Even though nothing in breeding is ever 100% certain and no one characteristic leads to thoroughbred perfection, our three super-mares can be expected to pass down at least some of their brilliance to their offspring. This concluding article in The Power of X series looks at other influences that are as important as possible sex-linked traits. To many in the thoroughbred pedigree field these genetic traits, together with the union of excellent bloodlines, are the most important aspects of all in breeding thoroughbreds.
The face of the future. (All illustrations below by the great author-illustrator, C. W. Anderson.)
The Miracle of mtDNA
Another sex-linked gift that Rachel, Rags and Zenyatta will bring to their respective offspring is mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA. What’s amazing about mtDNA is that it is passed directly to either a filly or a colt by its dam, because it is only the female that carries it in her genetic make-up. This form of “maternal” DNA is located in the mitochrondria, which carry their own genes that generate the fuel that drives the machinery of certain cells. The mitochondria passed from Rachel, Rags and Zenyatta to their foals at conception represents as direct a link between mother and foal as mare’s milk. The reason is that mtDNA is thought to change very little over generations of thoroughbreds.
In a piece of terrifically exciting research done by Dr. Stephen Paul Harrison and his Thoroughbred Genetics company in Kent, England, mtDNA is being tested to see how its energy-producing qualities transfer to the racing abilities of 3 year-olds in Ireland, the USA, France and Australia. In short, since mtDNA fuels both muscles and the heart, it exerts influence over a thoroughbred’s speed and stamina. As you might expect, part of the way this influence shows itself is in thoroughbreds that prefer shorter to longer distances, as well as those that appear able to handle both.
Harrison’s research also argues that thoroughbred lineage records are inaccurate, since several so-called separate families can be traced back to common ancestors using mtDNA, making this kind of genetic evidence far more reliable than the oftentimes flawed records from the past that were kept in stud books. This research is ongoing, but its purpose speaks to an overall general improvement in the management of this variable in broodmares. Harrison et al. also note two other important facts: firstly, the unlocking of the potential of mtDNA is only one factor in successful breeding practice. Secondly, for a variety of reasons, the majority of thoroughbred mares today likely carry a mixture of genetic material that fails to target stamina and performance in any pure, undiluted way.
While it is impossible to say that Rachel, Rags and Zenyatta carry mtDNA that will automatically make their offspring performance giants, this in no way diminishes the speed and stamina influences that they bring to a mating. And, as this important research continues, mtDNA will feature more and more in the kinds of information breeders use when selecting stallions for their broodmares.
One thing is certain: genetic science offers much to the breed, the sport and the industry. These are indeed exciting times!
A beautiful portrait of Rags To Riches by equine photographer Amber Chalfin. See more of Amber's work, that includes a gallery on Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, as well as shots of Rags To Riches and other great thoroughbreds at http://www.downthestretchphotos.com
Rags to Riches
Adding Rags to Riches to the Coolmore broodmare band is a definite plus for an organization whose success at breeding and on the turf is unrivalled worldwide. The impetus for what was to become Coolmore began with the incomparable trainer, Vincent O’Brien and a super-wealthy business tycoon, the late Robert Sangster.
When the great Nijinsky II was retired to Claiborne, the Irish mourned his loss as keenly as if Secretariat had been retired to a stud farm in Mongolia. He was, quite literally, their Secretariat and still garners the adoration of UK racing fans today. The loss of Nijinsky II to North America was followed by an exodus of other great Irish-trained champions, notably The Minstrel, El Gran Senor (sire of Toussaud, among others) and Storm Bird (sire of Storm Cat and Summer Squall). What did these thoroughbreds have in common? They were all sired by Canada’s Northern Dancer. O’Brien and Sangster determined to find their own “Northern Dancer” and after many tries, along he came in the person of Sadler’s Wells. How good was Sadler’s Wells? He turned out to be the Northern Dancer of Great Britain and Europe: a sire of sires with an outstanding produce record.
Mere months after his death at the age of 30, Sadler’s Wells son, Galileo, had two sons who finished 1-2 in the 2011 Irish Derby. A great grandson finished third. The speculation is that Galileo may be every bit as great as his sire. Possibly greater. And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to Sadler’s Wells. Suffice to say that the vast majority of Coolmore champions over the last 20 + years are direct descendants of Northern Dancer, the majority through Sadler’s Wells.
