Pretty Polly and the Kentucky Derby

Last Saturday in the U. S. was marked by major Kentucky Derby trials. One of them, the Wood Memorial Stakes, was won by Curlin’s son Irish War Cry by 3 ½ lengths from Battalion Runner. How he fares in the Kentucky Derby we will yet have to wait for three weeks, but if he wins, it will be a remarkable victory indeed. For the first time in history, a horse out of the legendary Pretty Polly’s family would take Run for the Roses.

Pretty Polly, foaled 116 years ago, belongs among legends that shaped both racing and breeding. One of mere five mares in history to have won the English filly triple crown (1000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger) was not just an excellent racehorse but also the founder of a family that has retained quality and influence ever since. She excelled already as a two-year-old, winning all of her nine races. As a three-year-old she won the 1,000 Guineas in record time, won the Oaks, St Leger, as well as the Coronation Stakes at Ascot and Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. At four and five she expanded her impressive record by more six victories, including two triumphs in the Coronation Cup. She left for stud with the record of 22 victories of 24 starts; in the remaining two races, including the Ascot Gold Cup, she finished second.

At stud Pretty Polly demonstrated what old breeders often emphasise – i.e. that mares who were exceptional on the racecourse do not have to be necessarily the most successful broodmares but their daughters are real gems. Molly Desmond, Polly Flinders, Dutch Mary and Baby Polly, her four daughters, albeit sired by a different sire, established families that not only still exists but have produced a huge number of major stakes winners all over the world.

There is, however, one major world race that is lacking in the records of Pretty Polly’s family – the Kentucky Derby. In the history of the race we will not find a single winner from the family of the mare whose daughters were able to spread Pretty Polly’s blood all over the world. The winner of the Gr.3 Sunland Derby Firing Line was closest to this achievement two years ago, when he was the runner-up to American Pharoah.

If we look into the history of the Kentucky Derby, Firing Line, in whose pedigree Pretty Polly is in the 15th generation, is the only horse from the family established by this legendary mare, who showed in the Kentucky Derby.

Looking beyond the U. S., we will see horses from Pretty Polly’s family in records of many local Derby races nearly all over the world. Let us the most important Derby race and the inspiration for all the others – The Derby. Among its winners there are three from the family of Pretty Polly. In 1961 it was St Paddy, who has Pretty Polly in the fifth generation thanks to her arguably most successful granddaughter Sister Sarah. The second winner from this family arrived the very next year, when Psidium took the crown. In his pedigree Pretty Polly is two generations further back and the key dam in the successful family is her great granddaughter Delleana, who produced, besides Dossa Dossi, the great granddam of Psidium, one of the major thoroughbred stallions Donatello, the sire of Alycidon and Crepello. The third, and so far the last, Derby winner from Pretty Polly’s family is Workforce, a bay horse bred by Khalid Abdullah, who won the 2010 edition. He, too, comes from the line directed towards the grandam of Nearctic (the sire of Northern Dancer), Sister Sarah, and Pretty Polly is in the 10th generation of his pedigree.

Thoroughbreds from the family of Pretty Polly win local Derby races all over the world: England, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Hungary, Sweden, Poland, Russia, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Australia, Argentina, Chile or Uruguay. It was in Uruguay that the Derby was one by one of the most successfull representatives of this family, Invasor, the local Triple Crown winner, later successful in the United States, where he won six Gr.1 races in a row and won the Horse of the Year award.

Besides UK, Ireland had three Derby winners from this exceptionally successful family. After Spike Island, the 1922 winner, and Zodiac, who won two years later, it was Galileo’s son Soldier of Fortune, another member of Pretty Polly’s family, who won ten years ago.

The family is successful in the Hungarian Derby too, as in the past twenty-two years, three horses of this family triumphed. The first of them was Mafhum, the winner in 1995. Mafhum is from a branch established by the daughter of Pretty Polly Molly Adare. Sired by Al Hareb, Mafhum was imported to Hungary, but two more Hungarian Derby winners of Pretty Polly’s family were already foaled in Hungary: the 2000 winner Rodrigo and the 2003 winner Rodolfo are Hungarian bred, both are out of the Hungarian bred broodmare Ritmus, who was sired by the most famous Hungarian bred post-WWII horse Imperiál.

Austria has three Derby winners of Pretty Polly’s family too but contrary to Hungary, no one was foaled in Austria and all were either imported or just travelled to the Derby. In 1991, the French-bred Wacio won, in 1994 it was the German-bred Foscari of the Molly Desmond branch, two years later followed by another German-bred horse Damiano, from a family established by the broodmare Delleana.

The representatives of this family were even more successful in the Norwegian Derby. In 1968, the race was won by St James’s, fifth dam Polly Flinders was the daughter of Pretty Polly. Seventeen years later the race was won by the Irish-bred and German-trained Artan, in 2004 by the Irish-bred Mick Jerome, whose fifth dam is Sister Sarah, and, eventually, in 2007 by the French-bred Appel Au Maitre, sired by Starborough, in whose pedigree Pretty Polly is in the tenth generation.

Among the winners of local Derby editions, we should not forget De Corte, the winner of the Polish Derby, St Leger and the major race for three-year-old-plus race Wielka Warszawska, who won the Polish Derby in 1954. This is more than sixty years ago but we can find his blood in the pedigree of Polish Derby winners even today.

We could continue for a long time in this list of Derby winners from Pretty Polly’s family. I think, however, that even this short list shows what a quality family, of which one of the favourites for this year’s Kentucky Derby comes, is. In the past, fillies from this family won twice the Kentucky Oaks (Seasside Attraction in 1990 and Flute a year later). The Kentucky Derby triumph is, however, still missing. Will Irish War Cry change it?

Miloslav Vlček

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