Breeding Digest: Justify Carries Speed Back to Europe

City of Troy | racingfotos.com

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For the second year running, the G1 Epsom Derby winner was bred from one of Coolmore's countless Galileo (Ire) mares outcrossed to an American sire line. But whereas Sunday Silence's son Deep Impact (Jpn) gave Auguste Rodin (Ire) further turf genes from his mother's European family, City Of Troy's sire is a conduit for virtually unadulterated dirt blood. Justify's first four dams are, respectively, by grandsons of Deputy Minister, Seattle Slew, Northern Dancer and Bold Ruler.

The third of those names, of course, transformed the European breed, albeit alongside other American brands such as Sir Ivor, Mill Reef and Roberto.

In fact, City Of Troy draws on five different lines of Northern Dancer, four initiated through sons trained in Europe. Three of those, indeed, preceded him at Ballydoyle: Storm Bird, at the root of Justify's sire-line; Sadler's Wells, the sire of Galileo; and Nijinsky, grandsire of Justify's third dam. Then we have Nureyev, the French-trained half-brother to the dam of Sadler's Wells, who figures as grandsire of City of Troy's second dam. Only Justify's damsire Ghostzapper traces to a son of Northern Dancer trained in North America, Vice Regent.

Yet European horsemen, around a generation ago, appear to have decided that they had taken all they needed from Kentucky stallions. Of the two reasons for this consensus, only one had merit: the laxity of the American medication regime, permitting latent deficiencies to be recycled. (And the painful progress towards greater credibility in this respect feels plainly threatened by news from Louisiana last week.) The other standard objection to American blood, that it had been blindly confined to the single dimension of speed, was always a fatuous misapprehension.

I know that I have shared previously my vexation with an elite European agent who scoffed that he never goes to American sales because “over there they're only interested in speed.” But how could someone entrusted with lavish funding be so obtuse?

If anything, it is the commercial market in Ireland and Britain that has gone down that road. Breeders there seem increasingly unable to distinguish mere precocity from the speed that signposts class. In contrast, the majority even of American commercial matings remain governed by the ideal of the first Saturday in May.

The two-turn dirt horse certainly needs speed, but also the constitution and endurance to carry that speed–precisely as Justify did himself, even as a son of Scat Daddy, in the GI Belmont S. In the same way Nijinsky became the last winner of a Triple Crown that in Britain demands far greater range (eight, 12 and 14 furlongs). And it is the disclosure of this underlying robustness that should prevent us meddling with the standards maintained by our predecessors in both the scheduling and distances of the U.S. series.

Now why is it that a “piece of wood” at Epsom has been long revered as determining the selection of the Thoroughbred? It's because the Derby, much like two-turn dirt racing, showcases the full package. It requires not just stamina, but speed, agility, athleticism.

I've been saying for years that speed-carrying dirt stallions were the way to break the stranglehold Coolmore had established on Epsom through Galileo and another son of Sadler's Wells, Montjeu (Ire), above all when the European gene pool was otherwise being diluted by cheap speed.

Presumably even that infuriatingly insular agent has finally grasped the point, now that it has been made so vividly by the genius whose fingerprints are all over Justify's sire-line. It is true that necessity was the mother of invention; that John Magnier needed extraneous cross-pollination for a broodmare band dominated by the same strains. It's also true that City Of Troy bears very little resemblance to his sire, whose brawn qualifies him so luminously for dirt. As a physical specimen, in fact, Justify could scarcely have less in common with Northern Dancer.

But that surely just implores us to break down the barriers to imagination. The migrations of Nasrullah or Northern Dancer didn't succeed simply because they were built a certain way, but because some elusive variation either redressed or complemented what had become too isolated a gene pool.

Back in 2018, Tapit's son Wissahickon put up one of the most remarkable performances in the long history of the Cambridgeshire H. at Newmarket, a 3-year-old laughing at 32 rivals under 131lbs. As it happens, that horse had one or two issues and disappointed when transferred to the U.S. the following year. But since his departure, a grand total of three Tapits have raced on British racetracks. Into Mischief, meanwhile, has had four British starters in his entire career.