Coolmore’s loyalty to that sire line after over two decades of breeding makes Rags’ third foal, a colt by Galileo, a very exciting prospect indeed! Coolmore probably understands the pluses and minuses of breeding Northern Dancers better than any organization in the world, so we can assume that breeding Rags to Galileo was much more than a good guess. Granted, her first two offspring have been by the excellent Giant’s Causeway and the young sire, Henrythenavigator, themselves descendants of Northern Dancer. Clearly, in the case of Rags, Coolmore is also exploiting the Northern Dancer-Secretariat cross. This same cross has already produced champions like Storm Cat, Summer Squall, Dehere, Chief’s Crown, Secreto and Chapel of Dreams. A more recent example of Ballydoyle winners bred on the Northern Dancer-Secretariat cross is Misty For Me (Galileo ex. Butterfly Cove by Storm Cat).
Better Than Honour. Photo and copyright, Z
Rags’ dam, Better Than Honour, is an outstanding producer. Her offspring include the champions Casino Drive (2005) by Mineshaft, Jazil (2003) by Seeking the Gold and Man of Iron (2006) by Giant’s Causeway. Like the dams of Rachel and Zenyatta, the fact that Better Than Honour has produced a total of 4 champions by 4 different sires leads one to be confident that she has passed on some serious genetic material to all of her offspring. What Coolmore will also value in Rags To Riches is her track record on dirt, since they have long-awaited the arrival of a thoroughbred that could compete in American stakes races like the Kentucky Derby. In turn, if even one of Rags’ offspring shows this inclination, they will become valuable assets to Ashford’s (Coolmore USA) breeding program.
All in all, we feel confident in expecting Rags to produce champions who do as well on the grass as on dirt. With the combined influences of the feisty and talented Rags to Riches, together with stallions like Giant’s Causeway and Galileo, the future is going to be intensely exciting for thoroughbred fans worldwide. Given Coolmore’s breeding expertise, that includes availing themselves of state-of-the-art pedigree research, America’s heroine is in very good hands. It looks like Rags’ chances of becoming a thoroughbred matriarch of the 21st century are huge!
The great Ouija Board and her 2011 Galileo colt. Australia's racing goddess, Makybe Diva, has also produced a Galileo colt.
The decision to breed Rachel Alexandra to Curlin was obviously central to the late Jess Jackson’s plan to breed a stronger, better thoroughbred. X influences aside, these two have an impeccable lineage that will, without question, flow into Rachel’s colt on the back of a small army of blue-ribbon chromosomes!
One of the influences in Rachel’s pedigree that we find significant is that of El Prado, a son of the aforementioned Sadler’s Wells, who was purchased during the years of the Vincent O’Brien – Robert Sangster partnership. Bred in Ireland, El Prado was trained by Vincent O’Brien and was a brilliant two year-old who won 4 of 6 starts to become the Irish Champion Two Year-Old of 1991. Out of the mare, Lady Capulet, a daughter of the superb Sir Ivor, who was also trained by O’Brien, hopes for El Prado’s 3 year-old season were high. However, the colt lost his three starts that year and was subsequently sold to Frank Stronach, who adored him right from the start. (In case you’re wondering why Coolmore would have let El Prado go, the answer lies in his 3 year-old performance or, rather, lack of it. In Ireland at that time, horses that had a dull or inconsistent career on the track were often sold to outside interests because there was massive attention at studs like Coolmore to breeding superior horses. As we noted earlier, great race horses don’t always make great stallions. However, in the last 120 years of thoroughbred breeding in the UK, the sires who have done best at stud have tended to have very good performance records on the turf.)
The much-loved and beautiful El Prado, pictured here at Adena Springs.
At the time that Stronach acquired El Prado, offspring of his sire (Sadler’s Wells) had absolutely no appeal to American breeders, since they considered him a turf (grass) sire. And that was fair enough, at the time. But El Prado turned out to be a brilliant sire of both dirt and turf horses. His millionaire progeny include Rachel’s sire, Medaglia d’Oro (1999), Nite Dreamer (1995), Artie Schiller (2001), Borrego (2001), Fort Prado (2001), Kitten’s Joy (2001), the filly Asi Siempre (2002) and, most recently, the brilliant Paddy O’Prado (2007). It is clear that El Prado’s pre-potency is reflected in Medaglia d’Oro’s stud record to date, as well as that of Kitten’s Joy.
