June 20, 2018

The Storm Cat Kentucky Derby Curse: Betting Angle or Trivia?

Storm Cat (Horsephotos)

This is the first time I remember seeing someone reference sire Storm Cat’s futility in the Kentucky Derby.

Indeed, going into the 2013 Kentucky Derby, the Storm Cat sire line was winless in 33 starts, and Storm Cat-line mares were 0/16 with their progeny in the Kentucky Derby. The latter stat has improved thanks to two winners from 15 starters the past 5 years: American Pharoah in 2015 and Nyquist in 2016. Interestingly, both were two-year-old champion males. American Pharoah went on to win the Triple Crown, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Horse of the Year. Nyquist never won again.

The sire line has continued its futility, however, with another 18 losers since 2013, including Goldencents (17th at 7.9-to-1 in 2013), Carpe Diem (10th at 7.7-to-1 in 2015), and Firing Line (2nd at 9.5-to-1 in 2015). Some familiar names have gone on to do very well at middle distances such as the aforementioned Goldencents (winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt mile in 2013 & 2014), Vyjack (a Grade 2 winner at a mile on both turf and dirt), Mor Spirit (winner of the Grade 1 Met Mile), and Practical Joke (winner of the Grade 1, 7-furlong King’s Bishop).

The 0/51 is an eye-catching number not only in its volume (it represents 11.5% of all Kentucky Derby starters since Tabasco Cat finished 6th at 6.1-to-1 in the 1994 Derby) but also because the name attached is one of the premiere sires and sire of sires in the history of the American Turf. (Since 1999, the Storm Cat sire line has had 13.85% of all starters, and since 2007 18.7%)!

But what does one do with this information? Is the 51 losses enough of a sample size to downgrade any Storm Cat sire line progeny? As always, the answer is going to be price dependent. If I were handicapping a maiden race, and there was a first-time starter whose sire’s progeny was winless in 51 debuts then I’d need at least 20-to-1 (10-to-1 in a short field) before I even considered the horse based on other merits (trainer, workouts, etc.).

This doesn’t quite feel like the same thing, though. The 0/51 is an eye-catching stat, but is it a stopper? It shouldn’t be. No stat should be (even the dreaded “Apollo Curse”). Sure, it’s something I’ll use to help me assess a horse’s chances, but unlike our debut runner case above, we have a lot more information to go on with Kentucky Derby starters.

Storm Cat was such a good sire (and more to wit, his sons are such good sires) that it’s tough to argue one wouldn’t be capable of siring a Kentucky Derby winner. Similarly, consider that jockey Corey Lanerie is winless from 21 mounts in Kentucky Derby prep races worth at least 85 points (i.e. the so-called 50- or 100-point races). Is this because Lanerie doesn’t excel in these types of races when he’s so good in others? Of course not. While it’s more likely that Lanerie will win such a race than a Storm Cat will win the Kentucky Derby, using that 0/21 stat as a reason not to bet a horse ridden by Lanerie in a Kentucky Derby points race would be pretty silly. In fact, I’m not sure it’d factor at all in my handicapping process, so why should the Storm Cat stat?

Scott (whose Daily Selections full-card analysis with best bets is available at Brisnet.com) is right to ask why. Any handicapper should. The Derby is a specialized race. (Almost) everyone wants to win it, and the training required is unlike any other race–both in the long and short term preparation. It’s a reason I’m a believer in the Apollo Curse and discount international shippers who don’t have their final prep in the U.S. Obviously horses who don’t race at two can win other big races (it happens in the Preakness frequently [Bernardini, Curlin, Cloud Computing]), and international shippers win U.S. Grade 1 races all the time (see: Arlington Park’s International Festival of Racing, the Breeders’ Cup, etc.), but those events aren’t the Derby.

The truth is, though, I’d bet a Storm Cat-sire line horse out of the U.A.E. Derby who didn’t race at as a two-year-old if the price we right. The problem (especially with Apollo and international types) is that the price is rarely right because Apollo horses in the Derby often have a meteoric rise and international shippers are often coming off flashy wins. The Storm Cat angle is a bit more under the radar, but it provides some food for thought when making a final decision on horses expected to be below 10-to-1.

It’s more trivia than handicapping angle but not something I’d completely ignore when constructing my wagering strategy.

4 Comments on The Storm Cat Kentucky Derby Curse: Betting Angle or Trivia?

  1. I think Mr. Prospector was dead and buried before he got one in Fusaichi Pegasus, and even with his sprinter sire profile, Mr. Prospector, with the help of so many Northern Dancer mares, was a better sire than Storm Cat. Not making a point for or against …Just adding another name to the mix.

    • Very much the opposite, KM. Maybe FuPeg was his first son to win the Derby, but this article is about Storm Cat sireline, not just his direct sons. Mr P’s sireline dominated the triple crown races for a long time there. As far as the KY Derby goes…Real Quiet, Unbridled, Grindstone, Mine that Bird, American Pharoah, Always Dreaming, Thunder Gulch, Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, I’ll Have Another, War Emblem, Street Sense…all winners out of Mr P’s sireline. And countless other Preakness and Belmont winners as well.

  2. The Derby is a funny animal. Everything has to fall right to win it. Hardest race to win, in my opinion, yet a lot of times we get a lot of favorites emerging to take the roses. As far as the Storm Cat curse….I don’t believe in curses or stats that clutter your brain with no real facts other than to simply be a run of bad luck. With the right bottom side – probably extra sources of stamina, Storm Cat could’ve gotten a Derby winner. He just wasn’t lucky on the first Saturday in May.

    • Funny that you mention that “bottom side.” While he’s finally had success on that side in the Derby, I know there was a stat a few years ago that no horse with Storm Cat as the broodmare sire had won a G1 on dirt in the US beyond 9f. I bet that Bodemeister would do it in the Preakness that year, and he came-up just short. Not sure if there’s been one since.

      Storm Cat was bred to the best mares money out there. His best sons were bred to the best mares out there. What more “right bottom side – probably extra sources of stamina” did he need?

      It’s more than luck. It’s genetics.

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