famed bloodstock adviser made a point that is true and lasting to this day

Over lunch with John Clark at the Thoroughbred Club some years ago, the sage horse trader and pedigree reader gave me a pop quiz.

When he asked, “What’s the most important nick in breeding?” I launched into an esoteric discourse on Nijinsky and Blushing Groom, the marvelous match of Buckpasser and Northern Dancer, and then before I’d reached anything like full speed, he said, “Whoa, young man.”

“You’re making this way too complicated. What Is the nick in breeding and sales?”

Peering over the rim of my tea glass, I ventured, “Northern Dancer and Mr. P?”

Thereupon, he sighed with satisfaction, gave me a grin, mumbled “not bad,” and then firmly stated, “Let’s see if we can give an equal verdict to the chef’s idea of what a hot brown is supposed to taste like.”

The lunch could not have been bad, but it was certainly less memorable than conversing with the breeder-owner-trainer-buyer-seller of Thoroughbreds and legendary teller of tales.

Clark’s maxim about cutting through the brush and seeing the bigger picture of pedigrees, especially the overarching trends in breeding, has lingered with me all these years.

The cross of the legendary sires Northern Dancer, a foal of 1961, and Mr. Prospector, a foal of 1970, earned quick success at the racetrack, drew immediate positive responses in the sales ring, and has lasted robustly over the years.

That each stallion’s pedigree was a basic mirror of the other surely wasn’t a coincidence in their compatibility. Northern Dancer was Nearco over Native Dancer, and Mr. Prospector was Native Dancer over Nearco. Furthermore, the two sires seemed to succeed interchangeably, with Northern Dancer in the male line and Mr. Prospector in the broodmare sire line, or the reverse.

One of the questions that made me wonder, as these two long-lived and wildly popular sires aged through their landmark careers at stud, was how this marvelous match would fare as they receded in pedigrees. When the two most important stallions of the 1970s through the 1990s died and then began to move inevitably farther back in pedigrees, how would their descendants evolve, and would this greatest nick of our time become dulled with overuse?

One of the amazing qualities of this cross is that it keeps on ticking, and it appears that this nick will become one of the pervasive factors in pedigrees of the future.

Consider, for instance, the pedigree of Sistercharlie, a 4-year-old daughter of the Danehill/Northern Dancer-line stallion Myboycharlie and winner of the Grade 1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga. This is a high-class bay filly who last year in France won the G2 Prix Penelope and was second in the G1 Prix de Diane and second in the G1 Belmont Oaks.

Her sire’s pedigree carries the nearly universal inbreeding to Northern Dancer, as well as inbreeding to Native Dancer through his daughter Natalma and son Raise a Native. But the story of Myboycharlie’s pedigree is Pharlaris, especially through Nearco, with special emphasis on his sons Nearctic, Nasrullah, and Royal Charger.

The top half of Sistercharlie’s pedigree looks like it has been hit with buckshot called Nearco.

The tale of the bottom half of the pedigree for Sistercharlie is somewhat different. The Diana winner’s dam is Starlet’s Sister, a 9-year-old daughter of the great international sire Galileo (by Sadler’s Wells) out of Premiere Creation, a mare by Green Tune, a high-class racing son of the important Nijinsky stallion Green Dancer.

So Starlet’s Sister is linebred to Northern Dancer in the male line and broodmare sire line. Even more interestingly, both the sire and dam of Starlet’s Sister are out of mares by Miswaki (Mr. Prospector). The sire Galileo, like his half-brother Sea the Stars and their siblings, is out of the Arc de Triomphe winner and great producer Urban Sea, and the dam Premiere Creation is a G1-placed performer out of Allwaki, a Miswaki daughter who didn’t race and didn’t produce a stakes winner. Nearly the opposite of great Urban Sea.

The big picture of the dam’s pedigree is Northern Dancer (Sadler’s Wells and Nijinsky) over Mr. Prospector (Miswaki). And Starlet’s Sister has an additional Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector in her pedigree; so it is a remarkably balanced repetition of the great cross, and this is likely to become much more common.

nearco x

Nearco – became the influence of greatest lasting importance to bloodlines of the 21st century, especially through his sons Nasrullah, Nearctic, and Royal Charger.

The Northern Dancer-Mr. Prospector cross is so widely dispersed among quality Thoroughbreds that it is difficult to find pedigrees without it, and the coming trend is repetition of the nick, probably numerous times.

Genetically, this would seem to be logical. If the combination of these two great sires produced something of athletic value, then why not double, triple, quadruple it over the generations. The repetitions would suggest the chance of connecting the valuable traits of these important sires and their good descendants. The pattern at least gives breeders something to shoot at.

And as a model of the future, Sistercharlie has five Northern Dancers and a trio of Mr. Prospectors. In greater depth, she has more than two dozen lines of Phalaris, with special emphasis on his grandson Nearco through the latter’s three most persistent sons: Nasrullah, Nearctic, and Royal Charger.

