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Archive for June, 2011

Last time, in Part One of this series, we looked at a few of the imponderables that influence thoroughbred breeding and the offspring of some very fine racing mares. In Part Two, we’re going to look at some of the inherited traits carried on the X chromosome and how these might influence Rachel’s, Rags’ and Zenyatta’s offspring, just as they have influenced thoroughbreds from as far back as 200 years ago.

But before we get started, a couple of “truths” must be kept in mind. First and foremost is that there is no fail-proof recipe for breeding a thoroughbred champion. There are, of course, any number of breeding beliefs. But to produce a champion, many factors have to be taken into account, from pedigree to race records and from soundness to training.

Secondly, every thoroughbred is a completely unique, unrepeatable individual. So that, while our three exceptional ladies will undoubtedly have fine offspring, they can never reproduce themselves, simply because it is the design of genes, chromosomes and DNA that each of them inherited from their parents that made them who they are. Rachel, Rags and Zenyatta are all originals in that sense  — and there will never again be another thoroughbred just like them. Anymore than there could ever be an exact replica of you or of me!

(NOTE: For anyone who needs it, there’s a definition of gene, chromosome and DNA at the end of this article. Just scroll down to the end.)

The great Eclipse who, over 200 years later, still passes down his large heart trait to the modern thoroughbred.

To begin: there are many reasons that pedigree experts may decide to match a particular stallion with a specific mare. Typically, the choice of a stallion for Rachel, Rags and Zenyatta will involve looking at what each individual brings to the mating through studying sire lines and family (mare’s side), as well as racing performance data over a number of generations and the stallion’s record at stud.  This, together with a focus on the characteristics the breeder is looking to breed into a potential offspring, completes the picture. If a mare, or a stallion, has lots of speed, a breeder might look for a stamina influence. Soundness and conformation might be another important consideration. Or a breeder might be looking for offspring with lots of heart room, favouring individuals with this type of conformation, such as Bernardini (2003) or Giant’s Causeway (1997) or Zenyatta or Rags to Riches. A breeder who is looking to breed a dirt horse who is good under most track conditions is looking for a mare/sire combination that favours this kind of adaptability. In this instance, a son of Mr. Prospector (1970) like Smart Strike (1992), or a grandson like Curlin (2004), might be favoured for a mare like Rachel Alexandra, who demonstrated so dramatically that she could win in the mud or in the sunshine.

Regardless of the rationale for pairing a certain stallion and mare, whether or not the qualities being sought come to fruition in the foal is as much a matter of genetics as it is related to the environment in which the foal is raised and trained. The genetic influence begins with the difference between the X and Y chromosomes. The mare carries a pair of X chromosomes (XX) — an X from her sire and another X from her dam. The stallion carries a different pair: a Y from his sire and an X from his dam (XY). This means that, in the case of a filly foal (XX), the stallion contributes the X chromosome he received from his dam. But because a mare has two X chromosomes, she will contribute either the one she received from her sire OR the one she received from her dam, depending on which one is dominant. In the case of a colt foal (XY), the stallion contributes the Y he received from his sire, while the mare provides the X, making it the stallion who determines the sex of a foal. However, neither the sex of a foal nor which of the two X’s the dam expresses to it can be pre-determined.

While the stallion has the role of determining the foal’s sex, it is the X chromosome that carries far more genetic potential (whether it comes from the stallion or the mare). On the X chromosome are factors that influence sound build, temperament, speed and stamina. These are called “X-linked traits.” But the sex-related chromosomes are not the only genetic inheritance a foal receives from its parents. There are 62 other chromosomes, arrayed in 31 pairs, that influence everything else about the foal’s physiology, conformation, coat colour, temperament, racing prowess and so forth. Each pair of chromosomes is composed of inherited genetic traits from both the sire and the dam. In other words, a foal inherits a bunch of important characteristics, including speed and stamina traits, from both its parents.

So although the X chromosome carries more genetic material than the Y, who contributes what as far as the other 31 pairs of chromosomes are concerned has to do with dominant and recessive genes. As they combine into the “code of life” that will become a foal, these dominant and recessive genes — themselves the inheritance of the sire and dam’s ancestors — dance themselves into a pattern that is completely unique to this still unborn thoroughbred. And depending on how the chromosomes that carry the genes arrange themselves, certain traits will dominate over others. So, for example, if Rachel Alexandra expresses a dominant stamina influence via her genes they might well dominate a speed influence from a prospective stallion to whom she is bred. In this case, she will likely produce a foal who needs a longer distance and who may quite honestly be (genetically) disadvantaged in a sprint. This is why, when you open the progeny list for a mare or a stallion, even the successful ones, you usually find everything from soup to nuts! Those pesky genes combine in ways that can advantage — or seriously disadvantage — a champion’s offspring.

In any mating, the hope is for a talented, healthy youngster and breeders base much of that optimism on the performance abilities of its sire and dam. But it’s the genes, chromosomes and DNA that always hold the best hand — and they keep their secrets pretty much hidden until that foal becomes a yearling and goes into training.

There is still another factor that’s loaded with potential, depending on whether or not it occurs in a thoroughbred’s pedigree. It’s quite literally called the “X-factor” because it’s a sex-linked trait. It’s “sex-linked” because it involves the inheritance of a large heart gene that is only carried on the X chromosome — the sire’s single X that is expressed only to his daughters and the dam’s two X’s, one of which she will express to her foal, whether a filly or a colt. And that large heart gene has been found to be a solid indicator of racing performance in standardbreds, thoroughbreds and quarter horses.

