Archive for July, 2011

Lindsey Ames Sanquenetti is a fan of Rachel Alexandra’s as well as a talented photographer who brings an artist’s eye to her subjects. Recently, Lindsey was one of 100 lucky people invited for a second “See Rachel” day at Stonestreet Farm. She has very kindly consented to share her wonderful photos of Rachel with all of us here at THE VAULT. VAULT readers can visit Lindsey on http://www.flickr.com under the name sweet_lindsey 12. If you would like to show your appreciation by leaving a comment below, they will be posted ASAP so that Lindsey can read them.

Rachel's visitors are encouraged to leave notes for her, so she's sure to know just how loved she is.

On July 12, Stonestreet Farms hosted 100 fans of the great Rachel Alexandra for the second time at a “See Rachel” Day. The event, Lindsey explained, is publicized both on the Stonestreet Facebook page and on a “See Rachel” page on the Stonestreet website. The first 100 people to send in their names are selected. Here’s the Stonestreet page: http://www.stonestreetfarms.com/info/?page_id=139

Rachel with one of her fans on July 12 at Stonestreet. Photo and copyright, Lindsey Ames Sanquenetti.

Visits with Rachel are split into 4 different groups of 25 people on a “See Rachel” day. When they first arrive, guests are shown into a special “Rachel Room” where they can see all kinds of memorabilia from her brilliant racing career. Then, when their appointment time arrives, each group is escorted to an area where they can spend time with one of North America’s most beloved thoroughbreds.

This was how Lindsey described her experience:

“…Obviously, it was an amazing experience to visit her. She was actually very sweet in person…very patient and kind. Everyone was petting her all over, giving her kisses, and trying to get her to turn her head this way or that way for pictures. She never once acted irritated and was very tolerant of everyone’s affection. It was a VERY hot day, too. She had every right to get grumpy, standing out in the heat while we all smooched her! I think retirement is agreeing with her. She seemed very content and happy. She is stunningly beautiful in person. You could tell how much it meant to each and every person to be standing there, in the presence of true greatness…”

A moment to remember forever: Lindsey with Rachel. Photo and copyright, Lindesey Ames Sanquenetti.

As her photos show, Rachel looks beautiful, content and happy in her new life. Her “baby bump” is showing, but she is otherwise the same sweet girl who mesmerized so many of us a few short seasons ago. Alert and interested, Rachel proved a charming hostess.

Rachel exudes the radiance of a mother-to-be. Her coat shines and she glows with health. Photo and copyright, Lindesey Ames Sanquenetti.

Rachel's gentle, kind eye captured in this exquisite shot by Lindsey. Photo and copyright, Lindsey Ames Sanquenetti.

Rachel poses for some of her admirers, showing off her strong, feminine profile. Photo and copyright, Lindsey Ames Saquenetti.

To keep the connection alive between thoroughbred fans, owners-breeders and thoroughbred champions is a rather delicate balancing act. While it seems clear that without passionate fans both the industry and the sport can only suffer, when a champion like Rachel Alexandra retires to begin a new life as a broodmare she begins a complex transition, from a world that is strictly scheduled and controlled to a life of relative freedom, and from the public world of fans and racing to the privacy of paddocks and equine companions. A recently retired thoroughbred needs to “come down” from the hype of the sport and that involves accepting a much calmer, quieter lifestyle. Heartbreakingly (at least from a human perspective) whether filly or colt, a thoroughbred must also transfer its attachment from those it was closest to on the track, to relative strangers. When you think about it, that’s quite a lot of change in a relatively short period of time. And, just as every human individual is different, so are equine individuals. Some adjust with ease, others will take more time and some adjust with difficulty, because there is no other choice.

Man O’ War, for example, was supremely suited to life on the farm. He had resisted the imposition of human will throughout his racing career. With his best friend, Will Harbut, he found a true home at Faraway Farm. His son, War Admiral, was the kind of thoroughbred that wanted to please no matter what was asked of him, so making the transition from racing to the farm was relatively easy for him. Secretariat, one speculates, needed his friend Clay at Claiborne to adjust to a life he was asked to enter at the tender age of 4. He was a very intelligent horse and he loved to race. Keeping him happy as a stallion must have required a lot of Clay’s tender loving care.

Too, although the “great ones” in our own canon of thoroughbreds are individuals that touched our lives deeply and forever, they do not belong to us. And while a thoroughbred owner and a thoroughbred farm are undoubtedly very aware of this fact, it’s easy for a passionate fan to dismiss it when a horse that they love is standing right there, beside them. So you can see how delicate it is to find a way to honour the fan, while respecting the horse.

