Breeding is perhaps the biggest single contributing factor to success in the Kentucky Derby. The mile and a quarter Derby distance is a huge challenge for horses – well beyond the range of ability for most. You can never truly know how well a thoroughbred will handle the distance until they try it, but you can get a clue from their pedigree. If horses are bred to succeed, then their chances of success are much better than if they don’t have stamina in their background. This is a particular concern in the United States where breeding has in recent decades become more and more focused on speed at the expense of stamina. In other words, most horses aren’t able to handle the Derby distance because they aren’t bred to do it.
There is always a lot of pedigree analysis available around the time of the Derby. Unfortunately, a lot of it isn’t particularly useful. You can always seek out better infomation, but a lot of bettors are stubborn and looking to do the work themselves so they can trust it. It takes a lifetime to truly understand and evaluate pedigrees. Thankfully, there are shortcuts you can take – using the power of the Internet – to get a sense of whether a horse is qualified to be a serious Derby contender or not. Here are five useful steps that will help you in handicapping this Triple Crown race:
Who’s Your Daddy? – The first big influence on a horse is its father – or sire in horse terms. When you look at a pedigree it looks like a family tree laid on its side. In every generation the sire is on top and the mother – called a dam – is on the bottom. First, you want to look at the sire. Is he a horse you recognize? Whether the thoroughbred is familiar or not, a quick Google search can tell you what you need to know. Is he a successful sire? As a race horse did he win sprint races (a mile or less) or longer races? As a sire, has his offspring won shorter or longer races? Have they won high caliber races, or less impressive ones? It’s hard for a horse to outrun his breeding, so if a sire has not produced quality stamina runners then it is very unlikely that the horse will be a quality stamina runner. Of course, the opposite isn’t true – a horse isn’t guaranteed to be a stamina threat because his sire was.
Hot Dam? – The next place to look is the dam. This is a little harder to do because mares are more obscure – one sire can have 100 foals a year, while a mare will only have one foal a year. It’s also far more common to see a dam that wasn’t a successful racehorse turn into a very successful producer. It’s also less common for female horses to run longer races, so it can be harder to determine how good they are at distance running. You want to check their record to see if they have had success in long races. You also want to look to see if any of their previous foals have had stamina success.
Sire side stallions – The next step in handicapping this Triple Crown race is to look at the sire side stallions – the grandfathers, great grandfathers, and great-great grandfathers on the father’s side. You want to look at the same things you did with the sire – whether they had a successful racing career over a distance themselves, whether their offspring have done so, and so on.
Dam side stallions – This is the same process of looking at the forefathers on the mother’s side. This is especially important because it can be challenging to get a sense of the stamina characteristics the dam offers. Between the dam side and the sire side you are looking for two things: that there is more than one sire with a strong stamina background, and that there aren’t multiple sires with a clear sprint bias.
Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup classic winners – This is the easiest shortcut there is. If a horse in the pedigree has won a Triple Crown race or the Breeders’ Cup Classic then you can assume that he or she possesses strong stamina characteristics – he couldn’t have won these races if he didn’t. If you want to do a bit more homework you can also add in other Grade I stakes races run at at least nine furlongs like the Haskell Invitational, Travers, Donn Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap, Pacific Classic, Woodward Stakes and so on.