The outstanding thoroughbred mare, a descendant of Eclipse, Pocahontas.

Research over the last 20 years in the UK, Australia and the USA has uncovered an inherited pattern for the large heart gene, as far back as the first known instance recorded of a large heart, which was that of the great Eclipse (1764). Now it appears that Eclipse passed on this trait. Over several generations, this large heart gene was passed from sire to daughter and from that daughter to her son, until we arrive at the most influential broodmare in thoroughbred history: Pocahontas (1837). A descendant of Eclipse, Pocahontas was a great producer during her lifetime, her most famous sons being Stockwell(1849), Rataplan (1850), and King Tom (1851) . She also produced five very good daughters, out of a total of 15 foals. Stockwell became the most important of her three sons and appears in the pedigrees of the outstanding individuals Phalaris (1913), Nearco (1935), and Native Dancer (1950). How influential was Pocahontas? Just look at the number of crosses back to her found among these remarkable thoroughbreds: The Tetrarch (7), Man O’ War (9), Nearco (37), Raise A Native (175), Secretariat (249), Northern Dancer (272) and Mr. Prospector (353). Too, in Pocahontas’ pedigree are 13 crosses to the immortal Eclipse — suggesting to large heart X researchers that this trait may well be Eclipse’s permanent gift to the breed.

THE LEAP: Secretariat in a famous photograph taken at Pimlico, as he expresses his intention to move up to take the lead.

It was upon the death of the immortal one, Secretariat (1970),  that X-factor research was given the impetus it needed to move forward.  It was discovered during his autopsy that Secretariat had a huge heart, weighing approximately 22 lbs. (An average thoroughbred heart weighs about 8.5 lbs.) Despite its size, Secretariat’s heart was normal in every other aspect. It was just that the champion turned “running on heart” from a metaphor into a statement of biological fact. In an industry that had focused almost exclusively on the sire, it turns out that the dam is as reliable a transmitter of this gene as the sire. As you might perhaps expect, a mare more reliably passes this gene on to a son. And, as the stallion is only able to transmit the large heart gene on his X chromosome to a daughter, his reliability lies there. In Secretariat’s case, it was Somethingroyal (1952) who expressed her large-heart gene to him, and not Bold Ruler (1954), his sire (who had to donate the Y for Secretariat to become a colt.)

In an almost poetically beautiful turn of events, we now know that Secretariat’s great heart is literally living on, through the progeny of four of his daughters: Weekend Surprise (1980), Terlingua (1976), Secrettame ( 1978) and Betty’s Secret (1977). We know this because the ongoing research into the large heart X has shown that to carry this sex-linked trait to an offspring, a thoroughbred needs to descend directly from at least one of four sire lines: War Admiral (1934), Mahmoud (1933), Blue Larkspur (1926) and Princequillo (1940). Each of these sire lines, in turn, trace directly back to the British mare, Pocahontas.

Weekend Surprise, daughter of Secretariat and dam of A.P. Indy and Summer Squall, as she was depicted by Richard Stone Reeves.

Today, the large heart principle, or “X-factor” is used as one source of breeding information, in combination with more traditional breeding theories.

As indicated above, the large heart X gene descends, in a zigzag pattern, from a sire to his daughter and from that daughter to her sons. However, not all stallions have this X-linked trait to pass on to their daughters. Only those who trace back to the four heart line sires named above can accomplish the deed. If a mare inherits her X from a sire who descends from at least one of the large heart sire lines, she is called a “single copy” mare. This means that she has a 50/50 chance of passing the large heart on to her son(s) or daughter(s), depending upon which X is dominant. So, even though the large heart gene is an important trait, it isn’t necessarily the dominant X in a mare’s genetic profile. In other words, a mare may be a carrier of the X-factor but never be able to pass it on to her offspring.

If a mare inherits the X-linked large heart from both her sire and her dam, she is called a “double copy” mare. All of Secretariat’s four large-heart daughters are double copy mares. This means that both of their X chromosomes carry the large heart X, making it twice as likely that they will be able to give it to either a son or a daughter.

For example, Weekend Surprise likely expressed the large heart X to her sons, A.P. Indy (1989) and Summer Squall (1987). However, these sires can only pass it on to their daughters. As an example, a filly by Seattle Slew (1974) ex. Weekend Surprise inherits an X from Slew that carries the large heart trait PLUS another large heart X from Weekend Surprise, who, being a double copy mare is more likely to pass the trait on with some consistency to her offspring. In any case, this filly would have 3 out of 3 chances to inherit the large heart gene from one of her parents.

The exceptional A.P. Indy (Seattle Slew ex. Weekend Surprise, by Secretariat)

Now, let’s take a look at the pedigrees of our three outstanding ladies, and the gentlemen in their lives, to see whether or not the large heart gene is present in these mating combinations and, if it is, what its chances are of being inherited by a foal from these matings.