The Phalaris revolution, through the overwhelming tide of Nearco, appears ready to wash the breed into a future state where all the breed is Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and their minions.

nearco x leaving bunker during wwii

Nearco – leaving his bunker during World War II. It boggles the mind to wonder how different things might have been without him.


the green monkey was a striking animal, as well as a sales icon

During the first week of July, the activity and interest in the two 2018 sales at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky obscured the reporting that The Green Monkey had been euthanized earlier in the spring. The record-priced Thoroughbred sold at auction, The Green Monkey has become a footnote in racing history due to his price, and his death was noted because of his status as a marker in sales history.

The bay son of the Storm Cat stallion Forestry will remain in record price lists and sales story leads but eventually will be replaced by another extraordinary sales horse. Yet The Green Monkey was remarkable for two things.

First, The Green Monkey was an uncommonly handsome animal, a striking bay son of Forestry, who in 2006 was a notably promising young stallion by super sire Storm Cat. Not only was Storm Cat then riding the crest of his enormous success and popular sales demand, but his son Forestry appeared to be a major stallion on the horizon. The Green Monkey had the length of body and mass of muscle so frequently seen among the Storm Cat tribe, and he used his talents effectively as a sales horse.

As the evidence of the racetrack proved over time, however, Forestry was only a fairish stallion, more frequently a factor for fragility than sturdiness, despite the large books of excellent broodmares sent to the horse at his base on Taylor Made Farm.

On the racetrack, the best offspring by Forestry was 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford. The latter was a highly talented athlete who campaigned three seasons for earnings of slightly more than $3 million, plus two additional Grade 1 victories: the Metropolitan Handicap and Clark Handicap.

Interestingly, Shackleford probably exists because of The Green Monkey. The latter is out of a good-looking mare by leading sire Unbridled (by Fappiano), and The Green Monkey sold as Fasig-Tipton’s February auction of 2-year-olds in training in 2006. The Green Monkey, bred on the cross of Forestry mated to an Unbridled mare, made owners of Unbridled mares believe that great things might lie in store for those bred in similar fashion. Shackelford’s dam, the Unbridled mare Oatsee, was sent to Forestry in 2007 and foaled the future classic winner in 2008.

In addition to The Green Monkey’s good looks and effect on contemporary matings, he was also the first sales horse to work a furlong in :09 4/5.

That is much less of a distinction today when literally dozens of young horses breeze that quickly each sales season. Just this spring in Ocala, 16 juveniles at the OBS March sale and 17 juveniles at the OBS April sale each breezed a furlong in :09 4/5.

None of those sold for $16 million; so what made The Green Monkey so special? Partly, it was looks and pedigree, combined with being first on the block with a furlong faster than :10. Also, 2006 was a different time in the world economy, with seven 2-year-olds at the Fasig-Tipton sale alone that brought $1 million or more, and Godolphin, for instance, spent $2 million to purchase a juvenile son of the A.P. Indy stallion Golden Missile. Named Mercantile, he won three races and $83,160.

Godolphin, moreover, was part of the reason that The Green Monkey brought $16 million. The other part of the reason was Coolmore. With Demi O’Byrne bidding for the Irish entity, the two major international operations staged a sumo wrestling match in the sales ring, and it became a contest to see which would push the other out of the ring. Coolmore won the battle of the bucks and sent the colt they named The Green Monkey to Todd Pletcher for training.

In terms of physical looks, work time, and international competition, the purchase of The Green Monkey, and even his record price, made sense of a sort.

But to those of us on the technological side of evaluating 2-year-olds and racehorses, the sale result was dumbfounding because The Green Monkey was what my associate Jay Kilgore calls a “false positive.” The colt certainly ran fast and had a long enough stride length, but he did it all wrong.

All the way down the stretch for his work, The Green Monkey was in a rotary gallop, also known as cross-cantering or cross-firing, rather than the proper alternating gallop sequence of footfalls. As we stood in the racetrack box capturing video of the works, one knowledgeable horseman said, “He’s cross-cantering all the way” and marked him off his list of horses to inspect.

That was the immediate reaction of the people using stride and video analysis of works to select prospects.

the green monkey working ftcald06

The Green Monkey – working a furlong in :09 4/5 that helped to propel him to a record price of $16 million at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton sale of juveniles in training at Calder.

Well I remember, however, standing in the walking ring outside the temporary bidding ring at Calder racecourse, where Fasig-Tipton held its sale at the time, holding a list of a couple dozen of the top performers. About half-way through the sale, a prominent agent that I know came up to chat with me, and he asked whether I was waiting for the sales topper?

He then proceeded to tell me about the Forestry colt, who he contended was going to outsell the two well-fancied Storm Cat colts. I didn’t believe him because I knew that the numbers were all wrong. Nobody told the major players, it seems, and they proceeded to knock each other around with enthusiasm while driving the price through the roof.

