By Robert D. Fierro
It seems that whenever your correspondent comes up with a writer’s block or a dearth of exciting news to dwell upon, his hand reaches out to the trusty bookshelf and invariably falls upon the spine of either one of Dr. Franco Varola’s game-changing tomes, “Typology of the Racehorse,” or the sequel, “The Functional Development of the Thoroughbred.”
While most readers of these books might (somewhat rightfully) claim that they laid the foundation for the massive rush to accept the concept of Dosage in the study of pedigrees, we have always considered two other interpretations of their impact. First, Dr. Varola’s separation of chefs-de-race into five distinct aptitudes was really one of the first studies of the application of biomechanical analysis to the study of the breed. (Hello? Aptitude = Function, the root of biomechanics).
However, for the purpose of this essay, our second interpretation comes into play, professed in Chapter 11 of his second book which is titled “The Geographic Adaptation of Behaviour.” This insightful chapter sets out the theory that the Thoroughbred has adapted to express the culture and environment of individual nations–in other (very simplified) words, it “fits in” according to a nation’s overall psyche.
This is vividly backed up by close-ups of how the Thoroughbred was developed in individual nations. The Thoroughbred in England is a product of inheritance; in France, defined by souplesse (flexibility); in Germany by uniformity; in Argentina by the search for the Spanish matador within English Classicism; and in Chile and Peru by a dominance of fillies and mares in cultures where women shape the culture. Varola basically defined the American Thoroughbred as being either high-class or ordinary, which is an interesting analogy to the “two percent” controversy.
Since Varola was an Italian, it was downright hilarious for this first generation Italian-American to read his comments on his country’s attitude: “…an Italian horse competing for a major race abroad may very well finish unplaced, but if it happens to place second or third this is regarded as a major disaster.” It is no wonder Italian soccer fans fervently pray that their favored team “plays not to lose.”
After reading this chapter again, we were struck that Varola is basically saying that in some respects the Thoroughbred is an expression of nationalism. Egad! Where have we heard that concept lately? Let’s not start throwing things because this is a lucid, but extremely innocent, analogy. Could there be an analogy of what seems to be going on culturally in the United States and if that could be paralleled anywhere in the current evolution of the Thoroughbred racehorse?
The answer is as close to “yes” and “maybe” as we can get.
To wit: There is continuing strong demand and stability when it comes to the services sought for and progeny bought by the stallions representing the most fashionable and successful sire lines, e.g.: Mr. Prospector (Curlin, Speightstown, Distorted Humor, etc.), Northern Dancer (Medaglia d’Oro, War Front, Kitten’s Joy, etc.), A.P. Indy (Tapit, Malibu Moon, Bernardini, Flatter, etc.).
However, there are two previously obscure lines (one favoring speed, the other versatility) and one branch of a line with only one current sire of sires that may start interrupting the status quo. Politically speaking, these three could be looked upon as disrupters.
Consider Super Saver, whom some will say is a member of the Raise a Native line through Majestic Prince, Majestic Light, and his own sire Maria’s Mon. We beg to differ. He is as much a representative of the Raise a Native line as Raise a Native was representative of his sire Native Dancer in appearance, size, scope, and functionality.
Maria’s Mon was a powerful, somewhat lightly made, miler-type who was Champion at two before going wrong. Given modest commercial mare support, he still managed to sire more than 50 stakes winners and is one of only three sires of the Native Dancer line, along with Alydar and Exclusive Native, to sire two GI Kentucky Derby winners–Super Saver and Monarchos. While Monarchos had success as a sire of stakes winners, he left no sire son behind.
Some shrugged at his stallion prospects because of his sire and he was a longshot winner of the Derby on a sloppy track. Super Saver has disrupted those thoughts all over the place and has become a favorite of trainers and pinhookers. He has already franked his sire’s form by getting the speedy and exciting sire of speed Competitive Edge–who has first-crop runners this year–and Eclipse-winning sprinter Runhappy–who has first-crop yearlings of 2019–both in his first crop. If wishes and advertising budgets were horses, the first crop by Runhappy will solidify Super Saver as a disrupter.
There was no better disrupter in the 1990s than Indian Charlie, a sobriquet that could also have been applied to his namesake, which is another story. Indian Charlie the racehorse came out of California where his sire, the brilliant In Excess (Ire), reigned. Undefeated as the Kentucky Derby favorite, he was retired after placing third and sent to stud with arched eyebrows in some quarters questioning his soundness, as well as his somewhat middle-class pedigree.
Indian Charlie took the bait and ran a bit wild, siring over 80 stakes winners, but it was not until his son Uncle Mo came to the track in 2010 that he really hit his mark. Champion at two, Uncle Mo came a cropper preparing for the Classics and when he came back did not emulate his 2-year-old form in 2011, despite winning two stakes races. Retired to stud in 2012 he promptly established himself as the hottest sire of his freshman crop when Nyquist was named Champion at two and won the Kentucky Derby several weeks after another son, Outwork, had taken the GI Wood Memorial.
Uncle Mo’s momentum as a sire has not abated since then, and this year marks the appearance of his first sons as freshman sires. Nyquist has been very well received, Outwork has turned some heads at the first yearling sales, and regional sires Laoban (New York), Uncle Vinny (Florida), and Uncle Lino (Pennsylvania) are set to join the fray in continuing the Indian Charlie line.
To complete our earlier postulation, the representative of a branch of a major sire line that has so far only been represented by one successful sire is California Chrome from the Pulpit branch of A.P. Indy. Another California-bred, Chrome was an extraordinary racehorse but there have always been some questions of how the breeding market would receive him because of his somewhat middle-class origins. Those doubts start with his sire, Lucky Pulpit, a nice enough sprinter-miler as a racehorse who was retired to stud in California where he got 2% stakes winners prior to his robust chestnut Horse of the Year coming along, after which Lucky Pulpit passed away.
Lucky Pulpit is one of five sons of A.P. Indy’s son Pulpit to get a Grade I winner. However, that one is Tapit should be something to tingle the hopes of fans of this branch of the powerful A.P. Indy line. California Chrome has the potential to provide Pulpit with another string of descendants that will be racing with great success well into the next decade.
There is an interesting parallel here to the establishment of the entire A.P. Indy line because its founder, Seattle Slew, came out of a branch of the once all-conquering Bold Ruler line that had not quite caught on. That only A.P. Indy among his sons has branches that are viable contributes to a sense of stability in the marketplace–a stability that ironically began with a bit of a disrupter named Seattle Slew.
There you go. The United States stallion market might be about to see some tensions among the establishments and the disrupters, much as the country’s current cultural and political tensions play out. Then again, maybe not. Place your bets.
Bob Fierro is a partner with Jay Kilgore and Frank Mitchell in DataTrack International, biomechanical consultants and developers of BreezeFigs. He can be reached at [email protected]