Kentucky Derby: A Race Among Descendants Of One Undistinguished Horse

The Kentucky Derby and the chase for the elusive Triple Crown kicks off the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville. This year’s race is mostly among descendants of one horse who never ran in the Derby.

Will one contender, as American Pharoah did last year, grace spectators with the rare opportunity to witness a 3-year-old thoroughbred win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, within just 8 weeks, against the best horses in the world?

American Pharoah nearly flew to his Triple Crown victory, with a misspelled official name. The word “Pharaoh” ends in the letters “a-o-h.” But, as explained by CNN, this champion’s name was misspelled when entered into the registry — the “o” and the “a” at the end of “Pharaoh” were switched.

So both the misspelling and being only the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown have gone down in history for American Pharoah.

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What makes American Pharoah, or any horse, a race winner? It has a lot to do with their genes.

In 1970, two Kentucky-bred thoroughbred colts were born, just 2 months apart. One would quickly become celebrated for his outstanding race wins — he was called Secretariat.

A Triple Crown winner and a household name, Secretariat has been the only non-human athlete to be recognized as one of 100 greatest athletes of all time. His record setting performances of 43 years ago in each of the three races, starting with the Kentucky Derby, still stand today in testament to his amazing talent.

He inspired a Hollywood movie and has his own website.

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But what did the other 1970-born colt go on to do?

Named Mr. Prospector, he discovered a career marked by the setting of a race speed record, which has since been broken. Out of 14 starts he won 7, and had 4 seconds and 2 thirds. He never won a race beyond seven furlongs.

He never competed in the Kentucky Derby, and did not strike gold with his race earnings, making only $112,171 — which failed to pay back his $200,000 purchase price.

In contrast, Secretariat racked up $1,316,808 in race earnings.

However, Mr. Prospector’s gold would be found in his genes.

More than half of the Kentucky Derby winners since 1995 have been Mr. Prospector’s descendants. Last year’s Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, is one of them.

Nearly all of the horses entering the Derby start gate in Louisville this May can trace their roots to Mr. Prospector.

Mr. Prospector’s stud fees were a gold mine. Once peaking at $460,000 — with no guarantee of a live foal — his earnings in this capacity totaled tens of millions of dollars.

Remember the “Dumb Ass Partners,” Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, breeders and owners of California Chrome? California Chrome brilliantly won the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

But his owners had been mocked for purchasing a little known mare for $8,000.

That mare, Love The Chase, was the granddaughter of Mr. Prospector.

Love The Chase was bred to California stud Lucky Pulpit, for just $2,000, producing California Chrome — who has become the highest earning race horse in North American history.

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“All thoroughbred race horses alive today descend from three stallions that lived in the early 1700s: Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian,” according to Live Science.

But the breeding records show that, 200 years after these three horses lived, race horses whose genes descend from Mr. Prospector have unique chances for greatness.

The Kentucky Derby is a race that always brings back memories of Secretariat, but it continues to be made up of descendants of Mr. Prospector.

[Photo by Martin Garcia/Getty Images]