The competition and the price made good copy for the equine publications, and The Green Monkey has continued to provide people with something to talk about throughout his life, especially concerning his price. After all, it’s only money.

first yearlings by triple crown winner american pharoah continue the sire’s contribution to the commercial marketplace

Heeee’s back! The first crop of colts and fillies by 2015 Horse of the Year American Pharoah are already yearlings of 2018, and a wee sampling of them were cataloged for the Fasig-Tipton July sale on July 10.

During the horse’s first breeding season in 2016, the 2015 Triple Crown winner covered 208 mares, got 178 in foal, and has 163 yearlings, according to statistics from the Jockey Club online database. In addition, the bay son of Pioneerof the Nile (by Empire Maker) is expected to be the year’s leading sire of yearlings by average and gross, just as he was the leading sire of weanlings when his first foals went through the ring last season.

In 2017, 10 weanlings by American Pharoah sold for an average price of $445,500 and a median price of $387,500. The most expensive of those was a half-sister to Kentucky Derby second Bodemeister (Empire Maker) and thus more desirable for being bred on that same male line. She brought $1 million from Narvick International, agent, at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale.

Nine months farther along, there were a pair of fillies cataloged for the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale, although one was scratched from the offering. The filly set to sell was Hip 131, a Kentucky-bred born on Feb. 3 out of the Yonaguska mare Yong Musician.

This filly is a half-sister to a pair of stakes horses, G1-placed Kingdom Road (Bellamy Road) and G3-placed Co Cola (Candy Ride). The dam is a half-sister to Canadian champion Kimchi (Langfuhr), two stakes-placed performers, and to the dam of multiple G1 winner Mind Your Biscuits.

Like American Pharoah, 2015 champion older horse Honor Code (A.P. Indy) went to stud in 2016, was the second-leading sire of first-crop weanlings in 2017, and has a strong representation of first-crop offspring that are now yearlings. And like the son of Pioneerof the Nile, Honor Code had a single yearling, Hip 264, in the July sale at Fasig-Tipton.

This filly is an Arizona-bred is out of the Buddha mare Hisse, a multiple stakes winner of seven races and  $435,681. Hisse is one of three stakes horses out of her dam, including stakes winner Ahead of Her Time (Leestown), winner in seven of nine starts.

Both Honor Code and American Pharoah earned and received large books of high-quality mares. They are apparently siring stock that has considerable appeal to buyers of racehorses, as well as to their agents and advisers. And we can look forward to seeing many more of the yearlings by these young sires in the upcoming sales at Saratoga and at the Keeneland September auction.

As an indicator of the volume of young stock by these first-crop yearling sires, American Pharoah was bred to 214 mares during the 2017 breeding season, and the results of those matings will be known in coming months. The Triple Crown champ covered another large book of mares at Ashford this season and is in quarantine for transport to Coolmore Australia for the 2018 breeding season in the Southern Hemisphere.

Note: Hip 131 sold for $200,000 to JJ Crupi, agent, and Hip 264 sold for $100,000 to Quarter Pole Enterprises.

insurance to offset the risk of first-year infertility in stallion prospects may be getting more expensive outside kentucky

Stallion farms based outside of Kentucky will no longer easily be able to purchase first-year infertility insurance on stallion prospects that are “lesser-priced horses,” according to well-placed sources with connections to the insurance agencies and stallion operations.

Although not something that’s obvious to the general public, insurance against infertility is one of the nearly invisible layers of business that allows the great bloodstock machine to work smoothly year after year by protecting the investment and confidence of stallion operations and their syndicate members.

First-year infertility insurance is a policy written to protect a farm or buyer “in case you’ve syndicated a horse for major money that somehow has a congenital problem,” said Lynn Jones of Equus / Standardbred Station insurance. “These policies are written so that if a stallion isn’t able to get 60 percent of his mares in foal, then the farm or syndicate isn’t left holding the bag.”

Instead, by going through an insurance agent and underwriter, stallion buyers spread the risk of loss from that inevitability: the subfertile or infertile stallion. To arrange for a policy, Jones said, “You want a qualified vet to do the initial examination. They will measure the testicles, run a blood test, and the result is a huge protection device. But you can’t collect him or have a semen evaluation. Everyone goes in blindfolded, so to speak. It’s so commonplace that it’s now a built-in cost of the acquisition.”

The principal underwriters of insurance policies for horses, whether for accidental death (AD&D) or first-year infertility, are Lloyd’s of London, Great American, and NAS Swiss Re. These are giant international risk underwriters that back the insurance policies that local and national agents sell to farms or individuals.

One agent in Central Kentucky who preferred not to be named said that “Horse insurance, as a percentage of their equity underwriting, doesn’t amount to a rounding error to these major underwriters. But they perceive an elevated risk in regional markets relative to Kentucky and are being more selective.”

None of the selectivity applies to stallion operations in Kentucky because “we can be a little bit spoiled by the horse market and general environment here in the Bluegrass,” one agent said. “This is the epicenter of the stallion market. In regional markets, you can find variation in horsemanship – both in stallion and mare management, as well as in the availability of world-class veterinary facilities and specialists.”