Rags To Riches

Rags to Riches, pictured here during her racing days by equine photographer, Emily Shields. Photograph and copyright, Emily Shields. Visit Emily at http://www.simhorseracing.com

Rags’ sire, A.P. Indy carries the large heart X  which he received from his dam, Weekend Surprise (who had both Princequillo AND War Admiral large heart sire lines). Given his success on the track and at stud, it is reasonable to say that A.P. Indy passed the large heart gene on to Rags, just as he appears to have done with other female offspring. However, Rags’ dam, the excellent Better Than Honour (1996), does not link back (in that zigzag pattern) to a large-hearted sire line. So Rags is very likely a single copy mare, with a 50/50 chance of passing this trait on to a son. (The 50/50 ratio drops in the case of a filly, since both parents contribute an X and one of those X’s will be more dominant than the other.)

Although she is now in Ireland and in foal to Galileo (1998), Rags’ first foal, a filly by Giant’s Causeway, was born in the USA. A chestnut who seems to hold an uncanny resemblance to her dam, the filly’s training has been postponed because of an injury to her sesamoid following a gallop (Thoroughbred Times, 09-06-2011). Interestingly, Giant’s Causeway has two potential sources of the large heart gene in his pedigree, only one of which is active since his sire, Storm Cat (1983), could only give him a Y chromosome. So it is the X he received from his dam, Mariah’s Storm (1991), that he will pass down to a daughter. This means that Rags’ first foal, a filly, had two opportunities to inherit the large heart gene — one from her dam and the other from her sire. If the “X-factor” theory holds true, Rags’ firstborn has an excellent chance of inheriting the large heart gene from Giant’s Causeway.

Rags to Riches as a yearling. Photograph and copyright, Emily Shields.

A dead-ringer for her mom -- Rags' filly by Giant's Causeway as a yearling.

The magnificent Giant's Causeway, pictured at Ashford Stud by equine photographer, Amber Chalfin. Visit Amber at http://www.downthestretchphotos.com

Rags’ second foal, a colt, is by Henrythenavigator (2005) and the little fellow is reportedly a beautiful individual. This stallion has no connection to any of the four heart line sires in his pedigree. This means that Rags may have expressed the large heart gene on the one X in her pedigree that carries it. Or maybe not. The chances remain about 50/50 because only one of her X’s carries the large heart gene.

A recent ad, showing Rags to Riches at Coolmore, Ireland with her colt by Henrythenavigator.

Galileo was a great race horse and is proving to be an outstanding sire. He carries the large heart gene from his dam, Urban Sea (1989), who is also the dam of his half-brother, the brilliant Sea The Stars (2006). Urban Sea inherits the gene through her sire, Miswaki (1978), a son of Mr. Prospector who traces back to War Admiral. This bodes well for Rags’ third offspring —  if a filly, it will certainly receive the large heart gene on Galileo’s X; if a colt, it has a 50/50 chance of inheriting Rags’ large heart gene.

“Hooves crossed,”  wonder- full Rags!

The superb Galileo, pictured here during his racing days.

Rachel Alexandra

Wonder filly Rachel Alexandra pictured during her racing days by equine photographer, Amber Chalfin. Photo and copyright, Amber Chalfin.

Rachel’s sire, Medaglia d’Oro (1999) does not descend from one of the four heart line stallions in a pattern that allowed him to receive the large heart gene, even though his sire is El Prado (1989), who descends from Northern Dancer and, therefore, the Mahmoud heart line. (El Prado expressed the Y chromosome to Medaglia d’Oro.) Still, no-one could doubt that this stallion isn’t sending great genetic material to his daughters when we think of Rachel’s brilliance, as well as the exploits of Champagne d’Oro (1997), Gabby’s Golden Gal (2006), Tasty Temptation (2006), Payton d’Oro (2006), Plum Pretty (2008) and Vision in Gold (2009).

Rachel’s dam, Lotta Kim (2001), traces back to Pocahontas through her sire, Roar (1993), but not to one of the heart line sires along the way. However, through her broodmare sire, Cure the Blues (1978), Lotta Kim traces back to War Admiral. In other words, Rachel’s dam is likely a single copy mare and, if so, has a 50/50 chance of expressing the large heart gene to her offspring. Curlin, Rachel’s first  beau, does not trace back to the large heart sire lines, although through his dam, Sherriffs Deputy (1994), Curlin does trace back to Eclipse.

The handsome and talented Curlin, pictured at Lane's End. Photo and copyright, Amber Chalfin.

This adds up to mean that Rachel might be a carrier of the large heart gene, but only if it was passed on to her by her dam. If she is — and it would appear to be a strong possibility, given her amazing racing abilities — Rachel would also be a single copy mare, with a 50/50 chance of expressing this trait to a son or a daughter. As we know that Rachel is expecting a colt, it will be interesting to see whether or not he exhibits this trait.

“Hooves crossed,” beautiful girl!

Zenyatta

Wonder mare Zenyatta, pictured at Barn 55 during her racing career. Photo and copyright, Emily Shields.

Although Zenyatta’s sire, Street Cry (1998), traces back to Pocahontas in a zigzag pattern (sire to daughter to daughter’s son), he does not trace back to heart line sires through his dam. And it is Street Cry’s dam that would need to express the large heart gene, first to him and then from him to Zenyatta. However, Zenny’s dam, Vertigineux (1995), descends from the Princequillo heart sire line, making Zenyatta — like both Rags to Riches and Rachel Alexandra — a potential single copy mare.

Bernardini, her first suitor, traces back to the War Admiral and Mahmoud heart sire lines through his dam, Cara Rafaela (1993), making her a double copy X mare. This means that Zenyatta’s foal — if it’s a filly — has three possible chances of inheriting the large heart gene, one from Zenny and the other on the X from Bernardini, which must carry the large heart X . As we have seen, the A. P. Indy sire line boasts a goodly number of outstanding fillies, making it quite interesting to see — X aside — what a filly foal from this pair will be like in terms of racing performance. If the foal is a colt, Zenny becomes the only potential source of the large-heart X, a 50/50 proposition.

Bernardini was -- and remains -- a real looker! Photo and copyright, Amber Chalfin.

However, Vertigineux has also produced other accomplished daughters in Balance (2003) by Thunder Gulch (who traces back to Eclipse through his dam), as well as Where’s Bailey (2002) by Aljabr (who does not trace back to the heart line sires). Her son, Souper Spectacular ( 2007) by Giant’s Causeway is a promising turf performer, having most recently won three in a row over distances from a mile to a mile and a quarter. All of which bodes well for Zenyatta, since it would suggest that Vertigineux tends to express her large heart gene to her offspring fairly consistently, possibly because the gene is a dominant X. (Note: Eblouissante, another Vertigineux daughter, is still in training, so was not mentioned at this time.)

“Hooves crossed,” big girl!

One of author-illustrator C.W. Anderson's timeless drawings of a mare and her newborn foal.

Of course, it must be stressed that these sex-related influences are only one dimension of a much larger “genetic collage.” When one looks carefully at the pedigrees of Rachel, Rags and Zenyatta, as well as the stallions to whom they have been bred, it really is an impressive array of great, great thoroughbred bloodlines. Other influences these bloodlines favour will form part of the final article (part three) in this series.

One thing’s for certain: Rachel, Rags and Zenyatta all gave astounding testimonials to their stamina, courage and heart each and every time they raced. As broodmares, there is absolutely no reason to doubt their potency and the gifts it will bring to their respective offspring!

(P.S. Special thanks to zenyatta.com for inventing the expression “Hooves crossed” that was re-cycled here.)

NEXT TIME: Here’s another genetic trait that these ladies share where dominance has absolutely nothing to do with it. Join us at THE VAULT as we conclude our series with a look at the power of mitochondrial DNA, as well as other influences on the offspring of Rachel, Rags and Zenyatta.

DEFINITION OF TERMS

Gene: a segment of DNA. Genes are the basic biological unit of heredity. What a filly or colt is like, in every way, is its genetic inheritance from its sire and its dam.

DNA: Genes are made up of DNA, a molecule that looks like a double helix or spiral. Each thoroughbred has literally thousands of genes that determine their individual characteristics, or genetic traits.

Chromosomes: Genes, carrying DNA, are arranged along 32 pairs of chromosomes in thoroughbreds. So thoroughbreds all have 64 chromosomes. Each pair of chromosomes represents one chromosome from the sire and one chromosome from the dam. It is these pairings that make every thoroughbred completely unique. In fact, there are over 12 million different chromosomal variations possible in horses!!!!!

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Over the last five years, thoroughbred racing has been dazzled by brilliant fillies and mares. The excitement generated by Rags To Riches’ Belmont victory over the wonderful Curlin and the brilliant campaigns of Rachel Alexandra and  Zenyatta have given the sport a new lease on life. We owe each of these courageous and talented ladies so much … for the thrills, for the memories and for galloping right into our hearts. So it follows that their transition from track to breeding shed is filled with great excitement — and great expectations. The excitement is about the thrill of watching a foal from any one of these mares come into the world and grow into handsome, healthy horses. And the expectations? They’re about hope — hope that swells our hearts with the promise of a future that resonates with champion fillies and colts from three once-in-a-lifetime thoroughbreds.

The spectacular Rags to Riches, pictured at Churchill Downs in May, 2007. (Photo and copyright by Amber Chalfin. See her amazing photography at http://www.downthestretchphotos.com)

The wonderful Rachel Alexandra works. (Photo and copyright, Emily Shields. Visit her horse racing world at http://www.simhorseracing.com)

However, the thing about the career switch from track to breeding shed is this: the rules of the game are entirely different.

 The business of breeding future champions is fraught with the clash of myth, science, miracle, art and luck. As rare a gift as the champions Rags to Riches, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are, their chances of producing a foal as great — or greater — than themselves is just as rare, given the fact that it takes two to tango!  Because although making the perfect match is partly a matter of trial-and-error (even when a good deal of knowledge and experience lies behind it), the science of breeding is constantly changing and evolving. And because science proceeds via hypotheses that are, in turn, replaced by better hypotheses, the science and the art of breeding thoroughbreds is always tied to the prevailing views of the time….hypotheses that are proven to be either right or wrong…or a bit of both. One thing is certain: there is no magic recipe for breeding champions.

The great Zenyatta, pictured here by Emily Shields. (Photo and copyright, Emily Shields)

When we reinvest what we already know from our lives as moms or dads or aunts or uncles or siblings into our understanding about thoroughbred breeding, we come across a few very important variables. I don’t know anyone whose children are exact copies of their parents. Even in families where there are two or three offspring, each one is different in important ways — and yet, they all have the same parents. Similarly, even when they have the same sire and dam, thoroughbreds that are full siblings can be very different. A good example of this are the post-Barbaro offspring of Dynaformer and La Ville Rouge: despite the fact that each of these colts is his full brother, not one (to date) has ever come close to Barbaro’s brilliance. Like any champion, Barbaro was a one-off, a completely unique individual, the rarest of jewels.

Traditionally, the majority of the foals out of any one broodmare are likely to have different sires. Despite different bloodlines, a few notable “Blue Hen” mares consistently produce fillies and colts that, although not identical to their dam, exhibit some of her more impressive traits. We know this because it is the mare who is the common denominator, so that a mare who produces multiple stakes winners from different sires is undoubtedly exerting an important influence. Two recent champions who consistently expressed the traits that made them superstars were Personal Ensign(1984) and Urban Sea (1989).

Personal Ensign’s son, Maker’s Mark (1990) by Mr. Prospector won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and a full brother, Our Emblem (1991) sired Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem (1999). Her daughter, My Flag2 (1993) by Easy Goer (1986) retired with earnings of over a million dollars USD and is the dam of Storm Flag Flying (2000) who, like her dam and granddam before her, won the BC Juvenile Fillies as a 2 year-old. No other female family has ever pulled off this kind of hat trick and it suggests that Personal Ensign’s genetic signature was very powerful in shaping these three individuals. My Flag2 is also the dam of On Parade (1999) whose son, Parading (2003), stands at Claiborne. (Personal Ensign produced five full siblings from matings to Mr. Prospector, of which three — the two mentioned above and a colt, Traditionally [1997] were good – excellent runners.)

The great and beloved champion, Personal Ensign (NYRA copyright)

Miner's Mark (Photo and copyright, Tony Leonard)

Urban Sea’s name came to prominence in North America when her brilliant son, Sea The Stars (2006) by Cape Cross (1994), captured the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to retire undefeated. But in actual fact, Urban Sea was a great champion, one of the rare fillies to capture the Arc, which she did in 1993. Before her death in 2009, the daughter of Miswaki(1978) had also produced three other champions equal to, or better than, herself by two different sires. The first was the great Galileo (1998), a son of the late Sadler’s Wells (1981). A multiple grade one winner, Galileo has gone on to become an equally brilliant sire. Although only 13 years-old in 2011, Galileo has sired the following multi- and millionaires: Cape Blanco (2007); Lush Lashes (2005); Red Rocks (2003); Sixties Icon (2003); and Soldier of Fortunes (2003). He has also sired a stable-full of winners of between 500 K – 1 million USD, including New Approach (2005). After Galileo, came a full brother to Galileo, the excellent Black Sam Bellamy (1999). Although he has yet to sire a millionaire, his offspring are consistently good on the turf and he has, to date, a fairly impressive percentage of winners. Then came an outstanding daughter, the lovely My Typhoon (2002) by Giant’s Causeway (1997). My Typhoon has an Awesome Again colt, born in 2009 and named He’s A Cyclone.

Miswaki's lovely and accomplished daughter, Urban Sea

Urban Sea's son, Galileo, well on his way to a spectacular stud career

Urban Sea with her incomparable son, Sea The Stars, as a foal

Too, many great broodmares are more influential over generations than they are through their immediate offspring. Pretty Polly, for example, had seemingly very mediocre progeny (in comparison to herself, that is) but her daughters had a lasting influence on the breed. In fact, as discussed in an earlier post on THE VAULT, Rachel Alexandra joins a goodly number of thoroughbreds who descend from daughters of the great Pretty Polly. When Blue Hen mares do both — that is, they produce outstanding offspring who, in turn, produce great horses, they qualify as “matriarchs” of the breed. North American matriarchs of the last century include the likes of Alcibiades (1927), Almahmoud (1947), Myrtlewood (1932), Hildene (1938), Courtly Dee (1968), Imperatrice (1938), Marguerite (1920) and La Troienne (1926). Many champions from 1927 to the present have at least one of the matriarchs of the last century represented in their pedigrees.

Urban Sea's champion daughter, My Typhoon, a daughter of Giant's Causeway

Champions don’t necessarily beget champions. And in our fast-paced lives, that can be a tough pill to swallow. There are great race mares whose broodmare careers are disappointing. As you might imagine, when this kind of thing happens it is viewed as a terrible loss to the thoroughbred community as a whole, since the reason for breeding is to improve the breed through the introduction of the bloodlines of accomplished individuals. Mares who, for different reasons, made little impact on the breed through their offspring include champions like Genuine Risk (1977) and Lady’s Secret (1982), but these are only two of many. Illogical as it may seem, being a great race horse doesn’t automatically mean that, once retired, a mare will be a great producer as well.

Secretariat's best daughter, the champion Lady's Secret

And how about this? Mares with no racing experience whatsoever, or very little, can still produce champions. Naturally, we need to remember that the stallion’s influence is at least 50% of the equation. But when a non-racing or lightly raced mare becomes a Blue Hen, this seems to poke the laws of cause-and-effect rather squarely in the ribs!

Somethingroyal (1952), for example, the dam of Secretariat (1970) as well as the stakes winners Sir Gaylord (1959), First Family(1962) and Syrian Sea(1965) raced once and finished out of the money. The great Marguerite (1920), dam of Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox (1927), as well as champions Flying Fox (1935)and Petee-Wrack(1925), also raced just once and similarly, did not even earn a show. Secretariat’s daughter, Betty’s Secret, dam of Epsom Derby winner Secreto (1981) and the mighty Istabraq (1992) was unraced.