Remembering that there are 62 other chromosomes, arrayed in pairs, that Rachel received from her sire and dam, it’s clear that an El Prado genetic influence is in her bloodlines. Similarly, Rachel is inbred 5 X 5 to Meadow Stables’ Sir Gaylord (1959), a son of the great Turn-To (1951). Sir Gaylord was a fine racehorse and an excellent sire. His offspring include the champions and leading sires, Sir Ivor and Habitat. As significant is the fact that Sir Gaylord was a half-brother to Secretariat, both having the same dam, Somethingroyal (1952). In other words, Rachel’s beautiful pedigree also includes 2 influences from Princequillo. Other than Sir Gaylord, Rachel also carries Damascus(1964) on top in her 4th generation and both Mr. Prospector (1970) and Dr. Fager (1964) on the bottom, in her 4th and 5th generations, respectively.
Sir Gaylord (Turn-To ex. Somethingroyal), sire of the accomplished Sir Ivor.
Curlin’s pedigree shows the influence of the successful Mr. Prospector-Northern Dancer cross. And, as we know, Rachel descends along the Northern Dancer sire line as well and this “doubling up” of powerful traits will definitely show in her first-born. Curlin’s sire, Smart Strike, is a half-brother to the incomparable Dance Smartly (1988), winner of the Canadian Triple Crown (against the colts) and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 1991. And while Curlin remains Smart Strike’s most wealthy offspring, the Canadian-bred stallion also sired the millionaires English Channel (2002), Fabulous Strike (2003), Fleetstreet Dancer (1998), Tempins (1998), Strike A Deal (2004), Papa Clem (2006), Soaring Free (1999) and, in 2007, Lookin’ At Lucky. Through Smart Strike, Curlin also boasts 4 X 5 to the great Nasrullah.
Curlin, captured at Lane's End by Amber Chalfin.
Rachel and her best buddy, "Dixie" (Hot Dixie Chick) hanging out together at Stonestreet.
Rachel’s colt foal will represent what thoroughbred breeders mean when they talk about “breeding for the future” — introducing the best possible bloodlines into the thoroughbred pool. Whether or not this little fellow grows into an even greater champion than his illustrious parents, his arrival on the scene bespeaks great promise for the thoroughbred in the 21st century. Rachel’s foal is the very incarnation of greeting the future with hope — an aspect of thoroughbred racing that is both precious and inspiring.
Greeting the future with hope: thoroughbred baby discovers a bee. (CW Anderson)
Bernardini (like Curlin) is a young sire. This makes it more complex to draw conclusions about his performance at stud, despite the fact that his first offspring to hit the track have ranged from good to excellent, injuries aside. To date, Bernardini has sired the champions To Honor and Serve, Stay Thirsty, Biondetti, Arthurs Tale and AZ Warrior. Another very promising individual is Bold Warrior. All of these champions are from Bernardini’s 2008 crop of foals and, with the exception of AZ Warrior (BMS-Carson City) and Bold Warrior (BMS – Kris S) all of the others are by mares whose sires are direct descendants of Northern Dancer. While acknowledging that Northern Dancer’s bloodline runs through a good 80% + of thoroughbreds worldwide today, this seemingly strong nick, or cross, is still worth noting in our discussion, because Zenyatta is void of the Northern Dancer sire line.
Of some interest here is Bold Warrior, since his dam, Hollywood Wildcat, comes out of the same sire line and (dam) family as Zenyatta. ( Hollywood Wildcat was an exceptional performer, winning among others, the Breeders Cup Distaff, Hollywood Oaks, the Gamely and Lady’s Secret handicaps and the Debutante, retiring with earnings of over a million dollars USD. ) This makes the latter’s son, Bold Warrior, an interesting precursor of what we might expect from Zenyatta’s foal by Bernardini — and Bold Warrior at 3 is a very good colt! Hollywood Wildcat’s other successful progeny all hail from a Northern Dancer sire line, suggesting a positive nick of Street Cry-Northern Dancer. A Zenyatta- Giant’s Causeway offspring would be one example of such a nick, as would be matings to Galileo or Sea The Stars. In the case of the half-brothers, Galileo and Sea The Stars, we have the powerful influence of the Arc winner and Blue Hen, Urban Sea.
Cara Rafaela. Photo and copyright, Z. Visit Z's photo galleries by going to the Thoroughbred Times website and clicking on photos/photo store.
The magnificent sire, Quiet American.
