By Robert D. Fierro
This business about sire lines has been driving your correspondent a bit nuts for the past 40 years, dating from when he first came to understand the realm, initially through the discourses of the great analyst Dr. Franco Varola and the estimable author Abe Hewitt. In those days we all not only relied on the historical database of a rather limited number of stallions but also on the patience needed to assess the long-term impact of form, function, and pedigree. You had Phalaris and Swynford, then Nearco and Hyperion, then Nasrullah and Prince Bio, then Bold Ruler and Princequillo, then Northern Dancer and Raise a Native, then Storm Cat and Mr. Prospector, then A.P. Indy and…yada, yada, yada.
Those sire lines developed over time, as did most data-driven assessments in those eras. Ironically, it was the infinitely patient Varola who gave rise to the now half-century-long obsession with various programs assessing nicks, crosses, affinities (or, whatever)–a reflection of the instant gratification culture we have developed. As a result, we are faced with a wide variety of macro and mini “sire lines” these days, real or imagined–none of which we are going to explore today.
Rather, we are going to look at what may be developing right under our noses, and why it is a potential ground shifter. That would be the rather remarkable fact (as of this writing) that the Leading Freshman Sire and two others among the top five on that list are sons of one of the top three Leading General Sires. In addition, those three freshmen sires are from the first crop of their sire's sons with foals of racing age.
What sparked our interest was a nagging curiosity about how a stallion like Uncle Mo could come out of the clouds of sire-line pedigree retrogression to put paid to the thought (among some) that he might be something of an outlier and might fade in both form and favor as the years go on. After all, he is by Indian Charlie, the lone nationally prominent member of a sire line that was most successful in Europe and California. Secondly, he is one big fella, which often requires studious examination of the size, if not shape, of the broodmares sent to his court–“like to like,” if you please.
Our research indicates that Uncle Mo is really no accident of genetics. Indeed, he and his better racing sons who have been dispatched to cover upscale broodmare bands are basically denizens of a remarkably consistent cluster of stallions dating back to an almost iconic and very commercial stallion who was not only not their color (he was gray) but also not quite like any of them biomechanically.
That would be Caro (Ire), who sired Siberian Express who begot In Excess (Ire), who stamped out Indian Charlie. By the Grey Sovereign stallion Fortino, Caro won the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) and went on to be an internationally successful stallion. Though probably best remembered in North America as sire of GI Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors, influential sire Cozzene (whose son Mizzen Mast is still going strong), as well as the broodmare sire of Unbridled's Song and Maria's Mon, Caro left a genetic trail behind that was as diverse in aptitude as one could possibly have projected for a horse of his racing record and heritage.
Two of his sons, French Derby winner Crystal Palace and German Horse of the Year Nebos, became influential sires in their home countries. But it was another one–ironically, his only son to duplicate his French 2,000 Guineas success–who became an unexpected linchpin of the sire line aside from Cozzene.
That would be Siberian Express, bred in Kentucky but raced in France and retired to stud in England.
A big, strongly made gray, Siberian Express gained some success at stud but left an indelible mark on the North American racing and breeding scene with his son In Excess–and, according to our research, created a distinctive biomechanical branch of the Caro sire line.
Hold that thought.
In Excess was fast at two and three in England and was purchased at the end of his sophomore campaign and sent to California where a career on turf and dirt spookily bore truth to his name. He won turf stakes before testing the dirt. On dirt, he not only set track records in California and New York, but also became the first horse since Kelso, 30 years before, to win the Metropolitan, Suburban, Whitney, and Woodward, stamping himself the best racehorse in North America. Only an uncharacteristically dull effort in the GI Breeders' Cup Mile prevented him from becoming Horse of the Year.
After a modest record the following year, In Excess was retired to stud in California where he not only became the leading sire in the state multiple times but, among his more than 40 stakes winners, begot a charismatic and brilliantly fast colt named Indian Charlie, who was the undefeated favorite in the 1998 Kentucky Derby, finished third, then was retired later that summer after injuring a suspensory in a workout. A strongly made dark bay, Indian Charlie was successful while standing in Kentucky with a less than commercial pedigree. He became well worthy of an eventual $70,000 stud fee in 2011 and sired four champions before he died of cancer at the age of 16 that year. He left behind a number of sons, several of them promising or accomplished, but the one for which he will be remembered is Uncle Mo.
Now, go back to that thought we asked you to hold. In our article last month about Super Saver, we referred to a biomechanical program we utilize which compares various measurements of a stallion to those of several hundred successful sires who were born as early as the 1950s to see which ones are similar in size and scope to that sire. We referred to those that were similar as being in “clusters.” What we were looking for at that point was whether there were instances where the same sires appeared in the clusters of various stallions in the Super Saver sire line because pedigree assessments over six generations of sires were only part of the story.
What prompted us to apply the same program to our current task is when we looked at the generally inheritable biomechanical measurements of the branch of the Caro line that began with Siberian Express, we noticed a sharp difference in the size of those two with the latter not only being larger but also having apparently passed most of those measurement sizes on to In Excess, Indian Charlie, Uncle Mo, and the latter's first three sons with foals of racing age.
We then took those measurements to the next step to determine if there were similarities in clusters among those eight stallions. What we discovered was–in our experience–quite remarkable: Caro was in a cluster that has him closest in size and scope to Stormy Atlantic, Time for a Change, Grand Slam, Lear Fan, A.P. Indy, and Wild Rush. None of those sires appeared in the clusters of the other eight stallions, but every one of those stallions, except one, was in a cluster that included those closest to Siberian Express: Tiznow, Buckpasser, Unbridled, Quality Road, and Royal Academy. Other duplicates included First Samurai and Capote and two of them are in clusters that include In Excess, Indian Charlie, and/or Uncle Mo.
That these clusters are so similar indicates that members of this tribe descending from Siberian Express are of a distinctive “type.” We have rarely seen this kind of data before and, at this point, even though we are hesitant to name one of them as the progenitor of a line, we do know attention must be paid.
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]