It is a long way in distance from Dubai to Churchill Downs. And it is a long way in time since a horse from the line of Man o' War took the Derby roses, the last being War Admiral in 1937. But if a fleet bay colt named Blues and Royals has his way, both long journeys will end in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners' circle on May 7.
Despite the ease of his UAE Derby (UAE-II) win and the appearance he gave of a colt that would relish additional distance, at first glance Blues and Royals would not seem to have the pedigree for 10 furlongs. His sire, Honour and Glory, was the best miler of his crop, winning the 1996 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) against older males, but clearly did not stay more than 1 1/16 miles. Used as a rabbit for the five-horse D. Wayne Lukas entry in the 1996 Kentucky Derby, Honour and Glory made no pretense of staying the trip and finished 18th of 19 after leading for the first seven furlongs.
The dam's side of the pedigree also seems to suggest speed rather than stamina. Dixieland Blues, the dam of Blues and Royals, started only once, but she is a half-sister to the multiple sprint stakes winner Denem Yenem (whose sire Ogygian is a half-brother to Honour and Glory's dam Fair to All). She is by Dixieland Band, who never won at more than nine furlongs, and out of the 1987 Sorority Stakes (gr. II) winner Blue Jean Baby (by Mr. Prospector), who never won at more than a mile. The dam of Blue Jean Baby, Jones Time Machine (by Current Concept) was likewise at her best at sprint distances, scoring her biggest win in the seven-furlong Distaff Handicap (gr. III).
There is more to this pedigree than meets the eye, however, beginning with Honour and Glory's sire Relaunch. A winner at up to nine furlongs, Relaunch stayed well enough to run an excellent second behind John Henry in the 1980 San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. I) over 12 furlongs. He could also throw stamina, getting the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Skywalker and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Waquoit.
Relaunch was by Man o' War's great-grandson In Reality, who would have been a winner at 10 furlongs but for the great runners Dr. Fager and Damascus, both of which threw track records at him to beat him in the New Hampshire Sweepstakes Classic and the American Derby, respectively. Undoubtedly, Relaunch also drew much of his stamina from his broodmare sire, The Axe II, a staying son of 1936 Derby Stakes (Eng-I) winner Mahmoud.
Dixieland Band, too, has shown the ability to sire horses that win at longer distances than he himself did. Among his progeny are two-time Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-I) winner Drum Taps, 2000 Prix de Diane Hermes (Fr-I) winner Egyptband, and 2004 Oaks d'Italia (Ity-I) winner Menhoubah. And Dixieland Blues is already the dam of Limehouse, a respectable fourth in last year's Kentucky Derby.
Blues and Royals is inbred 3x5 to Northern Dancer, and his pedigree shows a pattern of successive inbreedings to different parts of the pedigree similar to that seen in much of the famed Lord Derby's stock. (Lord Derby bred such outstanding runners and sires as Hyperion, Swynford, Phalaris, Chaucer, Fairway, Pharos, Sickle, and Pharamond II, any one of which would have guaranteed him a place in bloodstock annals.) His dam, Dixieland Blues, is inbred 4x4 to Native Dancer; while his granddam, Blue Jean Baby, is inbred 4x5x4x5 to Nasrullah and 4x6x5 to 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet; and his great-granddam Jones Time Machine, is inbred not only to Nasrullah (3x4x3) but to Alibhai (4x5). Such pyramiding inbreedings to strong Classic influences can sometimes result in more stamina than the immediate ancestry might lead one to suspect.
Blues and Royals has more than the 10-furlong trip around Churchill Downs to weather; he must also handle the long trip from Dubai, which has told on previous Godolphin Racing hopefuls. Nonetheless, if he can win the Derby, he will have shown that he can go the distance in more ways than one.