Stonestreet has come up with a formula that works well for both Rachel and her devoted following. In taking steps to allow that precious connection between fan and horse to flourish, the good folks at Stonestreet have shown leadership tempered with generosity. They are not the first to acknowledge the love that people feel for their champion and they won’t be the last. But one appreciates their commitment to a tradition that, in the end, can only be positive for the sport and the industry, as well as their capacity to embrace the legend that is Rachel Alexandra.

Footage taken by a fan on March 25, the first See Rachel Day at Stonestreet.

There are many other photos of Rachel taken on July 12 on her Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rachel-Alexandra/112319645455986?sk=wall

Rachel's expression here bespeaks both intelligence and the mystery of all great thoroughbreds, who seem to look at you but beyond you, to a place mere mortals seem not to see. Photo and copyright, Lindsey Ames Saquenetti.

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 This article was inspired by a request from VAULT reader, John Embry. But as we began to research Zarkava, as per John’s request, we came across a number of astoundingly good European fillies and mares. As you might imagine, each one of these great thoroughbreds was loved as passionately as Personal Ensign, Ruffiian, Rags To Riches, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta during their racing campaigns and subsequent broodmare careers. Since there are too many great Euro fillies and mares to write about in one article, the plan is to continue this series, though not necessarily in consecutive instalments. At a later date, our visit with champions from “across the pond” will include Goldikova, Miesque, Allez France and Dahlia. 

ZARKAVA (2005) bred in IRELAND by owner HRH the Aga Khan

Zarkava has a WOW! kind of pedigree and her owner-breeder acknowledges that she represents the zenith of his breeding program to date, even though the Aga Khan’s breeding operation has produced the likes of Epsom Derby winners Shergar, Shahrastani and Kahyasi. Quite the complement to a quirky, gutsy mare who won all seven of her starts, retiring undefeated.

An elated Christophe Soumillon and ZARKAVA after their Arc win.

An elated Christophe Soumillon and ZARKAVA after their Arc win.

The “Zarkava Leap”

So deep is Zarkava’s bloodline that it is difficult to imagine how she could have been anything but a superstar. For starters, her sire, Zamindar (1994) is by the great American stallion, Gone West (1984), a grandson of Secretariat (1970). Zamindar’s dam, Zalzafon (1982) is a daughter of Epsom Derby winner, The Minstrel (1974), one of the gutsiest thoroughbreds ever trained by the esteemed Vincent O’Brien. In addition, Zarkava is inbred to Northern Dancer (4 X 5) and to the dam of Nijinsky II, Flaming Page (5 X 5).

The Minstrel gets up to win the 1977 Epsom Derby. The tiny son of Northern Dancer had drive, guts and a will to win.

Zarkava’s dam, Zarkasha (1999) is the daughter of Epsom and Irish Derby winner, Kahyasi (1985), a grandson of the last British Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky II (1967). Zarkasha is out of Zarkana (1992), a daughter of Doyoun (1985), the sire of champions Daylami (1994) and Kalanisi (1996). Doyoun’s sire, England’s beloved Mill Reef (1968), won both the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The wonderful Mill Reef and trainer, Ian Balding

The handsome Kahyasi, Zarkava’s broodmare sire, pictured going to post for the start of the 1988 Epsom Derby, which he won. His jockey, Ray Cochrane, would later save the life of fellow jockey, Frankie Detorri, following a plane crash at Newmarket in 2000. That same incident ended Cochrane’s racing career but it also opened a new door: Cochrane is now Frankie Dettori’s racing manager. 

How’s that for royal blood?

During her racing career, the incomparable Zarkava took pretty much all of France’s most prestigious classic races, beating the likes of Goldikova (twice), Da Re Mi, Youmzain, Duke of Marmalade and Soldier of Fortunes, all outstanding horses in their own right. Noted for her exuberance out of the starting gate at 2 (see the “Zarkava leap” above), it took time for her trainer, Alain du Royer-Dupre and her jockey, the talented Christophe Soumillon to “get her right.” But even as they puzzled over the right way to get Zarkava into a more relaxed stride leaving the gate so that she could really call on her stamina in longer matches, the bay daughter of Zamindar just went right on winning. By 3, Zarkava had learned to race at a more relaxed, steady pace, saving her energies for the home stretch. Despite her relentless marches to victory that preceded it, her most spectacular victory came in the Arc in 2008 and raised her to the status of a French heroine:

A lovely (though long) video that features all of Zarkava’s victories and includes some rather rare footage:

Now retired, Zarkava produced a filly by another Arc winner, the handsome grey, Dalakhani (2000), in 2010. In 2011, she delivered a colt by the incomparable Sea The Stars (2006), who, like Zarkava herself, was retired following his victory in the Arc. These two babies are the progeny, between them, of 3 Arc winners. Wow! Here’s hoping that each of their futures shines as brightly as their parents. As we said at the beginning, it seems unlikely that we’re not looking at champions in the making.