Such parochialism beggars belief. But that's why last Saturday felt historic. Instead of people like me berating and boring everyone, year after year, City Of Troy has condensed all the preaching into an unmissable moment of joy.

Scylla Joins Idiomatic in Promoting Tacitus

The world appeared to be at Scylla's feet, this time last year, when she followed up her debut success with an eight-length allowance romp at Churchill. But she then disappeared until the spring and only now, after regrouping through her first couple of starts back, is she putting it all together. Her success in the GIII Shawnee S. confirms Scylla to be an exceptional broodmare prospect even by the standards of Juddmonte.

Serial visits to Tapit by her dam, champion Close Hatches (First Defence), have already produced Tacitus to bank $3.75 million on the racetrack. And meanwhile Idiomatic (Curlin), out of a GI Kentucky Oaks-placed sister to Close Hatches, has lent still greater luster to the page as winner of the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff.

A half-sister to the second dam has also produced Siskin, by the same sire as Close Hatches, to win a Classic in Ireland before catching the astute eye of Shadai. One way or another, then, this branch is duly contributing to the great dynasty founded by Scylla's fifth dam, Best In Show.

The mystery is how Xaar, a brilliant champion juvenile in Europe bred from Scylla's fourth dam Monroe–the daughter of Best In Show and Sir Ivor–contrived to disappoint at stud when so many of his siblings showed their genetic prowess as either runners or producers. Having started his career for his breeders, Xaar was cashed out while still racing. One way or another, he never caused them to repent the way they must have done of selling Danehill.

While Scylla and Tacitus have been able to draw upon royal maternal genes, the choice of Tapit for a daughter of First Defence looks pointed. Tapit's damsire Unbridled is also First Defence's grandsire, while First Defence is out of a daughter of Seattle Slew, whose sire-line Tapit extends. But what a daughter! Honest Lady was the only female among the four elite winners produced by the blue hen Toussaud (El Gran Senor), one of few mares in the modern breed to stand comparison with Best In Show.

Whatever Scylla does from here, her emergence certainly doesn't discourage the suspicion that Tacitus, standing at just $10,000, is going to redeem the frustrations he occasionally invited in his first career. His fourth generation aligns a daughter of Best In Show, not only with Toussaud, but also with Weekend Surprise and Narrate (behind Tapit's beautifully bred sire Pulpit). No missing rungs on that ladder.

Pond Paying Off the Long Way Round

Three years before Xaar, Andre Fabre had supervised a similarly dominant juvenile in Pennekamp. Unlike Xaar, the son of Bering came through in the Guineas and duly started hot favorite at Epsom. But he bombed out there and disappeared to stud, where he achieved nothing beyond a handful of daughters that produced competent runners.

The basic functionality of his genes had been attested by siblings on the racetrack. Black Minnaloushe (Storm Cat) won two Group 1s at a mile and Nasr El Arab (Al Nasr {Fr}) won a Group 2 by six lengths. But Black Minnaloushe was soon exported from Ashford to South Africa, and only their half-sister Gift of Dance (Trempolino) would keep the flame alive despite failing to break her maiden in 10 attempts.

Her daughter by Awesome Again, Round Pond, won the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff in 2006 and cost Sheikh Mohammed $5.75 million on her retirement. She was naturally given every chance with her matings, but only recently has she begun to salvage the investment.

She was admittedly still with us when her son Long River (A.P. Indy) became a surprise Group I winner in Dubai at the age of seven. But her unraced daughter by Bernardini, Tyburn Brook, has meanwhile deployed his influence as a broodmare sire to produce GI Carter H. winner Speaker's Corner (Street Sense) as well as the brilliantly promising but evidently fragile Knightsbridge (Nyquist). And now Round Pond's final foal, Highland Falls (Curlin), has won a first graded stakes in the GIII Blame S.

This maturing horse may yet become a force in the senior division, not least granted some extra yardage in races like the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup. One step at a time, but I would always take a second look at a stallion that duplicates Deputy Minister the way he does (as damsire of Curlin and grandsire of Round Pond). But whether he can someday join Speaker's Corner at stud, or merely boosts him along with a couple of sisters in the broodmare band, it's “a pound to a penny”–or maybe a Round Pond to a Pennekamp–that this family is not yet confined to past glories.

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