Midway through the Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager: Sifting through the options

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

November 28th, 2015

As a follow-up to my “fun facts” piece about the inaugural Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager, here are some ways to try to sift through and narrow down the options.

Pioneerof the Nile has attracted support as the sire of American Pharoah, but he looks very unlikely to repeat the feat in 2016. Not only does he have the fewest juveniles of any of the 23 individual betting interests, but those who have raced so far aren't advertising themselves as Derby hopes. Most tellingly, no sire has ever begotten back-to-back Kentucky Derby winners, so you’d be betting on Pioneerof the Nile to make history without a clear prospect on the scene. At 12-1 (his odds as of late Friday night), his price isn't as appealing as others.

Ten of the individual betting interests are exponents of the Northern Dancer male line. But for all of its conspicuous success around the world, this sire line hasn’t had much in the Derby. Since Northern Dancer himself captured the 1964 “Run for the Roses,” only four of his male-line descendants have won – Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Charismatic (1999) and Big Brown (2008).

If you take this trend to heart, you can downgrade the chances of nearly half of the individual stallions listed (Awesome Again, Eskendereya, Ghostzapper, Giant’s Causeway, Hard Spun, Harlan’s Holiday, Kitten’s Joy, Medaglia d’Oro, Scat Daddy, and War Front).

Of course, aside from the fact that the trend isn’t an ironclad predictor, it’s also partly attributable to bad luck. A salient example from recent years is Eskendereya (by Giant’s Causeway), who was a raging favorite for the 2010 Derby before his career-ending injury. Eskendereya has several really promising prospects for next year (as does his sire Giant’s Causeway), so it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of the father/son duo is able to defy the trend.

Some of the other Northern Dancer-line stallions, however, have specific concerns. Kitten’s Joy is primarily a turf influence, and War Front faces a similar question at the top level on dirt. Medaglia d’Oro’s better progeny have on balance tended to be fillies – a point emphatically underscored of late by Songbird. Unless you think that her connections are going to reverse themselves and point for the Derby, you’re probably betting on Medaglia d’Oro to come up with a Derby-winning colt.

Another angle that could help to whittle the field: only 12 Derby winners have gone on to sire a Derby winner, the most recent being 1990 champion Unbridled (father of 1996 hero Grindstone). Unless you really expect Street Sense or Super Saver to join that elite club, I’d be hesitant.

If you back Uncle Mo, you’re betting that he’ll tie the record as the joint youngest stallion in history to sire a Derby winner. Uncle Mo will turn eight in 2016, and only five others have generated a Derby winner by that tender age. The last two were Raise a Native (courtesy of 1969 winner Majestic Prince) and Maria’s Mon (whose first Derby winner was Monarchos in 2001). As much as I loved Uncle Mo during his career, I’m not sure he’s going to be a classic sire right out of the gate.

And as much as I love Tiznow, his progeny have yet to hit the board in the Derby. Since he was a late developer himself, this could be partly because his progeny take time to reach their peak. Also, he descends in the direct male line from Man o’ War, who hasn’t had a male-line descendant win the Derby since his Triple Crown-winning son War Admiral all the way back in 1937.

Distorted Humor made an immediate splash when a son from his very first crop, Funny Cide, landed the 2003 Derby. But he’s had no luck in the intervening dozen years, and at 22, he’s now the oldest living stallion among the individual interests.

The late Unbridled’s Song would have been 22 this year as well. I would love if the brilliant gray could cement his legacy with a Derby winner in his penultimate crop, but at the moment, a wager on him would be more of a sentimental stab. At the price (he’s 43-1 as I write late Friday night), he might be worth it, especially if you’re a big fan of his tribe.

Blame is among the younger cohort at nine years old. Although the jury’s out on how good a sire he’ll turn out to be, the Claiborne blueblood will get every chance to prove himself. He was also arguably unlucky that his top prospect on the 2015 Derby trail, Far From Over, was ruled out by injury. Like Tiznow, however, Blame got stronger over time, and his progeny may follow suit. And at 34-1 right now, his odds are unpalatably close to much more established sires.

That leaves five very realistic chances.

Malibu Moon warrants respect as the sire of 2013 Derby hero Orb. Even better, the A.P. Indy stallion keeps churning out the types of colts who jump straight onto the Derby trail. Given his overall success at stud, Malibu Moon is eligible to become the 16th stallion to sire two Derby winners. He may be one of the better values on the board at 38-1.

Candy Ride, a scion of the Mr. Prospector line that’s responsible for 11 of the past 21 Derby winners, is another attractive option at 28-1. The unbeaten Argentinean champion might already have sired a Derby winner, if his son Shared Belief hadn’t been knocked off the 2014 Triple Crown trail by foot trouble.

Bernardini is trading a little higher than I would have expected at 16-1. The 2006 Preakness and Travers champion has a raft of contenders for 2016, all conceived after the outstanding success of his first crop highlighted by Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve. Like Malibu Moon, he’s a son of A.P. Indy, a sire line that’s produced two of the past three Derby winners. The beginning of a wave?

Tapit, another A.P. Indy descendant, is eminently logical at 13-1. The natural objection may be that, however talented his runners are, they have a reputation for being too headstrong for their own good. Needless to say, that kind of temperament is liable to boil over in the Derby cauldron. But I would argue that now this trait has become known, horsemen may have learned how to nurture the willful Tapits.

Curlin may just offer the complete package. From the potent Mr. Prospector line, he’s a Hall of Famer, esteemed veteran of the Triple Crown wars himself in 2007, and already emerging as a classic sire. He got Belmont winner Palace Malice in his first crop, and from his third crop comes Keen Ice, who placed in the Belmont and upset American Pharoah in the Travers. Curlin has more in the pipeline that aren't household names yet. His popularity has trimmed his odds from a 30-1 morning line to 11-1 – shorter than I thought.

Finally, a word on behalf of “All Others.” If you look back over the past 20 Derby winners, most of them were off the beaten path in late November of their juvenile years. And a good number were by stallions who didn’t appear on the cusp of Derby success. For that reason, whichever individual stallion(s) you support, it’s a good idea to have a saver on “All Others.”

For all of the stats on the 23 individual betting interests in the Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager, including PPs of selected progeny, check out the free guide courtesy of