12/28/2012 3:31PM

Northern Dancer's male line reigns supreme


Over the first decade of the 21st century the most obvious trend in North American Thoroughbred breeding was the steady rise of the male line of Mr. Prospector. From 2000 through 2010, male-line descendants of Mr. Prospector won 22 of the 33 American Triple Crown events and led the general sire list four times (depending on what countries you count).

As a result, Mr. Prospector’s male-line share of North American graded stakes winners increased from 16.1 percent in 2000 to 29.3 percent in 2010. Over that same decade, however, the male line of Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector’s main rival in North America and the dominant male line in other parts of the world, maintained its lead, increasing its share of the graded stakes winner pool from 26.3 percent to 33 percent.

Those percentages remained stable in 2012. Through Dec. 26 and with just three graded stakes left to be run this year, 102 (29.3 percent) of the 348 North American graded stakes winners in 2012 trace in male line to Mr. Prospector, and 119 (34.2 percent) trace to Northern Dancer. If current trends extend for the next decade though, both Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector better watch out for the new kid on the block.

In 2000, A.P. Indy was one of the country’s hot young stallions with six graded winners of his own that year, but too young to have successful sons at stud. By 2010, A.P. Indy, his sons, and grandsons accounted for 10 percent of North American graded stakes winners. In just two years’ time, that percentage jumped to 13 percent as the great son of Seattle Slew, his sons, and grandsons sired 45 graded winners compared to 36 two years ago.

As shown in the accompanying table of 2012 graded stakes winners by male line, no other sire line accounted for more than 10 percent of graded winners, with only Hail to Reason and In Reality contributing really viable numbers of winners. All other current male lines, some of which have made valuable contributions in recent years, hover around 3 percent or below of graded stakes winners.

This increasing concentration of America’s best racehorses in only a few male lines must be partly due to the dramatic change in book size that began around 1990, when modernized veterinary techniques and stallion management practices allowed stallion managers to double (or more) the number of mares popular stallions could cover. As a result, only about half the number of stallions now stand at stud in major breeding states compared with 20 years ago.

This heightened competition for a reduced number of places at stud inevitably reduces the opportunities for surprise success by stallions from less popular lines. Thus, success in graded stakes becomes a self-reinforcement loop leading to concentration on only the most successful and most fashionable male lines.

A.P. Indy retired near the beginning of the big book era and sired enough top-class sons early to get a foothold in Kentucky breeding sheds in the 21st century. It may be much more difficult for “outside” lines to increase their share of the pie in the future.

The Storm Cat branch of the Northern Dancer male line, in fact, provided more graded winners (49, 14.1 percent) than any male line other than those of Mr. Prospector and his grandsire, Northern Dancer. The Deputy Minister branch of Northern Dancer and the Fappiano and Gone West branches of Mr. Prospector each provided about 7 percent of the graded stakes winners.

Individual honors are more evenly divided among the most powerful lines. Four stallions, Ghostzapper (Northern Dancer), Pulpit (A.P. Indy), Smart Strike (Mr. Prospector), and Speightsown (Mr. Prospector) shared honors as leading sires of graded winners with eight apiece, while Bernardini (A.P. Indy) and Dynaformer (Hail to Reason) each sired seven.

The now deceased Dynaformer shared leadership by graded stakes wins with Empire Maker (Mr. Prospector) with 13. Ghostzapper revived his flagging stud career by siring winners of 12 graded stakes.

On the other hand, the leading individual winners of graded races all were male-line descendants of Northern Dancer. Game On Dude, Groupie Doll, Wise Dan, and Zagora all won five graded stakes in 2012.

Wise Dan's dam shined brightest

Only four broodmares − Lisa Danielle, Memories of Silver, More Than Pretty, and Oatsee − produced more than one graded stakes winner in 2012.

Lisa Danielle, dam of probable Horse of the Year Wise Dan, by Wiseman’s Ferry, also is dam of Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes winner Successful Dan, by Successful Appeal. The 18-year-old daughter of South African champion Wolf Power is odds on to win Broodmare of the Year honors.

While Lisa Danielle was only a maiden winner, Memories of Silver was a Grade 1 winner and More Than Pretty was a stakes winner. Memories of Silver is dam of Grade 1 winner Winter Memories, by El Prado, and Grade 3 winner La Cloche, by Ghostzapper. More Than Pretty is dam of Grade 2 winner Kauai Katie and Grade 3 winner Winding Way, both by Malibu Moon. Last year’s Broodmare of the Year, Oatsee, dam of Grade 1 winner Shackleford, by Forestry, and Grade 2 winner Afleeting Lady, by Afleet Alex, was stakes placed. All four are from well-established high-class families.


