Pedigrees More Than Surface Deep For Hadden

Gary Hadden | Tattersalls


The pedigree of a Thoroughbred is but a one-dimensional grid to the naked eye. What one chooses to see beneath it depends entirely upon them. Good horses are produced by accident, it's true. But in a business where the overwhelming majority of foals, even from the most prolific crosses, never win a black-type race, bloodstock consultant Gary Hadden makes it a habit to look beneath the surface when planning matings, always looking for ways to increase the odds in favour of his clients.

“The thing that everyone probably starts with is the first-generation cross,” Hadden said. “That's the starting point, but I think people get lost in it to a certain extent; they think that's where it starts and finishes. I think there is more of a three-dimensional view to the way a sire interacts with the rest of the page.”

“Look at the Galileo/Danehill cross,” Hadden added. “That's the one that probably sets the standard and it's 22% stakes winners to runners, 17% stakes winners to foals of racing age. If you take the middle ground at 20%, that means 80% don't ever become stakes winners. You keep hearing people say nicks and crosses, and I think they do get overemphasized. You can have success by just using them, but I think if you want to do it more consistently there is more of a three-dimensional view of what's going on.”

The Wicklow-based Hadden became fascinated with pedigrees after he started flipping through sales catalogues looking for patterns at a young age, and he has been developing his business since graduating Darley Flying Start in 2006. Part of that portfolio includes his role as managing director of Craig Bennett's Merry Fox Stud, and Hadden recalled the purchase of the Sadler's Wells mare My Dark Rosaleen (GB) for Bennett for 190,000gns to breed to Dalakhani (Ire) back in 2008 as an example of how diving deeper into a pedigree reaped dividends.

“My Dark Rosaleen had a nice enough pedigree, being by Sadler's Wells and a full sister to [G2 Debutante S. winner] Silk and Scarlet,” Hadden said. “Dalakhani at the time wasn't roaring in fashion, but he was fashionable enough. You could certainly make a case for Dalakhani with a Sadler's Wells mare straight away, that was no secret; I didn't invent it and wouldn't claim to have, but I think with this particular mare you had to look beyond just Sadler's Wells. She had a strain of Irish River in the third generation and I had seen from Dalakhani's earliest results that if you had a Sadler's Wells mare with a bit of Riverman or Irish River in the pedigree that your odds of success were increased. You're benefitting from Dalakhani and Sadler's Wells, but there is also what I'd call reinforcement in the background. As it turned out if you crossed a Sadler's Wells mare with Dalakhani and you had Riverman or Irish River in the second or third generation, I think there were 12 runners, nine winners, four stakes winners and two Group 1 winners. So, if you had Dalakhani and Sadler's Wells you're working off a 10% strike rate, but if you had that strain in the background you were up to something like 33% stakes winners.”

Hadden, who also advised the mating of last Saturday's G3 Winter Derby winner Forest Of Dean (GB) (Iffraaj {GB}) for longtime client Car Colston Hall Stud, said the practice of looking deeper into a pedigree for profound influences, too, can provide an indication of what type of mare might work for a sire beyond simply what has worked for his relatives.

“People might say, 'what worked for this Galileo horse will work for that Galileo horse.' Or, 'what worked for Galileo will work for a son of Galileo.' I find a lot of times that crosses don't translate trans-generational,” Hadden said. “Galileo and Montjeu [both sons of Sadler's Wells] couldn't have been more opposite in terms of what type of mare they worked with, and I think that's because they're under the influence of their dam sires and female lines. Miswaki I think was a big factor in Galileo and with Montjeu, Top Ville influenced him a lot. Invincible Spirit a couple years ago was very popular with Machiavellian mares. I think Invincible Spirit had six stakes winners from 40 runners, and of course people tried other sons of Green Desert. Cape Cross was tried a lot, but he never had a stakes winner from a similar amount of runners. So it just goes to show that you can get carried away-what worked with one son of Green Desert won't necessarily work with another son.”

Hadden admits that small sample sizes place limitations on the scope of data on crosses and mating patterns, but that considering the many hurdles already standing between any given foal and black-type success, he'd rather utilize every bit of information in front of him.

