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John P. Sparkman: Survival strategy for sire lines
From the 1920s through the 1950s, the male line of Son-in-Law thrived by producing generations of winners of Europe’s two-mile-plus Cup races, while the male line descending from Gold Bridge dominated European sprint races from the 1930s into the 1960s. Both of those male lines are long dead, basically because they failed to diversify in a racing and breeding culture that moved dramatically away from specialization and toward versatility after World War II.
To survive in the contemporary Thoroughbred racing world, a sire line must produce everything from sprinters to at least 1 1/4-mile horses. Like Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector excelled at siring horses of varying distance capabilities, and various branches of his male line have developed differing characteristics along the distance and physical-type spectra.
As we discussed in the June 16 issue in looking at the Mr. Prospector line being responsible for 16 of the past 32 Belmont Stakes winners, Mr. Prospector never won beyond seven furlongs, and his sire, Raise a Native, raced and won only at age 2 at distances of five and 5 1/2 furlongs. A bowed tendon after his fourth start ended his racing career.
Mr. Prospector’s dam, Gold Digger, won at up to 1 1/8 miles, and her sire, Nashua, was eminently versatile, winning from five furlongs to two miles. Thus, despite Mr. Prospector’s apparent distance limitations, the genetic traits were always evident in his pedigree.
A medium-sized, lengthy horse with a very long, powerful hip and slightly plain head, Mr. Prospector himself turned out his right front slightly but was otherwise correct. His most important sire son, Fappiano (out of Killaloe, by Dr. Fager), was a much bigger horse, more in the mold of his broodmare sire, Dr. Fager, but he was offset and pigeon-toed.
Though he was a miler himself, Fappiano passed on many of the characteristics of his broodmare sire, combined with the stamina of Mr. Prospector’s broodmare sire, Nashua. Fappiano’s best son, Unbridled, established the most important classic branch of the Mr. Prospector line that is responsible for seven American classic winners, as shown in the accompanying chart.
Unbridled was a very large, crooked horse himself, and his best sons generally followed that template, especially his brilliantly fast son Unbridled’s Song, who has been a hugely successful sire despite developing a reputation for unsound stock.
Unbridled’s best classic son, Empire Maker, is not quite as big and is much more correct and elegant than other good sons of Unbridled, reflecting the much more refined, elegant physique of his broodmare sire, El Gran Senor. Most of Empire Maker’s best offspring have been fillies, but his son Bodemeister came very close to adding another classic winner to the Mr. Prospector saga last year and is now a popular, young stallion in Kentucky. Empire Maker was prematurely exported to Japan in 2011, and foals in his final American crop are 2-year-olds.
Mr. Prospector’s son Forty Niner, who came within a neck of winning the 1988 Kentucky Derby, was an almost diametrically opposite physical type to Fappiano. Perhaps slightly on the small side, he bore a strong physical resemblance, despite his chestnut coat, to his broodmare sire, Tom Rolfe, by Ribot. Forty Niner’s offspring, most notably his high-class son Coronado’s Quest, often inherited the fiery temperament associated with the Ribot male line, and they were generally medium-sized, compact horses.
Many of those characteristics have been maintained through Forty Niner’s best sire son, Distorted Humor, a medium-sized, very muscular, moody horse who never won beyond a mile but sires top-class runners over all distances and surfaces. Distorted Humor’s Travers Stakes-winning son Flower Alley has carried on the classic tradition, siring 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another.
Two-time leading sire Smart Strike (Classy ’n Smart, by Smarten), like his sire, is a bit plain, and his offspring are not the most correct or most beautiful sale horses, but buyers have learned that they far outrun their looks. Smart Strike is the youngest of Mr. Prospector’s great sire sons, and, as Palace Malice’s 2013 Belmont victory attests, there surely is more classic success to come from his branch of Mr. Prospector.
Palace Malice’s sire, Curlin, of course, won the 2007 Preakness, and Smart Strike’s other Preakness winner, Lookin At Lucky, is a popular, young sire at Ashford Stud in Kentucky. A bigger, more substantial horse than most Smart Strikes, Lookin At Lucky does not have perfect feet, but as a champion at 2 and 3, his race record bears the closest inspection.
Mr. Prospector has been mostly an American phenomenon to date. His non-stakes-winning sons Straight Strike (Bend Not, by Never Bend) and Faltaat (Epitome, by Summing) have been successful in New Zealand, and his classic-placed, English-raced son Bellotto (Shelf Talker, by Tatan) was a very good sire in Australia with a moderately successful son named Clang. Hussonet (Sacahuista, by Raja Baba) did very well in both Chile and Australia.
Machiavellian (Coup de Folie, by Halo), though, was by far Mr. Prospector’s most important foreign-based son. A highweighted 2-year-old in France, Machiavellian did not grow much between his first and second seasons and, despite finishing second in the 2000 Guineas, was somewhat disappointing at 3. His best son, Street Cry, raced mostly in America and stands in Kentucky, but his offspring, including the great Zenyatta, win all over the world on all surfaces.
Street Cry’s Kentucky Derby-winning son Street Sense did not please everyone with his first crop of 3-year-olds last year but has had a much better year in 2013 and seems likely to return to Kentucky from his banishment to Darley Japan this breeding season.
As they must to survive long term, other branches of Mr. Prospector have begun to establish themselves abroad. Seeking the Gold’s best son, Dubai Millennium, sired only one crop, but his best son, Dubawi, has quickly established himself as one of the top five sires in Europe. Gone West’s son Elusive Quality has sired top horses in America and Australia, and the full brothers Zafonic and Zamindar, by Gone West, have both sired high-class European runners.
French classic winner Kingmambo (Miesque, by Nureyev) stood his entire career in Kentucky and sired Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, a successful sire in his own right. Kingmambo appears much more likely to be a long-term influence abroad than in America, however.
Kingmambo sired European classic winners King’s Best, Rule of Law, Encke, Virginia Waters, Divine Proportions, Henrythenavigator, Light Shift, Bluemamba, and Russian Rhythm, plus Japanese Derby winner King Kamehameha and Japanese Horse of the Year El Condor Pasa.
King’s Best has sired 2010 Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Workforce, and King Kamehameha led the Japanese sire list in 2010 and 2011 and has sired Japan Cup winner Rose Kingdom and Japanese Oaks winner Apapane among his 30 stakes winners to date.
Obviously, the Mr. Prospector male line has not been confined to the sprint distances of his own racetrack victories. It is tempting to speculate that, had he remained sound, Mr. Prospector himself could have won at longer distances.
Really, though, it is not at all necessary to reach for imaginary explanations for the real-world success Mr. Prospector has enjoyed. Any horse’s racing career is a product of its genetics plus its environment and a healthy dose of pure luck.
Luck might not have fallen Mr. Prospector’s way in terms of racetrack soundness, but the gods of chance have a way of evening things out over time. Whatever Mr. Prospector’s true limitations might have been, the genetic potential was there, and Thoroughbred racing and breeding are much the better for it.
Fappiano-line classic winners
from tail-male line, with classic winners in bold
Victory Gallop (1998 Belmont)
Real Quiet (1998 Derby, Preakness)
Unbridled (1990 Derby)
Empire Maker (2003 Belmont)
Grindstone (1996 Derby)
Birdstone (2004 Belmont)
Mine That Bird (2009 Derby)
Summer Bird (2009 Belmont)
Red Bullet (2000 Preakness)
Maybe that required "versatility" in siring both sprinters and, frankly, what are no more than longer sprinters explains why the outer distance limit on the dirt for modern thoroughbred pedigrees is 10F. For males on the dirt, there are 11 Grade I one-turn races, nine of them 7F and under. But there are only four GI races at 10F on the dirt (and only when the BC is on a dirt track) and a single, obsolete Belmont at 12F. No other GI dirt race for males exists at 10F and longer other than these. Which explains why 12F on the dirt is an anachronism, since we breed to what we race. But hey, we have versatility, anything from 6F-8F with the possibility of staggering home an extra quarter in the Derby.
The bottom line of Prospector is where the greatness came from
A really great article. I enjoyed it immensely. Well done mr. Sparkman.
Amazing that throughout the entire article no mention was made of where Mr Prospectors greatness as a sire probably stemmed from - his grandsire the GREAT Native Dancer. And after reading the book about Mr Prospector, it seems likely that he received a bad rap as "unsound" when he was actually badly mismanaged throughout his racing career.