11/09/2007 12:00AM

Deep family, like Playful Act's, draws bidders

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - The concept of deep family was central to the attraction possessed by some of the multimillion-dollar mares sold this week at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale.

Deep family is not simply a close relationship to a major racehorse. For instance, probable Horse of the Year Curlin is an outstanding racehorse, but he does not have a deep family. His dam had produced no black-type performers prior to Curlin, the Preakness and Breeders' Cup Classic winner, and her dam, Grade 2 stakes winner Barbarika, has not produced a stakes winner herself.

The lack of a deep family does not diminish Curlin's ability. Not one whit. But the volume of high-class stakes performers does influence sales value, and was one reason that Curlin, although an outstanding individual, sold for only $57,000 as a yearling.

In contrast, the $10.5 million mare Playful Act, who sold at Keeneland on Monday, does have a deep family. Not only was this daughter of the great sire Sadler's Wells the highweighted filly at 2 on the English Handicap, but she also won a Groupo1 race at that age and trained on well to run second in the Irish Oaks at 3.

Playful Act is one of five stakes winners out of her dam, Group 3 stakes winner Magnificient Style (by Silver Hawk). Two of the mare's other stakes winners, Percussionist and Echoes in Eternity, won at the Group 2 level, and a third placed in a Group 3 stakes.

In addition to producing Magnificient Style, the second dam, Mia Karina, also produced Siberian Summer, winner of the Grade 1 Strub Stakes, and the third dam has other good producing daughters, including Copperhead, dam of Gradeo1 winner Silver Ending.

The fourth dam of Playful Act is the Nasrullah mare Delta, one of the best mares that Claiborne Farm bred and raced, and the fifth dam is Bourtai, an outstanding producer and the dam of several important broodmares.

The pedigree of Playful Act is an archetype for what is meant by depth of family, with performers of exceptional quality for generation after generation.

Likewise, another daughter of Sadler's Wells, the 6-year-old Winds of March, sold on Monday for $1.9omillion. Although she won just once in only two lifetime starts, Winds of March has an exceptional pedigree. Her siblings include four stakes winners, including Group 1 winners Taipan, Ali-Royal (highweight in England), and Sleepytime (classic winner).

Their dam is stakes winner Alidiva, a half-sister to Group 1 winner Croco Rouge, and the next dam is Shore, who is one of five stakes winners out of the previously mentioned Delta.

While most of the high-ticket broodmares have fancy ancestors, not all are so greatly blessed.

For instance, Spun Sugar was an outstanding racemare. She won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom and Go for Wand, ran second in the Alabama and Mother Goose, and was third in the CCA Oaks. With that kind of race record, with earnings of nearly $1omillion, by a sire like Awesome Again, and in foal to A.P. Indy, Spun Sugar brought $4.5 million.

But if you look only along the bottom line of her pedigree, which is all that is shown on the catalog page, there is not a racer of comparable quality for the better part of a century.

By the time you reach the seventh dam, the St. Germans mare Lazy Susan, you find her as the producer of Ashland Stakes winner Drowsy, and the eighth dam, the Delhi mare Idle Dell, produced the Pimlico Futurity and Matron Stakes winner Glade. Drowsy has a solid branch of this family coming through her daughter Sunday Evening, winner of the 1949 Spinaway. But that is a long way back.

The fact that Spun Sugar is the best in her branch of the family for generations is not a negative. Excellence is always a positive. Furthermore, Spun Sugar's second dam produced a pair of minor stakes winners. One of them was Irish Cherry, the dam of Spun Sugar. This recent improvement from generation to generation may indicate that the family is accumulating quality and might be ready for a breakthrough with the lovely bay daughter of Awesome Again as the catalyst.

While deep family plays well on the catalog page and helps to light up the board with high prices, not very many horses can have this volume of excellent relations. The odds of racing and breeding are stacked against success, and the mares who produce notable offspring are the exceptions to the norm. But the families who do breed success for generation after generation not only beat the odds but also reap the accumulated prestige for their family accomplishments.