By Frank Mitchell
Memorial Day is an appropriate time to think of the heritage of sport and courage that lies in the pedigrees of our horses. In the claimer, as well as the classic horse, lie traces of the greatest racers of past years.
Lack of immediate exposure of past champions as a sire or broodmare sire moves a horse out of the limelight of general appreciation. Even the most famous of early 20th century racers, Man o' War, is frequently thought extinct or “lost” from the gene pool of the modern horse. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Man o' War, along with several of his important sons and daughters, is present in virtually all American pedigrees today.
In the male line, that most tenuous line of contact, Man o' War is largely represented only through his son War Relic with his descendants In Reality, Relaunch, Skywalker, Bertrando, Officer, and others.
But a broader view of pedigrees opens up vast lines of connection to Man o' War and his many high-class offspring. To an uncommon degree, Man o' War was able to reproduce his own outstanding ability in succeeding generations of racehorses for the benefit of racing fans. The great racer sired 64 stakes winners, which was 17 percent of his foals.
A leading broodmare sire himself, Man o' War had many important daughters, as well as good sons.
His best son on the racetrack and at stud was Triple Crown winner War Admiral. Although the loser to Seabiscuit in their famous match, War Admiral was a top-class stallion, but Seabiscuit (a grandson of Man o' War through his son Hard Tack) had little success.
Even so, War Admiral was a better sire of fillies, overall, than of colts. He sired Horse of the Year Busher, as well as Suburban Handicap and Alabama winner Busanda. The latter continued the influence of her sire at the top level by producing Horse of the Year Buckpasser, as well as Futurity Stakes winner Bupers.
Other top-class sons of Man o' War included the Belmont Stakes winners Crusader and American Flag. With 18 victories, Crusader had the better race record, as that big, rangy son of Man o' War won not only the Belmont but also the Suburban Handicap twice, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Dwyer. American Flag was likewise the leading 3-year-old colt of his year (1925), but his major victories that season included only the Belmont, Dwyer, and Withers.
Still, their performances and pedigrees were easily enough to get them space at stud, even in the much less commercial atmosphere of the sport in the 1920s.
Both were bred, raced, and managed by Man o' War's owner Samuel Riddle. He gave both a reasonable chance at stud.
Although Crusader was just fair as a stallion, his compatriot American Flag was much better, siring 9 percent stakes winners from his foals.
American Flag's best daughter was the high-class filly Nellie Flag, winner of the Selima, Matron, and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. His best son was Gusto, winner of the American Derby and the Jockey Club Gold Cup who died at 6.
As a broodmare for Calumet Farm, Nellie Flag was even better at stud than she proved as a racehorse. The mare produced three stakes winners: champion Mar-Kell (Spinaway and Beldame), Nellie L. (Kentucky Oaks, Acorn Stakes), and Sunshine Nell (Barbara Fritchie and Top Flight handicaps).
This became one of Calumet's most famous and successful families and is also the family of Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Bold Forbes, whose second dam is Nellie L.
Even some of American Flag's daughters who did not shine on the racetrack became good broodmares, and the one who has had the most effect in making her sire an omnipresent name in American pedigrees is the unraced Lady Glory, who was foaled in 1934. As a broodmare, Lady Glory produced nine winners from 10 foals to race, including the stakes winners Mr. Ace and Raise You. The latter won the Colleen and Polly Drummond stakes.
As a broodmare, Raise You produced two stakes winners and four stakes-placed horses.
The one who mattered most at the time and who matters so much to breeding today is Raise a Native.
The big, red chestnut son of Native Dancer was unbeaten in four starts and made history as a sire of racehorses and breeding stock.
Through Raise a Native and many other lines, the American Flags will wave for many generations to come.
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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