Blum Treasures National Impact Of Genetic 'Mono'-Poly

National Treasure | Jim McCue


Even in the heyday of the great owner-breeders, it would have been remarkable for a Classic winner to represent the seventh generation of a single program. In the commercial era, it is beyond extraordinary. Yet in the long, tenuous line linking GI Preakness S. winner National Treasure (Quality Road) to his foundation mare Mono, only once did Peter Blum come close to letting it break.

That was when a Mt. Livermore filly named Proposal was sold as a 2-year-old at Keeneland in 1999, for $375,000.

“I sold her to John Kimmel,” Blum recalls. “And I saw that he had her up at Saratoga, and she was working five-eighths in 57-and-change. And I thought, 'My gosh, this filly must have a lot of talent.'”

She duly won her maiden and then missed a stakes sprint by a head.

“I thought that any mare with that kind of speed, in this family she's got to make a broodmare,” Blum continues. “And the gentleman apparently wanted to sell her. So I talked to John, he's a good guy, and he said they were going to put her in the sale.”

It says much about our strange business that a stakes-placed winner should fetch barely half her original price, at $200,000, when returning to Keeneland for the 2001 November Sale. But Blum was going to retrieve her, whatever it took. In fact, there has only ever been one other occasion when he has gone to an auction with the same implacable determination. And that had been 26 years previously, in the same ring, when he bought Mono herself at the January Sale.

The 12-year-old daughter of Better Self was being sold by King Ranch, and this aspiring young breeder saw her as an unmissable chance to strike genetic oil through the famed Kleberg farm. Though no more than a modest winner herself, she had produced serial winners by mediocre sires; and she was out of a sister to 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault, whose own third dam was a sibling to none other than Man o' War.

“I still have the bill of sale,” Blum says. “I remember it like it was yesterday. Back then, I didn't have much money to spend. But I went to that sale with one goal. I was going to buy that mare. I just hoped that she would go cheap enough.”

Actually Mono was being sold from the estate of Howard Rouse, who had managed King Ranch's Kentucky farm.

“It answered a question: why would you breed this mare to those $500 or $250 sires, when you have a pedigree that commanded the best stallions?” Blum explains. “Mr. Rouse apparently didn't want to spend a lot! Even so, you saw 16 wins on one [foal], 15 wins, 10 wins. There was one that had run in New York and made six figures in earnings. I remember watching that horse wearing two bar shoes, and winning race after race.”

He asked Allen Jerkens about this horse, Wildcat Country.

“You got to be kidding me,” the trainer replied. “One of the hardest-knocking horses, the kind anybody would dream about. Who knows how great he could be, if he didn't have those foot problems?”

Better Self had doubtless contributed plenty of that iron. He had stood at King Ranch with moderate success, but majored in old school soundness. (One son won 24 of 256 starts!) Seeing how his daughter could produce Wildcat Country by a cheap stallion, while also giving that diminishing access to Man o' War, Blum sensed what Mono has actually proved to be: the chance of a lifetime.

“I thought I was never going to be able to do this again,” Blum said. “She wasn't a big, striking, beautiful mare. In fact, she was kind of plain. But I just thought I was never going to get another opportunity like this. So I wasn't going to walk out of there without her. I didn't have any price in mind, any point where I was going to stop. I was going to buy her.  And I think I paid $17,500.”

Now, after almost half a century patiently cultivating this dynasty, Blum has bred another Classic winner to follow 2020 Horse of the Year Authentic (Into Mischief). In both cases, Blum has been grateful for the expertise both of his own team–notably Bridie Harrison, who has raised his stock for so many years, and advisor Doug Cauthen–and of those who took up the project, from Donato Lanni and the other interested scouts, to Bob Baffert and John Velasquez. But Authentic came from a younger line of his program, so this probably feels even more special for a man who first dipped his toe with a Thoroughbred purchase when still at the University of North Carolina. For he has turned a personal “Mono”-mania into an authentic National Treasure.

Authentic | Autry Graham

His very first decision with Mono showed auspicious flair. He sent her to an unproven young stallion in Florida, and when the resulting colt won a Del Mar on debut (added a stakes win at three) he sent Mono back to Mr. Prospector at his new base at Claiborne.