As a result of this change of availability for first-year stallion fertility insurance, some regional breeders will have to make hard decisions about adding stallions to their rosters.

One regional breeder already has collided with this unexpected situation. He said, “Late last year, I bought a stallion prospect off the racetrack, called my Kentucky agent to get a quote for infertility insurance, and was told – eventually – that they had found an underwriter to cover it, but the rate was more than double what I would have paid the previous year.”

A well-known Kentucky agent said “it is likely to be more difficult for farms to insure stallions in the regional programs, but we can still get deals done. They might be more expensive, however, but if underwriters get a run of several years that do not generate claims, then they might change their views.”

One option for farms is to self insure, which essentially means to play the odds that your horse will have normal fertility. And Mark Toothaker of Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky said, “Spendthrift doesn’t insure any of its stallions against fertility loss. We don’t have a single horse on the farm insured. So far, we haven’t had a loss.”

And, despite the reluctance among some underwriters, there will be other underwriters available to service those who want to insure for first-year infertility, according to Jones.

He said, “We’ve been doing this since 1980, and, no matter the individual situation, there are underwriters you’ve been working with will take the time to write a policy for that animal.”

The policy just may cost something more.

This is one more dampening effect on the overall stallion market, which is none too robust outside the Bluegrass. Now, it has one more inefficiency to deal with.


sire lists and stallion earnings

“I don’t need to know nothing ‘bout no stinking stallion stats” is the too-frequent response of horse folk to comments about statistics attempting to evaluate stallion performance.

There are, however, a serious cadre of breeders and racing fans, even handicappers, who do appreciate the insights that can be derived from stallion stats, and racing has a long and interesting history of trying to do something with statistics.

At the most basic level, early observers of the sport compiled lists of winners and their victories, and then at the end of a racing season, they had in hand cumulative stats for the sires with the most winners and the most wins. These were some of the most popular lists in the 19th century and into the early 20th century.

Listings ranked by sires of winners make a lot of sense because if a stallion doesn’t get winners, who cares?

The next step in listing was the fundamental development of what we now call the general sire list: the rankings of stallions by earnings. At first, gross earnings proved too high a hurdle and most listings were for winners only and first money only; the Daily Racing Form, however, expanded its statistical reach to include earnings of all placings and all runners. That proved a significant improvement in the overall assessment of how horses were performing for their sires.

Greater subtlety came with the advent of the average earnings index and the standard starts index, which helped to assess how well a sire was doing in terms of progeny volume and in contrast to all other stallions with racers. Nifty stuff if you enjoy a good roll in data charts and statistical ink.

Interestingly, the most popular list to this day is the general sire list. Who the big dog is.

Of course, there are some serious caveats to using raw earnings to judge stallion value or success. One of the more laughable leading sires was Buckaroo, a handsome bay son of Horse of the Year Buckpasser. Although Buckpasser was a landmark racehorse and a most important stallion, his son Buckaroo was notable for only a couple of things and a couple of horses.

The most important thing about Buckaroo was his son Spend a Buck, winner of the 1985 Kentucky Derby, and the most important historical footnote about Spend a Buck was that he single-handedly (single-hoofedly?) caused the Triple Crown bonus to come into being.

The fleet frontrunning son of Buckaroo did this by not racing in either the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes. What, you say? Why didn’t he try for the Triple Crown?

Instead of following the great lure of history and tradition, the owners of Spend a Buck sent their classic winner to the Jersey Derby after the Kentucky Derby because, by winning that race, Spend a Buck would earn a big bonus.

It was the $1 million Garden State Bonus sponsored by Garden State Park for a horse to win their two Kentucky Derby preps, the classic, and then return to Garden State to win the Jersey Derby.

Nor did the timing of the races allow a horse to participate in the Preakness, then jump up the pike for the Jersey Derby. Nyet, comrade, the choice was tradition or bucks.

Spend a Buck was sent to Jersey for the money, and he got it. But he won the Jersey Derby narrowly in a hard-fought finish against a little-regarded bay gelding named Crème Fraiche.

In his next race, Crème Fraiche won the Belmont Stakes as the first great success of a distinguished career that included victories in the G1 Super Derby and two runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Spend a Buck subsequently won the Monmouth Handicap and retired with seasonal earnings of $3,552,704, a record at the time.

Not coincidentally, that pushed his sire to gross progeny earnings of $4,145,272, which was the second-highest gross progeny earnings ever to 1985. Yet Spend a Buck’s egregious portion of that haul, 85.7 percent, made certain that breeders approached Buckaroo with a shade of skepticism.

The son of Buckpasser proved a useful horse, siring the important sprinters Lite the Fuse and Montbrook, as well as 1986 Suburban Handicap winner Roo Art.

The result of the furor about Spend a Buck slipping out of town for the Jersey Derby and the big bonus was the development of the $5 million Triple Crown bonus, which was never awarded.

