Taking Stock: Midnight Bourbon's American Lines

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Midnight Bourbon | Hodges

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Throughout time, American bloodstock has been continually infused with new blood from other countries, just as a long history of immigration has made this country a melting pot of cultures. But these things come at some cost, don't they? What of the more or less original American sire and dam lines that have been subverted by the newer arrivals? Who's looking out for their interests as they get forgotten and cast aside?

The Tiznow colt Midnight Bourbon, who is on the Gl Kentucky Derby trail after winning the Glll Lecomte S. at Fair Grounds two weeks ago, represents patriotic pushback in a way. He was bred by Barbara Banke's high-profile Stonestreet with an assist from Kenny Troutt's high-flying stud farm WinStar, where recently retired Tiznow stood, and both deserve credit. Tiznow traces in tail-male to Man o' War, that great and iconic American symbol of grandeur, and the dams in Midnight Bourbon's tail-female line of descent could be members of the group Daughters of the American Revolution. Stonestreet and WinStar have combined to put America first in Midnight Bourbon, and if he were to win the Derby, or any Grade l race for that matter, earning a prominent chance at stud, there'll be a lot of grateful hallelujahs from nativists for making an American pedigree great again.

The Man o' War line has been on the fringes for decades, but in recent times Tiznow, the sire of 82 black-type winners, was its primary face and force, and he was a horse who also inspired patriotism on the track. Remember Tom Durkin's indelible “Tiznow wins it for America!” call after the son of Cee's Tizzy notched his second Gl Breeders' Cup Classic by a nose from European invader Sakhee after 9/11? And some of you may recall that Relaunch (In Reality), the sire of Cee's Tizzy, was notably advertised during his stud career as “The Great American Racehorse Sire,” and for good reason. This uninterrupted American-bred line from Tiznow back reads: Cee's Tizzy (1987)—Relaunch (1976)—In Reality (1964)—Intentionally (1956)—Intent (1948)—War Relic (1938)—Man o' War (1917)—Fair Play (1905)—Hastings (1893). The first imported stallion in this line was Australian (GB) (1858), the grandsire of Hastings.

Unfortunately, several well-performed sons of Tiznow haven't been able to carry his name forward yet, and it's fair to say the Man o' War line is on the precipice of extinction unless a savior arrives. WinStar does have young sire Tourist, a son of Tiznow with first-crop 3-year-olds at the races, but there aren't many others around, which is one reason why Midnight Bourbon's future success will be celebrated.

This is also an heirloom sire line as it's the only one alive in America that tracks to the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three founding sires of the Thoroughbred along with the Byerley Turk and the Darley Arabian–to whom most Thoroughbreds now trace. The American line of Plaudit/Himyar that was briefly revived by Holy Bull is also an heirloom variety that's barely surviving, but it does go directly to the all-conquering Darley Arabian.

The accompanying chart of the sire lines of the last 100 winners of the Kentucky Derby puts the state of affairs of the Man o' War line and the Godolphin Arabian in bas relief. War Admiral was the last from this line to win the Classic, in 1937, and before him it was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.

This chart also illustrates the chain migration of sire lines from foreign lands. Take the French import Sir Gallahad lll (Fr), who was later followed by his brother Bull Dog (Fr), the sire of Bull Lea. These brothers had outstanding success at stud, mirrored in the Derby results, and later their sire Teddy (Fr) was imported as an older stallion after they'd established themselves. Teddy's own success was limited here in old age, but he did get Case Ace after his arrival, and Case Ace's daughter Raise You pivotally produced Raise a Native–the main source of Sickle (GB)/Phalaris (GB).

The virulent success of the Phalaris line through sons Sickle and Pharos (GB), and to a lesser extent Sickle's brother Pharamond (GB), particularly stands out. This line accounts for 45 of the last 50 winners of the Derby (42 for Sickle and Pharos without Pharamond), and the commercial popularity of some of its members has created reactionary backlash in the form of limits to books at 140 mares and concerns of too many of the same names in the population. There's certainly some nostalgia for the good old days at play in these sentiments.

The Tail-Female Line

There's some of that same nostalgia in reflecting on Midnight Bourbon's tail-female line, which is absent of foreign interlopers. The entirely American-bred dams in this sequence go back to the mid-1700s in a line of descent that ends at a foundation mare called Janus Mare Number 1 (American Foundation Mares A1 family), a daughter of the imported Godolphin Arabian grandson Janus. This makes Midnight Bourbon even more unique, tracing to the Godolphin Arabian on his top and bottom lines.

The family of Janus Mare Number 1 through the years has had bursts of success, producing Regret, the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, as well as other Derby winners Riley, Azra, Ben Brush, and Exterminator, but the most recent member to win the Classic was Gato Del Sol in 1982, and he's the only one from the family to do it in the last 100 years.

Essentially, this family in recent times had been living a fairly blue-collar existence, but occasional successes now and then–Shancelot, Silver Max, and Kiss a Native, to name three notable recent representatives–suggested that it could get upwardly mobile if given a chance. Barbara Banke gave it opportunity, and she's been rewarded.

