Dornoch looking to keep Kentucky Derby in the family

February 6th, 2024

One of the developing stories of this Kentucky Derby prep season is the status of Remsen (G2) winner Dornoch, who by most measures is considered a top 10 candidate for the 150th edition of the Run for the Roses. If successful in the Kentucky Derby (G1), not only would Dornoch long be recognized as the winner of an historic edition, but he would also become the first sibling of a Derby winner to also win the race.

That Derby-winning sibling would be Mage, an actual full brother to Dornoch who won just a year ago.

Getting two or more siblings to the Derby, whether full or half, is hard enough. In the post-World War II era, only five Derby winners have also had a sibling compete on America's biggest racing stage.

Two years after his older half-brother Determine captured the 1954 Derby, Invalidate took his position in the Churchill Downs starting gate. He finished 15th in a field of 17, a logical result for a horse who would win 13 of 95 career starts, less than $50,000 in purse money, and finish no better than third in a stakes.

The next occurrence didn't happen until the 1990s. Go for Gin captured the Derby in 1994, four years after half-brother Pleasant Tap finished a distant third behind Unbridled. Pleasant Tap was voted champion older male at age five.

Bali Babe, a daughter of Drone, produced three Kentucky Derby starters. Tossofthecoin trailed home last of 19 in 1993, but six years later produced the 31-1 Derby winner Charismatic. Millennium Wind followed in 2001, but could fare no better than 11th of 17 after winning the Blue Grass (G1).

Giacomo, who paid more than $100 to win in taking the 2005 Derby, had half-brother Tiago compete two years later, but the latter wound up seventh in a vintage renewal. The closest two siblings have come to both winning the Derby were Mine That Bird, first in 2009, and Dullahan, who finished a respectable third in 2012 despite being more of a synthetic specialist.

Complete pedigree records are a bit hard to come by for all Kentucky Derby winners throughout history, but there were a couple of other notable instances in the last 100 years.

Reaping Reward, who had won the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill as a two-year-old, finished almost 10 lengths adrift of Triple Crown winner War Admiral in the 1937 Derby. Four years later, though, Reaping Reward's little brother Whirlaway won the Derby by eight lengths en route to his own Triple Crown sweep.

Slightly further back, the famed broodmare Marguerite produced three Derby starters. Petee-Wrack finished 14th of 22 in 1928, Gallant Fox won in 1930 en route to a Triple Crown sweep, while Fighting Fox finished sixth of 10 in 1938.

There have been two notable "What Ifs" regarding this part of Derby lore. Sir Gaylord, the much older half-brother of Secretariat, was the morning line favorite for the 1962 Derby but was unfortunately scratched the day before having suffered a fractured sesamoid in his right front foot.

Less remembered is an incident that mirrors the position Dornoch finds himself in now. One year after Unbridled won the 1990 Derby, his full brother Cahill Road impressively captured the Wood Memorial (G1) by three lengths but in the process pulled a suspensory ligament in an ankle. In essence, Cahill Road exited the Derby picture right as he entered it.

Luck as much as talent will determine whether Dornoch and his family will make Derby history.