Was there a more handsome horse than Dullahan?
The big, brawny chestnut son of Even the Score sported a dramatic blaze down his face, and that marking combined with the colt's presence and sense of himself to make Dullahan a striking animal as he galloped or raced across America.
For in an age when too many horses show a whiff of form and then disappear, Dullahan went coast to coast and around the world, taking on the heavy heads in race after race. At 2 and 3, he won at the highest level and defeated some of the best horses in training when he won his major stakes.
But then, he was supposed to be good.
Bred in Kentucky by Kentucky by Phil Needham, Judy Needham, and Bena Halecky, Dullahan was out of the Smart Strike mare Mining My Own. That made the well-grown chestnut a half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird (by Birdstone).
Those pedigree credentials, combined with the colt's physical presence, made him a major attraction among the yearlings in 2010. At that year's Keeneland September sale, Jerry Crawford bought the colt on behalf of Donegal Racing for $250,000 from consignor Bona Terra Stud, agent.
The big and scopey colt won his fifth start, and that maiden victory came in the 2011 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. A winner in only three of his 18 starts, Dullahan made each victory count.
Every race Dullahan won was a G1.
Dullahan's second G1 was the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in 2012 over 2011 champion juvenile colt Hansen, and the chestnut's third was Del Mar's Pacific Classic at the expense of mighty Game on Dude, who is likely to be the favorite for this year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
Dullahan did not come back to that form in his racing this year, and his retirement was noted with disappointment last week. What, then, the response to the shocking news of the 4-year-old colt's death on Sunday, Oct. 20, after an acute attack of colic sent Dullahan into surgery, which he did not survive?
As a grandson of Unbridled's Song and great-grandson of champion Unbridled out of a mare by leading sire Smart Strike, Dullahan would have been a stallion prospect of significance. So his loss as breeding stock is noteworthy.
This loss of Dullahan also emphasizes another point about his crop of racers. The leaders of that set were Hansen (Breeders' Cup Juvenile and champion 2-year-old colt), I'll Have Another (Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes; champion 3-year-old colt), Union Rags (Belmont Stakes), Bodemeister (G1 winner, second in the Derby and Preakness), Paynter (G1 Haskell and second in the Belmont Stakes), and Dullahan (three G1s and third in the Kentucky Derby).
Multiple classic winner I'll Have Another was sold to stand at stud in Japan. After only a single covering season in Kentucky, Hansen was sold to stand in Korea in a deal announced this month, and now Dullahan is dead.
Of this mighty half-dozen, only two are at stud in the States. Union Rags, a massive bay of striking proportions and demeanor, is at stud at Lane's End, and Bodemeister, one of two G1-winning sons of Empire Maker at stud in Kentucky, is at WinStar. Paynter alone remains in training, and even he had a menacing brush with death due to colic and reported laminitis.
Paynter and Dullahan pointedly remind us that every animal's life hangs by a delicate balance.
As admirers of excellence in the Thoroughbred as shown by form and performance, we fans and breeders and observers of the sport are custodians of the breed in each of our roles. And the Thoroughbred breed cannot remain at an optimum level and replenish the racing stables of the country with the same number of elite performers without the best bloodstock of each generation.
Therefore, it is more than troubling to see the diminishment of our breeding pool as already half of the creme de la creme of the racing crop of 2011-'12 are gone. This is not the way to build a breed and renew a sport.
To do that, we must have the best bloodstock and breed the best athletes who can then stand athwart the world like titans.
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.
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