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We Are Flying Solo

February 19, 2013

TB Story Time!

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 & 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) & 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 & 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

Hyperion:  Weaned late in 1930 & showing little growth, he was left behind at the stud when his cohorts went off to train near Liverpool.  His diminutive size required a custom built feed box & he was nearly gelded because of his stunted body.

All he had on his side was his blood (sired by Gainsborough, a Triple Crown winner & the best sire of his time, out of a dam who was not only fast, but became a legendary broodmare) and the fact that his trainer had fallen for him, "remarking that he was the most beautifully made little horse he had ever seen & would undoubtedly win the Pony Derby."  The colt only ever reached 15.1 & a half hands, but had a huge girth & 7.5 inches of cannon bone.

Mild-mannered & lazy, Hyperion nonetheless left his challengers in the dust in races both short & long.  He retired to the Derby Stud & was Leading Sire six times & 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 & 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 & a life-sized statue stands in front of the Jockey Club offices there.

Galopin:  In 1873, this unremarkable yearling was offered as part of a lot in an annual yearling sale at Middle Park Stud.  Purchased for all of 520 guineas by wealthy Hungarian immigrant, sports fanatic, ex-jockey, & stud owner, Prince Gustavus Batthyany, Galopin was sent to train with John Dawson, who handled many of the prince's racers.  The horse won most of his races easily, only losing once due to severe bumping during the start.

He was entered in a high stakes Derby, but the night before the race, the colt became very ill.  His trainer was afraid to tell the prince, who had severe heart trouble, for fear the news would kill him.  He spent the night with the horse, wrapped in blankets and the next day, Galopin came out & won, barely trying.

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 & stood at Blankney Stud.  He was a Leading Sire in 1888, 1889, & 1898 and a Leading Broodmare Sire in 1909 & 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 & 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, & 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 & 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.  

Catnip:  During WWI, horse prices were low & Federico Tesio, the owner of Dormello Stud (producer of Nearco & Ribot), snapped up a filly on an estate consignment from Ireland for 75 guineas.  Her name was Catnip (how could I resist that?) and though she would try Tesio's patience, it proved worthwhile.

In 1918, she bore a filly named Nera Di Bicci who created a dynasty of her own, but Catnip was then barren from 1920-1922 & 1924-1927.  But in 1928, ten years later, she gave Tesio Nogara, a filly whom he would later describe as "small, elegant, light, magnificent hocks, magnificent action; top class from six furlongs to a mile."

He wanted to breed the filly to the stallion Fairway, but Nogara was denied admission to his book & was covered instead by his brother, Pharos.  The colt was Nearco (another of Encore's ancestors) & I think we know what became of him!

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," & was sold as a yearling.  This unlikely colt won 11 of 15 races & made the equivalent of $250,000, making him the world's richest horse.  He took up stud at Haras de Jardy & was French Leading Sire in 1931.

Ksar d'Espirit
When he was 17, an American breeder purchased & shipped Ksar to Montana Hill Stud in Virginia.  The ocean crossing was not smooth & the horse was very ill upon arrival.  He only sired two foal crops after that & although none excelled as racehorses, daughters produced a winner of Paris' Grand Steeple-Chase & stakes 'chase winners Quiet and Pontius Pilate.

Another daughter gave birth to Ksar d'Espirit...none other than Bill Steinkraus' silver medal show jumping partner on the 1960 US Olympic Team.  In 1937, the stallion died of internal hemorrhage & was buried under a monument to his great legacy.

Blandford:  Since we're immersed in WWI, let's talk about Col. William Hall-Walker & 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 & 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 & gave the British government $370,000 worth of thoroughbred breeding stock.  In return, the country purchased Tully Stud & his Wiltshire training farm for $325,000 & named the man Lord Wavertree.  Thus began the National Stud for Great Britain.  In 1943, the Stud moved to England & in 1945, the Tully property became the Irish National Stud.  But I digress...

In the spring of 1919, this new Stud witnessed the birth of a classy brown colt with a white star & big body perched on short pasterns.  When Blandford was a yearling, carthorses broke into his paddock, knocked him down, & trampled him.  He escaped intact, but was severely bruised and developed pneumonia.

The Stud director found him so sorry-looking that he offered the colt for free to their vet to remove the horse from the premesis.  The vet declined the dubious offer, even though Blandford recovered enough to sell at the 1920 Newmarket December Sale to Sam & Richard Dawson.  The young horse returned to Ireland & was standing well at stud until a new Irish government rose in 1932 & began an economic war with England which included a cripplingly high travel tax on broodmares visiting Ireland.

His owners decided to move him to their training farm in Berkshire, a decision which proved lucrative indeed.  Blandford became the truest source for stamina for classic races, siring four Epsom Derby winners, winning three sire championships & making his mark as one of the most elite sires in history, placed alongside Danzig & Mr. Prospector.

Blenheim:  Richard  Dawson already knew what he had in Blandford.  It's no surprise then, when his son, Blenheim, came up for 4,100 guineas at a yearling sale, Dawson purchased him for the Aga Khan & took him in to training in Berkshire.

