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Breeding the racehorse is an inexact science due to genetic diversity associated with any hybrid breed
I admire the high-class ability displayed by many small horses who compete with distinction against bigger rivals. I remember some of the great stallions standing between 15 to 15.2 hands high who had the ability to quicken despite their size. Examples worthy of note were Lord Derby’s English Derby winner Hyperion, son of the small classic winner Gainsborough, Tesio’s homebred unbeaten champion Ribot, E. P. Taylor’s Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer, as well as Mill Reef, Lyphard, Riverman, Tom Rolfe and Star Kingdom.
The Thoroughbred horse was established by the union of various breeds with a variety of size, conformation, colour and temperament, and involving a selection process for speed and stamina. Most of the characteristics of today’s racehorse can be attributed to a generous mix of genes transmitted by pure Arabian horses and the bigger, rougher, Turkish Barb horses. The number of ribs and vertebrae varies.
The Persians adored their fleet Arabian horses and Persia’s Royal Studs kept accurate records of pure breeding lines which were called “Arabian” (Equus Arabicus). It’s hard to imagine that in 2,000 B. C. the fertile lands of the Middle East gradually became desert wastelands. The once green pastures of Damascus and Aleppo would cause many purebred Arabian horses to be sold to regions of Turkey, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Poland and even Egypt.
During the 12th Century, the purebred Arabian breed was considered the prized riding horse for battle or sport, By the 13th Century, the whole Arabian Peninsula and adjoining countries of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and North Africa lay under Turkish domination, with Egypt a major command post. Arabian horses averaged about
It was the Turkish Barb which, when crossed with the Arabian breed, increased the height of the racehorse; and introduced the “roman shaped nose” – quite a contrast to the pure Arabian breed noted for their “dish-shaped face”. Examples of Thoroughbred throwbacks to the true Arabian type were English Derby winner Mahmoud, English champion filly Mumtaz Mahal, Fair Trial, The Tetrarch, Nizami, Northern Dancer, Lyphard, Palace Music etc.
It was common for ruling royal families of Persia and Syria to own up to 6,000 purebred Arabian horses. There was an historical record of 8,000 horses owned by the Arab tribe of Montefek pastured on the banks of the Euphrates river, near Nejd.
Compared with Arabian horses, the Turks were about 14 hands high with longer rein, a more upright shoulder angle, and longer forearms and gaskins. The “Barb” breed were even taller, with longer necks, long backs and pasterns. As a breed, the Barb did not possess the refinement of either Arabian or Turk horses and might well have been the source of some respiratory problems.
The size of the English “Thoroughbred” racehorse was gradually increased by imported Turkish Barb horses who were matched with the smaller, imported pure-bred Arabian horses. Famous stallion Eclipse stood 16.2 hands high and helped boost size. His pedigree reveals a significantly higher percentage of Turkish Barb ancestors than most other stallions of that era.
The Darley Arabian (a pure-bred Arabian stallion) stood only 15 hands high and was by a stallion of the Mannicka strain, out of a mare from the famous Managhi Hedraf strain. An important descendant of this male line was Eclipse, a chestnut horse with superior speed and endurance. Eclipse’s son King Fergus established the most prolific male line in the stud book. Stallions tracing to him include Galopin, St. Simon, Speculum, Stockwell, Sundridge etc. and onwards to unbeaten champions Nearco and Ribot.
The Thoroughbred does not breed true-to-type like a pure-bred species. Racehorses come in all shapes and sizes, rib and vertebrae number, convex and concave heads, long and short cannons, pasterns, sickle shaped hocks etc. The angle of the shoulder has changed, being more upright owing to the selection of partners able to transmit early maturing speed.
The percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibre has been substantially reduced in the overall gene pool. Today’s sprinter is almost devoid of it. Slow twitch muscle fibre is an absolute requirement for equine athletes to perform best at a mile or more. In Australia, I often wonder if we are breeding too many sprinters unable to perform at speed beyond 1200m. One might ask has the Golden Slipper caused too much pressure on breeders re the selection of 2YO speed, to the detriment of soundness?
Overseas, juvenile champions must win at 1,400m or 1,600m. The Dewhurst Stakes-G.1 at Newmarket is run over 1400m, and the French equivalent run over 1600m. In the United States of America, the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Stakes-G.1 is run over a mile.
Perhaps the status of our ATC Champagne Stakes-G.1 could rival the Golden Slipper Stakes-G.1 in prizemoney so as to encourage breeders to put stamina back into their mating plans. I believe we need stallions with 2YO Group winning ability at a mile to ensure improvement of the breed – future stallions who train on to prove their sound ancestry and highlight clean airflow.
