Talent goes a long way on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, though luck can also play a role in qualifying for the Run for the Roses.

Consider Winning Impression, who crossed the wire fourth in a division of the May 2 Arkansas Derby (G1). This performance would have been insufficient to secure a slot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but the disqualification of the winner elevated Winning Impression to third place, opening the door for participation at Churchill Downs.

Winning Impression Pedigree
Awesome Again
Paynter
Tizso
Winning Impression
Unbridled’s Song
Unbridled Sonya
Barynya

Winning Impression will bring an interesting and multi-layered pedigree to the Derby mix. His sire is Paynter, runaway winner of the 1 1/8-mile Haskell Invitational (G1) and runner-up—beaten a head—in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (G1). Paynter appeared poised for a powerful summer/fall 2012 campaign until a near-fatal battle with colitis and laminitis sent him to the sidelines. Showing remarkable resilience, Paynter recovered and competed admirably as a 4-year-old, placing in the Awesome Again (G1) and San Diego H. (G2).

At stud, Paynter has displayed a tendency to sire early-maturing runners, albeit ones capable of traversing route distances. His most accomplished foals to date include 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner Knicks Go and 1 1/16-mile Pocahontas (G2) victor Lazy Daisy, both of whom achieved their signature victories as 2-year-olds. Renaisance Frolic and Diamond Dust have likewise won juvenile stakes races running a mile or farther.

Paynter is also responsible for a bevy of 3-year-old stakes winners, including one-mile Bourbonette Oaks winner Queen of God and 1 1/16-mile Mine That Bird Derby victor Sir Rick. What’s interesting is that even Paynter’s best 3-year-olds have shown early-maturing tendencies, with the majority scoring their biggest wins during the first half of their sophomore campaigns. Accomplished older horses have been few and far between among Paynter’s progeny, though 5-year-old Ms Peintour did win the 1 1/2-mile Astra (G3) over the Santa Anita turf course in January.

Winning Impression’s dam, Unbridled Sonya, was likewise an early-maturing filly, breaking her maiden traveling 7 furlongs as a 2-year-old before placing fourth in the one-mile Chelsea Flower S. Unbridled Sonya, in turn, is a daughter of Unbridled’s Song, who came to hand quickly enough to win the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) before adding the 1996 Florida Derby (G1) and Wood Memorial (G2) early in his 3-year-old campaign.

On the bright side for Winning Impression’s long-term prospects, Unbridled’s Song’s most successful foals tended to peak as older runners, with Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Arrogate, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) victor Liam’s Map, and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winners Forever Unbridled, Unrivaled Belle, and Unbridled Elaine among the best examples.

Contenders for the spring classics were less common among Unbridled’s Song’s progeny, though he did sire Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles and Belmont Stakes second-place finisher Dunkirk. In any case, there was a unifying tendency among Unbridled Song’s top foals—they almost exclusively excelled racing long on dirt, with sprinters and turf stars decidedly less common.

So it’s a bit surprising to see Unbridled’s Song passing on different genetics as a broodmare sire. Granted, Grade 1-winning dirt routers have been plentiful among the produce of his daughters—Santa Anita H. (G1) winner Gift Box, Arkansas Derby victor Magnum Moon, and three-time Grade 1 winner Unique Bella all come to mind. But Unbridled’s Song has also been a strong turf influence, particularly in Japan, where his daughters foaled Japan Cup (G1) winner Suave Richard and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) winner Contrail.

Ultimately, there’s no reason to doubt Winning Impression’s ability to negotiate 1 1/4 miles. Both Paynter and Unbridled’s Song are primarily responsible for passing on long-winded bloodlines, hardly a surprise since Paynter is a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again while Unbridled’s Song was sired by Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled.

Yet the fact Paynter has displayed such a clear tendency to sire early-maturing youngsters is a cause for pause. Handicappers will have to analyze Winning Impression’s form and debate whether this talented youngster has additional room for improvement, or if he peaked during the spring.