Kentucky Derby pedigree profile: Like the King

March 29th, 2021

At first glance, it might seem as though Like the King is cut out for success racing on dirt.

He qualified for the Kentucky Derby (G1) with a victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) over the synthetic Tapeta track at Turfway Park, but as a son of Belmont (G1) winner Palace Malice, out of a mare by Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile victor Corinthian, isn’t Like the King destined to thrive over the Churchill Downs main track?

It might seem that way, but dig deeper into the nuances of Like the King’s pedigree, and he seems just as likely to thrive over turf and synthetic as dirt, which stamps him a tough horse to analyze for the Kentucky Derby.

At the heart of the debate is Like the King’s sire, Palace Malice. A son of Preakness (G1) winner and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, Palace Malice campaigned exclusively on dirt and showcased a combination of speed and stamina with wins in the the 1 1/2-mile Belmont and the one-mile Metropolitan H. (G1).

But Palace Malice was produced by the stakes-winning turf miler Palace Rumor, a daughter of international grass star and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) runner-up Royal Anthem. The bottom half of Palace Malice’s pedigree is geared toward success on turf, which might explain why Palace Malice’s most accomplished runner to date — Structor — achieved his signature victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).

Like the King may have received a dose of turf breeding from his female family, as well. His dam, Like a Queen, scored her two victories over the lawn and also placed second in the Our Dear Peggy S. on turf.

This isn’t surprising, since Corinthian — while not a resounding success at stud — has been known to pass grass proficiency to his descendants. Daughter Mariel N Kathy won the Chelsea Flower S. on turf, while grandson Fenwick Station (produced by Corinthian’s three-time turf-winning daughter Wickapecko) handled the European-style grass course at Kentucky Downs well enough to finish second in the Juvenile S.

This isn’t to say Like the King is unquestionably destined to go through his career as a turf or synthetic specialist. He placed in a couple maiden special weights races on dirt last year, and there are other ways to interpret the stud records of his sire and dam sire.

Palace Malice is responsible for Risen Star (G2) victor Mr. Monomoy and Charles Town Oaks (G3) winner Fly On Angel, two accomplished dirt horses. And Corinthian’s most successful runner, Prince Lucky, won five stakes on dirt.

But, given the obvious affinity Like the King has shown for the Turfway Park Tapeta, we must also consider the possibility dirt racing isn’t his strong suit, so the Kentucky Derby could be a very stiff test of his talents.