Belmont Stakes pedigree: looking for that magic crossWhen it comes to pedigree handicapping, I'm not a big fan of saying a certain aspect of a horse's lineage means s/he can't do something on the track. Rather, pedigree helps gives clues as to what a horse might most like to do: run short, long, or somewhere in between and on which surface.
A horse who figures best going long on the turf can still win sprinting on the dirt under certain circumstances, and vice versa and any other combination you can think of.
That's not to say pedigree handicapping isn't important, because it absolutely is, not only as an indicator of potential talent but also as one of the few areas that not all handicappers utilize, which leads to better prices.
Pedigree is most used in maiden and turf races, and for horses stretching out. The one thing those three categories have in common is that they involve horses doing things they've never done before. That's why pedigree handicapping is such a big part of handicapping races like the Kentucky and Epsom Derbys--no horse in those races has typically raced at 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 miles, respectively.
The Belmont Stakes is similar with its 1 1/2-mile distance, but for whatever reason doesn't get quite the same attention as the Derby from a pedigree perspective, and that's a shame because some trends have clearly developed over the past 22 years since Hansel, by Woodman out of a Dancing Count mare, won the 1991 Belmont Stakes.
That marked the first time a Mr. Prospector-line stallion out of a Northern Dancer-line mare would win the Test of the Champion but certainly not the last, as it has happened an astonishing seven times since with Mr. Prospector-line stallions accounting for another five wins on top of that and Northern Dancer-line broodmares another three wins. The reverse cross of a Northern Dancer-line sire over a Mr. Prospector-line mare accounted for last year's winner.
The following chart below shows the sire and broodmare sire lines of all Belmont Stakes winners going back to Summing in 1981. Mr. Prospector is present in 16 of the past 31 winners with 15 of those coming on the sire side. Northern Dancer is in 16 of the past 27 but more evenly distributed on top five times and with the dam 11 times.
So who has the magic combo in this year's group (Belmont 2013 tab)? Palace Malice and Will Take Charge are both by Mr. Prospector-line stallions out of Northern Dancer-line mares while Golden Soul and Midnight Taboo have the reverse of that cross that last year's winner Union Rags has. The only other Mr. Prospector-line stallion in the race is the filly Unlimited Budget, whose dam is from the In Reality line. That's the same cross 2000 winner Commendable had.
A.P. Indy is a popular sire line this year, but the only success he's had in the race since winning it in 1992 was with Rags To Riches in 2007. Still, all three of his representatives are out of either Northern Dancer- or Mr. Prospector-line mares.
Is all this to say that you need Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer influences to win the Belmont Stakes? Of course not. There are plenty of pedigrees we could look at with both those heavy hitters in the sire and dam lines and think this horse has no business on dirt and/or around two turns, but the great thing about the American classic races is that despite their distances they all require brilliance. Plodders and deep closers rarely do well in any of the three races. Classic breeding begets classic success.
Full disclosure: I happen to be director of marketing for Brisnet.com, which specializes in providing a lot of this info to handicappers. Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances include pedigree information not found in any other product, and tbe Brisnet.com American Produce Records (APR Online) allows users to search by entry and is great for handicapping maidens, turf races, and stretch outs.