes in the mythology, the champions in the blood whom many will point to and say here are signs that I’ll Have Another is the descendant who will break the 34-year Triple Crown drought and carry on the family’s legacy of greatness.

But as in all families, the victories are mixed with darker tales of frustration. In I’ll Have Another’s pedigree are six racehorses that won only two of the three classic races. Three of these runners had a shot at the Triple Crown title and lost it in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I)—Pensive (second by a half-length to Bounding Home in 1944), Northern Dancer (third by six lengths to Quadrangle and Roman Brother in 1964), and Pleasant Colony (third by 13⁄4 lengths behind Summing and Highland Blade in 1981).
The family even includes a spoiler named Stage Door Johnny, who denied Forward Pass the Triple Crown in 1968, beating him by 11⁄4 lengths. Even if Forward Pass had prevailed in the Belmont, his record would have been forever tainted by an asterisk. Would he have been considered a genuine Triple Crown winner having won the Kentucky Derby due to the disqualification of Dancer’s Image?

Then there is the family’s most heartbreaking story: Alydar. The hard-charging chestnut son of Raise a Native chased Affirmed through the 1978 Triple Crown, missing the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) by 1½ lengths, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) by a neck, and the Belmont by a head. Oh what could have been had there been no Affirmed that year.

Alongside heartbreak often stirs revenge, and so it is with the fans of Alydar, who is the sire of Althea, the second dam of Arch (the sire of Arch’s Gal Edith). Wouldn’t it be justice for a descendant of Alydar to capture the Triple Crown title he was denied? Many Alydar faithful are certain that I’ll Have Another is their avenger. When Alydar’s son Strike the Gold won the Kentucky Derby in 1991, the victory was seen as retribution.

Who among the ancestral influences will prevail when I’ll Have Another rounds the wide final turn June 9 into Belmont Park’s historic stretch? Will the weight of near-misses be too much to overcome or will the spirit of previous Triple Crown winners carry him to victory? Either way, the family is guaranteed another great story.

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