By Alan Porter
The 137th Kentucky Derby was a race that shaped as if it could deliver an upset. In the absence of Uncle Mo , there appeared on form to be very little to separate a sizable proportion of the competitors. In addition, a trio of wild-cards in Brilliant Speed , Master of Hounds, and Animal Kingdom looked certain to get the trip, and were coming off impressive efforts on all-weather tracks, but had no form to speak of on dirt.
As it turned out, in a race run with fractions more like a European turf contest, that trio acquitted themselves well: Brilliant Speed took seventh, beaten not much more than six lengths; Master of Hounds weaved his way through traffic for a strong-closing fifth, around 5¼ lengths in arrears; and Animal Kingdom, whose last quarter must have been around 24 seconds flat, charged to an impressive victory (VIDEO). While Animal Kingdom is the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby on his dirt debut, following last year’s impressive third by Paddy O'Prado —who also had virtually no dirt credentials going into the race, and subsequently proved himself the nation’s top turf 3-year-old—we wonder if we could be witnessing the beginnings of a trend of horses with turf backgrounds weighing heavily into Derby consideration. One factor in this might be that very few U.S. dirt horses—especially those precocious enough to stamp themselves as Derby contenders—truly are bred to go a mile and a quarter, probably because of the paucity of opportunity for route horses a cut below top-class. This less so with turf performers such as Brilliant Speed (by a stallion who broke a course record for 1½ miles on turf), and Master of Hounds and Animal Kingdom (both from stamina laden European families). And while turf horses frequently possess conformation that makes them unsuited to careers on dirt, they can frequently put up a big effort in a “one off” dirt run with the Churchill Downs surface seeming to be one that they can get hold of particularly well.
As well as being a history maker in terms of winning the race on his dirt debut, we’d also nominate Animal Kingdom as a candidate for Kentucky Derby winner with the most international pedigree. Numerous winners have come from imported sires, most recently Street Sense (by Irish-foaled Street Cry), and before him Winning Colors (by Irish-born Caro), Gato del Sol (by the Chilean Cougar II, in 1982), and Canonero II (by English-bred Pretendre, in 1971). Other Kentucky Derby winners with foreign pedigrees were imports from outside the North American continent, including the English-born Tomy Lee (1959) and Omar Khayyam (1917), and Pensive (1941), who was conceived in England, but imported in utero. A few U.S.-foaled Kentucky Derby winners had two imported parents: Cavalcade (1934), Reigh Count (1928), and George Smith (1916) all had a sire and dam that were imported from England. Then there are Kentucky Derby winners out of imported dams, Citation (1948, out of the English-bred Hydroplane) being the most recent, but Broker’s Tip (1933), Plaudit (1898), and Fonso (1880) also falling into that category. However, we’re pretty sure that Animal Kingdom is the first Kentucky Derby winner with parents who were imports from different continents.
Leroidesanimaux, the sire of Animal Kingdom, was foaled in Brazil, and was by a U.S. born stallion with a French background, out of an English-bred mare. He ran badly on dirt on his debut, and never tried the surface again. Second time out, and switched to the grass, he broke his maiden by 11¼ lengths, and in his only other start in his native country was second in a one-mile group I. In the U.S. at 4 and 5 Leroidesanimaux won eight of 10 starts, earning a title as champion turf horse as a 5-year-old. He was a graded winner from 6½ to 8½ furlongs, his victories including the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile and Atto Mile (both gr. IT)—in which he was piloted by Johnny Velazquez, also rider of Animal Kingdom in the Derby—and Frank E. Kilroe Mile (gr. IT). At the conclusion of his racing career, Leroidesanimaux retired to Richard and Audrey Haisfield’s Stonewall Farm Stallions alongside Medaglia d'Oro , sire of this year’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) victress Plum Pretty. Medaglia d’Oro has stood at Darley since 2009, and Leroidesanimaux since moved to Stonewall Farm Ocala, where he was advertised at a fee of $10,000 for the 2011 breeding season.
