Kentucky Derby - Racing's Royal Bloodline

  1. See the interactive chart link in post 2 - amazing!!!!


    Racing's Royal Bloodline
    Most racehorses today descend from a stallion named Native Dancer.

    May 2, 2008; Page W1

    No matter what happens in tomorrow's Kentucky Derby, one outcome is guaranteed. The winning horse will be related to Native Dancer.

    Native Dancer's dynasty includes Pyro (center).

    All 20 horses in this year's race are descendants of this massive thoroughbred, who died in 1967. Though he did not win the Derby -- he lost by a head in 1953 -- several generations of deliberate breeding have made Native Dancer's DNA the most valuable commodity in racing. The last 13 Kentucky Derby winners have been descendants, as was the last triple crown winner, Affirmed. The world's best current racehorse, Curlin, is a relative, as is Cigar, the sport's all-time money leader. Breeders say his bloodline can now be found in about 75% of all U.S. thoroughbreds. No other racing family comes close.

    How one stallion gained so much influence over the sport is a story about market forces, genetics and in some cases greed. His bloodline's greatest asset is that it consistently produces precocious, speedy thoroughbreds that dominate the Derby and other Triple Crown events -- giving owners a safer return on their investments. But that success has led breeders to mate Native Dancer's progeny so often that the thoroughbred gene pool has shrunk. And as it shrinks, another trait of the Native Dancer line is becoming more pronounced.

    Like hemophilia in the Russian royal family, Native Dancer's line has a tragic flaw. Thanks in part to heavily muscled legs and a violent, herky-jerky running style, Native Dancer and his descendants have had trouble with their feet. Injuries have cut short the careers of several of his most famous kin, most notably Barbaro, a great-great-great-grandson who was injured during the Preakness Stakes and was later put to death.

    Overbreeding has exacerbated the problem. "There's a lack of durability right now," says Ric Waldman, the former head of operations for Windfields Farm in Canada, which has bred and raced Native Dancer's descendants. "How much can we keep breeding into these same bloodlines? We're dealing with the law of diminishing returns."

    Native Dancer was born in 1950 and raised at Sagamore Farm near Baltimore by Alfred Vanderbilt, the playboy heir to his family's vast shipping and railroad fortune. Mr. Vanderbilt, who was 47 in 1950, was already a prominent figure in racing. He owned the Pimlico track in Baltimore (home of the Preakness Stakes), helped arrange the famous 1938 race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, and later oversaw the New York Racing Association and Jockey Club of America.

    Native Dancer's father was Polynesian, the 1945 Preakness Stakes winner, and his mother was Geisha, an ill-tempered horse who did not like to travel in vans. The decision to mate Polynesian to Geisha came down, in part, to geography: Geisha could walk from Sagamore to Polynesian's stall down the road, according to "Native Dancer: The Grey Ghost," a 2003 book by John Eisenberg.

    The young stallion racked up a string of wins, but the race he's most remembered for is the only race he ever lost: the 1953 Kentucky Derby. After getting bumped by other horses during an early turn, Native Dancer dropped to the back of the pack. He staged a furious comeback but finished second. Veteran trainer Barclay Tagg says the jockey, Eric Guerin, is often remembered for "taking Native Dancer everywhere on the track except the ladies' room."

    Native Dancer went on to win the Preakness and Belmont. TV Guide named him one of the nation's top three television stars of 1953, along with Ed Sullivan and Alfred Godfrey, but foot and lower leg injuries forced him to retire in 1954. In total, he had won 21 races, losing just the Derby.

    He spent the rest of his years being hired out as a sire. He fathered 247 children, including several champions. But like many great racers -- notably Secretariat, the legendary Triple Crown winner from the early 1970s -- Native Dancer was not considered a top breeder while he was alive. In 1967, when he died from heart failure after surgery to remove a tumor, "it wasn't like everyone said there goes the greatest sire line ever," says Mr. Eisenberg.

    What no one expected was the amount of money that has poured into racing over the past 15 years. There are few owners like Mr. Vanderbilt today -- wealthy horse enthusiasts who breed and race their own prospects. The most influential figures are billionaire sheiks from Dubai and large partnership groups who buy horses with "classic" bloodlines or established track records. One 2-year-old colt sold in 2006 for $16 million. Last September, the average price for a 1-year-old horse at the Keeneland sale, one of racing's biggest, was $101,347, up 41% from 2002. Now that the upfront investment is so large, many top breeders prefer to lean on the most reliable pedigree combinations to make sure the horses earn some return on the track.

    The lucrative breeding market has also increased the pressure on owners to retire their champion racehorses to the breeding shed, where they can make more money producing offspring than they could racing. The world's most valuable stud, Storm Cat, is a descendant of Native Dancer and had an ordinary racing career. As a sire, he's fathered numerous winners of high-profile races. He now commands up to $300,000 per mating.

    This desire for a sure thing has resulted in far fewer stallions producing more foals. While the birth rate has increased slightly since 1992, the number of stallions who produced offspring dropped by about 50% over that period, from 6,263 in 1992 to 3,083 last year, according to the Jockey Club. In Kentucky, the center of the American breeding business, stallions mated with an average of about 60 partners last year -- up 42% compared to 1998.

    The first indication that Native Dancer might have magic genes was the performance of his son Kauai King, the winner of the 1966 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Another son, Dancer's Image, won the 1968 Kentucky Derby, but the victory was nullified after an illegal pain-killer was discovered in his urine. Later, two grandsons, Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector, proved to be champions in the breeding shed. Mr. Prospector's offspring had so much success, he is often referred to as the "Billon Dollar Sire."

