In the U.S. during the final weekend of March, the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) was focused on the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby (both gr. I), but Saturday also threw up a previously unheralded contender in Irish-trained Lines of Battle, who earned his ticket to Churchill Downs with a victory in the UAE Derby Sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (UAE-II).
Lines of Battle already has made one trip to the U.S., finishing seventh behind fellow Aiden O’Brien trainee George Vancouver in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT). The Kentucky-bred colt ran better than his final position indicates, fading in the closing yards after having to be used early to gain a forward position from a wide draw. That said, the UAE Derby represented a considerable move forward on the balance of Lines of Battle’s form. He scored on his juvenile debut, winning by a head over six furlongs at the Curragh at the end of May, but in the Coventy Stakes (Eng-II) over the same trip at Royal Ascot he was somewhat outpaced, staying on steadily to take sixth. Next out, he missed by just a neck in the Tyros Stakes (Ire-III) over seven furlongs, giving the impression that he might be suited by a return to six furlongs. On his only other outing prior to the Breeders’ Cup, Lines of Battle gained his first black-type victory with a comfortable win in the Irish Stallion Farms E.B.F. Star Appeal Stakes over seven furlongs on the all-weather at Dundalk.
Lines of Battle is from the third crop of Danzig’s son War Front . Out of the money in his sole attempt at 2, War Front was a minor stakes winner over 8 1/2 furlongs at 3 but did better sprinting at 4, winning the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Breeder’s Cup Handicap (gr. II) and taking second in five other graded sprints, including the Vosburgh Stakes and Forego Stakes (both gr. I). By Danzig—sire of numerous good speedsters—out of a mare by champion sprinter Rubiano, it’s no surprise that War Front did his best work over six and seven furlongs. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. War Front’s dam, Starry Dreamer, might well have been a daughter of Rubiano, but was an atypical offspring of a sprint champion. Although she was capable on dirt—she ran second in the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) on that surface—Starry Dreamer was at her best going long on the turf. There she won three stakes, including the Palisades Stakes at nine furlongs, and placed in several major events, including seconds in the Long Island and La Prevoyante handicaps (both gr. IIT) at 12 furlongs. The distaff side of Starry Dreamer’s pedigree offers reasons for her aptitude. Note that her dam was by Forli, out of a mare by Round Table, both ancestors who were adept at running over a distance of ground and on turf.
Starry Dreamer’s influence on War Front’s pedigree is helping to define his stud career. Claiborne’s dark bay certainly can get speed—the most notable example being The Factor , successful in the Malibu Stakes and Pat O’Brien Stakes (both gr. I)—but several of his best offspring have done well over a mile, and have proved at home on turf or all-weather surfaces. Data Link was successful in the Maker’s 46 Mile Stakes (gr. IT); Summer Soiree won the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT); and Warning Flag, took the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile (HK-I). He’s also been represented by Soldat, who took the With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIIT) on turf at 2 and stretched out to take the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) over nine furlongs on dirt at 3; and Declaration of War, who captured the Diamond Stakes (Ire-III) over 10 furlongs on the synthetic in Ireland.
Lines of Battle is out of the Arch mare Black Speck, a minor winner in France who has quickly developed into a very good broodmare. She is dam of five winners from her five starters; In addition to Lines of Battle, they include the Prix de Sandringham (Fr-II) winner Homebound; Blue Exit, a Pulpit colt who was a listed scorer in France and grade II-placed in the U.S.; and the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere—Grand Criterium (Fr-I) runner-up Battle Paint. Black Speck is out of the Top Flight Handicap (gr. I) winner Andover Way Since Black Speck is by a grandson of Roberto, she is closely related to Andover Way’s Roberto son Dynaformer, a horse who was effective on both dirt and turf and who, after starting at a very modest stud fee, become one of the world’s leading sires. The cross of Roberto’s son Red Ransom with Andover Way produced another close relative to Black Speck in My Annette, the dam of the stakes-winning and multiple group I-placed sprinter U S Ranger (who is quite similarly-bred to Lines of Battle, as he is by Danzig). Andover Way is also dam of the minor stakes winner White Bridle and granddam of Offlee Wild, who took the Suburban Handicap (gr. I) and was the leading freshman sire of 2009. Andover Way’s dam and granddam, On the Trail and Golden Trail, are both famed tap-root mares, and the female line also has produced Kentucky Derby victor Monarchos; champion turf horse Sunshine Forever; Brian’s Time, successful in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and a champion sire in Japan; and Japanese champion 3-year-old colt Air Shakur. Sunshine Forever and Brian’s Time were both by Roberto out of mares by Graustark (a brother to Andover Way’s sire His Majesty), as was the granddam of Monarchos, so all were bred similarly to Black Speck.
Lines of Battle’s broodmare sire, Arch, is out of a mare by Danzig, giving Lines of Battle a 2x4 cross to Danzig. We should note that last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, I’ll Have Another, is also out of an Arch mare and inbred to Danzig. Lines of Battle is the second Danzig-line stakes winner from only 14 starters out of Arch mares (earning an A+ rating on TrueNicks). The broader Danzig/Roberto cross has produced at least 19 group or grade I winners.
Given that he appeared to have no difficulty with the 9 1/2 furlongs of the UAE Derby, Lines of Battle shouldn’t find the Kentucky Derby trip a problem; in fact, he’s likely to be the only starter to have won at in excess of nine furlongs. His ability to act on dirt will have to be taken at trust—although the Churchill Downs surface appears more accommodating to turf and all-weather runners than many—but given that his sire and three of his four grandparents had grade I form on dirt (the other being Danzig who was undefeated in three dirt starts), it’s not an unreasonable expectation.