The world of racing is as well served in its intellectual contributors as any business in the world (if not better so), and we all have our favourites. Bill Oppenheim is the best commentator on sales and the stallion business known to us, Andrew Caulfield is an excellent pedigree analyst, and the man who pricks our fancy most of all when it comes to family matters, because he has a deep-seated passion and arguably one of the most attractive styles anywhere, is Tony Morris.
While this is quite a long story, his piece in the European Bloodstock News last week needs publishing. Read it; you’ll love it.
EARLY RETIREMENT NO BAR TO SUCCESS
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, they say, and the annals of Thoroughbred breeding provide plenty of examples to illustrate the truth of the old maxim.
Was it really a fact that the Godolphin Arabiangot to cover Roxana only because another stallion, Hobgoblin, for some reason did not fancy her? If the tale is not true, it ought to be, and I prefer to believe it. But for that mating, which resulted in the top class runner Lath, the Godolphin may never have become what we now know he was, namely, the most important horse ever imported to England.
Nearer our own time we know for certain that the only reason that Natalmawas covered in 1960 was the injury that ended her racing career shortly before she had been due to contest the Kentucky Oaks. She was sent to Nearcticsimply because her owner had that young stallion at home, and she was just the sort of well-bred mare who might help to promote him.
The result of that mating was, of course, Northern Dancer, and now that he has become almost ubiquitousin pedigrees throughout the world, we have to think thatthe damage to his mother’s knee, considered calamitousat the time, was both fortuitous and timely. It was a keymoment in the development of the breed.
Hibaayeb, whose status was upgraded from maiden to Group 1 winner by virtue of her success in Ascot’s Fillies’ Mile on Saturday, is one of countless top-level performers with a pedigree in which Northern Dancer is doubly represented – in her case at the fourth generation through her sire’s paternal grandsire, Sadler’s Wells, and her dam’s maternal grandsire, Fabulous Dancer.
But another apparently ill wind that blew plenty of good is to be found in the filly’s tail-female line. In the normal course of events there would have been no mating in 1966 to result in the production of her fourth dam, Oh So Fair.
These days we do not often encounter the name of Graustark in pedigrees, and we do not even see much of his illustrious sire, the unbeaten and unbeatable Ribot, except in the descendants of Danehill, whose dam Razyana, ironically, was by Graustark’s far inferior full brother, His Majesty.
Ribot’s male line has been in eclipse for a while now, but that development was scarcely imaginable in the 1960’s and early 1970s, when he twice headed the sires’ table here and was routinely prominent in the North American list. He had an exceptional performer in Molvedo in his first crop, and a string of celebrities followed, among them Romulus, Ragusa, Prince Royal, Tom Rolfe, Ribocco, Ribero, Arts and Letters, Ribofilio and Boucher – all of them Classic winners or of Classic caliber.
Nobody could have guessed that, of those top-class sons, only Tom Rolfe would establish a branch of the male line – through Hoist the Flag – and that even that would seemingly be heading for oblivion within a couple of generations. And for some time there was another son, who, while he did not have the chance to fulfill apparently enormous potential at the track, was held in the highest regard as an athlete and afforded excellent opportunities at stud. He certainly had his moments as a sire, only to earn notoriety as a woeful sire of sires.
That horse was Graustark, and he was decidedly different from the vast majority of the Ribot production line. Most were hard bays and not precocious but, given time, were capable of top-class form over middle distances; essentially, they were stayers with a turn of foot.
Of the nine named above, two (Molvedo and Prince Royal) won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and four (Ragusa, Ribocco, Ribero and Boucher) won the St Leger. Tom Rolfe was a middle-distance performer, proficient on both dirt and grass, while Arts and Letters won at the top level from a mile (Metropolitan Handicap) to two miles (Jockey Club Gold Cup), with the mile and a half Belmont Stakes in between.
Ribofilio was notorious for being the beaten favourite in four Classics but he basically conformed to type, and really ought to have won the St Leger. Romulus was the odd man out, a miler who finished second in the 2,000 Guineas, but was later successful in the Sussex Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Prix du Moulin de Longchamp.
Graustark, a chestnut whose only marking was a faint star, was different again from Romulus – a flying machine from the outset whose morning work so excited the clockers that he started at odds of 1-5 on his debut. Next time out his victory was taken for granted, and no betting was allowed. His third run at two came in the Arch Ward Stakes at Arlington Park, and the supposedly tougher competition gave him no trouble; he trotted up by six lengths. But he came out of the race with sore shins and was not seen in action again until the new year.
Meanwhile he was named second-best of his crop on the Experimental Handicap, 2lb below Buckpasser.
In the spring of 1966, Braulio Baeza, regular rider of both Graustark and Buckpasser, declared the former to be the best three-year-old he had ever ridden. Who knows whether he was right?
In fact, things soon went wrong for the pair of them. Buckpasser picked up a quarter crack that prevented his starting in any of the Triple Crown events, but he did come back to dominate the rest of the season, winding up as champion three-year-old and Horse of the Year.
Graustark also failed to make the Triple Crown for, having extended his unbeaten sequence to seven and gone into the Blue Grass Stakes as hot favourite for the Kentucky Derby, he came out of it second by a nose to Abe’sHope, and with a branch fracture of the coffin bone that brought his career to an abrupt and premature end.
Graustark stood 16.3 hands and was never entirely sound, but such was his reputation that he was promptly syndicated for stud duty at a world record valuation of $2,400,000. The price suggested that many saw him as a colt unluckily deprived of Triple Crown glory.
In the normal course of events, Graustark would have retired to Darby Dan Farm in 1967 or perhaps even 1968, but that hefty syndication price meant insurance implications, so when fit enough to cover after recuperation from his injury, he was given a couple of test mares to establish his fertility.
One of the mares selected for that purpose was the impeccably bred Chandelle, a daughter of Swaps out of Nasrullah’s full sister Malindi, and the outcome was the bay filly Oh So Fair, who won a ten-furlong maiden at Phoenix Park on her third and final start, having twice finished second as a juvenile.
That, of course, was no big deal, but at stud Oh So Fair produced a string of winners, beginning with the four-times Pattern winner Roussalka (Habitat) and peaking with Oh So Sharp (Kris), the last heroine of England’s distaff Triple Crown. There were also a couple of full sisters to Roussalka, one being the 1,000 Guineas runner-up Our Home and the other unraced Oh So Hot.
Roussalka was to become the third dam of Guineas heroine Ameerat (Mark of Esteem), while Oh So Sharp earned distinction as dam of Rosefinch (Blushing Groom), winner of a Prix Saint-Alary, and grand-dam of St Leger victor Shantou (Alleged).
Now Oh So Hot earns recognition as third dam of Hibaayeb, the latest prominent runner to emerge from a potent family branch which would not have existed, but for an event which seemed catastrophic when it occurred.