Kentucky Derby pedigree profile: Mandarin Hero

April 24th, 2023

Six starts, four wins, two seconds. Consistency is a strong suit for Mandarin Hero, and he has the talent to match. He joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a nose defeat in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), which stamped the Japanese-bred colt as a viable contender for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1).

The question is, does Mandarin Hero have the breeding to shine racing 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May? His pedigree contains a mixture of U.S. and Japanese influences, so we’ll have to dig deep to come up with conclusions.

Mandarin Hero Pedigree
Harlan's Holiday
Shanghai Bobby
Mandarin Hero
Fuji Kiseki
Namura Nadeshiko
Taiki Mystery

Mandarin Hero is a son of Shanghai Bobby, voted champion two-year-old male of 2012 after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Champagne (G1), and Hopeful (G2) during a perfect 5-for-5 juvenile campaign. Unfortunately, multiple injuries derailed his three-year-old season and led to retirement in the fall, so handicappers (and breeders) never got a chance to see Shanghai Bobby race over classic distances.

Whether a healthy Shanghai Bobby could have negotiated 1 1/4 miles is open to debate, but his pedigree is that of a sprinter/miler. Sire Harlan’s Holiday did his best work winning the Florida Derby (G1), Blue Grass (G1), and Donn H. (G1) over 1 1/8 miles and went 0-for-6 racing 1 1/4 miles, while dam Steelin’ was a stakes-winning sprinter sired by champion sprinter Orientate.

All that speed has come through in Shanghai Bobby’s best runner, Shancelot. The speedy sprinter was a brilliant winner of Saratoga’s Amsterdam (G2) and a game runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1). Shanghai Bobby has also sired Royal Ascot’s five-furlong Norfolk (G2) winner Shang Shang Shang.

But to peg Shanghai Bobby as purely a source of speed would be a mistake. He’s also the sire of Aero Trem, winner of the 1 1/4-mile Gran Premio Latinoamericano (G1) in Brazil; Extra Hope, winner of the 1 1/8-mile Native Diver (G3) and third in the 1 1/2-mile Cougar II (G3); and Joevia, third in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont (G1) and winner of the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch S.

Shanghai Bobby might not be the most obvious source of classic stamina, but Mandarin Hero has an encouraging female family to help seal the deal. His dam is Namura Nadeshiko, and while she failed to win in three starts, she’s a daughter of Asahi Hai Futurity winner Fuji Kiseki out of Taiki Mystery, previously the dam of Kitakyushu Kinen (G3) winner Tokai Mystery and multiple stakes winner Namura Big Time, both capable turf sprinters.

Fuji Kiseki scored his victory in the Asahi Hai Futurity (now an international G1 but then a local G1) over 1,600 meters (about one mile) for two-year-olds, beating Japan's first Kentucky Derby runner Ski Captain in doing so. But he also won the Hochi Hai Yayoi Sho (now the G2 Deep Impact) racing 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) aged three.

At stud he’s responsible for champion South African filly Sun Classique, winner of the 2,400-meter Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), along with two-time 1,600-meter Victoria Mile (G1) winner Straight Girl, 2,000-meter Satsuki Sho (G1, Japanese 2,000 Guineas) winner Isla Bonita, 1,600-meter Mile Championship (G1) hero Sadamu Patek, and two-time Champions Cup (G1) winner Kane Hekili. The latter was a top-notch dirt racer who recorded half a dozen victories racing 2,000 meters or farther.

That Fuji Kiseki can sire an accomplished dirt horse isn’t too surprising. After all, Fuji Kiseki is a son of Sunday Silence, voted 1989 U.S. Horse of the Year after winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Some Kentucky Derby bettors might dismiss Mandarin Hero based on memories of Shanghai Bobby as a juvenile sprinter/miler who failed to extend his success at age three. But as we’ve outlined, there’s more to Shanghai Bobby than first meets the eye, and names like Fuji Kiseki and Sunday Silence in the bottom half of Mandarin Hero’s pedigree offer potential for success racing 1 1/4 miles on dirt.