After tomorrow’s Rebel Stakes is run, we will have made it through the penultimate round of Derby preps. Most would agree that at this stage of the game, there are three main contenders who have accomplished a bit more than the rest, those being the top three finishers from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile: Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause. All three of these have proven themselves to be sufficiently fast and effective around two turns. There are still some remaining questions surrounding other top Derby prospects like El Padrino, Bodemeister, and Secret Circle. They have all shown themselves to be fast enough to break through to the upper echelon, but still must either prove their stamina or gain more racing experience. There is one contender, however, who is unquestionably not fast enough yet, but who is going to relish every bit of the ten furlongs of the Derby and perhaps more. That horse is Alpha.
When glancing through Alpha’s pedigree, you have to look no further than the first two generations to find the most apparent sources of his stamina. Alpha is a son of Bernardini, one of the rising stallion stars of the game. His offspring so far have shown a decent amount of versatility, with some showing high speed and others displaying ample amounts of stamina. Bernardini himself was one of the most talented horses of the decade at the distance of a mile and a quarter, which, being a son of the great A.P. Indy, should come as no surprise.
Alpha’s dam is Munnaya, a daughter of Nijinsky II, whose presence as damsire is one of the truly remarkable aspects of Alpha’s pedigree. Nijinsky II was a foal of 1967 and it is highly unusual to find a sire born in that decade so close up in a modern pedigree. As a racehorse, Nijinsky (as he was known in Europe) was one of the all time greats and one of the most versatile thoroughbreds of the twentieth century. An English Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky won stakes at distances ranging from six furlongs to a mile and three-quarters. Nijinsky also supplied his offspring with the combination of speed and stamina for which he was famous, siring such greats as Royal Academy, Lammtarra, and Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.
Munnaya, on the other hand, was fairly unremarkable on the track, with her one true asset being her high stamina. Campaigned in England, she made it to the races just four times with one win. That win, however did come in the Oaks Trial Stakes over 11 furlongs. She also placed in the Pretty Polly Stakes, another listed event at a mile and a quarter. As a producer, Munnaya has had mixed results. Most of her offspring, like her, raced exclusively on grass in Europe. Her two best foals, however, were based in the United States. The first, Lavender Sky, a 2004 daughter of Mt. Livermore, was three times Grade 2-placed on turf, finishing second in the San Gorgonio Handicap (G2) and third in the Santa Ana Handicap (G2) as a four-year-old. The other, Numaany, was produced the following year from her mating with A.P. Indy and stands out as Munnaya’s highest earner and her only foal who competed primarily on dirt. Racing in both the United States and Dubai, he managed a decent record of nine wins from 34 starts, his best finish being a third in the listed Al Bastakiya Stakes over nine furlongs.
It is curious that more of Munnaya’s progeny before Alpha were not tried on dirt seeing as her female family skews towards having an affinity for that surface. While her dam, Hiaam, a daughter of Alydar, raced exclusively on turf in England, her second dam, Kamar, was an excellent racehorse on dirt and a terrific producer of dirt stakes winners.
Kamar, a daughter of Key to the Mint, won seven of 11 starts racing in Canada, her greatest triumph coming in the Canadian Oaks. Kamar is probably best remembered for her daughters Gorgeous and Seaside Attraction. Gorgeous was a multiple Grade I winner who won eight of 14 starts and over $1 million. Some of her most memorable performances include her thrilling duel with Open Mind in the 1989 Mother Goose Stakes and her runner-up finish to Bayakoa in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Seaside Attraction’s claim to fame was her win in the 1990 Kentucky Oaks, in which she outran all-time great Go For Wand. Seaside Attraction is also the dam of 1995 U.S. Champion two-year-old filly Golden Attraction and Grade I-winner Cape Town. Kamar’s last foal was a filly by Nijinsky named Jood. She did not win a race in two starts, but is the dam of one of Sheik Mohammed’s greatest horses, Fantastic Light, a winner of over $8 million. Kamar is also the direct female line descendant of Godolphin’s Flashing, winner of the Test (G1) and Gazelle Stakes (G1).
Kamar’s dam is Square Angel, also a winner of the Canadian Oaks and a champion three-year-old filly in Canada. Square Angel’s best foal was a full sister to Kamar named Love Smitten, who won the 1986 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1). After having had some success with Kamar, Sheik Mohammed ostensibly purchased Love Smitten after her racing career and sent her to Ireland to be a broodmare. There she produced another of Godolphin’s heavy hitters, Swain. Swain won 10 of 22 races and nearly $4 million. He raced mostly over turf, but showed in close finishes in the 1998 Dubai World Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic that he may have been best on dirt.
Working backwards through Alpha’s female pedigree from a sireline perspective we see the names Nijinsky, Alydar, Key to the Mint, and Quadrangle. All of these horses ran excellent races at 1 1/2 miles and some even beyond. Most of these sires also suggest that this is a dirt-oriented family, yet Sheik Mohammed campaigned Alpha’s two closest female ancestresses on turf in Europe. The success of Alpha suggests that perhaps the switch to racing over dirt is the boost that this family needed all along. As stated earlier, Alpha has not yet stamped himself as a top Derby contender, but as the distances continue to increase, so should his speed figures. To date, the longest distance he has negotiated is eight and half furlongs, which is likely too short for him to show his best. Alpha’s pedigree suggests that he should actually peak at ten furlongs and handle distances up to a mile and a half with aplomb.