Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
have been authored regarding the sires and sire lines of U.S. Classic winners,
classic referring to the Kentucky
Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. However, not as much attention is
given to the distaff families of the Triple Crown heroes. Like their sire counterparts, certain
distaff lines produce more classic victors than others.
Here's a quick
history lesson on female family numbers. At the end of the nineteenth century,
Bruce Lowe, an Australian pedigree researcher, invented a way to classify the
female families of thoroughbreds. He
traced the English Classic winners back to their female family origins, then
counted the number of Classic winners from each family and numbered the
43 female families. In ongoing efforts,
the English female families were expanded to 50 and later families native to
America, Argentina, Poland, and Australia were developed. To make things easy, the thoroughbred female
families were sorted by number and letter for classification. The lower case
letters are considered branches of the original mares. The English families were designated with a
number, then letter (1-a) while the American families were sorted by letter
then number (A1).
researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland used Mitochondrial DNA to
trace Thoroughbreds through their female families and proved what many have
suspected - there have been many errors in the stud books from the 1700’s that
persist to modern times; However, no matter how flawed, the Lowe female family
classifications remain the best way to determine the female families for
family trees, certain thoroughbred lines have waxed and waned. Some are almost non-existent, due to barren
or unproductive horses, lack of racing ability and/or the decline of the
horsemen that developed particular branches. Other distaff families have
flourished with attention to careful breeding and cultivation by the top
horsemen. Again, similar to their sire counterparts, certain distaff lines have
succeeded in monopolizing the highest levels of racing.
distaff families are classified by family number then branch, there are two
ways to determine which line has produced the most Kentucky Derby, Preakness
and Belmont Stakes winners. One, by the
overall number of horses in the entire family, and two, by the branch of a
dating back to the Layton Violet Barb mare, is one of the more prolific lines
in thoroughbred history. Seventeen
horses from this group, dating from 1895 (Halma) to 2001 (Monarchos) have won
the Kentucky Derby. Five members each
from the branches of 4-m (Magnolia) and 4-r (Cub Mare) have been successful,
with two representatives from 4-d (Manganese) and 4-n (St. Marguerite), and one
each from 4, 4-c (Maniac) and 4-e (Fair Helen).
The award for
most Kentucky Derbies won by a single branch goes to family 23-b (Turk Mare)
with seven victories. Kingman started it in 1891 and other members of this
family include Zev (1923), Tim Tam (1958), Affirmed (1978), Winning Colors
(1988), Lil E Tee (1992) and Mine That Bird (2009). This year, Harry’s Holiday
will represent the female family in the Kentucky Derby.
Family 4 has taken the most Preakness and Belmont Stakes as well. Of the eighteen members that have won the
Preakness, the most have descended from the 4-r branch, but interestingly, none
of the 4-r family has won in modern times. Five of them, the last in 1911, have
been successful in the Preakness.
Similar to the Derby, right behind Family 4-r in Preakness victories is
the 4-m (Magnolia) offshoot. Harold
(1879) was the first, but this family didn’t flourish until the mid-1990’s,
when it produced Faultless (1947), Timber Country (1995) and Bernardini
The progeny of
the 12-b line (Diana) have been the most successful in the Preakness Stakes,
gathering a total of seven trophies. Like the 4-r descendants, 12-b started
their winning ways in 1886 with The Bard, but the last of this family to take
home the bouquet of black-eyed Susan was Bally Ache in 1960.
continues its domination of the Classics in the Belmont Stakes. Sixteen Family 4 horses have taken the
Belmont Stakes, the most recent being Temperence Hill (1980) from family 4-f
(Alice Hawthorn). Like the Derby and
Preakness, Family 4-r are represented the most, with five winners from 1883 –
Other family numbers are just as prolific in the
Belmont, albeit more modern. There have been five winners from the 12- b family
(Diana), mainly from the late 1800 – early 1900’s but the last member of this
group to take the Belmont was Victory Gallop (1998).
branch in modern times is Family 8 (Bustler Mare). Four members each from 8-c (Woodbine) and
8-f (Remembrancer Mare) and three from
8-h (Atalanta) have taken the Belmont Trophy. The earliest member was Vito in
1928 and continues through to 2007 with Rages to Riches. Additionally, Better Than Honour, the only
mare to have produced two Belmont Stakes winners is included in the 8-f group.
Better Than Honour produced Jazil and Rages to
Riches, consecutive Belmont Stakes winners, but she was preceded by Leisure
(family A-5), who is represented by two Preakness winners, Royal Tourist in
1908 and Holiday in 1914. No dam has
produced two Kentucky Derby winners, although the mother /daughter duo of Iron
Maiden and Iron Reward (family A-4) produced Iron Liege (1957) and Swaps (1955)
and they are the only mother/daughters to do so.
favorite California Chrome is closely related to 1955 Derby hero Swaps. In
fact, Swaps is the sire of Intriguing, the third dam of California Chrome’s
damsire Not For Love and she’s also the grand-dam of Polish Numbers, California
Chrome’s second damsire. Ironically, California Chrome’s trainer used to be the
exercise rider for Swaps.
So what does the
female family data mean for this year’s Classic races? It isn’t coincidence
that the best female families produce the most classic winners, but It would be
folly to exclude or include a Derby contender on your list simply because of
his or her family number. It is
important to ascertain your favorite Derby horses’ current female family class,
aptitude for distances, current form and take it from there.
Kentucky Derby Contenders Female Families: