PART ONE: WHAT MAKES A GOOD PEDIGREE: A FEW NOTES
About 25 years ago, a man who went by the nickname of “Maestro” used to be part of the TBA’s yearling inspection panel. In his other life, he lived by the name Terrance Millard, one of the greatest of all South African trainers. In the aftermath of the inspection, over a couple of tots of Johnny Walker, we got onto the subject of pedigree, and the maestro revealed that in his life, an issue that had taxed him as much as anything, was the question of what constituted a good pedigree.
After more than 50 years in the game, this astute student, by now turned professor, concluded that a good pedigree belonged to a good horse. The conversation reached that point while conjecturing about one of the great South African stallions of all time, Foveros, who had little to recommend him from a pedigree perspective, yet was just about as good a stallion as had drawn breath in the annals of South African breeding. Foveros’ father, Averof, had failed in England, was banished from Australia, and pretty much failed again in South Africa. Yet he left behind in England, as much as an exception as anything else, a horse of the class of Foveros, whose greatest moment came in the St James’s Palace Stakes (Gr.1) at Royal Ascot, where he chased home the European Champion Miler of that year, Kris, a notable stallion in his own right.
If my memory serves me correctly, his own racing record was almost as much as was worth mentioning about Foveros’ pedigree. The first three removes of his female line included only one small Black type female, and little else besides Foveros, yet at stud in South Africa, in a world in which the standard of greatness is conferred on those with 10% Stakes winners to foals, Foveros yielded no fewer than 13%. His harvest was made all the more remarkable by the fact that in his early years, he was supported almost solely by the stud that stood him and his owners, World Motorcycle Champion Jim Redman and Brian Moore, with mares that would’ve been culls in just about anybody else’s broodmare band. I well remember these fellows buying up the R2 000 and R3 000 “whippets” at the broodmare sales, and from these, in his first crop, came the likes of Singing Boy, Enforce, Aquanaut, etc.
PART TWO: SO WHAT MAKES A GOOD PEDIGREE?
The conventional view, because it’s the way we’ve grown up, and the easiest and most tempting, is to simply look at the catalogue page, where significant reliance is placed on Black type performers in the tail female line. The reason we resort to this means of evaluating a pedigree is purely a matter of conditioning, because that’s the most common form in which pedigrees are displayed. The result is that an inordinate amount of money, usually concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest, chases after an inordinately small group of well related horses whose immediate families number reams of Black type winners, and while that’s understandable because the history of the family tells us this is a successful breeding family, it remains precisely that: history. What’s happened in the past is what’s happened, yet we also know that in pedigree terms, some of the best families have run off into obscurity just as quickly as the lesser ones do, diluted most times by the ignorance or misjudgment of the hands they end up in, and often enough by the pursuit of fashion at the expense of all else, in the selection of the stallion to which a particular mare is sent.
The pages of sales catalogues the world over are littered with examples of female families that have gone “wrong” through injudicious breeding, often enough on account of an obsession on the part of players who chase fashion as the sole consideration in their attempt to breed a good racehorse, and regularly enough, with fatal or flawed results, at considerable expense to their own bottom lines. The short-term response to such an approach, if you happen to be lucky, is that you may see the financial outcome you envisaged in the first place, but more often than not, the outcome disappoints, and the breeder, after just a few, and for those with long-suffering appetites, many years, disappears from our ranks.
PART THREE: WHAT MAKES A GOOD PEDIGREE? THE SUMMERHILL APPROACH
At Summerhill, we look at pedigrees entirely differently, and here I should acknowledge the lessons we learnt on our earliest “sorties” to the Tattersall’s December sales. My brother, Pat and I were fortunate in those days to have known both Brigadier Scott and Colonel Hastings, successive chairmen of the world’s greatest bloodstock agency of its time, the BBA, where breakfasts and dinners at their social headquarters, Byculla, were intimate affairs among some of the world’s greatest horsemen. On any evening around the meal table might be gathered not only these two gentlemen, but the legendary likes of Sir Philip Payne-Gallwey, Christo Phillipson, Joss Collins, Teddy Beckett (now Lord Grimthorpe, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s bloodstock chief,) the famous Australian trainer, Colin Hayes, Alec Head, the doyen of French breeders and trainers, and from as far afield as India, the Champion breeder of his era, Pradeep Mera. Discussions were often intense, but never dull. I should add this is also where we first met Angus Gold, then an “appie” bloodstocker, now Sheikh Hamdan’s bloodstock and racing manager, and a mainstay in Summerhill’s relationship with Dubai’s rulers.
The one thing that always emerged was the British reverence for “type” in the racehorse, and in the case of Scott and Hastings, they never cared terribly much for the catalogue page, other than to the degree that it showed the genetic complexity of the animal, rather than the number of high performing individuals in it. Of course, if the client was Stavros Niarchos, whose pocket was as deep as the ocean his ships traversed, then the number of quality performers in the immediate removes mattered, because there were millions of Pounds on the table, but when it came to dealing with people like ourselves, whose budgets were distinctly measured, there were other considerations. And thank heavens this was the case, because it made us look harder and work harder when it came to our selections, and it gave us something of a small chance.
In a manner of speaking, and largely because of budgetary constraints, we were forced to approach the sales in much the way that most revered of Italian breeders, Senor Tesio had done decades before, and that was to get the best value for our limited money.
For us, we had to seek out a pedigree, which for all its attractive components, had somehow inexplicably failed, often enough because the rich man with less at stake in relative terms, may have sent a female family down a blind alley in pursuit of fashion, and so, while there could well have been a rich endowment of quality animals in the pedigree, the performance of the family in that man’s hands, often left the cupboard relatively bare. Always in our thoughts though, was the need to buy a good individual, with the physical attributes to produce an athlete.
In other words, without regard for the “type” of horse such a mating was likely to produce, he might’ve sent his mare, by the top stallion of his time, say Mill Reef, to a stallion of equal racing and possibly even breeding merit, irrespective as to whether the mare suited the stallion physically, temperamentally, in terms of courage, durability, speed etc. This practice is generally repeated more than once, and so, while there may be a vortex of quality animals built up in the pedigree, there was little to write home about in the outcomes. It’s difficult enough, even with the best tools at your disposal, to get this business right, but when your criteria is just a matter of fashion, the chances are, you’re going to get it wrong. We’ve been to this school ourselves with our resident stallion, the late great Northern Guest, when we accepted mares from anyone with the money, at considerable cost to the breeder and his mare (and in the end, to the stallion himself.) Most times, the mares were full of virtues, but the reality is, Northern Guest needed specific selection in his mates, and this was often times discarded in favour of fashion.
And so, while such a female family may appear to be in decline, here was a chance for breeders like ourselves to exploit the opportunities presented by the genetic potential in the pedigree, through the judicious selection of a quality mate. Importantly, it was a gap for the acquisition of the prospective mare for less money than her potential might otherwise have suggested.
Summerhill’s history is littered with examples of mares which were not the obvious ones at first glance, and who’ve gone on to breed the very horses that’ve have taken us to our Breeders’ Championships. While we made enough mistakes in the process, the reality is in black and white. There’ve been enough good horses accruing from the collective efforts of those that fashion our foals and hence our racehorses, to suggest they’re onto something, and it’s a tribute not only to their intellect, but also to their powers of observation, and their natural instincts as stockmen.
Equally, when the Maktoum family first offered to help us as a nation as long ago as 1990, the one thing we settled on immediately was that, in our stallion selection, racing class would be as important an ingredient as any. After all, this is a running game, not a fashion show, and more frequently than not, runners breed runners, and any man that believes you can get the job done solely on the strength of a computer, has still to pay his “school fees”.
PART FOUR: WHAT MAKES A GOOD PEDIGREE? JET MASTER IS EXEMPLARY
In our earlier discussion on our own experiences and Terrance Millard’s definition of “what makes a good pedigree?”, we talked about Foveros and his great deeds as a racehorse and sire. There is no greater living example of a local horse come “good” than our present stallion sensation, Jet Master.
His origins were humble enough. His great granddam was a Summerhill resident, belonging to our erstwhile customer, the late Dickie Dunn. She was a mare called Let’s Laugh, a winner of five races carrying small Black type, and a daughter of the excellent stallion, Joy II. She more than earned her chance at stud, though Dickie, an independent man in his own right, had little time for fashion and sent his mares wherever he had invested his money. For example, he was a shareholder in both Volcanic (a Summerhill based son of Lyphard) and Jolly Drummer (a good sprinting son of champion sire, Drum Beat). Neither of these stallions were particularly successful, but Let’s Laugh did produce from her first union with Volcanic, a narrow loser of the Gr.1 Allan Robertson Fillies Championship in Pompeii, while a previous union with Jolly Drummer produced the very ordinary Jolly Laughter. This latter mare, the granddam of Jet Master, was thereafter sent to Chris Saunder’s good stallion Rollins, a mating which produced the dam of Jet Master himself, in the form of Jet Lightning.
By now, Jet Lightning was in the hands of a top class stockman, Hugh Jonsson whose family had lived briefly at Hartford while he was growing up, and it was Hugh who sent the mare to the admirable Rakeen, who at that time, was hardly the height of fashion, and stood for a lowly R5 000.
That the family was in no sort of demand commercially, was evident from the fact that Jet Master was sold as a weanling at the KZN Breeding Stock Sale for R15 000 (staged at Summerhill in those days), and that his mother was sold the next year, at the same sale for R10 000. The rest is history, and we now have on our hands a very modestly bred, but phenomenally successful stallion, in the form of Jet Master, previously the winner of eight Grade One races and a multiple Horse Of The Year. To illustrate our point, we’ve appended a copy of his pedigree, and we’ve highlighted in red the events that’ve occurred since Jet Master was born, so that readers can appreciate how forlorn the “paper” looked before his advent.
Click here to view Jet Master’s Pedigree.
As we’ve so often said, there’s a great deal more to breeding a good horse than following fashion. Anyone with the means can do that. But for those that don’t preside over a fortune in cash, there is still a chance. Summerhill was built on the need to get up earlier in the mornings, delving long and deep into the pool of genetic ingredients, and emerging, sometimes fortuitously, with a fistfull of jewels. Jet Master’s case gives us all, big and small, a bit of hope. You couldn’t beat “Harry O” in the boardroom, but you sure as hell could give him a go on Saturdays at Greyville.
Truth is, there are much easier ways of making a living, but there are none quite as rewarding as breeding a good racehorse.
Posted by Mick Goss