Banke purchased Midnight Bourbon's unraced dam Catch the Moon (Malibu Moon) for $240,000 at Keeneland November in 2015 carrying a foal by Shanghai Bobby. The mare made that money mostly because her first foal Cocked and Loaded (Colonel John) was two at the time of sale and had won the Glll Iroquois S. As a son of the Tiznow stallion Colonel John–a WinStar homebred Grade l winner who stood at WinStar before going to Korea–Cocked and Loaded provided Banke and her team with the blueprint for the mating that produced Midnight Bourbon in 2018, after Catch the Moon was barren to Curlin in 2017.

Catch the Moon has become a remarkable producer since. Her second foal Girvin (Tale of Ekati) won the Gl Haskell Invitational S. in 2017, and her third, the Stonestreet-bred Pirate's Punch (Shanghai Bobby), was Grade lll-placed in 2019 before Midnight Bourbon sold for $525,000 at Keeneland September that year. Pirate's Punch has subsequently become a Grade lll winner, and with Midnight Bourbon's Lecomte win, Catch the Moon has now accomplished the rare feat of producing four graded winners from her first four living foals, two of them from the Man o' War line via Tiznow.

Until Tiznow, Catch the Moon had made her mark with two stallions that were subsequently exported (Colonel John and Shanghai Bobby) and one that now stands for $5,000 (Tale of Ekati). She once sold for only $30,000 carrying Cocked and Loaded but is now a bona fide commercial mare, fully part of the establishment with foals on the ground or in the pipeline by Curlin and Quality Road.

She's the American dream in more ways than one.

Postscript

Catch the Moon's stakes-winning dam Catch My Fancy (Yes It's True) is a product of close 3×2 inbreeding to the mare Monique Rene (Prince of Ascot)–Midnight Bourbon's fourth dam. Yes It's True's dam Clever Monique was a daughter of Monique Rene, a tough and popular Louisiana-bred stakes winner of 29 races, and Catch My Fancy's dam Walk Away Rene was also a daughter of Monique Rene. This type of inbreeding to females is frequently referred to as the RF or Rasmussen Factor, named after my great friend, pedigree authority and longtime DRF columnist Leon Rasmussen.

Louisiana oilman John Franks was the official breeder of Catch My Fancy, but it was his advisor Dan Kenny who probably planned her mating. Dan was a keen student of pedigrees, and he would frequently discuss the RF with me whenever I was in Lexington in the 1990s, knowing of my friendship with Leon. Although I can't verify this with certainty because Dan died a couple of years ago, I'm about 99% sure that this mating has his fingerprints all over it.

Catch My Fancy, by the way, produced the listed winner and Grade lll-placed Dubini (Gio Ponti) in 2013, one year before her daughter produced Girvin. The sires of both are by Tale of the Cat, a son of Storm Cat. Catch My Fancy's only other black-type winner is What a Catch (Justin Phillip), who's by a Storm Cat-line sire.

Similarly, Midnight Bourbon's half-brother Pirate's Punch and Shancelot (from a three-quarter sister to Yes It's True) are by Shanghai Bobby, also a Storm Cat-line horse.

Yes It's True (Is It True) was a top-class sprinter and an outstanding physical specimen who was officially bred by George Waggoner, but it was Johnny T.L. Jones Jr. of Walmac who'd sold Clever Monique carrying Yes It's True to Waggoner for $16,000 at Keeneland November 1995.

At the time, Waggoner was being advised by pedigree consultant Les Brinsfield, who was crazy about Clever Monique's pedigree and recommended her purchase. Brinsfield made it a habit to study female families in depth, had great knowledge of their histories, and certainly would have been enamored by an American family that traced to Janus Mare Number 1. He deduced right away that this family could benefit from the American blood of Man o' War.

Presaging the matings that produced Midnight Bourbon and Cocked and Loaded, Waggoner and Brinsfield bred Clever Monique in consecutive years to Skywalker, a son of Relaunch, but neither mating produced a stakes horse. In 1998, Waggoner bred the mare back to Yes It's True's sire, and later that year he benefited from this when 2-year-old Yes It's True–who he'd sold for $220,000 as a yearling and was later pinhooked at two for $800,000–twice won Grade lll races and was second in the Gl Futurity S. Yes It's True would go on to become a Grade l winner the next year.

Around this time, pedigree consultant Alan Porter was now advising Waggoner, who wanted to cash out on the mare, and sometime in late 1998 or early 1999 Porter and I privately sold the in-foal Clever Monique to Becky Thomas, who became the breeder of Yes It's True's stakes-winning sister Honest Deceiver. This branch of Monique Rene hadn't done much since and had fallen on hard times until last year when the obscurely sired Hollywood Hills (Hoorayforhollywood), whose second dam is Honest Deceiver, won a Cal-bred black-type race at Del Mar and then placed second in the Glll Torrey Pines S. at the same track for owner-breeder George Krikorian.

Krikorian bred, raced, and stands the sire Hoorayforhollywood, who wasn't a stakes winner but happens to be a son of Storm Cat, and this may be yet another indication that an alliance for this family with the Storm Cat line–a member of Pharos/Phalaris–may ultimately be the avenue for its survival as options for using Man o' War-line horses diminish.

Sometimes you have to accept the inevitable.

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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