Nijinsky’s daughter, Dancing Key (1967), was also unraced when she was purchased and sent to Japan. She went on to produce the champions Dance In The Mood (2001), Dance In The Dark (1993) and Dance Partner (1992), all by the wonderful Sunday Silence (1986). So influential was she, that her bloodline will shape Japanese thoroughbreds for all time!

Now it’s tempting to assume that these unraced or lightly raced mares got the kind of offspring they did strictly because of the stallions to whom they were bred. Clearly, stallions like Secretariat or Sunday Silence can’t be written out of the mix. In the latter case, too, we have a stallion whose influence was huge on many of the mares to whom he was bred, making him a pre-potent sire. In fact, Sunday Silence is considered the most successful sire in the world, to date, by progeny earnings — over 700 million, to be exact. But even though Sunday Silence was a proven sire, Dancing Key contributed at least as much to the bloodlines of their shared progeny as did their sire. The same could be said of Betty’s Secret, whose two champion sons, although by the same sire line (Northern Dancer) had two different sires. In fact, Betty’s Secret was an important key to highlighting the potential of a Northern Dancer-Secretariat cross.

The lovely Dance In The Mood, a champion by Sunday Silence out of the unraced daughter of Nijinsky II, Dancing Key

Marguerite and Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox as a foal

As you can see, the number of variables that can influence the future offspring of Rags, Rachel and Zenyatta are rather mind-boggling. However, among the attributes that these three ladies have going for them is the power of genetics, for all carry both absolutely unique x chromosomes, as well as their own individual blend of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

And both of these factors exert a huge influence on what a foal, whether filly or colt, inherits from its dam. And when that dam is a Zenyatta or a Rachel Alexandra or a Rags to Riches, this becomes a very exciting prospect!

NOTE: Tune in for Part Two, where we’ll look at the “power of the X” and see what that might mean in terms of these special mares, the stallions in their lives and their offspring. 


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Terlingua at work, showing the form that reminded Penny Chenery of Secretariat. Photo reprinted here with the permission of Inger Drysdale. Copyright The Blood-Horse.

Have you ever fallen in love with a very special horse, a horse who spoke to your heart? Dedicated to all those who have had this experience — at least once! — and particularly to the community of Zenyatta.com, this is a story of just how magical the spirit of one horse can be…..

The culture of the 1960’s was such that I was persuaded (like most of my girlfriends) to give up childhood passions as part of the ritual of becoming a young woman.  It was as though we each had to make a personal sacrifice in order to be considered an adult, a person who had left the interests and impulses of our “former selves” behind. For me, that meant divesting myself of horses, “Classic” comic books and Barbie. So I put my C.W. Anderson, Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry books away, along with my Breyer horses, horse scrapbooks and a handful of horse stories that I had written and illustrated myself when I was a girl of twelve.

Having boxed up the treasures of childhood, Secretariat came along and took me completely by surprise. Even though I was now a young woman, I was so moved by his victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes that I actually made a scrapbook of news clippings of Big Red’s Triple Crown, which I placed on my bookcase with my more “adult” pursuits. The scrapbook was joined, 2 years later, by Raymond Woolfe’s book, “Secretariat.” Through university, teaching, marriage and motherhood, these two mementos were my “guilty little pleasures,” snuck off the shelf when the house was quiet or when I had a few rare moments to myself. It just made me truly, deeply happy to spend time with Secretariat.

At 11:45 a.m. on October 4, 1989 Secretariat was humanely destroyed, a victim of laminitis, an incurable, painful and degenerative disease of the hoof. As there had been no forewarning of his illness, his death was registered as a kind of thunderbolt that pierced the heart. And even though I had never visited him at Claiborne, or been present at the tracks when he raced,  I grieved like a woman who had known him my whole life.

As I grieved, I began a search for additional Secretariat memorabilia. And somewhere along the way, I read that Penny Chenery had observed that of all Secretariat’s offspring it was the filly, Terlingua (1976), who most reminded her of him. My curiosity peaked, I set off in search of Terlingua.

Locating even a scrap of information about her turned out to be an arduous task. The web was young in the 1990’s and lacked depth in many areas: horse racing was one. But very gradually, over months and years of dogged research, a path to Terlingua opened up. My first “sighting” of her was on a pedigree site where I saw a photograph of Terlingua as a broodmare, at her home, Overbrook Farm. Even though she was in foal in the photo, her resemblance to Secretariat was unmistakeable. She had his head, though not his ears, as well as his powerful hindquarters. I determined that I wanted a copy of this elegant photograph of the chestnut-red Terlingua against a background of fall foliage, her beautiful face turned toward the camera.

Terlingua pictured here as a yearling, in a brochure produced by Tom Gentry promoting her forthcoming sale at Keeneland in 1977.