Bernardini’s dam, Cara Rafaela, is by the handsome Quiet American, a proven sire and broodmare sire. By Fappiano (1977) out of a daughter of Dr. Fager, Quiet American is inbred to Dr. Fager 2 X 3, as well as to a daughter of Princequillo, Cequillo (3 X 4), giving him an absolutely star-studded pedigree that boasts tons of heart, stamina and speed. This accounts for at least part of his success as a sire of exceptional fillies. Other than Cara Rafaela, his daughters include millionaires Switch (2007) and Seattle Smooth (2005), as well as the lightly raced Quiet Dance (1993), dam of the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Eclipse Horse of the Year, Saint Liam (2000). Quiet Dance is also the grandam of the filly, Buster’s Ready (2008) who is strutting her stuff in style on the track as a 3 year-old.
As we saw earlier, the grey Cara Rafaela is a positive influence, through both her sire and her dam, Oil Fable (1986) who traces back from the incomparable Spectacular Bid to Mahmoud. Despite the respectable bloodlines of his dam, all of Bernardini’s most accomplished offspring to date are all sons, with the exception of AZ Warrior. Meaning that the “jury is out” as concerns his capacity to produce an outstanding filly. What is certain is that Bernardini brings both a speed and a size influence to Zenyatta’s foal-to-be, whether a filly or a colt. (As concerns size, a foal that stands a more average height has a better chance of starting as a two year-old since, unlike Zenyatta, it would take less time to “grow into” its body.)
During her racing career, Zenyatta made it abundantly clear that she is a potential source of both speed and stamina. Shown here with Steve Willard up in a lovely photo by photographer Emily Shields.
As for Zenyatta — her sire, Street Cry, has a positive nick pattern (41%) with Seattle Slew mares. The same pattern can be seen, in the reverse, in her mating to Bernardini and this is will likely be an asset. More than the direct influence of Street Cry, of considerable interest is the fact that Zenyatta carries inbreeding within the first 5 generations of her pedigree to both Hoist the Flag and Hail To Reason, two exceptional American sires.
Hoist The Flag was a very handsome fellow. Do you see something of Zenyatta looking back at you in this portrait?
Hoist The Flag (1968), a son of the spectacular Tom Rolfe, won 5 of his 6 starts at two and three. However, despite being lightly raced, Hoist The Flag went on to become a leading sire ( in 1981) and broodmare sire (in 1987). Two of his top earners were the double Arc winner Alleged (1984) and the rightly-named filly, Sensational (1984). As good as Hoist The Flag was as a sire, he was a brilliant broodmare sire. His daughters produced the champions Personal Ensign, Sacahuista, Mr. Chief, Broad Brush, Cryptoclearance, Personal Flag and Imperial Gesture, among others. In his breeding career, two crosses that were particularly good with Hoist The Flag were El Prado and Mr. Prospector. Is it possible that his potency helped to shape Vertigineux’s phenomenal success as a broodmare?
The magnificent Hail To Reason was an outstanding sire and broodmare sire.
The incomparable Allez France, out of a daughter of Hail To Reason.
Champion and much-loved, Triptych was a brilliant race mare in the UK.
Hail To Reason (1958), a son of Turn-To (1951) had a disastrous racing career, largely due to injury, and was retired before the end of his two year-old season. However, he proved to be an amazing sire, producing the great Roberto, as well as champions Straight Deal, Halo, Personality, Proud Clarion, Stop The Music, Bold Reason and Mr. Leader. As a broodmare sire, Hail To Reason had enormous success. His best granddaughters were the brilliant Allez France, winner of the Arc and of earnings over 1 million dollars and the accomplished Triptych, who earned over 1 million BPS through victories in Prix Marcel Boussac, the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Champion Stakes, which she won twice, at the ages of 4 and 5. In addition, Hail To Reason’s daughter, Reason to Earn is the dam of Bold Reasoning, who sired Seattle Slew. In terms of Seattle Slew, there is the potential of an important confluence of pedigree influence between Zenyatta and Bernardini.
As has been said before on THE VAULT and elsewhere, Zenyatta has a beautiful pedigree, one that gave her stamina, speed and the heart to win. And as significant as other influences may be, her physical conformation owes something to both Hoist The Flag and Hail To Reason. This may indeed be an indicator of something great, given the contribution of these outstanding stallions to the breed. Anticipating her first foal is exciting for that reason, since her Bernardini baby is but the first step to unlocking the treasure that is Zenyatta!
All of these famous matings remain “unexplored territory” until these babies and babies-to-be set their feet on a race track. Only then will the rest of us get to see what, other than colouring and conformation, each inherited from their distinguished parents. We loved Rags To Riches, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta on the track, but this element of anticipation in their broodmare careers complements the excitement we felt when they raced, while also ensuring a lasting legacy.
So until their babies hit the turf running, let’s keep dreaming about …………………..
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