The big back story to the 2019 Epsom Derby was that 12 of the 13 runners were sons or grandsons of Galileo – and the 13th runner descended from his sire Sadlers Wells.
It seems to strike a killer blow for those believing in the superiority of certain male lines.
However, one cannot give Sadlers Wells 100% of the credit for Galileo.
After all, he had a dam, and an extraordinary one at that, in the form of the Arc-winning Urban Sea (also the dam of the sensational Sea The Stars). Technically, it’s a 50/50 contribution.
Oscar Foulkes writes that things get more interesting as one goes back another generation on the female side, via Urban Sea’s parents.
Her sire, Miswaki was US-bred, with a pedigree comprising some of the greatest names in the American Stud Book. Her dam, Allegretta, has a pedigree that couldn’t be more German if it tried. In the pedigree of Galileo we have to give equal value to his grandam Allegretta as his grandsire Northern Dancer.
For all the genetic research that has been undertaken, and all the tabulated pedigrees that have been compiled, there is more we don’t know than that which we know for certain.
My belief is that we underestimate the influence of dams’ contributions to stallions’ genes.
A case in point is the hugely important supporting role played by Shirley Heights, so often present in the pedigrees of classic horses through his daughters and grandaughters, despite comparatively limited representation.
That being the case, evidence points to us needing to take very seriously the impact of what one might call ‘the German influence’.
One of the objections I faced in 1988, when working on syndicating our stallion Comic Blush, was related to his German grandam.
I spoke until I was blue in the face about him being a top-class sprinting son of Blushing Groom, but the fixation was on those foreign-sounding names.
Ultimately, it was infertility that got in the way of his stud record, but not before he sired the champion filly Spook Express. If only I could have enlisted Marty McFly to travel forward in time to fetch me information about Galileo!
Thanks to Andreas Jacobs, South African breeders now have plenty of that kind of influence, via both Silvano and Querari.
For good measure, Andreas has also imported German mares, and as the Maine Chance broodmare band has grown, fellow breeders have had the opportunity of dipping into that gene pool, too, by picking up the discards. We’ve been enthusiastic buyers of all things Maine Chance (although unfortunately for Andreas, at the bottom end of the market).
I’ll leave the proper explanations to people who know German racing and breeding better, but to my outsider’s view there are a few factors that seem to be significant.
Firstly, Germany has been something of a closed system, based on bloodlines that deliver the right kind of durability and stamina. Whether by coincidence or – most likely – selected by the racecourse, there is a big throwback to names that were prominent in the middle and first half of the 20th century.
It’s almost as if – in a botanical sense – we are accessing a seed bank of long-lost varieties that are important for maintaining diversity.
While these bloodlines are effectively an outcross for ‘modern’ pedigrees, many of the foremost conduits (both mares and stallions) were highly inbred.
Another apparently important factor is the German breeders’ premium for the progeny of approved stallions (hint: racing on medication is a fast-track to non-approval).
So there I was at the recent National 2-Y-O sale, when a German-bred colt by the dual Grade I winner Maxios (sire in August of a Grade I winner in his first crop of three-year-olds) was being led around the sales ring.
Not the biggest, but in all other respects well-conformed, there was just no interest in him. I couldn’t bear to see him being led out at the minimum bid, and with one wave of the catalogue he was mine. He’ll be part of our 25-strong Ready-to-Run draft, where you can see my folly for yourself.
An interesting feature of this colt’s pedigree is that his dam is by Areion (four-time Champion Sire in Germany), himself by Big Shuffle (six-time Champion Sire). Both of these horses were top-class sprinters, which seems like a convenient explanation for their success in a country where the indigenous bloodlines are stamina-laden. What I find more interesting than this, though, is that these are from a branch of Bold Ruler that does not exist anywhere else in the world. You see, Big Shuffle was by Super Concorde, a stallion of moderate success. He, in turn, was by Bold Reasoning (himself the sire of Seattle Slew in a short career, although I would designate that as its own branch).
The other Nasrullah-line stallions to be Champion Sire (once each) were Dashing Blade and Nebos. Considering the global potency of Nasrullah over the past 70 years, that seems like a limited impact.
Just one Northern Dancer line stallion has ever been Champion Sire of Germany. Let that sink in. After more than five decades of Northern Dancer ubiquity it’s a phenomenon that seems inconceivable – although, in fairness, Lomitas stood in Britain for several seasons (i.e. outside Germany). Could the ‘German influence’ be a contributing factor to Lomitas being the Nijinsky branch’s flag bearer?
The only Mr Prospector line stallion to have achieved that honour, Miswaki’s son Tertullian, is a three-parts brother to Urban Sea, and therefore a conduit of Allegretta.
Whatever prejudices are out there, the evidence – in the form of Allegretta and many others – is overwhelmingly against them.
Buying German is a smart thing to do.