Today, we have a similar purse winnings irregularity. The Pegasus last year propelled 2016 champion 3-year-old Arrogate to leading North American money earner, then completely to the top of the international heap of money winners with his victory in the Dubai World Cup. As a result, Arrogate’s sire, the deceased Unbridled’s Song, led the general sire list for nearly the entire year and was leading sire by gross earnings.

Had Arrogate retired after the World Cup, he might well have been named Horse of the Year, but instead, the gray was returned to racing and suffered three consecutive losses, the last being behind subsequent 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In January, Gun Runner bade adieu to racing with victory in the 2018 Pegasus, and his sire Candy Ride still sits atop the leading sires list of 2018 with $10,830,558. That is not likely to be enough to get the general sires title this year because Scat Daddy, with Triple Crown winner Justify at the fore, is in second with $9,609,599 and surely a good deal more to come.

in the stephen foster, pavel strikes up the band for reddam, o’niell, mcmahon & hill

Fans of gray horses have long had the sharp, iron-gray Pavel (by Creative Cause) at the top of their lists among good-looking horses with talent. A winner of the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx as a 3-year-old, Pavel had next finished third in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.

Since then, the grand gray had continued to impress work watchers on the West Coast but had not added another stakes to his resume, finishing fourth in the G1 Malibu in late December. Even so, earlier this year, Pavel seemed ready to deliver on the massive talent he had advertised in his morning works.

pavel 22jun2018

— Pavel, shown galloping at Santa Anita on June 22, has been a striking feature of morning works since coming to the races. (Photo courtesy of O’Neill Racing Stable on Facebook)

Shipped to Dubai for the World Cup, Pavel ran a decent race to be fourth, and then he returned to his base at Doug O’Niell’s barn at Santa Anita and ran a fairish fourth to Accelerate in the G1 Gold Cup Handicap.

After that series of fourths, perhaps it was fitting that Pavel was the fourth choice in the G1 Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 16. He won by 3 ¾ lengths in 1:49.21 for the nine furlongs, and now he is a G1 winner.

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones & WinStar Farm LLC, Pavel is by the Airdrie Stud stallion Creative Cause, a son of Giant’s Causeway out of the Siberian Summer mare Dream of Summer. Pavel was produced from the unraced Maria’s Mon mare Mons Venus, who previously produced G2 winner Coracortado. The breeders sent their colt to the sales at Keeneland in November. There, breeder and bloodstock agent Mike McMahon picked him out of the lineup as one who was likely to succeed. McMahon & Hill Bloodstock bought the colt for $90,000, which was the high price for a weanling by the stallion in 2014.

McMahon said, “Pavel was a quite attractive foal, although he was always on the smallish side. I thought we got him a little cheaply because it was a foal share.” The new owners took the colt to the McMahons’ Spruce Lane Farm near Versailles, Ky., and put him in with the group they were raising for the following year’s auctions.

At the 2015 Keeneland September sale, however, “Pavel wasn’t the physical that the yearling buyers wanted at that time,” McMahon said. “This horse was a little thicker type, maybe a little heavy even, but he definitely has more of a Quarter Horse body than a lean body. As a yearling, I thought lack of scope was his Achilles’s heel.”

Since the partners were not planning on racing the colt themselves, they sought out a partner and found one in Ciaran Dunne, who trains horses for the sales of juveniles in training and consigns as Wavertree Sales.

McMahon continued. “After the yearling sale, Ciaran Dunne bought half of the horse, and we pointed the colt to the Fasig-Tipton sale at Miami. Pavel was an extremely easy horse to take to a 2-year-old sale because of his easy-going mental attitude and because of his physical soundness. We’d never had any issues with him. You wouldn’t know he was in the barn.”

The handsome gray progressed well in his training, and hopes grew high. Then, McMahon said, “He got cast in his stall just before going down to the sale, and it was a sufficiently serious situation that it took months to rehab him. Then he began showing so much on the training track that Dennis O’Neill bought him privately for Reddam Racing.”

Now, Pavel is a G1 winner of $1,175,000 from 10 starts. He is the second headline horse of 2018 for his sire Creative Cause. Earlier this season, the near-black My Boy Jack won the G3 Lexington Stakes and Southwest Stakes to be a prominent outsider among the colts in consideration for the Kentucky Derby.

A son of Giant’s Causeway who won the G1 Norfolk Stakes at 2, Creative Cause won the G2 San Felipe at 3, then was second in the G1 Santa Anita Derby and third in the Preakness Stakes. At stud, his offspring have shown more of a tendency to improve with age and distance like My Boy Jack and Pavel.