Emboldened, I varied my search vocabulary, until I came across equine photographer Audrey Crosby’s site. She had been to visit Terlingua at Overbrook and had taken a few photos which she had posted on her website. I contacted Audrey and she very kindly gave me some insight into Terlingua’s personality. She described the 17 year-old as either shy or indifferent to people — or both — but went on to talk about her pasture pal, Island Kitty (1976) the dam of champions Shy Tom (1986) and Hennesy (1992). It seemed that the two mares were devoted friends. And although my very first photos of Terlingua came from Audrey, she had not taken the much sought after picture that I had found on the pedigree website. There was, however, something about actually seeing Terlingua that pulled at my heart strings. It was suddenly hugely important to read everything that I could get my hands on about her.

I located old issues of The Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times on Ebay and began to collect the ones that recorded Terlingua’s personal history. This collection would take another 3 or 4 years to complete, during which time I made some quite wonderful “virtual” friendships with people who would actually notify me if “anything Terlingua” came up. Deb Strother became my “eyes on the ground,” locating back issues about Terlingua for me; without her help and guidance, I would never have learned much about Secretariat’s talented daughter, other than what seemed her only claim to fame: she was the dam of Storm Cat, foaled in 1983.

In fact, her story was far more compelling than her broodmare record. I learned that Terlingua had been the darling of the California racing world as a 2 year-old — according to Barbara Livingston, in her wonderful book, “More Old Friends,” the filly had been regarded as another Ruffian, so brilliant was her early career. Terlingua was purchased as a yearling at Keeneland for owners, Beal and French, by a young Wayne Lukas, whose background was in training quarter horses. Lukas described how he had a picture in his head of just what “the Secretariat filly” would look like. Lukas’ father had trained Terlingua’s dam, Crimson Saint (1969) and Secretariat was Lucas’ all-time favourite thoroughbred. The young trainer pictured a yearling who would be a perfect blending of these two great thoroughbreds.

Crimson Saint, Terlingua’s dam, was a brilliant sprinter who was trained by Wayne Lukas’ father.

And Terlingua did not disappoint him. She was definitely Secretariat’s daughter, with a few touches from her dam in conformation and racing ability. Named after the town in Texas famous for its hot chilli, Terlingua was a feisty youngster. Lukas decided to train her with his quarter horses, an approach that somewhat quelled her high-strung temperament while toughening her for the rigours of thoroughbred racing. The pretty youngster was racing royalty and that’s exactly how she was treated. When she was bathed, for example, Breck shampoo was in the bucket and she was frequently pictured being hand-walked by Lukas. One story tells of how Lukas was unable to complete a round of golf with a friend because he was so nervous about leaving his filly on the eve of her first start.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas hand walks his champion filly. Photo by Milton Toby. Copyright The Blood-Horse.

He needn’t have fretted. Terlingua broke her maiden and set a track record in the Hollywood Nursery Stakes in 1978, in her racing debut. A month later, she won the Hollywood Lassie and set another track record of 1:08 and four-fifths, the fastest ever recorded at Hollywood by a 2 year-old filly, winning by three-and-a-half lengths. A delighted Wayne Lukas exclaimed after the victory, “ Can you believe that she ran from the half-mile pole to the five-eighth pole in :11 and four-fifths, and then went the final eighth in :12 flat?” The jockey who rode the runner-up added, “ That filly said it all on the track. She could beat the colts right now. She’s something else. She’s going to make her daddy proud.”  

To adapt a line from Tom Smith in the movie version of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit: An American Legend, “…a good thoroughbred wins races but a great thoroughbred is measured by who she defeats.” On Saturday, July 22, only a week after her victory in the Lassie, Terlingua won the Hollywood Juvenile Stakes by 2 and a quarter lengths, defeating colts that included Exuberant (1976), Roman Oblisk (1976) and Flying Paster (1976), the latter also the reigning Kentucky Derby choice in the West that year. Terlingua blazed an opening quarter mile in :21 and three-fifths seconds and in the stretch, when asked for more speed, drew away easily, having gotten the six furlongs in 1:08 and four-fifths.

(There are precious few video records of Terlingua on the track. In this one she is shown racing  — although the tape ends rather abruptly! )

Her next victory, in the Del Mar Debutante on September 3, 1978, gave her a record of 4 wins in as many starts. In an article headlined, “The West’s Filly Still Unbeaten,” Robert Hebert of The Blood-Horse began:

“Normally, the outstanding feature of the Labor Day weekend at Del Mar is the traditional Del Mar Handicap (gr. II) but this summer it was overshadowed by the 28th running of the $122,440 Del Mar Debutante (gr. II). The reason was the presence in the field of the brilliant, exciting, undefeated filly, Terlingua, who has become a great favourite with California fans. Secretariat’s muscular daughter attracted a crowd of 22,122 and when she appeared in the picture-postcard walking ring, the crowd lined up five and six deep at the rail. Many believe, as does this reporter, that Terlingua is the finest 2 year-old filly ever to race in the West.”

Crowds stood five and six deep to see Secretariat's daughter. Photo reprinted with the permission of Lydia A. Williams (LAW)

Terlingua was all business in what had been her longest race to date. Although she did toy somewhat with the field, resulting in some few anxious moments, when she turned for home she was to win by nine lengths, galloping to victory under the bit. A satisfied Wayne Lukas reported that his filly was in a growth spurt and had lost her “downhill look” for a gain in height at the withers to match her big, strong hindquarters, “…whence comes her tremendous power.”  And although a compact 15.2 hands, Lukas also observed that Terlingua’s confirmation was perfect and her feet, knees and joints were all “clean.” Future plans involved a choice between staying in the West and bringing the undefeated two year-old East for the Matron, the Frizette or the Alcibiades.

