IT IS A given that stamina wins Derbies, writes John Berry.
Frequently we see good horses without sufficient stamina in their pedigrees – such as Blushing Groom and Dubai Millennium - failing to show the form at twelve furlongs that they can boast at eight or ten. However, identifying the suspect stayers becomes a lot easier with the benefit of hindsight.
In recent years, it has become commonplace for male-line descendants of Northern Dancer to come to the fore in the Derby. Sadler’s Wells, or his sons Montjeu or Galileo, would nowadays be most people’s ideas of the perfect Derby sires. But it is only with the wisdom of retrospection that we can now say that. Northern Dancer himself was brilliant at two and three, dominating at up to ten furlongs, but proved an odds-on flop when failing over the twelve furlongs of the Belmont Stakes.
However, Northern Dancer-line stallions now regularly sire Derby winners. Even his most specialist short-distance branch (via Danzig) can do so if given the right mare: Danehill’s Derby-winning son North Light is a half-brother to dual Queen Alexandra Stakes winner, Cover Up.
Knowing now that this can be a staying sire-line, we can explain it: Northern Dancer’s sire Nearctic is Nearco from a daughter of Hyperion, while his dam Natalma is from a daughter of Mahmoud.
Two great and closely-related sons of Northern Dancer, Sadler’s Wells and Nureyev, are not obvious conduits for stamina on either pedigree or form (the former never won beyond ten furlongs, and the latter never beyond a mile) but their male-line descendants in this year’s Derby – Authorized, Salford Mill, Soldier Of Fortune, Mahler, Arabian Gulf, Anton Chekhov, Acapulco, Eastern Anthem and Petara Bay, who between them comprise nearly half of the nineteen five-day acceptors - can be seen as very likely stayers.
Danzig is the male-line ancestor of five of colts still engaged in the Derby, while another superlative short-distance runner, the aforementioned Blushing Groom, is also represented (by his great grandson Regime). Blushing Groom presents the ultimate stamina conundrum: as a son of Red God who had shown true brilliance at up to a mile, in retrospect it was no surprise that he should have weakened dramatically at the end of the 1977 Derby – and yet, via his sons Rainbow Quest and Nashwan (both from Oaks-standard dam lines), he has become synonymous with Classic stamina.
A similar story pertains with Hail To Reason. He raced only as a juvenile and – as outlined in a grey panel last week – came from a line of non- or unproven stayers. However, he sired the Derby winner Roberto and has become arguably the most reliable source of Classic stamina anywhere in the world. With recent winners of both the Derby (Silver Hawk’s son, Benny The Dip) and Oaks (Red Ransom’s daughter, Casual Look), this sire line regularly makes its mark at Epsom, and has Lucarno as its potential representative this year.
However well the Hail To Reason sire line does at Epsom, its influence on the Japan Derby is even more pronounced, and last Sunday it was responsible – via either sire or maternal grandsire - for yet another trifecta in this race. Sunday Silence and Brian’s Time, by Hail To Reason’s sons Halo and Roberto respectively, have had a colossal effect on Japanese racing and breeding over the past couple of decades. This year, the winner Vodka is a daughter of Brian’s Time’s son, Tanino Gimlet; the second Asakusa Kings is from a Sunday Silence mare; and the third Admire Aura is by Sunday Silence’s son Agnes Tachyon.
Last year’s Japan Derby minor place-getters were by Sunday Silence and his son Fuji Kiseki, while in 2005 Sunday Silence sired first (Deep Impact) and third, while his son Special Week sired the runner-up. 2003 also saw a Hail To Reason trifecta, with Sunday Silence siring the first two home and the third being by his son Dance In The Dark.
By definition, the winner of this year’s Derby will have a pedigree which enables him to win the Derby – it’s just nicer if we can understand it before we have the knowledge of his Derby win to make it clear to us.