by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Frank Mitchell

The victory of Lady Shakespeare in the Grade 2 New York Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday reminds attentive breeders that the genes that create a successful racehorse – wherever it comes from – are the best indicators that the colt or filly is likely to be able to transmit similar traits to its offspring. In other words, good horses breed more good horses, and the best Thoroughbred statisticians, Joe Estes and David Dink, have proven this in study after study.

Lady Shirl, the dam of Lady Shakespeare, could run. She had a sturdy record of 19 victories from 41 starts and a bit more than $1 million in earnings. It's important in evaluating her produce record to note where she won and where she earned. She was a good racehorse, but on turf Lady Shirl was a really good racehorse.

On her preferred surface, Lady Shirl won 15 of 29 starts and earned more than 90 percent of her prize money.

So, it's no surprise that Grade 1 winner Lady Shirl has been a very good producer. From eight foals to race, Lady Shirl has seven winners, with three stakes winners and a stakes-placed winner among them.

Lady Shirl, however, did not start out as a producer with great expectations. She had too plebeian a pedigree to inspire much confidence in most breeders.

The daughter of the Hey Good Lookin stallion That's a Nice was the best offspring of her sire by a country mile and was the best offspring of her dam, the Native Heritage mare Canonization, by a similar margin. Nothing in her first two generations of pedigree could hold a light for Lady Shirl. She was vastly superior.

So, how did a top-flight racemare come from such ancestors? The simple answer is “a fortuitous recombination of genes.”

And when mated to the right stallions, especially the outstanding Nureyev horse Theatrical, Lady Shirl became a really good producer. Both her offspring by Theatrical are graded winners, and both showed their form on turf, which went perfectly with their mechanics and racing aptitudes.

When Lady Shirl went to auction in 2005, the combination of a proven producer in foal to the right stallion and tracing to a fabulous family proved too tempting for breeder-owner Chuck Fipke, who bought Lady Shirl carrying Lady Shakespeare.

When he looked at the pedigree of Lady Shirl, Fipke didn't worry about the intervening horses of middling ability. Instead, he saw Lady Shirl's fourth dam, Glamour. A foal of 1953, Glamour is by Nasrullah out of Striking, by War Admiral out of Baby League, by Bubbling Over out of La Troienne.

Yes, it's that family again. And Glamour is one of the reasons for its fame. She produced four stakes winners, including Poker (who actually beat Buckpasser on turf and is the broodmare sire of Seattle Slew) and Boucher (who won the St Leger).

Carrying a full sibling to Shakespeare, twice a Grade 1 winner, Lady Shirl was a pricey item at the sales. She brought $485,000 at the Keeneland November sale in 2005, with Jack Werk signing the ticket for Fipke, the luckiest man in the world when it comes to finding diamonds and good horses.

Sid Fernando is president of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, and owner-breeder Fipke is a longtime client of the company.

Fernando said, “Lady Shirl was purchased specifically to breed to Chuck's own stallion Perfect Soul, and like several other mares Fipke purchased, the foals they were carrying at the time have proven highly successful racehorses.”

Among the other top horses bred by Fipke are Not Bourbon, a Queen's Plate winner by Perfect Soul's full brother Not Impossible; Internallyflawless, by Giant's Causeway out of Tapatina; and Perfect Shower (Perfect Soul), winner of the Breeders Stakes, the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

In evaluating his rapport with Fipke, Fernando said that “Chuck is a throwback to an older style owner-breeder like Marcel Boussac or Lord Derby, breeding his own mares to his own stallions according to his own theories with no commercial consideration at all. Chuck makes the final decisions for all matings.

“I will only intervene with mating arrangements if something is totally off the wall, because Chuck pays me to offer my candid opinions,” Fernando continued. “It's a terrific relationship because Chuck finds such endless enjoyment in the game, beginning with breeding a horse, then racing, and finally hoping to breed and race others from his own successful stock. That's what made the history of the sport so great, as we've seen with great owner-breeder operations like the Phippses, Greentree, Paul Mellon, Elmendorf, Allaire duPont, the Wideners, and Alfred Vanderbilt.”

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 a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.

Copyright © 2010, Frank Mitchell

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