I’ve witnessed all the best two year olds racing in Australia since 1956. We all have opinions as to which were the best colts and fillies. I recall the clash between Todman and Tulloch, the remarkable deeds of the fillies Wenona Girl and Burst, but cemented in my mind were the victories of Luskin Star (perhaps the greatest 2YO of all), the brilliant Vain, and the tenacity and courage of Pierro.
Beyond 1,200 metres (six furlongs), it is the level of lactic acid in the bloodstream which affects the speed of a racehorse who must clear the rapid build-up of lactic acid to sustain speed. Stallions and mares with a higher clearance rate of lactic acid can be identified by race results. Individuals with higher-than-normal energy levels (e.g. manufactured via mitochondria of muscle cells) may have the potential to reach Group stakes level, especially if they also possess the magical “Will To Win” factor.
Nevertheless, many fast but unsound colts and fillies have proven to be successful at stud, so one must weigh up the pros and cons of an individual for breeding purposes. There are no rules one can apply or follow for success. Often even Triple Crown winners or champion performers have not lived up to expectation as sire material, despite decent opportunities.
Some stallions transmit sex-bias, i.e. only able to sire outstanding fillies rather than colts (e.g. Secretariat, Buckpasser, War Admiral). There is no guarantee an expensive yearling will win at stakes level – there’s always an element of risk. Of all those yearlings which fetched a million dollars or more last year, none rose to defeat Fireburn in the Golden Slipper Stakes-G1 or ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes-G.1 and in the Champagne Stakes-G.1 over a mile, it was talented filly She’s Extreme (Extreme Choice) who managed to hold off Fireburn on the heavy track.
Europe’s Champion 2YO in 2021 was Godolphin’s Native Trail (Oasis Dream-Needleleaf by Observatory), trained by Charlie Appleby and bred by Le Haras d’Haspel. The bay colt won all five starts to earn 557,216 Pounds. His victories include the National Stakes-G.1 at the Curragh, and the Superlative Stakes G-2 and Dewhurst Stakes-G.1 at Newmarket. This year he recently won the Craven Stakes-G.3.
Native Trail sold for 50,000 Euro as a foal in France, 67,000 guineas as a yearling, and 210,000 guineas at Tattersalls to Godolphin. His broodmare sire Observatory (bred by Juddmonte Farms) won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes-G.1, Prix d’Ispahan-G.1, Royal Ascot Jersey Stakes-G.3 and Lennox Stakes-G.3. He was Champion miler with a Timeform of 131, but was a huge disappointment at stud, his only significant stakes winner being Twice Over, 12 wins and twice winner of the Champion Stakes-G.1.
Godolphin also raced Autumn Stakes-G.3 winner Coroebus (Dubawi-First Victory) who was runner-up in the important Royal Lodge Stakes-G.2 and a colt highly rated by Timeform. His dam is a daughter of champion Teofilo. The cross of Dubawi with Galileo’s strain shows considerable promise.
Eclipse Champion 2YO of North America last year was Corniche (Quality Road-Wasted Tears by Najran), linebred to Native Dancer, Raise A Native, and Nijinsky II. A bay colt raced by Speedway Stables, Corniche was bred by Bart Evans and Stonehaven Steadings in Kentucky.
He won all three starts last year for US $1,262,000 including the American Pharoah Stakes-G.1 at Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G.1 at Del Mar. An expensive yearling costing US $1.5 million, he is back in training after being forced to miss the Kentucky Derby-G.1.
It’s probable Fireburn (Rebel Dane-Mull Over by So You Think) will capture the title of Champion 2YO of Australia. Bred by Laurel Oak Bloodstock, Grant Bloodstock and Carpe Diem raced by her breeders and associates, the bay filly was syndicated and won five of seven starts for earnings of $3,870.250.
Enjoying soft and heavy tracks, Fireburn burst on the scene when she won the Sweet Embrace Stakes-G.2 over 1200m at Randwick, then won the Golden Slipper Stakes-G.1 at Rosehill against all comers, and progressed to win the ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes of 1400m defeating She’s Extreme (Extreme Choice-Keysbrook by So Secret) by a decent margin.
At her final start for the year was again at Randwick, this time in the Champagne Stakes-G.1 over 1,600m, she finished with a powerful run in the final furlongs but was not quite able to catch She’s Extreme at the wire. Both fillies are quality individuals with a ton of speed and thrilled a nation.