This time the outcome was a filly, Mine Only, who won just a maiden in Blum's colors from eight starts for Allen Jerkens. But she proved far better as a broodmare–much like her dam, and so establishing a pattern that would recur right along this line–in producing three graded stakes scorers, all on turf. One of these, Statuette (Pancho Villa), subsequently secured a $2.5 million payday when her yearling son by Seattle Slew was bought by Demi O'Byrne at Keeneland in 2001. (Named Tomahawk, this colt duly proved an elite juvenile for Ballydoyle.)

Statuette was by Pancho Villa, whose late sire Secretariat had been chosen for Mine Only's first two covers. The first of these resulted in GII Manhattan H. winner Academy Award; the second gave Blum a filly, Chosen Lady, who was placed a couple of times in a light career but, again, proved a better producer than runner.

Her second foal was Grade III winner In Contention (Devil's Bag), who chased home Unbridled's Song in the GII Wood Memorial; and soon afterwards she produced Well Chosen (Deputy Minister), whose GI Ashland success for Coolmore connections doubtless heightened their subsequent enthusiasm for Tomahawk. In time Well Chosen evidently found her way to Darley, giving them a homebred GI Sword Dancer H. winner in Telling. (Interestingly, then, another turf distinction for this family even though he was by A.P. Indy.)

But the key link in the chain proved to be Chosen Lady's very first foal, a daughter of Storm Bird named Lady of Choice whose track career closely mirrored that of her dam, with a couple of placings from four starts. She produced no fewer than 18 named foals, the last at 25. Half managed to win, but it turned out that she actually did as much as anyone could have hoped with her first two foals.

The second was Multiple Choice (Mt. Livermore), who in his prime lived up to his name by winning graded sprints on both turf and dirt (also made the podium in the GI Forego H.). But Lady of Choice had already produced a daughter by the same sire–and that was Proposal, the filly of whose sale Blum repented with all the determination that he had shown with Mono herself.

“Yes, that was the only other time I went to a sale where I just was not going to stop,” he says. “Mono, and Proposal.”

And now she is second dam of a Preakness winner. On the face of it, to retrieve Proposal might have represented fairly stubborn fidelity to the family. Among Lady of Choice's many well-bred daughters, it would take until the 5-year-old Leofric (Candy Ride {Arg}) went on a spree in 2018–culminating in the GI Clark H.–before she earned a really notable credit as a granddam. (Admittedly the next generation has recently produced a decent one in GIII Iroquois S. winner Major General {Constitution}.)

But that is the whole point of staying the course. A family tree cultivated by a single gardener will never be as thoroughly understood by anyone else. Decisions of pruning or coppicing by new custodians will accordingly never benefit from quite the same depth of perspective. So where you or I might see a fairly fallow sequence in a pedigree, someone like Blum will know all the latent sagas that never make it onto a catalogue page.

“Gosh, yes, we had a couple that were cut out to be as good as you can find, and then sustained pretty severe injuries,” Blum explains. “But you can't make excuses. You can't say, 'Well, this horse was a flying machine but got hurt.' Because everybody says those things! But there were some very good horses in this pedigree that didn't get a chance to show their ability. That's evidenced by the fact that we carried on breeding some that were unraced–and also by the way the greatness keeps coming out of places where we least expect it.”

Lady of Choice herself evidently had more ability than might be surmised.

“She was cut out to be really good filly,” Blum recalls. “But she bowed as a 2-year-old and because of that incident we could never get the talent out of her. We loved the mare and then her foals were nice too, just didn't have much luck. If I know they're talented, I don't let anybody change my impression of their ability, or who I breed them to.”

Proposal would lavishly vindicate her return to the fold. Her 10 named foals would include seven winners, including three at stakes level plus graded stakes-placed sprinter Elope (Gone West). One of her daughters by Unbridled's Song has meanwhile produced Carmel Road, who finished second in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity last winter.

That colt was by Quality Road, and the Lane's End stallion would also enter the equation for one of Proposal's other foals, a daughter of Medaglia d'Oro named Treasure. Blum did test the water at auction for this girl, a $375,000 RNA at the 2013 September Sale, before sending her into training. She started with promise but became frustrating with serial near-misses in eight starts spread across three years.

“Treasure was one of my favorites,” Blum says. “The first time she ran, she drew the outside post position at Saratoga, which was awfully hard. But she made a big run down the stretch and finished second.”