Blenheim matured to 15.3 & strongly resembled his father, bringing both speed & stamina to the table, although he tended to be high strung.  He was retired from racing after a tendon injury while training for the Eclipse Stakes & moved to stud in France at the Aga Khan's Haras de Marly la Ville.

In 1936, he was purchased for $225,000 & exported to the US (where he was known as Blenheim II) by a high-powered syndicate made up of Calumet Farm, Claiborne Farm, J.H. Whitney's Greentree Stud, Stoner Creek Stud, Fairholme Farm, Mrs. Thomas Somerville, & William DuPont.  Already proven in Europe (his son Mahmoud won the English Derby), he was an immediate success standing here at Claiborne as his first year produced the Triple Crown winner Whirlaway.

He later also sired Jet Pilot, another Derby champion, & 58 other stakes winners & was Leading Sire in 1941.  His powerful hindquarters were passed down as a trademark of his male line through his grandson, Nasrullah, percolating through Bold Ruler & Secretariat.

His daughters became part of the foundation of Calumet's wild success, as the Farm owned 25% of his syndicate.  He died at the ripe age of 31 & is buried in Claiborne's stallion cemetery.

Mahmoud at the Epsom Derby.
Mahmoud:  From father to son to son.  Mahmoud was born in France, trained in Britain & in 1935 was named the second best colt of his generation.  Surprising, considering he was labeled "surplus" as a yearling, put up for auction, & failing to sell, was raced by the Aga Khan.

He set an Epsom Derby record in 1936 that stood for 59 years.  He too was exported for 20,000 guineas in 1940 to Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney's stud in Kentucky.  He was Leading Sire in 1946, having produced 70 stakes winners, & Leading Broodmare Sire in 1957.  He died on the stud farm at 29 & is buried on the property, which is now part of Gainesway Farm.

Mumtaz Mahal
Mumtaz Mahal:  This filly was only born because the owner of her sire, The Tetrarch, saw him outrun a deer in his pasture & decided against gelding him.  She was purchased for the Aga Khan in 1922 for 9,100 guineas.  The grey filly set a course record for five furlongs & earned her "Flying Filly" nickname over her year and a half career.

She gave birth to nine foals, the most famous of which is by Blenheim himself, & the resulting filly's 3/4 brother sired the dam of the famed My Babu.  She has three crosses in the pedigree of the famous sire, Pleasant Colony & stands out in the lines of many other elite Thoroughbreds.

When the German army commandeered the Aga Khan's horses during their invasion of France, she was the only mare left behind, perhaps due to her age.  She lived out her 24 years at the Haras de Marly la Ville & died in February of 1945.

 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 & 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 & sired Never Say Die, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Never Bend, Red God & many other premier stallions, stamping the legacy of his grandmother on the Thoroughbred breed.

Red God
Red God:  Bred by Cain Hoy Stables, sired by Nasrullah & foaled in Kentucky, Red God was born the same year as Bold Ruler, Gallant Man & Round Table at Claiborne.  He was sent to run in England, but was then brought back to the US to run the Triple Crown in 1957.

Unfortunately, he was injured & in 1960 he was shipped back to County Kildare in Ireland to stand at Loughton Stud.  He sired ten stakes winners who earned over one million pounds.  Perhaps best known for his son, Blushing Groom (named one of the great international sires of the 20th century), Red God also sired Crafty Admiral, who was the broodmare sire to Affirmed, & his grand-daughter gave birth to a horse called Danzig.

Red God's portion of the Nasrullah line is one of the few to remain strong among the swamping of Thoroughbred genetic diversity by Northern Dancer/Raise A Native blood.


  1. I LOVED going through Yanks pedigree and looking at all the famous ponies. It was really cool to trace the lineage, look up their race stats, etc. Cool post!

  2. It's like a treasure hunt, isn't it??

  3. I'll admit to spending many an hour on my mare's pedigree.

    I was lucky enough to be in Ireland last year during Cheltenham, and even got to do pre race procedures on some of the horses shipping over to run. The racing culture there is just so different - the whole country is in on it.

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  9. Hahaha, Megs, you got really excited! Lucky you to get to visit, I would love to get up close and personal with those amazing horses!

  10. TB pedigree's are interesting. Super Kid is a warmblood\lippizan\welsh cob cross, and THAT is an interesting pedigree to go through

  11. Thoroughly (ar, ar) enjoyed all of this! I have heard of nearly all of these horses, but didn't know much about some. You did a super job researching and writing this up! Nicely done. :-) And yes, your boy does indeed have an illustrious pedigree. A lot of people SAY their horse does, but Encore undoubtedly is truly blue-blooded!

  12. Thanks, RW, he certainly does carry a lot of old and illustrious blood. I wondered for a while why he was gelded, but he was not a stakes horse and only won $80K, which I suppose is not that much for a racehorse and even as a sporthorse, while I think he is sexy as hell, he is not a 10 mover and I don't really see Rolex in his future, ha! The saying is true that a horse who would be a moderate stallion is much better off being a GREAT gelding.

    I do hope that there are some half or full brothers of his intact, because his sire passed away very young and I would hate to see that blood go away!