Studying pedigrees is an art and science that takes a lifetime to understand. At the heart, though, handicappers study pedigrees for one reason - to try to understand if a horse is capable of doing something it hasn't done before. That's especially important in a race like the Kentucky Derby when every horse is being asked to run further than they ever have - and further than most horses are capable of doing effectively. By looking at the bloodlines of runners we can get a sense of which horses are well-suited, and which ones could be over their heads.
The pedigrees this year offer a cornucopia of storylines and intrigue - if only the current careers of these particular horses were as interesting as their breeding. Here's a look at six of the most interesting Kentucky Derby pedigree storylines this year for bettors. I'm only going to look at sires - there are endless stories of interest if we went back further:
Uncle Mo: We have been inundated with storylines about Uncle Mo already, and it will only get worse in the final days leading up to the race. He has sired three horses in the race - favorite Nyquist along with Outwork and Mo Tom. That's a remarkable feat for any horse, never mind a new stallion - this is Uncle Mo's first class of three year olds. Unfortunately, we never got to see how the horse would have handled this distance himself. He was the two year old champion of 2010, but after a disappointing third in the Wood Memorial he fell ill leading up to the Derby and was scratched. He only ran once after that, and that was in a sprint. He was a remarkable horse, and his early success at stud is incredible, but the jury is still out as to whether he can be a sire of Derby champions.
Tapit: The grey wonder stallion is another stud represented by three runners - Mohaymen, Creator, and Lani. Tapit ran in the Derby in 2004 but was an irrelevant ninth, well behind Smarty Jones. He's been the leading sire each of the last two years, and his current stud fee sits at a staggering $300,000, so he is obviously far more established than Uncle Mo. He sired Belmont winner Tonalist, so we know he can produce horses with stamina. At this point I trust Tapit more than Uncle Mo here, but there is no reason that that couldn't change over time.
Sons of Horse of the Year: When you look back at the long list of Derby winners over the years, one thing stands out - great horses sire great horses. On that front, then, it makes sense that the greatest horse of a given year could be trusted to pass on some of their strengths to their offspring. There are plenty of options to choose from if you like that theory - and each had plenty of stamina to spare. Exaggerator is a son of Curlin, who was Eclipse Award winner as American horse of the year in both 2007 and 2008. Suddenbreakingnews is by Mineshaft, who won the Eclipse in 2003 despite being injured and retired prior to the Breeders' Cup. Majesto is by 2000 winner Tiznow, who sired bizarre 2008 Belmont winner Da'Tara. The European equivalent of the Eclipse is the Cartier, which Giant's Causeway, sire of both Destin and Brody's Cause, won in 2000 - the year he finished second to Tiznow by a neck in the Breeders' Cup Classic after a magical European season.
Sons of Preakness winners: The Preakness is a bit shorter and less impressive than the Derby, but it is still a Triple Crown race, so it makes sense that a horse that won that could pass on something valuable to his sons. Exaggerator again fits here because of Curlin, but he's not alone. Shagaf is a son of Bernardini, who win the Preakness forever marred by the eventually-fatal injury to Barbaro. Not to kick dirt on any graves, but I'd argue that Bernardini was winning that race that day regardless of what had happened.
Sons of Dubai World Cup winners: The richest race in the world is won at the same distance as the Derby - and Derby winners Silver Charm, Animal Kingdom and California Chrome have each won in Dubai in the 21-year history of that race, so we know it is relevant here. Three horses in this field are sons of former Dubai World Cup winners. Again, Exaggerator qualifies, as Curlin won in 2008. Long shot Trojan Nation is the son of 2002 champ Street Cry. Whitmore, meanwhile, was sired by 2004 winner Pleasantly Perfect.
What could have been: Writing off Uncle Mo earlier was sad - he was a two year old champ who never got a chance to show us what he would have been capable of at three. He's not the only sire in this race that is responsible for too many shattered dreams. In 2010 Eskendereya won the Fountain of Youth by more than eight lengths and then crushed the Wood Memorial field by almost 10. He would have been the heavy Derby favorite, but an injury in training leading up to the race ended his career. He is represented here by Mor Spirit. Eskendereya is also a son of Giant's Causeway, so that's another tie to this race this year. Trappe Shot, the sire of My Man Sam, is also a son of Tapit, so studs being represented by multiple generations in this race is yet another theme we could look to.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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