Zarkava with her first born, a filly by the champion, Dalakhani

Zarkava with her son, by the undefeated Sea The Stars

ALL ALONG (1979) Bred in France by owner Daniel Wildenstein

She raced in France, Japan, the UK and the USA, as well as in Canada, and wherever she went, they fell in love with All Along. Angel Cordero dreamed (literally!) that he would get a chance to ride her even before he piloted All Along to a second place finish in the 1983 BC Turf. The loss was heartbreaking, but Cordero noted the slow pace and had only praise for the mare. Clearly, in his eyes, she had lost nothing in defeat. Barbara Livingston, America’s best loved equine photographer, writing about meeting All Along in her exquisite and informative book, Old Friends, had this to say in her conclusion, ” She was tickled to be brought in from the Midway, Kentucky paddock where she grazed with friends. Still awed by her racing performances, I was equally tickled to rub her face and say I’d touched All Along.”

The beautiful All Along, shown here with jockey Greville Starkey in the irons.

As is the case with Zarkava, All Along’s pedigree bespoke depth and stamina. The beautiful mare was a granddaughter of America’s champion, Round Table (1954) out of Agujita (1966), a daughter of Vieux Manoir  (1947), winner of French and English classics, from the British sire line of Blandford (1919) and Swynford (1907). In her third generation, All Along carries Bold Ruler (1954), Princequillo (1940) and Coastal Traffic (1941), a son of the immortal Hyperion (1930). She is also inbred to the great Prince Rose (1928) in her fourth generation.

Vieux Manoir’s sire, Brantome (1931) had a dramatic story of his own. The Arc winner was retired to stand in France, but during the Second World War, he was seized by the Germans, along with some 600 other French thoroughbreds. During the war years, Brantome stood as a kind of hostage at the German National Stud, before being recovered and returned to France in 1945. Lucky, too, since Brantome’s son, Vieux Manoir was also the grandsire of Ivanjica (1972) who won the Arc, as well as Val de Loire (1959), an outstanding French stallion who was the broodmare sire of the ill-fated but brilliant Shergar (1978).

Vieux Manoir, the broodmare sire of All Along

Her grandsire, the beautiful Brantome

All Along started 21 times, winning 9 and only being out of the money in 6. Trained by Patrick Biancone, All Along showed promise until the beginning of her four year-old campaign, where she sustained three losses. However, come her fourth race that year, the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, All Along began a stunning array of victories that would see her victorious in three different countries, including her homeland. It was her second try at the Arc, but this time All Along was not to be denied. Given her losses that year, it is not surprising that in the footage below the track announcer never mentions her name until the field turns for home. Ridden by a young Walter Swinburn, All Along showed an astonishing turn of foot that day to cross the wire first. Watch for Swinburn’s navy silks and white cap on the thoroughbred against the rail as the horses near the finish line:

Following her victory in the Arc, the commanding bay mare shipped to Toronto, Canada for the Rothman’s International, where she would again vanquish the colts. Next on the hit list was the American Turf Classic, which she won by almost nine lengths going away. Her final race that year was the Washington D. C. International. Did she win it? Of course she did, defeating the likes of Majesty’s Prince and other international turf stars. That same year, All Along was the Horse of the Year and Champion Older Female in the USA and her native France, respectively. The gifted mare was also inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1990.

One of the greatest moments in his life: a young Walter Swinburn, who piloted her brilliantly, can barely contain himself after All Along’s victory in the Arc!

All Along spent her broodmare career at Three Chimneys in Kentucky. As a broodmare, All Along was less lucky. Of her 13 foals, the ones who raced proved to be mediocre, despite having brilliant parents on both the top and bottom of their pedigrees. Pensioned in 2003, All Along died on February 23, 2005 at the age of 26. She is buried at Three Chimneys.

Despite her lack of success in the breeding shed, All Along had already attained racing immortality before her attention turned to motherhood. Her exploits on the turf against international fields of colts and fillies are the stuff of legend. Neither time can diminish her, nor racing hearts ever forget her.

The undisputed Queen of thoroughbred racing in 1983, All Along arrives for the Washington DC International Invitational.

THE VAULT credits Barbara Livingston’s outstanding thoroughbred ethnography, Old Friends, for the excerpt in which Barbara’s admiration for All Along is quoted. Readers interested in purchasing a copy of Old Friends or any of Livingston’s books should visit the Eclipse Press (Blood-Horse web site) or abebooks.com

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Noor as he appeared on the August 26, 1950 cover of Thoroughbred Times. The champion is pictured here shortly after his arrival at Saratoga. Photo and copyright, Thoroughbred Times.

For Charlotte

We’re pretty sure that if Charlotte Farmer were writing this, she would tell you that saving a part of our thoroughbred history isn’t as simple as writing an article about her efforts to ensure a dignified and final resting place for a great champion. Of course, she would add how honoured she is to have the support of Steve Haskin, Bill Dwyre and others who have championed her cause and encouraged us to get involved any way we can.

Our purpose in publishing this commentary and photo of Noor is to salute Charlotte Farmer for being the (albeit modest) heroine that she is.

In Charlotte’s foresight and wisdom, we are reminded that the past relies upon us to keep it safe, vibrant and accessible to new generations. History is, of course, a living narrative. It is meant to be visioned and re-visioned over time. Characters are added, perspectives are changed, lessons-to-be-learned are tweaked and sometimes, completely overhauled. This is how historians and history lovers keep the past alive for the rest of us.

Charlotte is keeping Noor’s history alive in the same way. Suddenly, people are talking about Noor and digging into his history to retrieve nuggets of interest to thoroughbred owner and fan alike. We at THE VAULT were moved to pour through a stack of old Thoroughbred Times magazines to repatriate the photo above. Then we read Noor’s racing story, as it appeared in American Race Horses (of) 1950.

In this sequel to Noor’s story, we are able to appreciate how the past and the present exist in a kind of dynamic co-dependance. That in the year 2011 one woman would fight to preserve the memory of a thoroughbred born in 1945 warms the soul. Charlotte’s resolve to reach her goal, together with her commitment to Noor, remind us that what we do today is how we will be remembered tomorrow.

Everything we do — and don’t do — has a direct impact on our lives and on the world. But this doesn’t mean that we need to do something earth-shattering to make a difference. Upon arriving in a village where they would teach people how to read and write, the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, gathered his team around him. He asked them to sit quietly and just observe the life of the village, since he believed that literacy only counted if it touched people’s lives in direct and meaningful ways. After a time, Freire observed, “Do you see that woman over there, who is making a bowl out of clay? Before she started to make it, the bowl did not exist in the world. Now that she is throwing the clay and shaping the bowl, her family and friends will eat from it. They will laugh, talk together, solve problems and make decisions as they eat from this clay bowl. And the world will be different because this one clay bowl, made in a village in Brazil, has come into the world.” 

Changing the world requires us to act, rather than simply to think about acting. It wasn’t enough for Charlotte to hope that Noor’s grave would be respected. She needed to act on behalf of a great thoroughbred and his place in racing history.

Actions that aim to make our world a better place are selfless. They are selfless in the sense that they present themselves to us as something we find we can’t ignore. They call to us. And when we respond, our actions are motivated by love, generosity and a sense of responsibility. Such is the case with Charlotte, who has worked tirelessly for over the last three years to assure that Noor’s memory (rather than her own contribution) remain the focus of her effort.

Charlotte Farmer teaches us these values and beliefs anew in her heroic journey to rescue Noor from complete annihilation. Already the power of that learning has changed our thinking: Skip Away, it would seem, may also be interred at Old Friends, where Noor is to be given his final resting place. And questions are being asked about the whereabouts of other thoroughbreds, such as Omaha. The thoroughbred community has been stirred to reflect more profoundly about its commitment to the animals that are its raison d’etre.

Thank you, Charlotte, for all that you have taught us.

The belief and passion that guides you is clearly Noor — a sacred light that you have the heart to see and the wisdom to cherish.

(NOTE: Donations for Noor may be made directly to Old Friends online or through traditional mail. Every donation counts! Please make sure that you indicate that your donation is to benefit Noor. )


Noor deserves a resting place befitting a champion

There are plans to build condominiums on the grounds where the thoroughbred is buried, but $5,000, which the woman leading the effort hopes to raise, will pay to get him a resting place in Kentucky. 

Poor old Noor should be allowed to rest in peace.
He earned that with a thoroughbred racing season in 1950 that track old-timers remember fondly. Endangering Noor’s after-life resting place is that great American symbol of progress and ingenuity, the real estate development. Noor currently rests in Grass Valley, in the old gold mining country near Nevada City, Calif. His resting place is the former site of Loma Rica Ranch, which is on the drawing boards foreventual bulldozers, leading to cement and condominiums.Left where he is, in the former infield of the half-mile training track at Loma Rica, bulldozers might bring him a final fate almost as dreadful as that of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand, who allegedly ended up on dinner plates in Japan.That, of course, is not likely to happen. A woman from Redding named Charlotte Farmer, who claims interest in thoroughbred racing through a love of another champion, Kelso, has already led the effort to locate Noor’s remains, via an electronic ground device, and has found a home for them. As soon as she raises $5,000, Noor will be retrieved in his underground box, put on a truck and shipped off to Old Friends Equine, near Lexington, Ky.

That new resting place will make at least one prominent person in the sport very happy.

Trainer John Shirreffs, winner of a Kentucky Derby with Giacamo and steward of the unprecedented career of Zenyatta, remembers Loma Rica Ranch as acres of sprawling green, with undulating hills and “white fences for as far as you could see.”

There could be no better description of the horse farms around Lexington.

Noor was an Irish bred who performed well in Europe as a 3-year-old, including a third-place finish in the Epsom Derby in 1948, an impressive showing for a young horse in a field of 32. But he didn’t improve as much as expected, and eventually was put on the market. Charles Howard, who had achieved the fame of ownership with Seabiscuit in the late 1930s, wanted to buy a horse named Nahoo and could only achieve that if Noor came along in the deal. Howard paid $175,000 for both, and wasn’t happy about the price.

Noor had much to learn. In Europe, horses raced mostly on grass and clockwise. But with trainer Burley Parke and jockey Johnny Longden as teachers, and the 1950 season underway, Noor took his learning curve to the turns at Santa Anita. The expectations were low, but by the end of the year, the statuesque-looking, 17-hands, who had won barely $40,000 in Europe, would add $350,000 to his winnings.

He faced Citation in an early race at Santa Anita and lost. That surprised few. Citation was, after all, the 1948 Triple Crown winner. A few weeks later, they would hook up again in the Santa Anita Handicap and this time, the surprise was real. Noor won, and would do so in races against Citation three more times in 1950.

And if that wasn’t enough, in the then-late-season Hollywood Gold Cup, Noor went up against the 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault, and beat him, too. Noor was the first horse to beat two Triple Crown champions, a distinction that, alone, makes it essential that racing protect his dignity at all times.

Noor was retired to stud in his sixth year, and eventually ended up at Loma Rica, a ranch managed for 37 years by Henry Freitas, who died 10 years ago. His daughter, Roxanne, lives nearby and frequently drives past the old ranch, which hasn’t been a breeding and training facility since 1984. In her 20s, she worked the ranch alongside another young man.

“John Shirreffs was like part of our family,” she says.

Farmer, who has researched those days meticulously, says: “Only two people, John, and a man named Lou Machado, were allowed to ride Noor in his retirement days.”

Shirreffs recalls: “Noor had the stall in the corner, the first stall. He was the No. 1 horse.”

Farmer has no personal stake in her campaign to take get Noor back to a proper resting spot. She says she discovered the situation a few years ago, while skimming author Laura Hillenbrand’s website about her Seabiscuit book. She got permission from Howard’s great-great grandson to pursue getting Noor’s remains out of harm’s way, and she has been steadfast in that ever since.

She tried the Southern California tracks first, got logical answers from Del Mar (it’s a state-owned facility and probably at too low a ground level for such a burial) and from Hollywood Park (it might be condos before Loma Rica). She said Santa Anita President George Haines remained noncommittal. Haines says he had been looking for a spot, but had been told Farmer had found a place.

Noor died Nov. 16, 1974. He was 29. The body was still willing and able, but he was put down, suffering from dementia.

Last March, when Farmer got a crew with equipment to locate Noor and the box he was in, they were guided by directions from Shirreffs.

“He said Henry Freitas would bury him pointing East, toward the barns,” she says. “And that’s exactly where he was.”

by Bill Dwyre

8:49 p.m. CDT, June 20, 2011

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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.

Rachel Alexandra

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, captured in all his beauty by equine photographer Emily Shields. Visit Emily at http://www.simhorseracing.com

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!

In conclusion

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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