    In the latest generation, several top current horses -- including Big Brown and Colonel John, two of this year's Derby favorites -- are inbred to Native Dancer, with relatives through both parents. Three of Colonel John's grandparents are descendants of Northern Dancer, and all four trace back to Native Dancer.

    Some believe the success of this line, coupled with the boom in the breeding market, has come with a price. The risk of injury and the prospect of guaranteed millions in the breeding shed have taken many great horses out of the sport at a young age. That's left fewer veteran stars to lure fans to the track.

    If Native Dancer's line has any competition, it comes from the family of Nasrullah, a British stallion that was born in 1940. His line includes Seattle Slew and Secretariat, who set speed records at the Derby and the Belmont Stakes in 1973 that still stand. For all their success, Native Dancer's descendants have failed to beat those records. Times in Triple Crown events are no faster than they were 30 years ago, despite advances in training and veterinary medicine. (Some breeders believe the best horses are a cross between the Native Dancer and Nasrullah lines.)

    There's a gathering threat to Native Dancer's dynasty. Some owners are looking elsewhere for talent, heading off to farms in Zimbabwe and Uruguay in search of new blood. Some of these new genetic combinations seem to be working. On the same day Curlin won the World Cup in March, a South African horse, Jay Peg, won the $5 million Duby Duty Free race in Dubai, despite being a 35-1 long shot.

    When Native Dancer died, he was given a modest grave marker at Sagamore. Mr. Vanderbilt, who died in 1999, sold the farm in 1987. It's now owned by Kevin Plank, the chief executive of sports-apparel company Under Armour. Tom Mullikin, who oversees the property, says that last year, a pair of Russian veterinarians asked for a tour of the estate. When they got to Native Dancer's stall, the veterinarians grew excited and began taking photos. "I was like, wow," says Mr. Mullikin, "this horse really hits some people."
  2. Great post....I could bore everyone here to tears and never get bored talking about this very subject!!!

    However, couldn't they have chosen a picture of Barbaro from his Derby win rather than his tragic injury in the Preakness??? :wtf::crybaby: And the 'later put to death'...thanks for that...what's that got to do w/ The Diver? (Not a slam on you Maxter...I know you didn't write it!)
  3. ^Go ahead and bore me! I'm starting a thread in the General Discussion about Derby predictions.
  4. My Amadeus's great, great, great, great grandfather was Native Dancer!!!!!! (From his Dam's side)

    And as EVERYONE knows, my baby's grandfather was Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. (From his Sire's side)

    I love watching my boy run and just envisioning all of the years and years of history he has running through his blood.

    Sounds cheesy probably but I think it is really something spectacular :p

    And WTF is up with them posting the pic of glorious Barbaro after his injury???? Like they could not have posted the pic of him WINNING the Derby.........that is sad that they did that. The sight of Barbaro always brings tears to my eyes. I BAWLED like a baby watching the documentary on him.
  5. Okay...then...based solely on bloodlines which 2 of today's Derby stars would you buy if you could and why?
  6. Maxter...Thanks so much for this thread! FASCINATING!!!!!!!!!!! I thought alot of descendants came from Man O'War, learned something new. Will there ever be another Secretariat??? Number 38 in alltime best athletes of the 20th century.
  7. My husband just informed me about my Pfizer's pedigree. Goes way back to War Admiral/Man O'War. Nothing too special...but interesting (not like Seattle Slew, Kristie). Here's the link, look up your horse.
  8. Kristie-I have to stop adopting these guys when they're so old-their tattoos are too blurry to read-like old TB war veterans! (I'm a sucker for them though-they have the best manners and they never try to kill me like our little quarter horses!)
  9. ^^^^Awwwww you are a kind and wonderful soul to take these guys in. TB's (MOST of them) are just so loving and just want to the hands of experienced horse people. My boy is just the sweetest little soul I have ever met :love:

    AND he was a rescue with those bloodlines!!!! I got him when he was around 15-16 months old because his owner went bankrupt and all of the babies were legally repossesed by the farm he had them at and they just GAVE him to me with a $0 bill of sale.

    Of course horses are never FREE, they are hugely expensive. He had never even had a halter on him when I got him. I look at it like I got to start with a fresh clean slate for a horse because no one but me has done his training.
  10. Gee...Lizavet8, Ruffian was another heartbreak!!! Good for you, giving these beautiful, proud animals a good home.:woohoo:

  11. Isn't it amazing how he's still the 'yardstick'. He and I were born the same year so I don't remember his races....but I've seen every single one of them. His effortlessness was remarkable. He is what I think of when someone says 'a great racehorse'.

    I can say....Big Brown has a lot of potential to be considered 'great'. The Derby was only his 4th lifetime start. Many of the babes are finally figuring out the game in their 4th start not annihilating a field of the best 3-yo's in the nation.

    Gave me goosebumps, head to toe! :yes:
  12. Secretariat, what a champion and still my favourite.
  13. When they necropsied Secretariat (foundered) they discovered he had an extra large heart, not enlarged...just large. They thought that might contribute to his exceptional speed, more blood pumped out faster. Unfortunately/fortunately, I'm old enough to remember Secretariat and his Triple Crown win...especially the Belmont Stakes. Our darling Hello, over at the Hermes forum, has that as her avatar. Always puts a smile on my face! The country could use a Triple Crown winner right about now :woohoo: