Eight Rings’ six-length triumph in the American Pharoah secured the son of Empire Maker 10 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Certainly he has the connections to excel on the first Saturday in May – his trainer, Bob Baffert, has won the Derby five times, while his Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez (filling in at least temporarily for the injured Drayden Van Dyke) has won a pair of Derbys himself.
Just as importantly, Eight Rings is bred to thrive over the testing 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby.
From his sire, 2003 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Empire Maker, Eight Rings figures to inherit abundant stamina. A son of 1990 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Unbridled, Empire Maker finished second in the Derby five weeks before his classic success traveling 1 1/2 miles in the Belmont. His classic success was unsurprising since his dam, Toussaud, was a Grade 1 winner running 1 1/8 miles on turf and counted 1 1/4-mile Arlington Million (G1) winner Chester House and 1 1/4-mile Secretariat Stakes (G1) winner Chiseling among her previous foals.
Furthermore, Empire Maker has largely reproduced himself at stud, siring a bevy of high-class route runners. The majority of his North American Grade 1 winners have achieved their signature victories running 1 1/8 miles or farther, including 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile (sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah) and two-time Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) winner Royal Delta. All told, Empire Maker’s foals have accumulated well over $100 million in earnings.
The bottom half of Eight Rings’ pedigree might not be quite so impressively stamina-oriented, but it should be more than sufficient to carry Eight Rings 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May.
The lone weak spot – if you can call it that – is Eight Rings’ dam, Purely Hot. This Maryland-bred mare rose from the claiming ranks to win the 2014 Whimsical Stakes (G3) at Woodbine during an admirable career that saw her win 12 of her 32 starts. But Purely Hot was also a pure sprinter, primarily on synthetic tracks, with arguably her best effort coming when second to champion Groupie Doll in the 2013 Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (G2) over the Tapeta track at Presque Isle Downs
The good news is, Purely Hot is a daughter of Pure Prize, in turn a son of legendary stallion Storm Cat. Although Pure Prize never won a Grade 1 race, he was classy enough to win the 2002 Kentucky Cup Classic Handicap (G2) going 1 1/8 miles.
At stud, Pure Prize has generally passed on stamina to his best foals. Hi Happy won the 1 3/8-mile Man o’ War Stakes (G1), Pure Clan prevailed in the 1 1/4-mile Flower Bowl Stakes (G1), Blue Prize notched a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Spinster Stakes (G1), and Quechua won the 1 3/8-mile Singapore Gold Cup. Another son, Red Knight, prevailed in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens Stakes.
Versatility has also been a hallmark of Pure Prize’s progeny. Although many have excelled on grass, Hi Happy won the Gran Premio Nacional (G1) going 1 9/16 miles on dirt in Argentina, and Pure Clan won a pair of graded stakes races on dirt before finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Birdbirdistheword, Pure Fun, Dothraki Queen, and Now I Know are among Pure Prize’s other graded stakes winners on dirt, with all securing their signature wins running a mile or farther.
Pure Prize has not yet made a major impact as a broodmare sire, though his daughter Purely Surprized did produce Apollo Sonic, a son of Big Brown who placed third in the 2013 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) traveling 1 1/2 miles.
In short, there’s no reason to doubt Eight Rings’ ability to negotiate 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May. Stamina shouldn’t be any issue for this promising Derby prospect, who also has the pedigree to be effective on grass should he fall short of expectations during the Triple Crown.
PHOTO: Eight Rings © BENOIT PHOTO