Kentucky Derby pedigree profile: Mugatu

April 27th, 2024

After finishing fourth in the John Battaglia Memorial S. and fifth in the Blue Grass (G1) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Mugatu enters the 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) as the second also-eligible entrant in an overflow field of 22 horses.

It’s not unheard of for an also-eligible entrant to make the final Derby field and surprise at long odds; just two years ago Rich Strike drew in off the also-eligible list and won the Derby at 80-1. But whereas Rich Strike brought a strong Kentucky Derby pedigree to the table, Mugatu isn’t guaranteed to thrive over the Derby’s 1 1/4-mile distance.

Mugatu is a son of Blofeld, a capable sprinter/miler who won the six-furlong Futurity (G2), one-mile Gulfstream Park H. (G2), and one-mile Nashua (G2) during an accomplished career. His progeny tend to follow his example, winning at a speed-oriented average distance of 6.8 furlongs. Among the best are seven-furlong Wide Country S. winner Miss Harriett, 1 1/16-mile Nellie Morse S. heroine Charming Way, six-furlong Maryland Million Lassie S. winner Chickieness, and six-furlong Maryland Million Nursery S. winner Johnyz From Albany.

Mugatu’s dam, Union Way, failed to win in nine starts but is a daughter of 1 1/2-mile Belmont (G1) winner Union Rags. You might assume this means the bottom half of Mugatu’s pedigree is all about stamina, but that’s not so much the case. Prior to Mugatu, Union Way foaled Raise the Praise (a two-time winner sprinting about five furlongs on turf) and Gamestonks (a five-time dirt winner over distances from one mile to 1 1/16 miles).

Even though Union Rags won the Belmont, his other three graded wins came over distances of 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. His winning time in the Belmont was a modest 2:30.42, and it’s fair to wonder if Union Rags was actually at his best over shorter distances.

This theory is backed up by the stud record of Union Rags. Two of his runners have scored major wins over 1 1/4 miles: Santa Anita H. (G1) winner Express Train and Suburban (G2) victor Dynamic One. But Express Train and Dynamic One didn’t score their 1 1/4-mile victories until they were mature older horses, and they’re exceptions among the many sprinters, milers, and short routers sired by Union Rags.

Indeed, sons and daughters of Union Rags like Santa Anita Oaks (G1) and two-time Zenyatta (G1) winner Paradise Woods, Breeders’ Futurity (G1) victor Free Drop Billy, Del Mar Debutante (G1) winner Union Strike, and Alcibiades (G1) heroine Dancing Rags have all done their best work racing 1 1/16 miles or less.

Union Rags has yet to develop a clear record as a broodmare sire, but so far he’s best known for Awake at Midnyte, who placed in half a dozen graded stakes over distance from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.

Blofeld and Union Rags were both quality racehorses, but mixing their genetics seems more likely to produce a quality sprinter/miler than a classics type, so the Kentucky Derby distance is a question mark for Mugatu.