Anything could happen between now and the time the matter is finally and permanently resolved, but as it stands now, the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner is Mandaloun, who was promoted to the race’s top spot after first-finisher Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test and was disqualified.
Assuming that placement stands, Mandaloun would be just the second Kentucky Derby winner promoted to first in the wake of a post-race drug test, following in the footsteps of Forward Pass, who won the 1968 Derby after a positive test by first-place Dancer’s Image and a lengthy court battle.
Because of this, comparisons between Mandaloun and Forward Pass are inevitable, but their individual circumstances don’t necessarily make it an apples-to-apples matchup. Forward Pass wasn’t ultimately declared the winner of the 1968 Derby for five years after the race was run, meaning he completed his racing career and retired to stud with the biggest accolade on his resume still in question. Barring a dramatic reversal by a higher court, Mandaloun will not face the same questions when he begins his stallion career.
Besides their common touching point, the two promoted Derby winners have little in common at similar points of their careers. Where Forward Pass entered his Derby as the post time favorite after storming through the prep season, Mandaloun entered his renewal as a longshot. Forward Pass also continued on that spring to nearly win the Triple Crown (which would have needed to be rewarded in retrospect) and become his crop’s champion 3-year-old male, while Mandaloun took some time off after his Derby try and was not even an Eclipse Award finalist. However, where Forward Pass retired after his sophomore campaign, Mandaloun has continued to race on at four, and he has become a graded stakes winner.
The stud careers of the two horses will also be hard to compare, given the much higher volume of mares bred in today’s bloodstock realm, but even so, the bar was set extremely low for Mandaloun to surpass.
Bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm, Forward Pass came into the world with immediate expectations of success. The son of On-and-On was out of the 1956 Kentucky Oaks winner Princess Turia, each of them both Calumet homebreds themselves.
Fortunately, Forward Pass proved himself up for the challenge. Under the guidance of trainer Henry Forrest, Forward Pass notched a win in the Flash Stakes at Saratoga as a 2-year-old, finished third in the Sanford Stakes later in the meet, and finished fourth in the Tyro Stakes, Saratoga Special, and Hopeful Stakes.
All of this set up for what would be a dominant spring campaign during the colt’s 3-year-old season. His campaign started in Florida, with victories in the Hibiscus Stakes and Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah Park, before moving across town to Gulfstream Park to take the Florida Derby. Forward Pass then shifted his attention to Kentucky, where his final Derby prep was a triumph in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
The colt’s hot start to the season resonated with bettors, who sent him from the gates in the 1968 Kentucky Derby as a 2.20-to-1 favorite, just ahead of 3.60-to-1 Dancer’s Image. Under jockey Ismael Valenzuela, Forward Pass broke from an outside post and sat about two lengths off pacesetter Kentucky Sherry through the race’s opening mile. Running wide throughout, he briefly poked his head in front at the top of the stretch, but he didn’t have an answer for the rail rally of Dancer’s Image, who slipped past the field and kicked away to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Forward Pass finished a neck ahead of Francie’s Hat, who staged a mid-pack move to gain position.
Dancer’s Image’s penylbutazone positive was public information by the time he and Forward Pass met two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes, but this time, Forward Pass didn’t need the laboratories to declare him the winner, going off as the slight 1.10-to-1 favorite (Dancer’s Image was 1.20-to-1), and decimating the field by six lengths. Dancer’s Image finished third, but was disqualified to eighth for interference.
There hadn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, and Forward Pass entered the Belmont Stakes on a somewhat unsatisfying precipice, with the Derby decision years away. New shooter Stage Door Johnny put a stop to that notion, coming out on top in a prolonged stretch duel with Forward Pass.
After the Belmont, Forward Pass continued to pad his resume with a win in the American Derby at Arlington Park, and a second in the Travers Stakes.
Prior to the Eclipse Awards, industry-recognized year-end championships in North America were a more scattered affair, and that played out with the class of 1968. Turf and Sports Digest named Forward Pass its champion 3-year-old male, while his Belmont Stakes rival Stage Door Johnny earned the same title from the Thoroughbred Racing Association and Daily Racing Form. In addition to the Belmont Stakes, Stage Door Johnny’s 1968 record included wins in the Saranac Handicap, Dwyer Handicap, and Peter Pan Stakes.
