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With a slim victory in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga, Wise Dan earned his 14th victory from his last 16 starts. A multiple champion and Horse of the Year, Wise Dan is legitimately one of the most recognizable and most popular horses in training.

Wise Dan is also a poster boy for why pedigree doesn’t matter.

Now, before someone out there has a fit in the middle of a street and gets run over, let me say that pedigree does matter, part of the time.

Pedigree, at least the use of names in pedigrees, is the first thing that most observers and breeders use to select matings that produce the next generation of racehorses.

Pedigree is also important at the sales because that is a primary element in how sales companies rank horses into sessions at sales, and is anyone surprised that the horses who sell earlier in the sale bring higher prices?

So pedigree has its uses and its value, but pedigree also has its limits.

For instance, if Wise Dan’s wise owner-breeder, Morton Fink, had put the big chestnut through a sale, the likelihood is that the multimillionaire would have been placed in a late session.

Wiseman's Ferry, G3 winner, bred beyond his own ability when siring Horse of the Year Wise Dan

Wiseman’s Ferry, G3 winner, bred beyond his own ability when siring Horse of the Year Wise Dan

With such a catalog placement, how much would Wise Dan have brought at the sale? By Wiseman’s Ferry out of a mare by the South African stallion Wolf Power, Wise Dan does not have a fancy pedigree, nor one that would bring big bucks at the yearling sales.

When a horse begins to race, however, that is another set of criteria entirely. Racing is a test for athletic ability, confidence, tenacity, and courage. The racecourse test is the greatest of all progeny tests. It selects the fittest, the fastest, the most willing, and the most rugged.

In that regard, Wise Dan is a star. He is just what he has shown himself to be on the racetrack: a horse of exceptional ability and consistency. A champion.

Are there good horses who do not show what they can do in racing? Sure there are. Perhaps that was the case with Lisa Danielle, the dam of Wise Dan and his highly talented half-brother Successful Dan (by Successful Appeal).

They are two of the three stakes winners out of their dam, who was a winner on the racetrack. Unlike some mares who were not stakes winners, Lisa Danielle was not a great money earner and won only a single race from seven starts at ages three and four. The mare did win a maiden special at Arlington, however, and she had to have a reasonable amount of talent to accomplish that.

Her earnings of $20,120 are not large, but earning even that much places her well above average in the breed by the most reliable index of earnings per start.

But when the chestnut daughter of the gray Wolf Power and the bay Secretariat mare Askmysecretary went to stud, the results were of an altogether different level than her racing record.

The progeny test for Thoroughbreds is a slow and expensive process, but Lisa Danielle had two good winners from her first two foals, both by the Fappiano stallion, Roy. The mare’s first foal was Lisa’s Royal Guy, who won seven times from 61 starts, earning $182,386. The second was the filly Our Royal Dancer, who won the West Long Branch Stakes and $195,070 in four seasons of racing.

Not many people would have predicted a pair of six-figure winners and a solid stakes winner from the first pair of foals from a nice little maiden special winner. Lisa Danielle had “done good.”

From her next four foals, Lisa Danielle produced two winners that earned more than $100,000. And then came Successful Dan and Wise Dan as the mare’s seventh and eighth foals.

They were a major step up in quality and performance. The other foals had been outstandingly tough and race-worthy, but only Our Royal Dancer was a stakes winner.

Successful Dan and Wise Dan became competitors at the very top of racing in G1 stakes. In addition to his Eclipse Awards, Wise Dan has won 10 G1 races, including the 2012 and 2013 runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Successful Dan, victor in eight of his 15 starts, earned $998,154 and somehow missed becoming a G1 winner, although he was second in the Whitney, and third in the Clark and Woodward.

Since those stars, the mare has produced two more winners, but she has only a pair of foals from her last six years of production. Two of those years are listed as “dead foal,” tempting us to imagine what might have been.

Now 20, Lisa Danielle is past her best years as a broodmare. Pregnancy, lactation, and age take a visible toll, and it is possible the mare may never have another foal. That would not be a shock.

It is all the more unfortunate, however, because we truly know how good a producer the mare is. She foals sound and effective racehorses who can be of high class. In fact, Lisa Danielle is precisely the type of mare who would be a wonderful candidate for the cutting-edge methods of reproduction done with other breeds.

Who wouldn’t like to have another 10 or 20 or even 50 foals from a mare like this? But the rules of the Jockey Club and its fellow breed associations around the world require live cover for the production of a Thoroughbred, and that has proven an absolute barrier to mares who have shown potential to become greater influences in the breed.

*The preceding post was first published at Paulick Report earlier this week.

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