The two leading point earners for the 2019 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4 are Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Tacitus (by Tapit) and G1 Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach (War Front). The unbeaten Tacitus leads with 150 points, and Omaha Beach is a strong second with 137.5.
The current points system to rank starters for the Kentucky Derby shows a strong preference for horses who have raced well at 3, especially in the latter preps for the Run for the Roses. Both Tacitus and Omaha Beach have come forward strongly at 3 after being unknown quantities last year when Game Winner (Candy Ride) was the divisional champion and a couple of others, such as the recent G1 Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster (Quality Road) were major talking horses.
Roadster sits in fourth on the points list thanks to his victory at Santa Anita, and Game Winner is eighth because he has lost both of his starts this season: game seconds in the Rebel to Omaha Beach and in the Santa Anita Derby to Roadster.
One of the most interesting facets of this ranking, and of the two colts at the top of the list, is that they are sons of the two leading American sires today: Tapit and War Front.
Tapit entered stud at Gainesway Farm as a well-regarded horse in a crop of stallion prospects that appeared strong, but the gray son of Pulpit outperformed all his contemporaries and has established himself as the dominant domestic sire of high-quality racers with a leaning toward the classics. The stallion has led the US sire list three times and has sired three winners of the Belmont Stakes (Tonalist, Creator, and Tapwrit). In addition, Tapit's son Frosted won the 2015 Wood, ran fourth in the Derby, then was second in the Belmont behind Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
A fast and ruggedly built son of Danzig, War Front became a graded stakes winner, then followed in the hoofprints of his sire, retiring to stud at Claiborne Farm and becoming a leading sire. Like Tapit, War Front excelled from the start, with classic prospects The Factor and Soldat from his first crop of racers.
War Front struck gold abroad with highweight juvenile performers and classic stars in Europe. At the same time that his fame abroad has increased, War Front's public profile had flagged somewhat here in the States until this year, when a pair of his sons sit on the Derby list with clear starting positions in the first US classic. Just two months ago, many observers expected that War of Will, winner of the Lecomte and the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds, would be the preferred racer in the classics for War Front, but the Richard Mandella-trained Omaha Beach has come on so strongly that he has pushed to the front for consideration in the classic.
The War Front stock tend to fit the mold of high-quality milers. They tend toward being strongly built, with bulging muscle and good length through the body. Typically, they have a depth of shoulder that balances nicely with the broad and thickly muscled hindquarters frequently seen among the better stock by Danzig and his famous sire Northern Dancer.
Overall, the War Fronts have shown greater aptitude for racing at distances up to nine furlongs, especially in Europe, and are famed for their willingness to compete and their rugged constitutions. They are not, however, typically trained for the longer classics abroad, and the potential of the stallion's progeny at 10 furlongs depends on the individual and how it is prepared.
Few would argue with the training ability either of Mandella or of Mark Casse, who conditions War of Will, and they appear to be legitimate threats to carry their form the Derby distance. Omaha Beach, in particular, is out of a mare by the Mr. Prospector stallion Seeking the Gold, who sired numerous high-class winners at distances from nine to 12 furlongs. That is a point in favor of Omaha Beach; his compatriot War of Will is out of a mare by classic winner Sadler's Wells, one of the greatest stallion sons of Northern Dancer and a powerful influence for classic stamina. Two points for War of Will.
In contrast to the influence of War Front on the American classics, Tapit is the best recognized sire of classic stamina in American racing, and Tacitus is a classic standout, based on racing class and stamina because of his sire. Furthermore, the gray colt has made massive progress this year for trainer Bill Mott and owner Juddmonte Farms and is clearly a big, growing colt whose best days are yet to come. Tacitus is out of the champion racemare Close Hatches, who won 9 of 14 starts and $2.7 million. She is the best racer for her little-known sire First Defence, a son of Unbridled's Song and G1 winner Honest Lady, by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
Close Hatches was not proven at longer distances simply because she never raced at them, and there are no G1 stakes for mares at distances past nine furlongs, except on turf.
Should a son of Tapit or War Front win the Derby, it would be the first such victory for either sire, and they are the two highest-profile American sires of our time. Clearly, winning a Kentucky Derby is not a simple task.
Size, conformation, racing character, development, and temperament also play their roles, along pedigree and conditioning, in allowing these young racehorses to perform at their peak in the classics, and we are privileged to watch and evaluate how the drama plays itself out on the stage.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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