This post sponsored by Paddy Power.
Spring is creeping in, although I can't feel it yet. Calendars are popping up with tantalizing offerings both here and abroad. Our UK friends have a spectacle we do not -- the rush of the steeplechase, which comes to one of its high points in March at the Cheltenham Racecourse. Four days of powerful athletes racing towards the culmination of the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. Even if you can't hop in your Peugeot with your best hat to view the races, you can follow the action and even bet on a Cheltenham Festival 2013 winner!
I might seem out on a limb here, talking about European horse racing, but in fact, we are more connected that it may seem...
If you take a closer look at Encore's pedigree, you will see that his sire, Crowd Pleaser, had a British dam named Creaking Board. This fine lady was a G1 stakes winning mare, pulling down the 1992 Hollywood Starlet (part of the Breeder's Cup series at one time) and winning the Miesque Stakes on Hollywood Park's turf that November. Following her lines, it turns out that not only can my charming boy claim American royalty as family, he can do the same on the other side of the pond.
Traveling back through this illustrious damline, we run into stories almost as big as the names they follow.
Warning: this post may set a new length record. Yet I am fascinated by the unlikely combination of luck, circumstance, almosts, rejections and accidents that has brought to life such incredible horses, each with a tale more impossible than the last! I have summarized, but you can learn more at the amazing tbheritage.com.
Mild-mannered and lazy, Hyperion nonetheless left his challengers in the dust in races both short and long. He retired to the Derby Stud and was Leading Sire six times and twice Leading Broodmare Sire. At one point, Lord Derby was offered a blank check for him by Louis B. Mayer (of MGM fame), which was turned down with the response, "Even though England be reduced to ashes, Hyperion shall never leave these shores." He later foundered and was euthanized around age 30 at the Woodlands Stud. To this day, you can see his preserved skeleton at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket and a life-sized statue stands in front of the Jockey Club offices there.
In 1883, the prince did perish of a heart attack while watching one of his horse's progeny win a race. Rushing to help the dying man was the Duke of Portland, who ended up buying a fat brown foal by Galopin. This unremarkable colt became St. Simon, one of Britain's greatest sires. Galopin himself was sold to Henry Chaplin, this time for 8000 guineas, that July and stood at Blankney Stud. He was a Leading Sire in 1888, 1889, and 1898 and a Leading Broodmare Sire in 1909 and 1910.
Phalaris: In the early 20th century, the Earl of Derby purchased a mare named Bromus at an estate dispersal. She was not an overwhelming champion, but her sire was a derby winner and her dam was a St. Simon daughter. In 1913, she gave birth to Phalaris, whose blood flowed back to the almost mythical Eclipse, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Darley Arabian. He raced for three years, winning 16 of 24 races, at which point he was offered for sale for 5000 pounds. No one wanted the merely moderately successful horse, so he went to live at Derby Stud, an act which created the most dominant sire line in Europe and the US. Four of his sons made lines including Nearco, Nasrullah, Royal Charger, Bold Ruler, Nashua, Raise A Native, Alydar, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Sadler's Wells -- the list goes on. Phalaris himself lived to be 18 years old, though his DNA is still alive today.
Ksar: The French were busy producing spectacular racehorses of their own, but the Great War was exacting a heavy toll on their breeding industry. There were few safe harbours, but one was in a quiet corner of Normandy, Haras de Saint-Pair du Mont. With three decades of experience producing champions, the owner bred the best filly of her generation, named Kizil Kourgan, to a top French colt named Bruleur. In 1918, Ksar was foaled, with a graceful head atop "clodhopper feet and sickle hocks," and was sold as a yearling. This unlikely colt won 11 of 15 races and made the equivalent of $250,000, making him the world's richest horse. He took up stud at Haras de Jardy and was French Leading Sire in 1931.
Blandford: Since we're immersed in WWI, let's talk about Col. William Hall-Walker and his Tully Stud in Kildare, Ireland. The Colonel used astrology to determine if the horses he bred would amount to anything worth keeping, reading their horoscope at birth and selling those who did not appear promising. While not always correct, "even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while." This particular hog felt an essential need to improve his nation's cavalry and gave the British government $370,000 worth of thoroughbred breeding stock. In return, the country purchased Tully Stud and his Wiltshire training farm for $325,000 and named the man Lord Wavertree. Thus began the National Stud for Great Britain. In 1943, the Stud moved to England and in 1945, the Tully property became the Irish National Stud. But I digress...
|Mahmoud at the Epsom Derby.|
Mumtaz Begum: That Blenheim filly above, foaled in 1932 in France, turned out to have something of her own to offer. Although she only raced as a two year old, she made her mark on the racing world when, of her ten foals, one was sired by the already famous Catnip son, Nearco, a match made in Ireland by the Aga Khan III. In 1940, Mumtaz Begum gave us Nasrullah. Due to his unpredictable and rather lazy temperament, after standing for seven years in the UK, owned by Brownstone Stud in County Kildare, he was then sold to Claiborne Farm in the US in 1951. This opinionated son was Leading Sire five times in the US and sired Never Say Die, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Never Bend, Red God and many other premier stallions, stamping the legacy of his grandmother on the Thoroughbred breed.