06/12/2008 11:00PM

Da' Tara revives long dormant line

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When War Admiral won the Belmont Stakes to complete his Triple Crown in 1937, nobody would have dreamed that the Fair Play-Man o' War line was about to pass into obscurity on the American classic scene.

Yet the victory by Da' Tara in last week's Belmont Stakes is a bit of bloodstock history as the first classic success for a colt from the Man o' War line since War Admiral's victory in the same race 71 years ago.

From the beginning of the 20th century, this line of racers founded by Belmont winner Hastings and passing through his son Fair Play (second to the unbeaten Colin in the Belmont) was one of the three greatest in American breeding, along with the lines of Domino and Ben Brush.

And of the three, the Fair Play-Man o' War line was considerably the most classic.

From this group of sires came such classic victors as Kentucky Derby winner Clyde Van Dusen and Preakness winner Display.

Then in the Belmont, Fair Play sired three winners (Man o' War, Mad Play, and Chance Shot), just like his famous son Man o' War (American Flag, Crusader, and War Admiral).

The Fair Play-Man o' War line was the equal or superior to any of the European lines imported to the United States during the early decades of the 20th century and challenging the long-resident lines for supremacy in the sire listings.

In physique, the line from Fair Play was big, rangy, and somewhat late-maturing. Most of these horses were better at 3 or 4 than at 2, and most showed better form at distances of 1 1/4 miles or longer.

They tended to have considerable bone, which helped them to withstand years of racing, but it is also one of the reasons that they needed time to strengthen and develop enough muscle to push their big frames around the racetrack.

And at the beginning of the 1940s, no American line of sires was considered more valuable for its durability and stamina.

Perhaps an excess of those qualities doomed the line because it nearly disappeared in the male line.

Although the stakes winners from the Man o' War line kept showing up through the 1940s, by the time that War Admiral died in 1959, the line was clearly in trouble as a source of classic colts.

None of Man o' War's other sons had bred on too well, although Hard Tack did sire champion Seabiscuit, and War Admiral's best son, champion Blue Peter, died before going to stud.

The influence of Man o' War and Fair Play continued in the breed through the excellence of their daughters, and War Admiral bred on as the broodmare sire of champions Buckpasser, Affectionately, Never Say Die, and Hoist the Flag.

Also, Preakness winner Display's son Discovery was a great broodmare sire, with his daughters producing such outstanding racehorses and sires as Bold Ruler, Native Dancer, Hasty Road, and Intentionally.

Intentionally is especially important to this story because he was a great-grandson of Man o' War in the male line.

About the time breeders had given up on this line continuing, it morphed into a line suited to the conditions of the 1960s and 1970s.

This branch of the line through Intentionally descends from Man o' War's son War Relic, a winner of the Narragansett Special over Triple Crown winner Whirlaway in 1941.

At stud, War Relic was somewhat atypical of the line, getting a champion 2-year-old in Battlefield and a very fast horse named Relic, who became an important sire overseas.

War Relic's son Intent was much more typical of the Man o' War line. Intent won the San Juan Capistrano twice, as well as the Santa Anita Maturity, and he was a fair sire, getting Intentionally and 10 other stakes winners.

But whereas his sire was a late-maturing distance horse, Intentionally was speed itself. He won the Futurity Stakes at 2, then the Withers and Jerome at 3. A black horse, Intentionally continued winning stakes through his 6-year-old season and was retired to stud in Florida, where he sired a son who was even better than himself: In Reality.

A horse of immense speed who was inbred to War Relic, In Reality won the Florida Derby and Metropolitan Handicap, and he stayed well enough to run second in the Preakness to Damascus.

The best stallion in this direct line since Man o' War, In Reality sired 2000 Guineas winner Known Fact, Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Believe It, Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Smile, champion Desert Vixen, and her full brother Valid Appeal, who became a major sire in Florida.

But the most important son of In Reality for the classics was Relaunch, a gray horse out of Foggy Note (by The Axe). Relaunch had the speed of Intentionally and In Reality with more stamina. A big horse, Relaunch added scope and stamina to the mix and immediately sired a colt with classic prospects in Skywalker, who won the Santa Anita Derby the year before winning the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Other important sons of Relaunch include Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Waquoit and Metropolitan Handicap winner Honour and Glory. But one of Relaunch's lesser sons, the stakes-placed Cee's Tizzy, sired Horse of the Year Tiznow.

Out of the Seattle Song mare Cee's Song, Tiznow was champion at 3 and 4, and he possessed the stamina and class required to sire classic horses.

Da' Tara is from the third crop by his sire, who now ranks second by earnings on the general sire list and currently has a half-dozen graded stakes winners, including Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John and San Antonio Handicap winner Well Armed.