Breeding Watch: Long live the line

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On a spectacular first Saturday in May in Louisville, American Pharoah had to work a little harder than usual to wear that coveted garland of roses.

The Bob Baffert-trained son of Pioneerof the Nile took the overland route to the infield winner’s circle all the while taking another step toward superstardom. He also became the latest in a long string of Mr. Prospector-line Kentucky Derby winners.   

Fappiano’s son Unbridled was the first male-line descendant of Mr. Prospector to win the Derby when he crossed the finish line ahead of Summer Squall in 1990. Including the 16 runners that year, the Mr. Prospector line has produced 131 of the 473 runners (27.6 percent) to break from the gate in the past 26 editions of the Kentucky Derby. Twelve of those horses (2.5 percent) have worn the roses and a total of 26 (20 percent) have hit the board.

The Fappiano branch of the Mr. Prospector tree has been especially proficient under Churchill Downs’ twin spires.

Thirty nine Derby starters have been sired by Fappiano and his male-line, including, of course, American Pharoah. He’s a great grandson of Unbridled and avenged his grandsire (Empire Maker) and sire, both Derby bridesmaids.

American Pharoah is now the fifth Fappiano-line winner of the Derby after Unbridled, his son Grindstone (1996), Real Quiet (by Quiet American, 1998), and the Grindstone grandson Mine That Bird (by Birdstone, 2009).

Empire Maker and Pioneerof the Nile are among the five Derby runners-up produced by the Fappiano line with Victory Gallop (by Cryptoclearance, 1998), Eight Belles (by Unbridled’s Song, 2008), Bodemeister (by Empire Maker, 2012) the others. The Unbridled’s Song grandson Dullahan (by Even the Score) ran third to I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister in 2012.

Overall, 11 of the 39 Fappiano-line runners (28 percent) have placed in the Derby with a winning percentage of 13 percent. That’s pretty impressive stuff and yet another feather in the cap of Fappiano’s legendary breeder and Hall of Fame trainer John Nerud.


The aforementioned I’ll Have Another is one of two Forty Niner branch runners to find gold on Derby Day. He’s by Flower Alley, a son of the Forty Niner stallion Distorted Humor, also the sire of 2003 Derby champ Funny Cide.

Distorted Humor also happens to be the leading active sire of Kentucky Derby starters with seven. Those seven starters are among the 13 total by Forty Niner-line sires with Peace Rules (by the Forty Niner son Jules) the best finisher among the group. The Bobby Frankel-trained colt ran third to Funny Cide and his stablemate Empire Maker in 2003.

Mr. Prospector is a son of Raise A Native and other branches of that line have also greatly impacted the Derby since 1990. The Raise A Native great-great grandson Maria’s Mon (by Wavering Monarch) is the sire of 2001 Derby hero Monarchos and 2010 winner Super Saver. Alydar’s Strike the Gold wore the roses 1991 (the second Derby win for Alydar after Alysheba in 1987, before our survey began). These three winners come from just 14 starters by other Raise A Native line stallions.

American Phaorah’s win ended a two-year Derby winning streak for the A.P. Indy line.

Malibu Moon’s Orb was victorious in 2013 and the Pulpit grandson California Chrome (by Lucky Pulpit) the winner last year. They are among the 44 A. P. Indy-line Derby starters and among the seven to hit the board.


A.P. Indy sons and grandsons have filled out the Derby exacta on four occasions – Aptitude (by A. P. Indy, 2000), Ice Box (by Pulpit, 2010), Nehro (by Mineshaft, 2011), Commanding Curve (by Master Command, 2014). The Aptitude son Steppenwolfer placed third to Barbaro in 2006.

The larger Northern Dancer line has had a decidedly smaller impact on the past 26 editions of the Derby. The line founded by the 1964 Derby victor has produced about as many starters as the Mr. Prospector line (130) but nine fewer first-, second- and third-place finishes (17) and nine fewer wins (three).

The Danzig branch has been the Northern Dancer-line leader the past two-plus decades with 18 starters and five in-the-money finishes, including a pair of winners – Sea Hero, by the Danzig son Polish Navy in 1993 and Big Brown by the Danzig stallion Boundary in 2008.

The Storm Bird-Storm Cat branch has yielded a total of 54 Derby starters yet only one winner – the Storm Bird grandson Charismatic (by Summer Squall) in 1999. Storm Cat and his male-line descendants have filled Derby starting gates with a total of 46 runners with six gaining a share, but no winners.

The gallant Firing Line gave American Pharoah all he could handle on Saturday and he’s the latest Derby runner-up from the Storm Cat line. He’s by Line of David, a son of the Tale of the Cat stallion Lion Heart, runner-up to Smarty Jones in the soggy Derby of 2004.

Two years later the Storm Cat son Bluegrass Cat was best-of-the-rest behind Barbaro. The Harlan’s Holiday son Denis of Cork rallied for third under Calvin Borel in the 2008 edition. A Storm Cat grandson Menifee (by Harlan) and a Storm Cat son (Cat Thief) ran second and third, respectively, to Charismatic in 1999.

WinStar Farm’s Pioneerof the Nile will, in all likelihood, join the six-figure club when 2016 stud fees are announced later this year.

Airdrie Stud’s Majesticperfection has also earned a raise for next season after a most beautiful victory by his Lovely Maria in the Longines Kentucky Oaks. Like the very promising young Spendthrift Farm sire Into Mischief, Majesticperfection is a son of tepid 2002 post-time Derby favorite Harlan’s Holiday.

Harlan’s Holiday’s last crop will be 3-year-olds in 2016 so just one more season to add to his total of four Derby starters.

Into Mischief is already the sire of a trio of Derby starters, including eventual two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldencents, now standing alongside his sire at Spendthrift.

If the classics are any indication of sire-line strength we may be seeing the early indications that the survival and strength of the Storm Cat line in the coming years just might rest with the Harlan’s Holiday offshoot.

Matt O’Neil is a freelance writer and pedigree consultant based in Chicago. A former editor of Owner-Breeder International, his work has also appeared in numerous publications that include The Blood-Horse MarketWatch, The Florida Horse and Keeneland Magazine. He is currently marketing and social media coordinator for Adena Springs Farm and a partner in the fantasy horse racing game