“Small sample sizes are always a struggle, but I'd still rather follow something that's been successful six times out of 30 than no times out of 30 because at least you're still following some direction,” he said. “If a statistician said it could turn around the next 30 times, I'd find it hard to believe, given a foal has to be born, get through its first year of life, have clean x-rays, clean scopes, find the right trainer, go into training, have luck in running in races, have the ability, not break down; it's quite an achievement for a horse to get through its life and become a stakes winner. It's not just like, 'if I flip a coin x-number of times, it'll average out if I do it long enough.' It is more multifactoral.”

The success of a cross can, incidentally, also lead to its demise.

“The more something is tried the more often it'll start to fail, because with fashion people do hang onto new crosses,” Hadden said. “If you have a Dansili mare, one of the most common crosses at the moment would be Lope De Vega. I'm sure there will be plenty of Dansili mares out there that won't suit Lope De Vega, but [the breeder may] think 'the cross is so strong, we'll try it.' And maybe that's where it's falling down, because you end up producing a horse that's too big or too slow.

“Conformation is a big thing. Although you're trying to improve from generation to generation, you don't want to turn something which is quite neat and speedy into something slow and staying when it's not the core strength of the family. Sometimes there are weaknesses you'd like not to be there, but I also feel that if you try to do the opposite of what they are, you'll take away the efficiencies of the families and what makes them good.”

Hadden said that if he is “110% convinced” about a cross, he'll aim to try it three times before changing course.

“People might say, 'I sent my Montjeu mare to Dubawi and I got a nice winner, but it was only average. That cross didn't work for me.' It may not have worked because it wasn't tried to the extent that you got the animal you were wanting to get,” Hadden said. “That's why with matings that I really, really like, I'll probably try them three times. My Dark Rosaleen bred [G1 Grosser Preis von Berlin winner] Second Steps, and we had tried the mating [with Dalakhani] three times. The first one was a first foal and he was a moderate racehorse, a winner. Second Steps was the second foal and he was a Group 1 winner, and the third was a filly who was unfortunately unraced. So you do get a broad spectrum; you can get a different horse every time, but you're still trying to tap into that 20% pool if you can. There is another 80% pool that you don't want to be in. And that's with the best crosses; there are many that won't work anywhere near 20%.”

Breeders' Cup Double

Hadden had plenty to celebrate in 2020, having planned the matings of five Group 1 winners. In addition to GI Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic winner Digital Age (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), G1 Grand Prix de Paris and G1 Hong Kong Vase scorer Mogul (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) and G1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp and G1 Prix d'Ispahan winner Persian King (GB) (Kingman {GB}), Hadden shouted home two winners on the Breeders' Cup card: Bearstone Stud's homebred GI Turf Sprint scorer Glass Slippers (GB) (Dream Ahead) and the Ballylinch Stud and Ecurie des Charmes-bred Aunt Pearl (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}) in the GI Juvenile Fillies' Turf.

Hadden said that the decision to send Glass Slippers's dam Night Gypsy (GB) (Mind Games {GB}) to Dream Ahead came largely down to the fact that Dream Ahead is similarly bred to another sire that had worked with the damsire.

“You start off with the broodmare sire of Glass Slippers, which is Mind Games, and there wasn't a whole lot to go on because he was a cheaper commercial stallion that got limited opportunities; he stood at Bearstone. One of the best horses out of a Mind Games mare at the time was Hearts Of Fire, who was a Group 1 winner by Firebreak, who also stood at Bearstone. Hearts of Fire was one of two stakes winners from only 10 runners bred on the cross.

“Firebreak was by Charnwood Forest [who is] out of a Sadler's Wells mare, and Charnwood Forest was a son of Warning. I thought, 'Dream Ahead is very similarly bred to Firebreak.' He's by Diktat [also a son of Warning] who is out of a Sadler's Wells mare, so Charnwood Forest and Diktat were the same cross.

“The third similarity was that Dream Ahead is out of a Cadeaux Genereux mare, which is that fast, Tudor Minstrel sprinting line, and Firebreak was out of a [Song] mare, which is a fast, Tudor Minstrel sprinting line. So genetically they were very similar. Mind Games went back to the mare Thong through Thatch, and of course Thong was the granddam of Sadler's Wells who is in the pedigree of both Firebreak and Dream Ahead, and [Glass Slippers's] second dam was by Fairy King. So you have three subtle strains of that bloodline together.”

