Kentucky Derby dynasties: Visualizing today's most successful bloodlines

March 29th, 2024

The 150-year history of the Kentucky Derby is more than written records, photographs, crackly old broadcasts, race replays, and personal memories. America’s iconic horse race has a living, breathing legacy in today’s Thoroughbreds, descendants of great champions who competed in the “Run for the Roses,” and heirs of bloodlines that have stood the test of time. 

Quick Navigation, jump to a Kentucky Derby dynasty info-graphic:

The Kentucky Derby dynasty of NATIVE DANCER

The patriarch with the greatest impact on Derby bloodlines in our era is Native Dancer. A popular champion in the early days of televised racing, when his gray coat shone brightly on the old black and white broadcasts, he was nicknamed the “Gray Ghost.”

In one of history’s fascinating ironies, Native Dancer was himself upset in the 1953 Derby, suffering his only career loss by a head after a troubled trip. That cost him the elusive Triple Crown, as he went on to win the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, and ultimately entered the Hall of Fame.

Native Dancer  
Kauai King [Son of Native Dancer]1966 KYD winner 
Natalma (Mare) [Daughter of Native Dancer]Dam of: Northern Dancer 1964 KYD Winner, Super sire
Raise a Native [Son of Native Dancer]Super sire 

You might say that the Gray Ghost has haunted the Derby ever since. Native Dancer’s son Kauai King proved to be his avenger at Churchill Downs in 1966. Native Dancer almost had a second Derby winner, Dancer’s Image, the first across the wire in 1968 before being disqualified. But it was another son of Native Dancer, Raise a Native, who would establish the enduring legacy of his sire line. 

The Kentucky Derby impact of Native Dancer progeny

The Kentucky Derby impact of Native Dancer progeny

The Kentucky Derby dynasty of RAISE A NATIVE

Raise a Native factors as the direct male-line ancestor of 23 Derby winners, beginning with his own colt, Majestic Prince (1969). Majestic Prince in turn is the paternal ancestor of Monarchos (2001) and Super Saver (2010), both by Maria’s Mon, the champion two-year-old of 1995 who unfortunately missed his chance at Derby glory due to injury.

The 1978 Triple Crown featured an epic rivalry between a son and grandson of Raise a Native. Grandson Affirmed outdueled Raise a Native’s son Alydar in all three jewels. Alydar lost the war on the track, but won in the breeding shed by siring two Derby winners, Hall of Famer Alysheba (1987) and Strike the Gold (1991). Affirmed’s sire, Exclusive Native, made more history when his daughter Genuine Risk (1980) became just the second filly ever to beat the boys in the Derby. 

Raise a Native  
Mr. Prospector [Son of Raise a Native]Super sire 
Majestic Prince [Son of Raise a Native]1969 KYD Winner 
 Monarchos [Line of Majestic Prince]2001 KYD Winner
 Super Saver [Line of Majestic Prince]2010 KYD Winner
Affirmed [Line of Raise a Native]1978 KYD Winner 
Genuine Risk (Mare) [Line of Raise a Native]1980 KYD Winner 
Alysheba [Line of Raise a Native]1987 KYD Winner 
Strike the Gold [Line of Raise a Native]1991 KYD Winner 

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Kentucky Derby sire line of Raise a Native progeny infographic

Kentucky Derby sire line of Raise a Native progeny infographic

The Kentucky Derby dynasty of MR. PROSPECTOR

Raise a Native’s most profound influence on the classics comes by way of another son, Mr. Prospector. In addition to siring 2000 Derby star Fusaichi Pegasus, “Mr. P” is responsible for several major stallion sons who have perpetuated his line through various branches. 

Unbridled, the 1990 Derby champion, is the most prolific of the Mr. Prospector tribe from a Derby perspective. When his son Grindstone (1996) wore the roses, Unbridled became the 12th and latest Derby winner to sire a Derby winner. Grindstone continued the chain as the paternal grandsire of 50-1 surprise package Mine That Bird (2009). 

The runner-up in that 2009 Derby, Unbridled’s grandson Pioneerof the Nile, gained compensation by siring Triple Crown champion American Pharoah (2015). The near-misser in the 1998 Triple Crown, Real Quiet, descends from Unbridled’s own sire, Fappiano. 

Another Derby winner from the Unbridled clan, Always Dreaming (2017), is by a Derby runner-up in Bodemeister (2012). Both Bodemeister and Pioneerof the Nile are themselves by Unbridled’s son Empire Maker, the 2003 Derby favorite who wound up second to Funny Cide.