Pavel is expected to contest many of the premium events for older horses this year, and McMahon noted that the gray “was in the same yearling crop as Mopotism and Union Strike, all Grade 1 stakes horses from a group of 14.” In addition to this colt, McMahon & Hill bought Mopotism (Uncle Mo) $135,000 as a weanling, then sold the filly for $200,000 to J.J. Crupi, agent, at the Saratoga select yearling auction, and Crupi then sold her to Reddam for $300,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida March sale. Mopotism has won the G2 La Canada and finished third in the G1 Santa Margarita, La Brea, and Starlet. Union Strike (Union Rags) was a weanling purchase by McMahon & Hill for $170,000 as a weanling, was bought back as a yearling, and then sold for $375,000 to Ruis Racing at the OBS April sale of juveniles. She won the G1 Del Mar Debutante as a maiden.

McMahon & Hill clearly like nice horses, and they have another to cheer for with the good-feeling gray Pavel.

tracing the lines of the triple crown that have given us 2018 winner justify

Fifty years ago, Stage Door Johnny (by Prince John) saved us from having an asterisk-laden Triple Crown. In the Kentucky Derby five weeks earlier, Peter Fuller’s highly talented gray colt Dancer’s Image (Native Dancer) had defeated Calumet’s Forward Pass (On-and-On), then had been disqualified due to the presence of a metabolite of bute in the gray’s system.

Between the Derby and Belmont Stakes, Forward Pass had won the Preakness, and Fuller had decided to contest the disqualification from the Derby. To compound the situation, Dancer’s Image was retired after the Preakness with a sore ankle, and Forward Pass was the even-money favorite for the Belmont Stakes.

So, would Forward Pass win the Triple Crown if he won the Belmont? Well, that would depend on the courts. If there was a reversal of the initial ruling, Dancer’s Image would keep the Derby, and there could be no Triple Crown. How aggravating.

In the Belmont Stakes, Greentree Stable’s Stage Door Johnny saved the sport years of hand-wringing by catching Forward Pass at the eighth pole and winning by a length and a half. When the legal wrangling over the Derby ended several years later, few people, aside from the principals, cared.

Stage Door Johnny went unbeaten in his two final races, and he was named champion of the division in the Daily Racing Form and the Thoroughbred Racing Association polls. Prince John, the colt’s sire, was generally recognized as the second-best stallion son of the famed sire Princequillo at stud behind only Horse of the Year Round Table.

Both were high-quality sons of that important classic sire Princequillo and sired numerous stakes winners; they have lived on to the present, however, primarily through their daughters.

Forward Pass was named champion of the 1968 3-year-old division in the Turf and Sport Digest poll, and he was the only classic winner or champion by his sire. On-and-On wasn’t even the third- or fourth-best son of his sire, the great Nasrullah, who had been the dominant sire in America from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. From that point, Nasrullah’s own stock had aged out of the racing pool (because Nasrullah died in 1959), and his most important stallion son, Bold Ruler, had taken his position as leading national sire, a distinction which he earned eight times.

The other sire in the Triple Crown saga 50 years ago was Native Dancer. Despite siring some good horses, Dancer’s Image wasn’t a world-changing influence for the breed. Another son of Native Dancer, however, was beginning a major rise to success.

Ranked at the top of the Experimental Free Handicap and named champion of his division by Turf and Sport Digest, Raise a Native was unbeaten at 2, his only season to race. Retired to stud at Spendthrift Farm, Raise a Native had his first crop of 3-year-olds in 1968. Among them was Exclusive Native, winner of the 1968 Arlington Classic, was a talented chestnut colt bred and raced by Harbor View Farm.

Raise a Native’s second crop included Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince, and nine years later, Raise a Native’s son Alydar ran second in each of the Triple Crown races. The winner of the 1979 Triple Crown was Exclusive Native’s son Affirmed.

An exact contemporary of Raise a Native, both foaled in 1961, was a crop behind the chestnut son of Native Dancer. This was Northern Dancer, a son of the Nearco stallion Nearctic and out of the Native Dancer mare Natalma.

These two descendants of Native Dancer proceeded to turn the classic scene into their province by the late 1970s. Although Northern Dancer did not sire a single winner of a Triple Crown race in the States, his son Nijinsky became a Triple Crown winner in England, and Nijinsky and other sons of Northern Dancer became the greatest competitors for the American classics against the sons and grandsons of Raise a Native.

The greatest casualty in this wave of success from Northern Dancer and Raise a Native was the Bold Ruler–Nasrullah line of racers. The lines of Phalaris, however, from whom all these horses descend, tend to ebb and flow like tides of the ocean.

Over the last 20 years, the greatest rise in fortune has come to the Bold Ruler line through A.P. Indy and other stock by 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Part of this rise in prominence has come through 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, the broodmare sire of A.P. Indy, Gone West (Mr. Prospector), and Storm Cat (Storm Bird).

On June 9, Justify gave Storm Cat’s male line (Northern Dancer branch of Nearco – Phalaris) its first Triple Crown in the U.S. That first success, however, was well supported by the sire lines responsible for the Triple Crown winners of the 1970s (Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed), as well as American Pharoah.

Two Triple Crown winners are from the Nasrullah–Bold Ruler branch of Nearco-Phalaris; two are from the Raise a Native – Native Dancer branch.

