Analysis: Which 2023 Kentucky Derby Horses Are Best Bred To Handle The Classic Distance? - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Analysis: Which 2023 Kentucky Derby Horses Are Best Bred To Handle The Classic Distance?

Medina Spirit secured an easy by the time the Kentucky Derby 147 field rounded the first turn

Nobody knows how a horse is going to handle everything that comes with the Kentucky Derby.

Between the enormous sound from the grandstand that follows the field practically all the way around the track, to the lack of personal space for the horses during the walkover, to the 1 1/4-mile race distance, there is very little about what makes the Derby unique that can be practiced ahead of time under comparable conditions.

While we can't drill how a horse will handle the Derby's crush of humanity down to a single measurable, we do have a few pedigree hints as to which runners might be best bred to handle the classic distance for the first time.

Anecdotal evidence can be used to argue for or against any horse in any field, but a quantifiable way to measure just how capable a horse might be at holding their own in longer races is to examine the average progeny winning distance (AWD) for the sires and dams of each runner and compare them against each other.

AWD numbers are calculated by averaging out the distance of each race won by a horse's offspring. For example, leading sire Curlin's AWD of 7.64 furlongs means the average race distance of the 2,082 lifetime wins accumulated by his runners was a bit over 7 1/2 furlongs. The higher a sire or dam's AWD, the more likely their foals can handle a route of ground, because they've already shown they can produce it consistently.

To compile these rankings, the AWD figures for both the sire and dam's foals are ranked amongst the full field (including also-eligibles, because Rich Strike made it so we can never leave them out again), and the lower the combined score, the better the runner stacks up against his or her opponents.

Keep in mind, this analysis is not necessarily a prediction of who will win the Kentucky Derby, but whose pedigrees suggest they will best be able to have something left in the tank in the final furlong. That could mean a winning trip, or it could indicate a longer-priced horse capable of passing tired rivals to hit the board at a long price. If your Derby wagers include second to fourth place, these numbers should definitely factor into your planning.

In previous years, high-odds horses who ranked at or near the top of the AWD rankings have included Derby runner-up Golden Soul (35-1) and third-place Battle of Midway (33-1), Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow (15-1), and narrow Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner (28-1).

Let's see who stands out among this year's Derby contenders…

We have a tie at the top, and both horses are connected to the Winchell Thoroughbreds program: Tapit Trice, by Winchell-raced sire Tapit, and the Winchell-owned Disarm,.

Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes winner Tapit Trice is not a surprising name to see at the top of the list.

Tapit is without question the most proven North American distance sire of his generation, boasting a record four Belmont Stakes winners to his credit, and his average winning distance of 7.67 furlongs ranked him first among this year's class of Derby sires. He's still looking for his first Kentucky Derby winner, but he's gotten close with the likes of Essential Quality and Tacitus running third, and in older-aged campaigns, horses like Flightline and Cupid have had zero problem getting 1 1/4 miles at the highest levels of competition.

Tapit Trice is out of the Grade 3-placed stakes-winning Dunkirk mare Danzatrice, whose progeny AWD of 8.38 furlongs tied her for eighth among the Derby broodmares.

Tapit Trice is his dam's first winner, which is the case for nine of the 23 horses entered in this year's Derby, and 12 of the Derby mares have two or fewer starters. To reach that AWD mark the colt won a pair of races at one mile, along with wins at 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles.

Here is a look at how the Derby sires shook out by AWD:

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Sharing the top spot in this year's AWD rankings is Disarm, a son of Gun Runner whose first crop achieved historic success, including 2022 Preakness Stakes winner in Early Voting.

However, Disarm reached this lofty spot because of his dam's AWD. Out of the stakes-placed Tapit mare Easy Tap, Disarm is one of four winners from her five foals to race, with a class-best AWD of 8.68 furlongs.

The bulk of that weight was carried by Venezuelan champion stayer Tap Daddy, by Scat Daddy, whose five Group 1 scores came at distances as far as 3,200 meters/15.9 furlongs/nearly two miles, in the G1 Clásico Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana.

Of the 19 combined victories by foals out of Easy Tap, 15 came at a distance of a mile or longer, which is more than any other broodmare in this year's Derby class. Disarm's lone contribution was actually one of the victories below that line, taking a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga Race Course.

Gun Runner finished eighth among the Derby sires, with an AWD of 7.29. Though the number puts him in the middle of the pack among the overall class, the resident of Three Chimneys Farm is by far the highest-ranking North American sire with three or fewer crops of racing age.

Because his oldest runners just turned four at the beginning of the year, they have not had access to the full schedule of two-turn opportunities to help grow that number, in the way an older sire might enjoy. With sires early in their careers, seeing a younger one score so highly is often a good sign that the number will float up over time.

Let's take a look at the list of Derby broodmares:

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Here are some other thoughts from these lists…

– Seeing where American-born, Japanese-based sires Mind Your Biscuits and Drefong landed in the sire rankings goes to show that intent and program can dictate as much of a sire's success as their ability to pass on talent.

Both of those stallions were one-turn animals during their time in the U.S., and it's fair to say that no one would have expected either to get a classic-caliber horse at any point in their careers if they'd remained stateside. Breeders would have likely sought to harness their raw speed and created a class of sprinters. However, because the Japanese broodmare population generally has a strong foundation, and their race distances tend to be longer than ours, their AWDs are practically off the charts for sires sending first-crop runners to the Derby.

Into Mischief is the exception to the rule when it comes to AWD figures. His AWD is regularly among the lowest in a given class of Derby sires, and that's the case again in 2023 with a figure of 6.76 furlongs. However, Into Mischief is also the only sire in this class with two Derby winners: Authentic in 2020 and Mandaloun in 2021.

As a perennial leading sire of 2-year-olds who breeds large books of mares, Into Mischief gets a lot of winners early going around one turn, which heavily influences his AWD figure. These numbers are far from foolproof. If you see something on the page that goes against them, trust your gut.

– It's interesting to see that Tapit Trice is the only tippy-top-tier contender to finish at or near the top of the rankings (Derma Sotogake is on the fringe for both parts of that statement, if you feel he should be included, too). Assuming he gets a decent trip, I'd feel very good about making him a heavy factor in your horizontal exotics. Even if he doesn't win, he should be moving in the right direction when it counts.

With the exception of Forte, many of the last-start prep winners have either a sire or dam in the top half of their respective rankings, then one that isn't, suggesting those horses were bred to help add some distance to a part of the equation that was lacking.

– Louisiana Derby winner Kingsbarns is another higher-level contender who comes out of this list looking very good, tied for third in the overall standings, and having both sides of his pedigree represented in their respective top 10s. Sire Uncle Mo is proven in the Derby, getting 2016 winner Nyquist. He is the first winner from two runners out of Lady Tapit, who is part of a big movement of younger broodmares in this year's Derby class.

– Tapit Trice is a son of Tapit, while Disarm and Kingsbarns are out of Tapit mares, and all three ranked highly on the overall list. No matter what system you use to handicap the Derby, the Tapit factor might be the one pedigree angle I suggest you take with you.

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