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Byerley Turk Reaching The End Of The Line

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Study Of Man | Scoop Dyga

By Chris McGrath

As we all know, the only bottom line most breeders really care about is found at the base of a balance sheet. And the ink they use, red or black, tends to be ascribed sooner to the top line of a pedigree than to the one running along the bottom. Commercial yearlings are branded first and foremost by their sires, even though the equal genetic contribution of the dam should make her family of critical interest.

On the one hand, then, it was edifying to see three Classics in eight days magnify names in the bottom line: Miesque (Nureyev) as grand-dam of G1 Prix du Jockey-Club winner Study Of Man (Fr) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) and great-grand-dam of G1 Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Alpha Centauri (Ire) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}); and the great Urban Sea (Miswaki) as fourth dam of Derby winner Masar (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}), besides also being dam of his grandsire.

Arguably, however, both Miesque and Urban Sea are exceptions to prove the rule. As such celebrities, in both their racing and breeding careers, they stand out luminously in a family tree: barely less of a short-cut, in terms of attention span, than crediting everything to the sire. But when Study Of Man, for instance, takes one of the best pedigrees in Europe to stud, we should be no less interested in all the other spars and buttresses that support the family around his famous grand-dam. It will be easy enough, at that stage, to be excited by the fact that Study Of Man is out of a mare by one of the great modern broodmare sires in Storm Cat. But how many people, in renewing their admiration for Miesque, are still asking themselves how much of her priceless legacy might be credited to her mother Pasodoble-who was by Prove Out (Graustark) out of a Sanctus (Fr) (Fine Top {Fr}) mare?

Prove Out was a brilliant horse with a fine pedigree, but I’m not going to pretend the male line of Sanctus means anything to me. Evidently it achieved a tenuous survival out of wartime France, so there must be a story to be told there. A comfort, in the meantime, to find that Pasodoble’s second dam was by the linchpin Princequillo. Many breeders dismiss this as so many scrolls of parchment. And it is true that most genetic contributions are diluted generation by generation. Until science can link specific performance assets to specific genetic strands, however, I will always find comfort in a comprehensive mesh of class behind a horse.

In the case of Masar, relatively little attention has been paid to the fact that Urban Sea’s 4×3 imprint is exactly matched by Ahonoora (GB) (Lorenzaccio {GB}). He recurs as dam-sire of both New Approach (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Cape Cross (Ire) (Green Desert), who produced the dam of Masar with a granddaughter of Urban Sea. Nowadays, unfortunately, it seems likely that this kind of role will soon be all that remains for Ahonoora-and, indeed, for the entire Byerley Turk line. Thanks to Phalaris, who transformed the modern breed a century ago, the Darley Arabian sire-line has now all but extinguished those tracing to the other two founding fathers. The Byerley Turk line has been defunct in the U.S. for a while already, which is a shame when you consider that transatlantic branches came through the inaugural Derby winner Diomed and the 16-time champion sire Lexington, and other great names like Hindoo. But its dying embers in America could not be stoked by Breeders’ Cup winners Precisionist (GB) (Crozier {GB}) and Arcangues (Sagace {Fr}), respectively through infertility and incompetence-and elsewhere the line is clinging on by its fingertips.

Ahonoora famously surpassed expectations at stud, above all in siring Derby winner Dr Devious (Ire), but was just 14 when he died. His legacy largely rested with Indian Ridge (Ire) and Inchinor (GB). With Orientor (GB) running out of time, Inchinor seems to depend on Notnowcato (GB), who has moved on to a National Hunt stud. What a pity, then, that the latter’s son Redkirk Warrior (Aus), one of the top sprinters in Australia, lines up at Royal Ascot next week without the twin accessories essential to a stud career. (Castration also cut off a promising outlet for the Australian line in dual Cox Plate winner Fields Of Omagh (Aus) (Rubiton {Aus}).)

As for Indian Ridge-such a good stallion in his pomp, and responsible for the dams of recent Group 1 winners Romanised (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}) and Lancaster Bomber (War Front)-it is surprising that a nugget of commercial speed like Compton Place (GB) (Indian Ridge {Ire}) finds himself depending on the rookie Pearl Secret (GB) for a viable heir. His two best sons, Deacon Blues (GB) and Borderlescott (GB) were others in this line who suffered the unkindest cut of all; while Domedriver (Ire) and Linngari (Ire) proved disappointing at stud. Namid (GB) and Definite Article (GB) had their moments without producing a persuasive successor, and Indian Haven (Ire) is probably out of time to come up with one.

Plenty of eggs, then, in the rather curious basket of Dunaden (Fr) (Nicobar {GB}), much the best son of his sire (albeit from limited opportunities). From an undistinguished family, Dunaden raced until the age of eight and mare owners will need fairly long memories to recall how he won the Hong Kong Vase straight after the Melbourne Cup, and continued to show elite calibre over middle distances thereafter-not to mention a heroic constitution and temperament. Standing at just £3,000 he was favoured with a first book of 96, and if his debut runners this year can match the start made by Overbury neighbour Cityscape (GB) (Selkirk) then all may not be lost.

The question, of course, is quite what is at stake in the effacement of the Byerley Turk’s line. The science is still exploratory. The Y chromosome, distributed through the paternal line, represents less than 1 percent of the equine genome and contains genes mostly associated with sperm production and fertility. But it does contain ancestry “information”, and studies are underway to establish whether the genetic sequencing of the Byerley Turk line shows diversity from those of the Darley Arabian crowd. Pending more certainty, it boils down to instinct. Even to a sense of decency. What right do we have, in our avarice and myopia, to kill off such a colourful part of the Thoroughbred’s heritage? The Byerley Turk was not, as was once claimed, captured from the Ottomans in battle. In fact there is a good chance that he was foaled in England, son of another import from the Steppes. But he was ridden as a charger at the Battle of the Boyne, and his descendants have included some of the breed’s greatest champions.

And ultimately it can’t possibly be right, for breeders to take such witless sanctuary in the same familiar genetic motorway. For nobody really knows what kind of diversity is being forfeited, once and for all, as every other byway becomes overgrown and eventually inaccessible. You can’t have it both ways, after all: can’t obsess with sirelines, one minute, and the next say that the breed suffers no meaningful loss when you eradicate one.

It’s not even as though breeders can bring themselves to experiment within the Darley Arabian monopoly. (Hence the attenuation or extinction of historically fertile lines through the likes of Hyperion or Blandford.) When a horse as good as Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}) is inbred as closely as 2×3 to Sadler’s Wells, then it would be churlish to deny that the Northern Dancer addiction functions splendidly at its best. But the pathetic track credentials of so many new sires would surely be enhanced if they could offer the rare virtue of diversity-instead of the commonplace one of being, say, yet another great-grandson of Danehill or Green Desert.

Happily the third patriarch, the Godolphin Arabian, has enjoyed a revival through the apt agency of Relaunch (In Reality)-keeping alive the legacy of Man o’ War through that blossoming sire of sires, Tiznow (Cee’s Tizzy). Young stallions such as Strong Mandate (Tiznow), Tourist (Tiznow) and Tizway (Tiznow) should be in additional demand precisely because breeders have painted themselves into such a corner, in terms of an outcross, with their craven lack of adventure.

Perhaps one of the last men standing, Dunaden and company, could yet become a Tiznow for the Byerley Turk. But they’re certainly drinking in the last-chance saloon. It’s lonely for those fellows, leaning against that bar. So go on, some of you: send them a pretty lady or two to cheer them up.

 

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