11/08/2013 3:56PM

King James line hangs on via Macho Uno

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Back on Sept. 28, racing witnessed an unusual Grade 1 double when Mucho Macho Man and Private Zone – both sons of Macho Uno – respectively captured Santa Anita’s Awesome Again Stakes and Belmont Park’s Vosburgh Invitational. Five weeks later, the former returned for a triumphant $5-million encore in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and in the process vaulted his hot-as-a-pistol sire into the North American top 10 by 2013 progeny earnings.

From a genetic standpoint this was a good thing. In a breed incestuously dominated by two or three dominant names, the stallion Macho Uno is an anomaly, with no duplication of parentage through five generations, and lacking even an ounce of the Northern Dancer blood that has flooded the Thoroughbred world like a typhoon. Thirteen of last week’s 14 Breeders’ Cup winners carried at least one genetic dollop of that great progenitor. Six boasted three such crosses – Wise Dan, Groupie Doll, Beholder, Outstrip, Chriselliam, and Magician. Only Turf Sprint heroine Mizdirection lacked any influence.

Noteworthy from another historical perspective is Macho Uno’s top stirp, a male descendancy that has held together tenaciously, sometimes by a hair’s thread, and in defiance of all odds through 12 American generations and 150 years. It is a story of pure Darwinian survival.

Tales abound in this male line, but one especially interesting link occurred about a century ago in the outsized form of Mucho Macho Man’s nine-times great-paternal-grandsire, King James. That son of 1898 Kentucky Derby winner Plaudit was not the best of his crop (that being unbeatable Colin), nor second-best (Man o’ War’s sire, Fair Play), but the clownishly lop-eared, ravenous hulk was good enough to elicit deep respect from two future Hall of Fame horsemen. In fact, in 1908 he brought these one-time enemies together in a horse-trading deal that satisfied both parties.

The back story of that long-ago affair of loathing between owner-trainer Samuel Hildreth and owner-breeder-trainer John E. Madden is cloudy, but their animosity at the time was very real and quite public. Whatever the provocation, one evening in 1900 an inebriated Hildreth spotted Madden in a New York restaurant, wove his unsteady way between tables, and proceeded to crack his rival over the head with a walking stick so hard it broke clean in half. Oddly unfazed, Madden threw his attacker to the floor and commenced administering a fist-beating worthy of a prize fighter. Drunk but not stupid, Hildreth issued an instant apology.

Eight years later the two could be found happily conducting business together, notably when Hildreth bought Madden-homebred King James.

For both, he performed brilliantly, finishing in the top three in 48 of 57 bicoastal starts, winning from six to 18 furlongs, and successfully packing up to 142 pounds en route to $100,000-plus earnings. King James’s 1911 retirement brought Hildreth to sentimental tears, for he knew he’d never see his like again.

King James made little noise at stud, though he did get 1916 Travers winner Spur, who kept the line alive, just barely, on down to his great-great-grandson Rough’n Tumble, with whom things took an interesting turn. Rough’n Tumble’s 1964 foal crop included a pair of noteworthy colts. One would become a weight-carrying, world-record-setting whirlwind of blinding brilliance; the other a minor Chicago turf stakes winner of $63,275. Which would move this male line into the future? Not Dr. Fager, whose branch ultimately withered to dust on the genetic vine. No. It was left to humble Minnesota Mac to drag the family with a lion’s roar into the 21 century through his Hall of Fame grandson Holy Bull, and paternal great-grandson … Macho Uno.