Mr. Prospector   
Fusaichi Pegasus [Son of Mr. Prospector]2000 KYD Winner  
Real Quiet [Line of Mr. Prospector]1998 KYD Winner  
Thunder Gulch [Line of Mr. Prospector1995 KYD Winner  
Street Sense [Line of Mr. Prospector]2007 KYD Winner  
Smarty Jones [Line of Mr. Prospector]2004 KYD Winner  
War Emblem [Line of Mr. Prospector]2002 KYD Winner  
Unbridled [Line of Mr. Prospector]1990 KYD Winner  
 Grindstone [Son of Unbridled]1996 KYD Winner 
  Mine That Bird [Line of Grindstone]2009 KYD Winner
 American Pharoah [Line of Unbridled]2015 KYD Winner 
 Always Dreaming [Line of Unbridled]2017 KYD Winner 
Funny Cide [Line of Mr. Prospector]2003 KYD Winner  
I'll Have Another [Line of Mr. Prospector]2012 KYD Winner  
Rich Strike [Line of Mr. Prospector]2022 KYD Winner  
Mage [Line of Mr. Prospector]2023 KYD Winner  
Country House [Line of Mr. Prospector]2019 KYD WInner  

Funny Cide represents another segment of Mr. Prospector’s line, via Distorted Humor, who also appears as the paternal grandsire of I’ll Have Another (2012). Derby winners hailing from other “Mr. P” branches in past decades include Thunder Gulch (1995, by Gulch), War Emblem (2002, by Our Emblem), Smarty Jones (2004, by Elusive Quality), and Street Sense (2007, by Street Cry).

In recent years, Mr. Prospector’s hottest influence on the Derby has come from another route, via Hall of Famer Curlin, who was third in the 2007 Run for the Roses. Sons of Curlin have sired the past two Derby winners – 80-1 shot Rich Strike (2022) is by Keen Ice (who shocked American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers [G1]), and Mage (2023) is by Good Magic (himself runner-up in the 2018 Derby). 

Moreover, Country House (2019) belongs to the same segment of the Mr. Prospector line. His sire, champion Lookin at Lucky (an unlucky sixth as the favorite in the 2010 Derby), is by the same stallion as Curlin – Mr. P’s son Smart Strike.

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Mr. Propsector Kentucky Derby influence

Mr. Propsector Kentucky Derby influence

The Kentucky Derby dynasty of NORTHERN DANCER

Yet even this list doesn’t reflect the sum total of Native Dancer’s stamp on the Derby. If you broaden the scope beyond his direct male-line descendants, you’ll see that Native Dancer has bequeathed a colossal influence via his daughter Natalma, who became the dam (mother) of breed-shaper Northern Dancer.

The hero of the 1964 Kentucky Derby, Northern Dancer has redrawn the genetic map of the Thoroughbred on a global scale. His sire line has furnished the most recent Triple Crown champion, Justify (2018), and six other Derby winners in Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Charismatic (1999), Big Brown (2008), Authentic (2020), and Mandaloun (2021). 

Northern Dancer 
Ferdinand [Line of Northern Dancer]1986 KYD Winner
Sea Hero [Line of Northern Dancer]1993 KYD Winner
Charismatic [Line of Northern Dancer]1999 KYD Winner
Big Brown [Line of Northern Dancer]2008 KYD Winner
Justify [Line of Northern Dancer]2018 KYD Winner
Authentic [Line of Northern Dancer]2020 KYD Winner
Mandaloun [Line of Northern Dancer]2021 KYD Winner

Authentic and Mandaloun are sons of perennial leading sire Into Mischief, so far the only stallion to sire back-to-back Derby winners. Fifteen other stallions have the distinction of siring two Derby winners overall. The greatest of them is Man o’ War, who didn’t compete in the Derby himself, but sired Clyde Van Dusen (1929) and Triple Crown star War Admiral (1937).

If Into Mischief can add a third Kentucky Derby winner, he’d tie the record shared by 19th-century stallions Virgil and Falsetto as well as 20th-century titans *Sir Gallahad III and Bull Lea. 

Those four sires of ages past are still found deep in the recesses of modern pedigrees, including Into Mischief’s ancestry, illustrating the genetic ties that bind across space and time. The contenders in the 150th Kentucky Derby will have the opportunity to spin the thread further, and weave themselves into the classic tapestry.

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Northern Dancer's Kentucky Derby winner influence

Northern Dancer's Kentucky Derby winner influence