Kentucky Derby Pedigree Profile: Necker Island

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

September 2nd, 2020

Some horses are bred to thrive racing 1 1/4 miles. Others are bred to excel as sprinters or milers. A few fall in between with 1 1/4 miles ranking as the upper limit of their distance capabilities, and Necker Island appears to fall in the latter camp.

Necker Island has been competing consistently against good company all year long, finishing fifth or better in half a dozen stakes races. Encouraging third-place efforts in the 1 1/8-mile Indiana Derby (G3) and 1 1/8-mile Ellis Park Derby have qualified the chestnut colt to the 2020 Kentucky Derby, where we’ll find out for certain where he falls on the distance proclivities spectrum.

Necker Island Pedigree
Hard Spun
Turkish Tryst
Necker Island
Mr. Greeley
Jenny's Rocket
Clay's Rocket

Necker Island’s sire, Hard Spun, exemplifies the type of horse who handles—but doesn’t necessarily relish—racing 1 1/4 miles. A son of Danzig, who counted 1992 Preakness (G1) winner Pine Bluff among his most accomplished foals, Hard Spun was primarily a speed horse who scored his biggest win in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop (G1).

But Hard Spun also demonstrated sufficient stamina to finish second in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) traveling 1 1/4 miles. He really didn’t want to run a step further—and he weakened noticeably when finishing fourth in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (G1)—but the good news is, many of Hard Spun’s foals have shown no hesitation racing classic distances.

Hard Spun’s impressive first crop produced 17 stakes winners, among them 1 1/4-mile Alabama (G1) winner Questing and two-time 1 3/8-mile Del Mar H. (G2) winner Big John B., a turf star who also displayed enough versatility to win the Tokyo City Cup (G3) and Cougar II H. (G2) racing 1 1/2 miles on dirt. Subsequent years have seen Hard Spun sire a steady stream of high-class route runners, including 1 1/4-mile Arlington Million (G1) winner Hardest Core, 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita H. (G1) victor Hard Aces, and 1 3/4-mile Marathon (G2) winner Rocketry, to name just a few.

The bottom half of Necker Island’s pedigree is a similarly complex read. His dam, Jenny’s Rocket, cracked the trifecta in four starts sprinting on dirt, but never managed to reach the winner’s circle. Jenny’s Rocket’s relative penchant for sprinting is easy to understand when you examine her pedigree. Sire Mr. Greeley was a three-time graded stakes-winning sprinter responsible at stud for a bevy of speedy sprinter/milers, while dam Clay’s Rocket has produced the stakes-winning sprinters Laurie’s Rocket and Greeley’s Rocket, the latter a full sister to Jenny’s Rocket.

But before you write off Necker Island’s female family as a source of pure speed and nothing more, consider how daughters of Mr. Greeley have proven capable of producing classy route runners, particularly when bred to long-winded stallions. Eskimo Kisses won the 1 1/4-mile Alabama, Raging Bull claimed the 1 1/8 Hollywood Derby (G1), and Chicago Style nabbed the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup (G2). Another grandson, Authentic, is expected to join the 2020 Kentucky Derby field after scoring a tenacious victory in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell (G1).

Herein lies the challenge in analyzing Necker Island’s pedigree. Hard Spun didn’t quite stay 1 1/4 miles, but he sires plenty of runners who do. Jenny’s Rocket’s bloodlines are all about speed at first glance, yet daughters of Mr. Greeley are producing capable route runners at a surprising rate.

Definite conclusions are tough to draw based on pedigree alone, but Necker Island’s racing form can provide a few extra clues. While he ran well over 1 1/8 miles in the Indiana Derby and Ellis Park Derby, he was weakening down the homestretch of both races, hinting he may have inherited more of Mr. Greely’s speed than Hard Spun’s stamina.