She’s Extreme was bred by Aquis Farm and raced by a group managed by successful owner/breeder Robert Crabtree. From 6 starts she won twice and earned $710,000 which more than paid for her price of $275,000 as a yearling at the Easter
Yearling Sale. She won the Magic Night Stakes-G.3 over 1200m at Rosehill, the Champagne Stakes-G.1 over 1600m at Randwick, and was runner-up to Fireburn in the Sweet Embrace Stakes-G.2 and ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes-G.1.
The pedigree of She’s Extreme shows duplication of Danehill via sons Redoute’s Choice and Danetime, plus a double of Nijinsky II. This pedigree has heavy duplication of Native Dancer via both sexes and duplication of Northern Dancer and his dam Natalma.
Extreme Choice is a small (15.2 ½ hands) handsome chestnut stallion standing at Newgate Stud and was leading first-crop sire. He sired Stay Inside, winner of the Golden Slipper Stakes-G.1 from his first crop. Extreme Choice is by Not A Single Doubt from a daughter of speed sire Hussonet (by Mr Prospector). His fertility has been substandard to date, but he does sire Group winners. With his deep chest, short cannons, and powerful hindquarters, Extreme Choice resembles the Native Dancer type.
Fireburn has a unique pedigree. By Rebel Dane (grandson of Danehill) from a daughter of So You Think, she is 3 x 4 to Danehill via both sexes and has considerable maternal strength in her ancestry. She traces to Danarani (Danehill-Vaguely Modest by Vaguely Noble-Shake A Leg) a member of the Number 2 Family.
Mull Over, dam of Fireburn, won at 1600m and is linebred 3 x 4 to the three-parts brothers Sadler’s Wells and Nureyev, and has America’s Horse of the Year Round Table 5 x 5. Mull Over is out of Zahani by Zabeel and comes from the family that produced Danzatore.
Danarani won four races including the Toorak Handicap-G.1, Flight Stakes-G.1 and Tea Rose Stakes-G.2and her dam Vaguely Modest won the Selene Stakes in Canada. Heavy duplication of Nearco appears in this pedigree.
Foaled in September 2009, Rebel Dane was a very sound performer starting 36 times for 8 wins, 4 seconds and 5 thirds for $2.3 million earnings. Hie was bred by Laurel Oak Texarcana Syndicate and raced for a syndicate managed by Laurel Oak founder Louis Mihalyka.
The most important victories achieved by Rebel Dane were the Manikato Stakes-G.1, The Shorts-G.2, Royal Sovereign Stakes-G./2 and Rupert Clarke Stakes-G.1. He was runner-up in the T J Smith Stakes-G.1, Missile Stakes-G.2 and Premiere Stakes-G.2 and ran a decent fourth in the Randwick Guineas-G.1
Rebel Dane retired in 2017 initially to Swettenham Stud, then moved to Glen Eden Stud covering just 141 mares in his first five seasons, he will undoubtedly cover bigger books in the coming seasons. For the 2022 season he will stand at Widden Stud where many opportunities will be made available.
The pedigree of Rebel Dane shows important duplication of Natalma and her champion father Native Dancer.
Rebel Dane is by California Dane (Danehill-Storminwinter by Seattle Slew) from Texarcana by More Than Ready.
Texarcana is linebred to Northern Dancer via daughter (Northern Sea) and son (Nijinsky II) and carries impact from descendants of La Troienne by Teddy. We don’t often see America’s Horse of the Year Seattle Slew feature in the ancestry of Group 1 winners in Australia or New Zealand, but he is the dam sire of California Dane.
Olin Gentry Senior, who planned the matings of four Derby winners, told me one of the secrets to breeding classic runners was to repeat the strongest ancestors with stamina in the dam’s sire. He said the stallion’s broodmare sire was a critical guide for success. Reinforcing superior ancestors in the middle sections of a pedigree can influence the expression of valuable genes. Great breeders have often used this theory with successful results.
I believe in the value of observing the zigzag genetic path between partners to ensure a desirable pedigree parttern is achieved, aiming to reinforce the same superior ancestors, preferably via both sexes. In the pedigree of Northern Dancer, his dam Natalma is a “daughter” of Native Dancer. Therefore, it made sense to predict he would do well with mares possessing a “son” of Native Dancer, such as Raise A Native (sire of Mr. Prospector and Alydar).
Apart from dominance via Danehill in the pedigrees of outstanding two year olds, I also note Blushing Groom and Nijinsky come under notice. The selection process will play a vital role. There are many stallions standing for less than $20,000 service fee in Australian and New Zealand to tempt the small, private breeder to support them.
If a recession comes this winter, don’t forget to think about a foal share as a method of gaining a special match you may not be able to afford this Spring. Furthermore, another Rebel Dane could be lurking somewhere.