Lope De Vega may have seemed a natural choice for Aunt Pearl's dam Matauri Pearl (Ire) (Hurricane Run {Ire}) considering that she was bred in partnership by Ballylinch Stud and Lope De Vega was starting to do well with mares from the Montjeu line, but Hadden said there was more to it than that.

“Hurricane Run is a son of Montjeu and Lope De Vega has had some solid enough form with mares by Montjeu, so on a very basic level you could come up with Lope De Vega,” Hadden said. “But if you were looking at it from a purist point of view it does go a little bit deeper. Lope De Vega's dam is by Vettori, and Vettori was out of a Sir Ivor mare. Aunt Pearl's second dam is by Grand Lodge, and Grand Lodge was a Chief's Crown/Habitat cross. Habitat goes back to Sir Gaylord, as Sir Ivor did. What we are now seeing is that when Lope De Vega is crossed with a second dam sire who is out of a mare by Habitat, the numbers look very impressive; it's now five stakes winners from nine runners when you have the second dam set up that way. Look at the pedigree of [promising Godolphin 3-year-old] La Barrosa; he is bred on very similar lines to Aunt Pearl, by Lope De Vega out of a Montjeu-line mare, second damsire bred on a Danzig line/Habitat cross.

“Maybe that's coincidental or maybe there is something in it, I don't know, but if you're putting these ingredients in your basket, the more you put into your basket, the more you hope you're increasing your chances.”

And while that all may seem intricate to the layman, the more difficult part may actually be getting into the stallion of one's choice or that will be accepted by the market.

“There is such polarization now,” Hadden said. “Everyone wants the Kingmans of the world, the Lope De Vegas, the Siyounis, the Dubawis. There is such a pull towards a small group of stallions, and the only alternative people are willing to try are first-season sires, which we know nothing about. I've seen mares go to first-season stallions for their first five foals. Then the mare turns around to be a failure, and they go 'the mare is rubbish,' and they dump her and go on to the next mare, and send her the first five years to first-season sires. That's not anybody's fault, it's just the way unfortunately the market is set up.

“Some of those mares are not getting a chance. It would be nice to send them to something like Dream Ahead or New Approach, something that has proven form; they could get a young mare a stakes winner on the page, and then you can send her to whatever you want, and you've added to the mare's longevity. If you're able to be patient and take a more long-term view, even if you're having to take a hit one year commercially and send her to a horse like those proven stallions, it won't cost a fortune. You mightn't make a fortune at the sales, but if you have a bit of luck and they go and do it on the racecourse, you've made your mare and her other offspring more valuable. But I find sometimes that breeders don't want to take that view. It's all a very short term mentality and it's all been driven by the commercial sales. All the owner/breeders are gone and it's something that's probably going to get worse and worse, that people aren't taking a longer-term view of their mares.”

Book Sizes

Hadden, of course, is speaking of an issue that is of concern in most major breeding jurisdictions, and that resurfaced in the news in the U.S. last week with the announcement that three major stud farms are suing the American Jockey Club for their measure put in place last year capping the book sizes of stallions born in 2020 or after to 140 mares. Hadden said he thinks the intentions behind the mare cap are honorable-to promote genetic diversity and equine well-being-but that he doesn't necessarily think it will have the desired effect.

“I don't think a cap is going to increase genetic diversity; it's going to slow down the rate of decline in it, but you need to bring in fresh blood from different jurisdictions,” he said. “But those bloodlines have to be able to utilize the population of mares in those jurisdictions. You have someone like Saxon Warrior, and although he's out of a Galileo mare, can Sunday Silence blood thrive in Europe? That's the question. Although it didn't survive in Europe, the best outcross in recent years was Monsun. Monsun goes back to a horse that stood in Ireland called Tamerlane. He was exported to Germany and got opportunity out there. If something had happened and he'd never gone to Germany, Monsun would never have come to be because Tamerlane would never have been supported enough in Ireland.

“When they brought the sons of Monsun back to England and Ireland, they never got enough support to survive. You had a sort of one-generation pop with Monsun. He was a great stallion, but his line had to go away to come back again. Say you had Tamerlane in the U.S. now; he's still not going to get support because he's not fashionable. You can't make people use horses they don't want to use. They'll give up and stop breeding.”

Hadden said he thinks genetics have a way of sorting themselves out when the market remains open.

