A look at the road to the derby
Every year, fans of racing eagerly await the Triple Crown, beginning with the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of May and culminating with the Belmont Stakes in June. The previous year’s top two-year-olds are carefully scrutinized, fans seeking any sign that their favourite could be headed for greatness. Every owner and trainer’s dream is to see their horse in the winner’s circle, wearing the traditional blanket of roses awarded to the victor.
In previous years, we have seen some surprising and awe-inspiring results, from the longshot victories of Mine That Bird (2009) and Giacamo (2005) to the beginning of American Pharoah’s dominating Triple Crown sweep in 2015, the first horse to do so since Affirmed in 1978.
It remains to be seen what kind of potential this year’s crop of three-year-olds brings. Horses that flew under the radar last year may soon be among the top contenders for the Derby. For now, here are my thoughts on three of the colts seeking a place in the starting gate.
Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by the formidable John Shirreffs, this colt is not to be underestimated. This owner/trainer partnership has already resulted in a Kentucky Derby winner, Giacamo (2005), and the incredible racemare Zenyatta, the first female to ever win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and a recent Hall of Fame inductee.
Gormley is by Malibu Moon and out of Race to Urga, giving him a pedigree with stamina influences. His sire Malibu Moon is a son of A.P. Indy whose racing career was cut short by injury at age two, but who has already produced one Derby winner in Orb (2013). A.P. Indy, who has two Triple Crown winners in his immediate family (Seattle Slew and Secretariat), has been incredibly influential as a sire, producing multiple classic winners himself and through his progeny. Gormley is the first foal from his dam, Race to Urga, a stakes winner herself. Race to Urga is by Bernstein, who has produced stakes winners in North America, Japan, and Argentina, and is out of a Kingmambo mare, Miss Mambo. Given the strength of the A.P. Indy line, he should be able to manage the 1 ¼ mile of the Derby.
Gormley’s most recent race was a victory in the one-mile Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park on January 7th. His next race will likely be the San Felipe Stakes on March 11th at Santa Anita.
Classic Empire’s pedigree is steeped in class, him being a son of Pioneerof the Nile and Sambucca Classica. Sambucca Classica is a daughter of Cat Thief, a Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning son of champion sire Storm Cat, who was himself a grandson of both Northern Dancer and Secretariat. On his dam’s side, Cat Thief’s grandsire was Alydar, the colt who came second to Affirmed in all three of his Triple Crown wins in arguably one of horse racing’s greatest rivalries. Sambucca Classica herself has so far produced four winning foals, including Classic Empire.
Classic Empire’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile, has already proven himself as a sire with only five crops of racing age. While many stallions never sire Derby winners, Pioneerof the Nile sired not only a Derby winner, but a Triple Crown winner in his second-crop son American Pharoah, making him the only stallion alive to have done so. American Pharoah ended the 37-year wait for another Triple Crown winner, becoming only the 12th horse to claim that title. Pioneerof the Nile himself finished second to Mine That Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, achieving the same result as his sire, Empire Maker, who finished second to Funny Cide in the 2003 Kentucky Derby before winning the Belmont Stakes. Overall, Classic Empire’s pedigree indicates he should have the speed and stamina to win at the Derby distance.
Classic Empire finished third to Irish War Cry in the Holy Bull on February 4th. His next race has yet to be determined. Despite his loss, he is still a horse to watch on the Derby trail.
Stay tuned for more thoughts on and analysis of this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders.