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Imagine, if you will, the world of thoroughbred racing without sires like Northern Dancer, Sunday Silence, Halo, Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew or their descendants: Sadler’s Wells, A.P. Indy, Galileo, Tapit, Sebring, Deep Impact, Medaglia d’Oro, Snitzel, Dubawi, King Kamehameha,  or the late Street Cry…………. 

Named the top two year-old of the last century (John Randall and Tony Morris in ” A Century of Champions”) The Tetrarch ran only as a juvenile and proved a shy, disinterested stud, siring only 130 foals before retiring to become a pleasure horse.

Remarkably, his influence is such that The Tetrarch appears in the pedigrees of most modern thoroughbreds worldwide, making him a huge influence on the breed. Each entry in the 2017 Kentucky Derby carried The Tetrarch in his pedigree. And you can bet that the winners at Royal Ascot 2017 have a 95% or better chance of carrying The Tetrarch in their pedigrees too.

The Tetrarch might well have been the very best there ever was. 

 

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THE TETRARCH displays his famous chubari, or Tetrarch, spots. In the early decades of the last century, these markings were so strange that they sometimes inspired fear among the superstitious. Shown here as a two year-old.

 

Of course, The Tetrarch did not rise to legendary status on his own. He was an unruly individual and it took three other equally tough, Irish characters — the renowned trainer Henry “Atty” Persse, stable lad Dick McCormick and the legendary jockey, Steve Donaghue — to get him right.

But before Atty, Dick or Steve laid eyes on him, The Tetrarch began life as the offspring of a stallion described as a “plodder,” who had been purchased by one Edward Kennedy of Straffon Stud in County Kildare, Ireland. Kennedy was a rich cattle owner who developed a taste for thoroughbreds and was determined to revive the Herod male line in Great Britain. This determination may well have stemmed from the fact that Herod was a direct descendant of the Byerly Turk, who, with his owner, Captain Robert Byerly of the Sixth Dragoon Guards, had spent time in Ireland in the late seventeenth century. In 1690, records show that the “Byerly charger” won a flat race, the Silver Bell,  on Down Royal in Northern Ireland.

The BYERLY TURK, one of three sire lines to which all thoroughbreds can be traced.

 

Herod_(horse)

HEROD, together with MATCHEM and ECLIPSE, is a foundation sire of the thoroughbred breed. HEROD was a direct descendant of the BYERLY TURK.

Herod (originally King Herod, 1758-1780) is one of three foundation stallions from which the thoroughbred descends. Like the better-known Eclipse, Herod was also bred by Prince William, The Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II.

Herod is the foundation sire who represents the Byerly Turk sire line and he was a fine racehorse who began his career as a five year-old, the usual age that thoroughbreds started their racing careers in the eighteenth century. He raced until he was eight, winning at a preferred distance of four miles in several races at Newmarket. But it was really as a sire that Herod would make his lasting contribution to the sport. Although he sits very far back in The Tetrarch’s pedigree, Rouge Rose, a direct descendant of Herod appears in the colt’s pedigree on both top and bottom.

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ROI HERODE, sire of THE TETRARCH.

Always on the lookout for a Herod descendant, Edward Kennedy finally found a horse that caught his eye at Doncaster in 1909, where the French-bred Roi Herode finished in second place in the Doncaster Cup. This race was arguably Roi Herode’s absolutely best lifetime performance and Kennedy bought him, intending to race the five year-old for at least another year before sending him to the breeding shed. But, as luck would have it, Roi Herode broke down shortly thereafter.

The breeding season was almost over, so Kennedy bred him to one of his own mares, Vahren, a granddaughter of the great Bend Or, another Herod descendant. But Kennedy’s expectations regarding the union were likely moderate. Vahren had produced two decent fillies before The Tetrarch, but neither could have been considered brilliant.

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VAHREN, by the 2000 Guineas winner BONA VISTA (BEND OR) was lightly raced, winning only three minor races before retirement.

The Tetrarch came into the world on April 22, 1911 as a chestnut with dark spots. It is an irony in the narrative of so many great thoroughbreds that they are often dismissed at birth by their breeders for any number of reasons, including their lack of beauty. And The Tetrarch was no different: not particularly appealing as a youngster, his “coarse looks” were only exacerbated by the changes in his coat. Already huge for his age at six months, the emergence of a peculiar grey coat made him look distinctly odd, so much so that this was all anyone really seemed to notice about him. The youngster’s coat featured huge Chubari (later renamed “Tetrarch”) spots that gave an overall appearance described best by Steve Donaghue:  “…he was a sort of elephant grey with big splotches of lime colour, looking as though someone had splashed him all over with handfuls of wet lime…” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 138)

Little surprise, then, when a fellow horseman advised Kennedy to geld the yearling and train him for the chase, rather than send him to the sales at Doncaster.

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THE TETRARCH as he may have looked during his racing career.

But Edward Kennedy had his mind made up and off the colt went to auction, where he was promptly purchased by Henry Seymour aka “Atty” Persse. Of course, Kennedy had a pretty good idea that the hammer would fall to the trainer. Atty had conditioned both Roi Herode for Kennedy, as well as the colt’s half-sister, Nicola, and the trainer liked the family. The colt was, as Atty saw, well-made with a broad, intelligent head and looked like a 3 year-old. However, Atty wasn’t the only bidder impressed by the Roi Herode-Vahren colt and he had to go to 1300 guineas to secure him. But, as was usual for the trainer, Atty planned to sell The Tetrarch on at a higher price, thus making a profit, albeit a small one, given the handsome sum he had originally paid. Before the year was out, Atty had sold The Tetrarch to his cousin, Major Dermot McAlmont. He made no profit on the transaction.

Atty was forty-three years old when he first laid eyes on The Tetrarch. The Persse family of County Galway were large in number and wealthy. They had interests in everything from real estate to local governance to high culture. The fifth of ten children, Atty was brought up like an aristocrat, graduating from Oxford with an M.A. before turning his heel on England and heading off to America to ride steeplechasers with the Meadowbrook Hounds. Returning to his homeland, Atty continued to build a reputation over courses in Great Britain and Europe until debilitating injuries put an end to his riding career.

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Young ATTY PERSSE.

In 1902, he began training horses in a yard near Dublin and by 1906 he had set himself up on the downs at Chattis Hill near Stockbridge in Hampshire, England. Atty already had a reputation for excellence well before The Tetrarch came along, but his relationship with his employees has been variously described as cruel, bloody-minded, mean and dictatorial.

Some speculate that the chronic pain of his jumping injuries may have been largely responsible for this; others, that he was an aristocrat dealing with a dime-a-dozen work force of boys — and treated them accordingly.

His stable lads, most of whom were under fifteen years of age, signed contracts to work for Atty that stipulated what they could and could not do. Working hours were of indeterminate length; sleeping quarters were above the stable, where the boys were locked in overnight; and they entitled to one day off a year. However, there were meals and wages provided, and for boys with neither prospects nor training, this seemed to be enough, even though few lasted for more than a year.

Secrecy was as paramount in Atty’s yard as hard work, mainly because the trainer made a small fortune at betting. A favourite strategy was to place a very good horse that no-one knew anything about in a race where his odds were say, 60-1, and then bet on him/her to win. The resulting income may not have been essential, but Atty really got a kick out of taking the bookmakers to the cleaners.

However, when it came to training thoroughbreds, Atty Persse was arguably a genius. Trainers like Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, the stepfather of the late Sir Henry Cecil, apprenticed under him and considered him comparable to none. (Boyd-Rochfort was Champion British flat racing trainer five times and perhaps most famously, was trainer to George VI, the father of HM Queen Elizabeth II.)

Dick McCormack, one of the lads in Atty’s yard who would rise to the position of head lad and apprentice trainer, attempted to welcome the colt with the funny spots on his arrival, but that proved almost impossible. Given his imposing size, The Tetrarch was so unruly as to be dangerous.

But Dick was one of Atty’s most trusted apprentices and the trainer let him get on with gentling the colt and giving him his early training, begin with lungeing. As The Tetrarch and the boy got to know one another, trust grew. Throughout his brief racing career, Dick was the only other person who could ride The Tetrarch other than jockey and fellow Irishman, Steve Donoghue. According to McCormick’s son, Richard, “My father was one of only two people to ever to ride The Tetrarch…The other one was his racecourse jockey Steve Donoghue who later wrote Dick was the only man able sit on him long enough to stay there. If he hadn’t been around, the horse may well have been cut (gelded) and that would have changed things a lot.” (Excerpt from Colin Greaves’ article in the Irish Examiner, March 2017)

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Dick McCormick riding THE TETRARCH. Dick was the only other person to ever ride the colt and knew him best of all.

 

Even in Dick’s able hands, The Tetrarch had shown something of himself that was rather unique: he essentially trained himself. Jockey Steve Donoghue, who likely heard a recount from Dick McCormick, tells it like this:

“…Even when first in the side-reins, he seemed to know all about it beforehand and to require no teaching, and as for going through the starting-gate, he only saw the tapes once before he ran and won at Newmarket…I always said from the first day I rode him that this was ‘his second time on earth’! He had in my opinion experienced it all before, in everything connected with racing…” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 139)

Atty brought each individual along at their own pace. The Tetrarch was still growing and even when Dick had the colt well in hand, he wasn’t really put into a training regimen, with the result that he was far behind the other two year-olds in the Chattis Hill stable.

As the story is famously told, a day came when Atty asked Dick to saddle up The Tetrarch for a run across the downs with some of the trainer’s other two year-olds.

It was not easy to surprise Atty, but the day of The Tetrarch’s first run sure did.

The colt jumped out with the others and in less than two furlongs, he left them behind in the dust. Atty couldn’t decide if this was a fluke.

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THE TETRARCH, Steve Donoghue up.

So he sent him out again with a very good, seven year-old called Captain Symons whom Atty relied upon to help him cull out really promising youngsters. To make it a fair contest, Atty applied weight-for-age, meaning that The Tetrarch was weighted down with an additional twenty-one lbs. in lead weights. Added to the mix were two other very good horses. In addition, Atty asked jockey Steve Donoghue to ride The Tetrarch for the first time. Off they went and the same thing happened, Steve reporting that the colt almost pulled his arms out of their sockets as he galloped along.

Below, a taste of “the gallops” today. The Tetrarch did his gallops over the grass on the downs near Atty’s stable where there was likely little fencing, as you see here:

The third time out, racing against a very good and speedy four year-old mare, Noramac, Steve thought he heard Atty shouting at him half-way through the trial. As The Tetrarch sailed along, Noramac was nowhere in sight. When jockey and colt returned to the trainer, Donoghue inquired whether or not something was wrong.

To which Atty responded, “Oh, no. I was only shouting to the lad on the mare to tie her onto the grey’s tail!” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 141)

The Tetarch

At two, THE TETRARCH was as big as a four year-old. For this reason, trainer Atty Persse was slow to start his training regime. But it didn’t seem to matter. The colt seemed to know how to do everything without anybody teaching him how to do it.

A rare and lovely silent video of the 1923 Derby at Epsom, won by the great Steve Donoghue and Papyrus. The two would later travel to the USA to race against Zev:

The Tetrarch’s first start came at Newmarket, on April 17, 1913. As might have been expected, Donoghue and the big grey were teased before the race, some asking if The Tetrarch wasn’t actually a much older horse, others referring to him as a “Rocking Horse” because of his unique markings. The pair took it all in good fun.

But when the tape went up, The Tetrarch jumped out, blazing along to take his maiden race by a good four lengths. But it could have been by twenty  — and everyone knew it. Even the other jockeys, riding out after the finish, pronounced The Tetrarch a “wonder-horse.” (Below: The Tetrarch shares a page in The Illustrated London News [1913] with the higly-rated Prince Palatine.)

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And so it went all through The Tetrarch’s two year-old season, and the public fell in love with him. One distinguished stakes race after another fell to the “dynamic duo” of British racing: the Coventry, the Champagne, the Woodcote, the Rous Memorial and the National Breeders Produce Stakes.

The last of these saw The Tetrarch’s closest finish — he won it by a neck.

But the reason for that was simple enough to explain and Donoghue did so publicly, in an effort to dispel some of the opinions in the press: The Tetrarch had misjudged the start. The colt was always speedy at the jump out, quick to anticipate when the tape was about to drop. But in the National Breeders Produce Stakes, he moved forward too quickly, forcing Donoghue to pull him back and as he did, the tape went up and the race was on. Leaping forward, The Tetrarch was caught on the shoulder by another horse and nearly toppled forward.

It was a cloudy day and no-one in the stands really saw the start. It was also a holiday, so Sandown Park was packed with people, many of whom had come there to see The Phenom of 1913. Too, it was a valuable race and as the field rushed away from them, Donoghue knew he had to get his colt balanced and then coax him to run.

“Coax” was the operative word: The Tetrarch needed to always be on the lead. He had won every race before this one on the lead because he tended to “sulk” if asked to rate off the pace. By the time that Donoghue had the colt ready to go, the rest of the field was 20 lengths away. By mid-field, the colt had managed to pass two stragglers. With only 100 yards to the finish, The Tetrarch had two lengths to make up. He began a furious charge, with Donoghue urging him on with his hands, to win by a neck.

Many felt it was the best performance of The Tetrarch’s brief career.

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Steve Donoghue and “The Spotted Wonder.”

Having ridden many champion thoroughbreds, among them Papyrus, Brown Jack and Captain Cuttle, Steve would always say that The Tetrarch was one of the greatest he ever rode. No small bow from the man who had won six Epsom Derbies, two Epsom Oaks and St. Legers, as well as three 2000 Guineas:

“…He was a magnificent creature — a super-horse. I have never during the whole of my career ridden another horse that gave me the feeling of immense power behind the saddle that The Tetrarch did. The leverage of his hind quarters was so great that as he galloped one was fairly lifted from the saddle. The terrific speed he displayed seem to be all impelled from behind. To be on him was like riding a creature that combined the power of an elephant with the speed of a greyhound. He was, indeed, a ‘wonder-horse.'” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp 139)

THE TETRARCH_woodcote-stakes-at-epsom-G8XXWX

THE TETRARCH winning the Woodcote Stakes, Steve Donoghue up.

The “Spotted Wonder” as he was fondly dubbed enjoyed the popularity of a Zenyatta or a Treve or a Caravaggio. The colt was already in the betting to win most of the three year-old classics, including the Epsom Derby. None expected that the final race of his two year-old season would be his last.

Then, suddenly, it all went terribly wrong.

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THE TETRARCH’S two year-old season, captured in photo and drawing.

The Tetrarch had a bad habit of crossing his forelegs — or “plaiting” — when he walked or slowed up after a work or a race. Unable to correct this, Atty Persse had special shoes put on the colt’s forelegs that were shaved back, so that, should he catch himself, The Tetrarch would escape injury. The trainer was quoted as saying that you could “actually hear it” when the colt plaited and that it had been a serious concern since he had first arrived in Persse’s yard.

And it was, indeed, the plaiting that would end The Tetrarch’s career. It first happened shortly after the end of his two year-old campaign. Even pin-firing the foreleg didn’t help, as the colt struck himself again and this time, the injury was career-ending.

In Atty’s view, it was best to retire him and so, with his public jolted from worry to despair about first the silence surrounding their hero’s preparation for his three year-old season and then the announcement of his retirement, the colt was sent back to Ireland, to Thomastown Stud in Kilkenny where he stood his first season in 1915. The following year, The Tetrarch moved to Ballylinch Stud, where he lived until his death in 1935.

The Tetrarch proved an indifferent stud, or a “shy” breeder, siring only 130 foals during his breeding career. Although he never reproduced himself, he got some very good colts and was the leading sire in 1919. One son, Stefan the Great, is a great grandsire in the female family of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, himself a superb sire and the BM sire of Kelso.

But his most brilliant offspring was “The Flying Filly,” Mumtaz Mahal, who was purchased by the Aga Khan, to whom is owed the founding of a thoroughbred dynasty through the Mumtaz Mahal’s daughters: Mumtaz Begum (Blenheim) dam of Nasrullah (Nearco); Mah Mahal (Gainsborough) dam of Mahmoud (Blenheim); Mah Iran (Bois Roussel) dam of Migoli who sired Gallant Man and also the dam of Star of Iran and grandam of champion Petite Etoile; and Rustom Mahal (Rustom Pasha) dam of Abernant (Owen Tudor), from whom a number of champions of the British turf descend. In the USA, two other daughters of The Tetrarch, La Dauphine who got champion Anita Peabody(Luke McLuke) and Herodias from whom Prince John and Lamb Chop descend, also made their mark.

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The brilliant MUMTAZ MAHAL was dubbed “The Flying Filly” by British racegoers. Painting by Lionel Edwards.

But when we say that thoroughbreds worldwide carry The Tetrarch in their pedigrees, including those running in 2017, we refer principally to the overwhelming influence of Nasrullah and Mahmoud on the breed.

From the Nasrullah sire line comes Grey Sovereign, Bold Ruler (sire of Secretariat, grandsire of Spectacular Bid, great grandsire of Seattle Slew, great great grandsire of A.P. Indy), Nashua (BM sire of Mr. Prospector and Roberto), Nantallah (dam of Moccasin, Thong and Ridan, grandam of Nureyev and great grandam of Sadler’s Wells), Red God (sire of Blushing Groom) and Never Bend (sire of Mill Reef, grandsire of Shirley Heights). From this Tetrarch descendant alone comes any thoroughbred who descends from any of Nasrullah’s sons and their individual sire lines.

From the Mahmoud sire line comes most importantly Northern Dancer, through his dam Natalma, a granddaughter of Mahmoud. Any thoroughbred who descends from Northern Dancer — including names like Nijinsky, Sadler’s Wells, Istabraq, Danehill, Galileo, Yeats, and, of course, the mighty Frankel — would never have come to be without some help from The Tetrarch.

In addition, Cosmah (whose sire Cosmic Bomb was also a Tetrarch descendant) out of Almahmoud, Mahmoud’s daughter, was the dam of Queen Sucree (Ribot), herself the dam of Cannonade. The brilliant HOF Tosmah (Tim Tam) was also a daughter of Cosmah. But Cosmah’s most influential progeny was undoubtedly Halo (Hail To Reason) who is, most importantly for this discussion, the sire of Sunday Silence. In other words, the Japanese thoroughbred champions that descend from Sunday Silence, including the prepotent Deep Impact, owe their existence — at least in part — to The Tetrarch as well.

Simply put, the world of contemporary thoroughbred racing would be impossible to imagine without these champions, all descendants of The Tetrarch.

And, for those who only focus on the first five generations of a champion’s pedigree, consider this: without The Tetrarch’s influence, all of the individuals featured here would never have come into being.

And the list goes on and on and on…………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

The Tetrarch. The Spotted Wonder. AuthorHouseuK, 2014

(Note: Yes, The Tetrarch is the narrator of his own biography and that fact led me to debate on reading the book. But when I decided to buy it, I was pleasantly surprised. Beautifully researched and the “horse’s voice” is never soppy or humanized — it’s simply the vehicle for telling The Tetrarch’s astounding story. Available also on Kindle.)

Mortimer, Roger. Twenty Great Horses of the British Turf. New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc., 1967.

Donoghue, Steve. Just My Story. London: Hutchison & Co. No publication date.

Karen, Frances J. The Tetrarch: The Story Behind The Spotted Wonder. In Trainer Magazine, Issue 50, July-September 2015.

Greaves, Colin. Charles Haughey’s Balidaress. In the Irish Examiner, March 30, 2017 edition. (Note: Provided some insight into the story of Dick McCormick, The Tetrarch’s best friend and the person who knew him best.)

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