By Candy Stripes out of Dissemble (an Ahonoora half-sister to super-producer Hasili) Leroidesanimaux has what looks to be a turf background on both sides of his pedigree. Candy Stripes (by Blushing Groom out of a Lyphard mare), was foaled in the U.S. but raced in France, where his best effort was a second in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (Fr-I), promoted a place on the disqualification of a rival after crossing the line in third. Despite his turf credentials, Candy Stripes had previously made an impact as sire of Horse of the Year Invasor, winner in 2007 of the Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge and Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup (both gr. I) on the dirt, and as broodmare sire of Candy Ride, who scored a spectacular win in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) on dirt, before making a flying start as a sire. Candy Stripes also sired some notable dirt performers in South America, and his South American-foaled daughter Different was a grade I winner on dirt and turf in the U.S. Animal Kingdom is a member of Leroidesanimaux’ second crop, and the most notable winner from his first crop is Always a Princess, twice a conqueror of Champion Blind Luck in graded events on dirt this year.
Animal Kingdom’s dam, Dalicia, was foaled in Germany, and proved to be a smart performer in her native county, winning the group III Preis der Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe at 10 furlongs, and she was also listed placed in France. Offered at the 2005 Baden-Baden Autumn Mixed Sales, she was sold for a sale-record 400,000 Euros for a partnership of Animal Kingdom’s owner and registered breeder, Team Valor, and the Haisfields’ NeverTell Racing. Continuing her racing career in the U.S., Dalicia took an allowance race at Hollywood Park, and finished fourth in the Beverly Hills Handicap (gr. II). In her first season at stud she was originally to visit Kingmambo, but when that horse had problems covering, the switch to Leroidesanimaux was made. In 2009 Dalicia foaled a colt by Mr. Greeley. Later that year she was offered in foal to the same horse at the 2009 Tattersalls Newmarket November Sales, and fetched 230,000 guineas to the bid of Shadai Farm.
Dalicia is a daughter of Acatenango (by German Derby winner and outstanding sire Surumu), a multiple Horse of the Year in Germany whose triumphs included the IBM-PC Pokal Deutsches Derby (Ger-I), Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I), the Grosser Preis von Berlin (Ger-I), and back-to-back renewals of the Grosser Preis von Baden (Ger-I). Subsequently Acatenango became a highly successful sire, his offspring winning three German Derbies and a French Derby. Dalicia’s full-sister, Darwinia, is dam of the Black Sam Bellamy mare Daveron, a listed winner in Germany, who gave Team Valor a remarkable double by taking the Beaugay Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park only a couple of hours before Animal Kingdom’s victory.
Dynamis, the dam of Dalicia, is by Dancing Brave (by Lyphard), a European champion with a brilliant turn of foot, who was top-class performer from a mile to a mile and a half. Dynamis is a half sister to both German champion 2-year-old filly Desidera and German Henkel-Rennen (Ger-II) victress Diacada. The third dam, Diasprina, was another juvenile champion in German, and the female line has been a very solid one in Germany for several generations. Animal Kingdom’s sixth dam was foaled in Hungary, where the family arrived from England in the early 1900s. Just to tie it in to something familiar, we’ll note that the female line goes back to Scene (1895), a fairly close relative to Bromus, the dam of Phalaris (the horse to whom the majority of the breed now trace in male line).
Animal Kingdom was rated A++ by TrueNicks prior to the race on the basis of the Blushing Groom/Acatenango cross that has already produced three stakes winners from only 11 starters. The closest duplication in the pedigree is to Northern Dancer’s son Lyphard. He is a Nearco/Court Martial (Fair Trial) cross, and Blushing Groom is a Nearco/Wild Risk (a horse who does very well with Court Martial), with a granddam by Fair Trial’s genetic relative Tudor Minstrel. For good measure, Aggressor II, the broodmare sire of Acatenango, is by Combat (whose granddam is closely related to Fair Trial), out of a mare bred on an identical Nearco/Hyperion cross to Nearctic, the grandsire of Lyphard.