In his pedigree, Justify is inbred to Raise a Native’s son Mr. Prospector four times; Northern Dancer is there through Nijinsky (four times), Vice Regent, and Storm Bird, the male-line strand that goes to Justify. And Bold Ruler is present at least a half-dozen times, with Nasrullah showing up a half-dozen times more.

So the sire lines of yesterday are woven together in the Triple Crown winner of today. Will all these vital elements, energized by the important sire Scat Daddy, make up the leading sire of tomorrow?

without the quick thinking and action of representatives for don alberto, champion unique bella might have gone unsold


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Sometimes, breeding top-class horses looks so easy. Just take three-time leading sire Tapit (by Pulpit) and breed him to a mare who won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and there you have it, champion Unique Bella, who won the Eclipse Award as the best sprint filly of 2017.

Doesn’t that look simple?

Unique Bella makes it look easy, but breeding a champion is rarely that way. All the pieces of the great bloodstock puzzle have to fall the right way, and then a good mental attitude, good training, good health, and a sizable dose of good fortune may allow the young athlete to show its ability.

Unique Bella, for instance, is the second foal of her dam, the gray Unbridled’s Song mare Unrivaled Belle, a Grade 1 stakes winner of $1,854,706. The mare’s first foal, a filly by leading sire Medaglia d’Oro named Meseika, has not raced. The mare’s third foal, a filly by leading sire Malibu Moon named Relicario, has not hit the board in six starts in Japan and has earned only a little more than 1 percent of her purchase price of $550,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale.

On the other hand, Unique Bella has won 8 of 11 starts, with two G1 victories, and has earned $1,092,400.

As a producer, however, Unrivaled Belle is doing better than average. About 60 percent of foals each year make it to the races, and the producer has 67 percent with her two from three. Slightly more than 40 percent of all foals win races, and to this point, Unrivaled Belle is behind par with 33 percent.

The big marker, of course, is the production of stakes winners, which is about 3 percent of all foals annually. Unrivaled Belle is perched loftily 11 times higher than that statistic, with 33 percent stakes winners and that one being a G1 winner and champion.

The mare doesn’t have a 2-year-old; so these general statistics won’t change soon.

Unrivaled Belle has long been considered an elite horse. As a broodmare prospect at the 2011 Keeneland November sale, the G1-winning gray sold for $2.8 million to Brushwood Stable.

Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella sold for $400,000 as a yearling at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling auction. That price was $190,000 less than Tapit’s yearling average that year of $590,000. So just how did that happen?

Reiley McDonald from Eaton Sales, which consigned Unique Bella, said that “we had nearly 150 lookers at Unique Bella, but we had only one bidder that made one bid. That was Don Alberto.

“When the filly was in the ring and not making a lot of money, they sent a fellow to ask about her vet work, which was entirely clean, and they managed to get one bid in before the bidding stopped, because that was her reserve.

“They were thinking quick on their feet, and they bought one of the best racehorses in training today.”

Quick thinking from the Don Alberto group landed them a sales coup. From a brief juvenile campaign of two starts, Unique Bella emerged as a winner and then began her climb through her 3-year-old season that made her champion sprint filly last season.

The year after Unique Bella sold as a yearling, Eaton Sales consigned Unrivaled Belle to the Keeneland November sale in foal to Tapit on a Feb. 20 cover, and the gray mare brought $3.8 million from Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm, and Whisper Hill is the breeder of the mare’s yearling full sister and 2018 full brother to Unique Bella.

Repeating the cross with Tapit that worked so fortuitously with Unique Bella was obviously going to be a strong interest for owner-breeder Pope, who has purchased such top-end broodmares at Havre de Grace, Plum Pretty, and Songbird, as well as Rhumb Line, the dam of G1 winner Zazu, by Gainesway Farm’s premier stallion, Tapit.

A few days before the filly’s victory in the G1 Beholder Stakes at Santa Anita on June 2, Gainesway’s Michael Hernon watched Unique Bella schooling at the gate and reported, “Unique Bella is a big, strapping filly. She has good bone and height, as you’d expect from a filly out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, and she is maturing mentally. That gate work seems to have paid off because she broke flawlessly from the gate in the Beholder.”

Big filly, big speed, big talent. And now she’s a big draw for the sport wherever she starts.

lookin at lucky is one of several sons of smart strike who are expanding that mr. prospector stallion’s lasting influence


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Accelerate (by Lookin at Lucky) won the Gold Cup Handicap on May 26 to pair with his Santa Anita Handicap, both Grade 1, and those victories make him look like the best older horse on the West Coast at 10 furlongs, at least unless West Coast (Flatter) comes out of hibernation and asserts some of his best form.

On the East Coast, Money Multiplier (Lookin at Lucky) won the G2 Monmouth Stakes, racing nine furlongs on turf to raise his total earnings to $1.2 million.

