An acrobatic little bird of the finch family, a siskin weighs about half an ounce and prefers the seeds of conifers to other food. It is one of the most entertaining and generally charming winter birds that we find at feeders in North America and Europe.
There’s not a lot in that description of the bird that links directly to the equine Siskin (by First Defence), except the part about being charming. Siskin has attracted a legion of fans with his speed and dramatic finishes; that was once more on display over the weekend, as Siskin sliced between rivals in the closing furlongs of the Irish 2,000 Guineas on June 12 to snatch victory from the six-horse Ballydoyle troop by a length and three-quarters.
The Irish classic is the latest top-level success for the international Juddmonte Farms of Prince Khalid Abdullah. He acquired the first elements of Siskin’s family with the purchase of the yearling filly later named Monroe in 1978, and Juddmonte’s Kentucky farm manager Garrett O’Rourke said that “it’s not easy to get your hands on these elite families, and it’s not easy to keep them producing at this level for decades” because of the challenges of racing and breeding at the intensely selective international level.
A foal of 2017, 40 years on from his highly successful third dam, Siskin was bred by Juddmonte, like both his parents and three of the four grandparents. The Kentucky-bred Siskin is a son of the Unbridled’s Song stallion First Defence, who is out of Toussaud’s high-class daughter Honest Lady (Seattle Slew). Siskin’s dam, Bird Flown, is by the very quick Oasis Dream (Green Desert) out of the stakes-placed Silver Star.
Silver Star’s sire, Juddmonte’s 1993 2,000 Guineas winner Zafonic (Gone West), was one of the early stars of the operation’s Kentucky breeding program, although he raced overseas. Most of the Juddmonte stock, regardless of birthplace, begin their careers in Europe, and only Honest Lady and a scant few others so suited to American racing by pedigree and type begin their careers in the States.
Racing in Europe, Silver Star was one of seven stakes horses from the Juddmonte foundation mare Monroe (Sir Ivor), who was herself a daughter of the great producer Best in Show (Traffic Judge), the dam of Kentucky Oaks winner Blush With Pride (Blushing Groom), as well as Monroe’s full brother, Irish highweight 2-year-old Malinowski. O’Rourke said, “It’s a very good family that we have a very good branch of, and it’s a family that’s been producing Grade 1 winners for longer than since I was a boy. Some families go dormant, but this one has never gone dormant. They’re lovely looking horses, they’re fast and sound, and they are versatile. I remember when Monroe was running, and she was a five-furlong sprinter, but at the same time, there was another member of the family that was a staying horse.”
The best of Monroe’s produce was the highweighted English colt Xaar, a full brother to Silver Star who won the G1 Dewhurst Stakes at 2 but failed to gain another victory at that level in two further seasons of racing.
Last year, Siskin was poised to follow Xaar’s path of success by contending for the divisional leadership in the Dewhurst Stakes against Pinatubo and others, but the dark brown colt lost his cool in the starting stalls for the Middle Park Stakes, was scratched by the stewards, and derailed for the rest of his juvenile season.
Unraced since then and making his seasonal debut in the Irish Guineas, Siskin was blocked in until quite late by what trainer Ger Lyons called “a football team,” but jockey Colin Keane helped create a seam about a furlong and a half from the finish, and once released, the colt’s closing kick was too strong for the opposition.
The manner of his classic victory leaves Siskin and the Juddmonte team in an enviable position to seek and dominate the competition at principal events at a mile, or perhaps more, through the rest of the season, and there is evidence from the pedigree that continued improvement would be a reasonable expectation.
The sire, First Defence, improved nicely from his 3-year-old season to win the G1 Forego at Saratoga as a 4-year-old. Likewise, his dam, Honest Lady, was a G2 winner at 3, won a G1 early at 4, then tilted against colts to finish second in the G1 Metropolitan Handicap and the G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
The best previous racer by First Defence was champion older mare Close Hatches, a multiple G1 winner who is the dam of Wood Memorial winner Tacitus (Tapit), also second in the G1 Belmont and Travers. Close Hatches and her stakes-winning full sister Lockdown are out of the Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado, a winning half-sister to Bird Flown.
So, three of the five or six best offspring by First Defence are out of half-sisters from the same family. Probably just a coincidence, right?
Siskin is from First Defence’s final Kentucky crop, as the horse was sold to stand in Saudi Arabia. Siskin is the second foal of his dam, and Bird Flown has a 2-year-old by Juddmonte-bred and -raced Flintshire, who is syndicated and stands at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in Lexington. That filly is named Talacre, and the mare has a yearling filly by Noble Mission, as well as a colt of 2020 by Flintshire.
Bird Flown is in foal to champion Arrogate, the best son of Unbridled’s Song. A reason to hope, a reason to dream.