One of the newspapers promptly anointed her as a potential Oaks winner, but it has turned out that she was reserving her Classic destiny for her second career. After producing a couple of sons by Speightstown (both fair winners), Treasure produced a filly to extend this precious line. This daughter of Quality Road has so far proved unable to break her maiden–she's now four–with three seconds from six starts. But if she ultimately emulates her dam, in becoming yet another female in the Mono line to reserve her best for the paddocks, then Blum will not be complaining. Because she is now a sister to a Classic winner.

Quality Road | Sarah Andrew

For it was Treasure's second visit to Quality Road that produced National Treasure–already named, presciently enough, when sent to the Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga Sale in 2021. Prepared as usual by Harrison, he caught the eye of Lanni and the rest of the team working for Bob Baffert's “Avengers,” who gave $500,000 in the hope of finding another Authentic. (Some of them had taken a stake in that colt, for $350,000, at the 2018 September Sale.)

And the rest is history. But that's only the case because it is also a story without end. For all the recurring themes in this family, the art of breeding requires constant experiment; the constant posing of fresh questions even when things appear to be going solidly well.

Remember Blum routinely needs to sell and cull, sometimes with reluctance, to maintain a degree of viability. Even Authentic's dam Flawless (Mr. Greeley) was offered for sale after her son became a champion, albeit ultimately retained at $4.1 million. But that makes the continuity of this line all the more impressive, and its success all the more fulfilling. Certainly it feels safe to say that Treasure's yearling filly by Authentic will not be going anywhere: a half-sister to one Classic winner bred by the program, sired by another.

“Most of the time, we sell everything,” Blum confirms. “But there are times… She's not going to go through any sale.”

He feels similarly about sisters to Authentic consecutively produced by Flawlessly, who for a while had produced only colts. Blum has named the yearling Priceless.

“They're very different types, which is great,” he says. “The yearling has regal presence. She's big, tall, has a lot of scope; but she's always been very feminine. The suckling, on the other hand, is a tank.”

Again, that's something that only a program like this can deal with. Who, at public auction, could confidently predict which of these physiques might best channel the genes that made their brother a champion? Nobody. But persevering with both is only feasible if you are prepared to play a very long game.

For instance, Blum still has a 20-year-old daughter of Mine Only–herself, remember, the first link in the chain from Mono to National Treasure–producing on the farm.

“I believe this family will continue to be just the same,” he says. “There'll be new branches on the tree, and it's not going to stop coming up with good horses. I have more mares than I should have, I don't know the exact number. But I think the word to describe all this is maybe 'intoxicating.' It's hard for me to explain. But it's what I've done for such a long time, and I know these mares and their families so well.

“For example, Elope [Proposal's daughter by Gone West] was a flying machine, won three out of her four starts. She was second in a Grade II, in New York, and then won a stake. But she bowed in that race and I retired her. She's now 19, but I'm still driven because I believe she is going to finally come up with a good foal. I know that's foolish, but there are times you just have a gut [feeling]. I know how talented she was, and it's very hard to get rid of one like that.

“You have to be careful about selling. You can't say, 'Well, if they haven't had anything by the time they're 10…' I don't subscribe to that. With me, it's a question of feel, of what my memories tell me. A question of what I think, and what Bridie thinks, about an individual. But we could sell the worst five yearlings we have, or even the worst three, and you might still come up with one [that can run]. That's one of the things about this family, it keeps generating interest.”

This game never permits guarantees, one way or another. At the very same sale where Blum bought Mono, he also made a bid for a mare in foal to Icecapade. A prominent breeder came up and cautioned him. Did he know that the first foal had been a shocker, an albino in fact? He'd better pray somebody else would meet his $12,500 bid. Somebody did, the auctioneer blessedly holding out for another $500. And it turned out that this young mare was carrying the dam of Lady's Secret (Secretariat), whose achievements meant she could later be sold on for $2.7 million.

Many vagaries of this business, then, are condensed by that single day back in 1975. One way or the other, however, it proved to be the start of quite an odyssey.

“You can't keep them all,” Blum reflects. “You have to sell sometimes, when you don't want to, and sometimes you sell the better ones. But then other times the rejects turn out to be as good. It's just a question of good luck, but also of perseverance. If you believe in something, try not to give up. Just see it through.”

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