The two winners above, along with Dr. Dorr (second in the Gold Cup), have marked this as a powerful weekend for Ashford Stud stallion Lookin at Lucky, a son of multiple leading sire Smart Strike and a winner of the Eclipse Award as top of his division at 2 and 3, when he also won the G1 Preakness Stakes.

Despite being such a good juvenile himself, Lookin at Lucky tends to get stock that improve with age and distance, and frequently they show some added class on turf.

The gods of racing (and breeding) do not reveal how the transmission of athleticism and racing vigor works it way from generation to generation. Breeders try to read the runes of inscrutable pedigrees, and the secret sits in the darkness outside the pale light from our torches. And laughs.

That has been the status quo of our knowledge of inheritance and genetics for a century. Oh, yes. We have made advances in understanding what genes and chromosomes are and tinkering out some of the mysteries of how they work, and we have decoded genomes of this critter and the other. Sort of.

We still know more about shadows than substance.

Take, for instance, the situation one sees with the sons of the Mr. Prospector stallion Smart Strike. A winner in six of eight starts, Smart Strike wouldn’t have been a stallion prospect of any significance, except for the two races he won in July and August 1996. In July at Monmouth Park, the sleek bay won the Grade 3 Salvator Mile by 2 1/4 lengths for owner-breeder Sam-Son Farms and trainer Mark Frostad.

Smart Strike had won four races in sequence previously in maiden and allowance company, and he had been impressive enough that even with a jump into a graded stakes, the colt started as the odds-on choice, and he performed like it. In his next start, the G1 Phillip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth a month later, Smart Strike was the third choice against a notably saltier field that included champion and race favorite Serena’s Song (by Rahy), major winner Eltish (Cox’s Ridge), Petionville (Seeking the Gold), and Our Emblem (Mr. Prospector), later the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem.

On the day, Smart Strike won by 2 ¼ lengths from Eltish, Serena’s Song, and Petionville in 1:41.59 for 1 1/16th miles. That was strong form, and when the bay son of Mr. Prospector raced for the G1 Woodward Stakes in three weeks, he was second favorite to Horse of the Year Cigar. The latter won the race, and Smart Strike, after battling on or near the lead for a mile, then “weakened” in the final furlong to be fourth.

That was Smart Strike’s eighth and final start, and he went to stud at Lane’s End as yet another talented son of Mr. Prospector, and there was no shortage of those standing around Kentucky, or even at Lane’s End, which also stood the Mr. Prospector horse Kingmambo.

All in all, Smart Strike wasn’t the best-looking, not the biggest, nor the fastest, and not even the fanciest pedigreed son of his famous sire. But over time, Smart Strike has proven marvelously successful at siring high-class horses and at propelling his genetic values into the succeeding generations through his sons and daughters.

At stud today, there is no question that the leading son of Smart Strike is Horse of the Year Curlin, currently 6th on the general sire list in North America and perennially a sire with stock who contend for the premium races around the country. Getting one really good son is more than most stallions manage, and having two (Curlin and Lookin At Lucky) in the top 20 is a significant accomplishment. Having a third in the top 30 sires (champion English Channel) seems to be establishing a trend, and then Smart Strike’s son Square Eddie – a high-class winner of the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at 2 – is just about the most successful stallion standing in California.

Smart Strike’s continuation through such a diverse but high-quality group of sons, plus some good producing daughters, indicates that his genetic contribution is a positive one, and yet we find ourselves nearly as much in the dark about why and how this transmission of excellence works as breeders did a century ago.

virgil was noted for delicate frame and excellent disposition; became a major 19th century sire for preakness stud

Interest in the earlier essay on the 19th century stallion Virgil prompted me to dig up a bit more information about the horse. The following comments are from the Thoroughbred Record correspondence of James McCreery, who was in some management position with the breeding and racing stock of the Sanford family, which owned Virgil. McCreery variously described his role as overseer or manager, and it is sufficient that he knew the horse first-hand, as well as the people who looked after him.

McCreery’s observations are presented as found, with exceptions noted in brackets:

Virgil was of frail mould, and docile as a foal, yet, nervous; stood 15 hands,  2 1/2 inches, lengthy, fine head, good length of neck, oblique shoulders and withers, body round, loin and quarters good, depth of girth and width of hip fair, breast wide, forked a trifle so. If any point seemed unbalanced, he was a trifle leggy. Never overfleshy, nor weighed a thousand pound.

During my two years a superintendent there, no one ever saw Virgil lying down to sleep, either day or night, [instead, he was either] standing, seemingly asleep, or walking in the circle he wore in his box.

When the breeding season began closing, the custom there was to Virgil about the fields to detect mares which were returnable. Two grooms with poles followed to keep venturesome foals and their fighting dams from injury.

This jet black horse, whose forehead was illumed with a star, large, snow-white, midway of his sightless eyes, was installed the premier monarch of the [Preakness] stud.

[Sanford’s Preakness Stud was subsequently incorporated into Elmendorf Farm, and Virgil had been buried on that property when he died, age 22.]