The decision was made to bring Terlingua to the East, in order to clinch the Eclipse Award for 1978. However, it was here that the filly tasted defeat for the first time in her career, finishing second in the Alcibiades and third in the Frizette. After the losses, Lukas commented, “With a filly this good, you can convince yourself that they can adjust to anything, even though they might be trying to tell you something.” Before the Alcibiades, Terlingua faced the strangeness of a wet track during the days that led up to the race. On race day, there was a downpour. The filly’s struggle to overtake the winner, Angel Island (1976), was viewed favourably by her trainer, even though she fell back to be beaten by six lengths. However her jockey, Darryl McHargue, was deeply disappointed, “I’m just sorry that the people in New York and here at Keeneland didn’t get to see Terlingua run the way I know she can. She caught a cuppy track at Belmont, then this track today. She gave a game effort, but running on heart doesn’t win races all the time.”

Terlingua and her young jockey, Darryl McHargue, come to the wire ahead of the field to set still another track record.

At the end of 1978, Terlingua was runner-up to co-champions Candy Éclair (1976) and It’s In The Air (1976) in the Eclipse balloting. However, as Edward L. Bowen, writing in The Blood- Horse’s “Thoroughbreds of 1978” concluded, “Her unbeaten status has been shattered, but she remains the most exciting of the juvenile fillies of her season.”

These words were to prove prophetic: in her first race of 1979, the Santa Ynez Stakes (gr III), Terlingua defeated It’s In The Air. Reeling off seven furlongs in 1:21 and one-fifth, “the West’s sweetheart” chipped a fifth of a second off the track record, set by Tallahto in 1973. A description of the victory includes the lines, “…Terlingua, moving smoothly and beautifully, turned for home just coasting in front…” She went on to win the La Brea Stakes and the Las Flores Handicap and finished second in the Santa Susanna, Starlet and Sierre Madre Stakes at three and four. In the Las Flores, she defeated a field that included the future dams of Lady’s Secret (1982)Toussaud (1989) and Sunday Silence (1986). On May 10, 1980, Terlingua sustained a slab fracture to her right knee, following a workout at Hollywood Park. In the news of her retirement, Terlingua was acknowledged as the “brilliant daughter of Secretariat – Crimson Saint.”

As I followed the “Terlingua trail” my passion for thoroughbreds made itself known — and this time, as a lady in her 40’s, I was no longer apologetic.

(HRTV’s Inside Information did a piece on Terlingua shortly before her death, on April 29, 2008, at the age of 32.)

Intense research or all-consuming interests have a way of opening up new and unexpected avenues and the search for Terlingua was no different. The need to learn more about her bloodlines led into pedigree research and learning a new vocabulary. I began to build a modest library of books about thoroughbreds which led, in turn, to discovering the stories of other thoroughbreds who had become legendary in North America, England, Ireland and Australia. As I read about Man O’ War or Count Fleet, I also reflected on my grandfather’s stories of great thoroughbreds and just how incredibly interesting — and accurate! — they actually were. And the little girl within whispered of her love for The Black Stallion, Misty the pony, Fury, A Filly For Joan and My Friend Flicka.

In my desire to find photographs of Terlingua, I ended up chasing down some quite extraordinary photographers — Lydia A. Williams (LAW), Patricia McQueen (who turned out to be the photographer who had taken the very first photo that I ever found of Terlingua), Anne Eberhardt and Barbara Livingston, to name but a few. Kind, helpful and understanding of a woman “bitten by the bug,” we still exchange emails periodically. Too, the horses portrayed by these gifted women spirited me away to the sagas of thoroughbreds like John Henry or Raja Baba or Kingston Rule or Genuine Risk or Personal Ensign. The research and study felt “just right” and an intense interest in photography burgeoned that opened into the worlds of great equine photographers of the past, including C. C. Cook, James Soames and “Skeets” Meadors.

"My best girl." Terlingua as a broodmare at Overbrook Farm, captured by the lens of Lydia A. Williams (LAW). Photo reprinted here with the permission of LAW. Copyright LAW.

Throughout the cultural history of humankind, the horse is associated with inner journeys …. with travel between the worlds of mortality and immortality, typified by Pegasus. In a similar vein, the Jungian psychologist and storyteller, Clarissa Pinkola Estes (“Women Who Run With The Wolves”) talks about how following one’s inner spirit results in a kind of personal journey that eventually leads us to our spiritual home, a place where we find others who are like ourselves and in whose company we restore and refresh our souls. Secretariat was the first to call to me, shining his light into the darkness where I had excised my passion for horses. But it was Terlingua who acted as my companion and guide.

She led me on a merry chase, but once I agreed to follow, Terlingua brought me home. Home to a community of friends, professionals and other “horsey types” who happily weave horses into their lives, one way or another, every single day. Home to sharing in the joys of campaigns by great thoroughbreds like Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Home to finding the courage to write a note to Steve Haskin that brought me right here, to THE VAULT.

Of course, I didn’t really notice a community sprouting up all around me — I was just concentrating on nurturing my love for Terlingua. But in trusting myself to follow her, Terlingua carried me into a new world — into a landscape of hope and promise and delight, where the girl and the woman walk hand-in-hand.

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