Inside Straight (by Super Saver) won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap over the weekend. It was neither the most important race, nor the most impressive performance of the weekend, but Inside Straight has a pedigree with some exceptional distinctions, as well as a nearly universal commonality.
The great majority of all the top-tier racehorses today descend from a single male line, that of Lord Derby's extraordinary stallion Phalaris. Born just over a century ago in 1913, Phalaris was a dark brown son of the good stallion Polymelus out of the mare Bromus. On the racecourse, Phalaris was a horse of high speed and immense strength, but at stud he was a miracle.
Phalaris sired horses of such speed, combined with reasonable stamina, that he got top juveniles, classic winners, and outstanding older horses. The success of his racing stock made him the leading sire in England, home to the most competitive breeding and racing in the world a century ago.
The single thing that has set apart Phalaris from all the other great English sires – Saint Simon, Swynford, and Hyperion, for instance – is that the sons of Phalaris spread that success around the world, and the sons and grandsons carried on.
Through the male line, in particular, the descendants of Phalaris have covered the world, and the two primary branches of this overachieving line of stallions come to us through Northern Dancer and his broodmare sire Native Dancer.
The latter stallion is a point of great interest.
Beaten only once, by Dark Star in the 1953 Kentucky Derby, Native Dancer was a gray goliath. By the high-class sprinter-miler Polynesian (Unbreakable), who also won the Preakness Stakes, Native Dancer was out of the gray Discovery mare Geisha. The 1954 Horse of the Year as a 4-year-old, Native Dancer was the only stakes winner out of Geisha, but he wasn't a good horse.
Native Dancer was a great one.
Champion at 2, 3, and 4, Native Dancer towered over his contemporaries, and of all the horses racing at the same time, only Tom Fool, who was a champion at 4 and unbeaten in 1953, was considered a serious challenger for Alfred Vanderbilt's great gray.
The two never met.
That is a peculiar irony because they descend from full brothers. Native Dancer is a great-grandson of the imported stallion Sickle, and Tom Fool is a grandson of the imported stallion Pharamond.
Bred in England by Lord Derby, Sickle and Pharamond were both sons of Phalaris and out of the great broodmare Selene (Chaucer), thus half-brothers to Lord Derby's great champion racer and sire Hyperion.
Both full brothers were considered surplus to the needs of Lord Derby's stud, like nearly all colts. Sickle sold to Joseph Widener and went to stand at Elmendorf Stud in Kentucky, and Hal Price Headley bought Pharamond to stand at his Beaumont Farm, just south of Lexington.
Sickle was a year older and became a quicker success at stud, but both were important sires. Pharamond, however, sired the best son: Menow. A really fast, ruggedly made individual, Menow was out of Headley's wonderful broodmare Alcibiades (for whom the stakes is named), and he became a really good sire.
For a time, it appeared that Pharamond might be the one to breed on in the male line more strongly than Sickle, but Menow's classic-winning son Capot was virtually sterile (15 foals), although Tom Fool was a very serious stallion who sired Horse of the Year Buckpasser and other good horses.
Native Dancer, however, changed everything for the fortunes of the Sickle branch of Phalaris.
In Europe through Atan (Sharpen Up and his sons Kris and Diesis) and Dan Cupid (Sea-Bird), Native Dancer has played a key role in stallions with speed and classic potential, and at home in the States, the gray superhorse has become an exceptional influence, primarily through Raise a Native and his son Mr. Prospector, but also through Alydar, Exclusive Native, and numerous others, including Kentucky Derby winner Majestic Prince, the male-line connection for Inside Straight.
Then also as the broodmare sire of good horses, most prominently Northern Dancer, Native Dancer has proliferated through pedigrees to the extent that it is not common to find one without him, and many have multiple presences.
Inside Straight has seven crosses of Native Dancer, which would be one of the stronger pedigrees in that regard. Since he is a gelding, Inside Straight will not be changing the history of breeding, but he is a reminder of the heavily muscled gray and all he did for racing and breeding.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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