Forward Pass was slated to race on into his 4-year-old season, but he never made a start past three. He was sent to winter in Florida with an eye on testing older foes, but ankle injuries kept him on the sidelines. Forrest brought the colt with him to New York in the spring of 1969, but he was eventually returned to Calumet Farm.
Calumet Farm manager Melvin Cinnamon announced the retirement of Forward Pass and syndication at stud in the BloodHorse in August 1969, and he told the publication that the colt had test-bred mares in the spring to satisfactory results. Forward Pass retired with 10 wins in 23 starts for earnings of $580,631.
Forward Pass joined a Calumet stallion roster that included his sire On-and-On, as well as Beau Prince, Citation, Reverse, and Tim Tam. His accolades at stud would match none of them.
From 135 North American foals to race, Forward Pass sired six stakes winners, and few horses that made any sort of dent on a national level.
As a freshman sire, his lone stakes winner was Andalante, who won her division of the Michigan Futurity at Detroit Race Course. That debut crop would later produce Rebuttal, who finished third in the Grade 2 Minuteman Handicap as a 3-year-old at Keystone Racetrack.
The debate over the best North American runner by Forward Pass ultimately comes down to two colts: John U to Berry or Maple Grove.
John U to Berry, born in his sire’s second crop, raced 111 times, picked up 15 wins, and earned $166,470. He did his best work in Maryland, winning the Southern Maryland Handicap and finishing second in the General George Handicap, both at Bowie Race Track.
Maple Grove’s career was shorter, but had a greater impact. A winner in nine of 37 starts, and earner of $117,703, the Ontario-born Maple Grove was a two-time stakes winner at Detroit Race Course, including a track record-setting performance at a mile and 40 yards in the Pathfinder Handicap. North of the border, he won the Queenston Stakes at Greenwood Raceway, and he was twice-placed in the G3 Dominion Day Handicap at Woodbine.
By the mid-1970s, Forward Pass’ reputation as a stallion with a ceiling was clearly established, but the burgeoning Japanese breeding program was interested in buying American classic winners, even if their domestic reputation was somewhat scratch-and-dent.
Japan’s Nishiyama Farm purchased Forward Pass from Calumet in November 1977, and he left for his new home at the turn of the new year. He only stood a handful of season in Japan before dying of colic in 1980 at age 15.
Records are spotty for Japanese sire performance in that time frame, but reports don’t suggest Forward Pass experienced a career renaissance in his new home. In the book “Kentucky Derby Stories,” author Jim Bolus writes that Forward Pass sired 85 Japanese foals, with “two important 2-year-old race winners.”
As one might expect from a stallion record so lackluster, Forward Pass does not have a significant presence in modern American pedigrees.
In terms of his sons at stud, John U to Berry was eventually exported to Holland, where he became a sire of Warmbloods. Maple Grove went on to a modest stud career in Ontario. El Macho became a stakes-producing sire in Michigan, while Terester, out of a full-sister to Native Dancer, was a productive sire of Idaho-breds.
His daughters were a bit more successful. Andalante, the Michigan-bred stakes-winner from his first crop, produced Numero Uno Pass, by Soy Numero Uno, who won the Fayette Stakes at Keeneland.
The most successful broodmare by Forward Pass was Fawncy Daughter, whose foals made over $1 million on the racetrack. Leading the way was Ice Over, by It’s Freezing, who was a three-time stakes winner in Ontario and Illinois, and was also Grade 3-placed. Full-brother Arctic Grail earned over $300,000, while Baldski’s Hero, by Baldski, was a Group 1 winner in Trinidad and Tobago.
Forward Pass was also the broodmare sire of Grade 3 winner Cybele, by Cyane; Grade 2-placed stakes winner Burnished Bright, by Well Decorated; and two-time Mexican champion Gama Tres, by El Pitirre.