People who have conceded the 120th running of the Kentucky Derby next Saturday to Holy Bull, might want to take a second look.
The horse's Dosage Index, or ratio of inherited speed to endurance based on four generations of his pedigree, shows that the 3-year-old colt is long on speed, but short on stamina.
Holy Bull might get the early lead in the Derby, but he could trip on his parentage and fade.
According to the modern-day Dosage formula, devised in 1981 by 51-year-old Houston chemist Steve Roman, Holy Bull has a Dosage Index of 6.0.
Since 1929, only one horse, Strike the Gold in 1991, has won the Derby with a Dosage Index exceeding 4.0.
The higher the number, the greater concentration of speed in a horse's pedigree. Lower numbers indicate more stamina, a trait especially important for 3-year-olds traveling 1 1/4 miles for the first time on the first Saturday in May.
"I am not prejudiced against sprinters," Roman said last week. "And I certainly have nothing against Holy Bull. He is a great-looking horse and obviously a really, really good one. But his pedigree says he can't go 1 1/4 miles."
To back up his formula, Roman notes that the average distance for stakes-winning offspring of Holy Bull's sire, Great Above, is 7.08 furlongs, roughly three furlongs short of the Derby distance and their average Dosage Index is 7.0.
But, since Holy Bull has already won two major races -- the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes at 9 furlongs -- he is already an exception to the rule.
Roman is prepared for the Dosage Index to go down to defeat for a second time in the Derby, particularly since there doesn't seem to be another speed horse of Holy Bull's caliber to press him early in the race.
"With Irgun out, everyone seems intimidated by Holy Bull. Nobody is willing to challenge him unless Smilin Singin Sam is sent out there early," Roman said. "If Holy Bull gets the lead with no pressure and is allowed to go in 48 and 1:12 (the first half-mile in 48 seconds, six furlongs in 1:12), then he'll win. But if the pace is slow, then the final time is going to be slow, too."
Roman's picks for the race are Brocco, Valiant Nature and Blumin Affair.
He describes Brocco as "a truly classically bred horse" and Valiant Nature as "the most classically bred" in the race. Although Go For Gin has the lowest Dosage Index, indicating the most stamina, Roman thinks races have to set up in a certain way for that horse to be most effective.
He said a horse's Dosage Index is not the only factor he uses in making his selections. "It must be used hand-in-hand in handicapping the Derby with high-class early maturity as a 2-year-old," Roman added.
"Because the Derby has shown it is a consistent type of race year after year," he said. "The conditions are usually the same. There is a large field. The quality's pretty high. The distance is always 1 1/4 miles. There is usually a fast pace and it's a huge spectacle. That's why these two things count year after year -- clear-cut ability to go the distance and early maturity because of the demands of the race both physically and mentally on the horse."
All three of Roman's selections combine those ingredients.
"But," Roman added, "I might break my own rule and throw Holy Bull in my triple box, too, because of the way the race might set up and because he could just be a very, very good horse."
Ryan rebounding from spill
Racing fans who were at the Marlborough Hunt Races in Davidsonville last Sunday witnessed a terrible spill when 33-year-old jump jockey, Colvin "Greg" Ryan, fell in a pack of horses in the open hurdle race and was trampled by at least one runner.
Ryan successfully underwent a seven-hour operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital last week to repair a crushed vertebra and should be released from the hospital Wednesday.
"He was about a millimeter away from paralysis," said his mother, Margot Young, of Locust Valley, N.Y.
Ryan, one of the country's top professional steeplechase riders, lives in Fells Point and keeps a unique schedule. He gallops horses for trainer Frannie Campitelli at Pimlico Race Course on a daily basis, then works as a financial analyst and insurance broker during the day and rides jump races all over the country on weekends.
Last year Ryan won five of the nine steeplechase races carded at Laurel Race Course and has ridden the last three Maryland-bred jumper champions -- Double Barrel, Circuit Bar and Rolling Cart.
Ryan said that he will have to wear a portable back brace and that it will take him about two or three months to heal. But, he said, he plans to ride in races again, although he will probably wait until next year.
"At first, you feel disappointed about all the races you're going to miss," Ryan said. "But then, when you get feeling back in your toes, it puts it all into perspective. I feel lucky that I dodged a bullet."
Irish Forever returns