“To a certain extent it is a bit like a bottleneck,” he said. “You do go through the stages of dominant stallions, but then it seems to max out; it goes through it's bottleneck and it opens back up again. A couple years ago in Europe everyone was saying, 'we've got too much Danehill.' Now, try to name me a Danehill stallion you could send an elite mare to. There are very few Danehill-line stallions that would justify it. You do go through a stage where these things go through a bottleneck, but then they open up again.”

With almost 15 years formal experience under his belt, Hadden is starting to see the fruits of his labour come full circle. He designed the mating for Merry Fox Stud in 2011 that produced the G1 Moyglare Stud S. winner Cursory Glance (Distorted Humor), and he has just finished with the mating plan for what will be her sixth foal. Cursory Glance produced her third consecutive Frankel (GB), a colt, last year.

“Cursory Glance is in foal to Kingman and she's going to Lope De Vega,” Hadden said. “One of the nicest yearlings that [Bennett] put into training last year which is now a 2-year-old is Cursory Glance's Frankel filly, so he's very excited about her. Cursory Glance's first foal, a [4-year-old] colt by War Front, has won two of his three starts and has just had a few niggles, that's why he's had a bit of a slow process in terms of getting going.”

Cursory Glance is out of Time Control (GB) (Sadler's Wells), who is barren for 2021 but visits Mishriff (Ire)'s sire Make Believe (GB). Another of her daughters, the unraced Willow View (Lemon Drop Kid), produced last year's GI Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic scorer Digital Age, and she visits Invincible Spirit's son Kingman, having recently foaled a Dubawi colt.

“It didn't take lots of science to send her to Kingman, but not just going on the Invincible Spirit factor, Kingman himself has had two stakes winners out of mares by sons of Kingmambo, and one of those stakes winners is out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare,” Hadden said. “So we thought that fit her quite nicely.”

Merry Fox will support first-season sire Pinatubo (Ire) with Digital Age's full-sister Charming Spirit (Ire), while Yellow Band (Ire) (Dalakhani {Ire}), a full-sister to Second Step out of My Dark Rosaleen, goes to Night Of Thunder (Ire) after foaling to Pinatubo's Dalham Hall studmate Too Darn Hot (GB) this year.

“She has a gorgeous Dubawi yearling so we're continuing that Dubawi line, it seems to work with Dalakhani mares,” Hadden said. “She is going to Night of Thunder, who has also already worked with Dalakhani mares.”

Annabelle's Charm (Ire) (Indian Ridge {Ire}), the dam of G1 Middle Park S. winner Charming Thought (GB), is currently carrying a full-sister to that young sire and is likely to go back to their sire Oasis Dream (GB). Merry Fox also has well-bred mares for the likes of Kingman, Siyouni, Camelot and Dubawi, and is sending Pichola Dance (Ire) (Distorted Humor), who is out of a full-sister to the Sadler's Wells Group 1 winners Listen (Ire) and Sequoyah (Ire), across the pond to visit Blame after producing two foals by Siyouni.

“She's by Distorted Humor, who is a very good broodmare sire but all the good statistical information for him is all to American stallions,” Hadden explained. “We thought Blame would suit her physically. She's not over-big and Blame has worked well with Distorted Humor, another son of Forty Niner and a son of Distorted Humor, so there's quite a bit of nice information to give her a test.”

Dual Group 3 winner Luminate (Ire) (Lawman {Fr}) and the multiple listed placed Shambolic (Ire) (Shamardal) are two high profile recent purchases for Merry Fox in partnership with Newsells Park Stud. Luminate will visit Dubawi after producing a foal by him this year, while Shambolic, a half-sister to Group 1 winners Comic Strip (GB) and Laughing (Ire) bought from Floors Stud, is set for Kingman after foaling to Frankel.

With plenty of momentum behind him, Hadden-who also breed his own National Hunt stock–will continue to try to crack the pedigree puzzle of the Thoroughbred.

“I like strategy and finding trends,” he said. “I like puzzles and that was the side [of the industry] I was always drawn to. Seeing something that other people might not catch and being able to capitalize on it probably gives me a kick. There is no school for pedigrees. Even on any of the educational courses, you might get a lecture or two on something that might peak your interest, but you wouldn't come out of it having a vast knowledge. And everyone looks at pedigrees differently. It's all down to their own experience.”

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