North American Graded Stakes Winners By Sire Line

Recent history

SIRE LINE 2010 2000
Ack Ack 0 1 (0.3%)
Blandford 1 (0.3%) 2 (0.6%)
Blushing Groom 13 (3.6%) 18 (5.0%)
Bold Ruler 2 (0.6%) 16 (4.4%)
Caro 11 (3.1%) 6 (1.7%)
Damascus 1 (0.3%) 8 (2.2%)
Dark Ronald 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%)
Fairway 0 6 (1.7%)
Gallant Man 0 1 (0.3%)
Hail to Reason 24 (6.7%) 33 (9.1%)
Herbager 0 2 (0.6%)
Hyperion 0 2 (0.6%)
Icecapade 2 (0.6%) 7 (1.9%)
In Reality 18 (5.0%) 12 (3.3%)
Mr. Prospector 105 (29.3%) 58 (16.1%)
Nasrullah 0 6 (1.7%)
Nearctic 0 3 (0.8%)
Never Bend 1 (0.3%) 8 (2.2%)
Northern Dancer 118 (33%) 95 (26.3%)
Pretense 0 1 (0.3%)
Prince Rose 0 1 (0.3%)
Princequillo 0 3 (0.8%)
Raise a Native 7 (2.0%) 8 (2.2%)
Ribot 2 (0.6%) 21 (5.8%)
Rough'n Tumble 1 (0.3%) 3 (0.8%)
Seattle Slew 40 (11.2%) 23 (6.4%)
Sharpen Up 1 (0.3%) 5 (1.4%)
Tom Fool 5 (1.4%) 3 (0.8%)
Turn-to 5 (1.4%) 6 (1.7%)
T.V. Lark 0 1 (0.3%)

Sire line with major branches (major branch sire statistics include individual sires and their direct male line)

A.P. Indy   45 12.9%
  Pulpit 13 3.7%
Blushing Groom   7 2.0%
  Cherokee Run 4 1.1%
Broad Brush   4 1.1%
Caro   9 2.6%
Hail to Reason   29 8.3%
  Halo 11 3.2%
  Roberto 18 5.2%
In Reality   14 4.0%
  Relaunch 11 3.2%
Mr. Prospector   102 29.3%
  Afleet 4 1.1%
  Carson City 6 1.7%
  Fappiano 25 7.2%
  Forty Niner 15 4.3%
  Gone West 23 6.6%
  Kingmambo 5 1.4%
  Machiavellian 4 1.1%
  Smart Strike 10 2.9%
Northern Dancer   119 34.2%
  Danzig 20 5.7%
  Deputy Minister 25 7.2%
  Dixieland Band 7 2.0%
  Sadler's Wells 13 3.7%
  Storm Cat 49 14.1%
Raise a Native   4 1.1%

Includes graded stakes through Dec. 26

Leading sires by number of graded stakes winners in 2012

Smart Strike


Empire Maker
Giant’s Causeway
Malibu Moon

Broken Vow
City Zip
Distorted Humor
Proud Citizen

A.P. Indy
Awesome Again
Hard Spun
Lion Heart
Medaglia d'Oro
Rock Hard Ten
Unbridled's Song

Leading sires by number of graded stakes wins in 2012

Empire Maker


Smart Strike


Distorted Humor
Malibu Moon

Awesome Again
City Zip

Flower Alley
Wiseman's Ferry

A.P. Indy
Giant’s Causeway
Maria's Mon
Medaglia d'Oro
Proud Citizen
Scat Daddy

Carlotta Cooper More than 1 year ago
I was wondering why Nasrullah isn't given more credit in your article. Several of the sires mentioned above trace directly to him in male line, but he's kind of passed over. Now (2016) we have Tapit as a leading sire, his sons heading to stud, and Uncle Mo kids everywhere (back to Caro-Grey Sovereign-Nasrullah). Is the Nasrullah line poised to challenge the Northern Dancer line in North America? (I realize your article was written in 2012 and you aren't expected to be a fortune teller wrt sire lines.)
W. G. WARM WIND More than 1 year ago
Nice story John, but when you start out speaking of the 21st Century, that started in 2001, not 2000. I was wondering why you had 33 Triple Crown races in a 10 year span till I glanced back to see 2000. That year, 2000, would have been the end of the 20th Century. Great article though and a pleasure to see you here.
patton goldberg More than 1 year ago
G O A T!
Mark Morissette More than 1 year ago
For those interested in the Northern Dancer story, lend a hand to the cause of saving his birthplace, and resting place - Windfields Farm. It's a sad and unfortunate story what is now happening with the place, basically left to rot. www.savewindfields.com www.facebook.com/windfieldsfarm Thanks!
John Rogitz More than 1 year ago
Mark, Windfields was owned by a mega millionaire whose heirs decided to sell to a government school. With all due respect to the memory of Windfields and particularly to Northern Dancer, "saving" a farm whose ownership went from rich guy to government school doesn't get the pulse racing.
Pamela Barnard More than 1 year ago
Mark has brought forward a legitimate concern in our part of Canada. People would at least like to see the graves honoured and not locked away with no chance to come and view the great horses that are buried there. I think saving the entire farm is likely not possible due to the development spreading from Toronto but if it was not for Mark's group Northern Dancer's grave could not be seen for the weeds. I think Northern Dancer, Vice Regent, Lady Angela and the list goes on deserve the same treatment as many great American horses. As far as E.P. Taylor being rich, yes you are correct but is not every huge horse breeder in the world. Northern Dancer is the greatest stallion of the 20th Century and expecting the graves to be maintained and open to the public does not seem an unreasonable request to me. Carry on the good work Mark! There are those that greatly appreciate it.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Keep getting your message out! First I'd heard of this in the States.
Jim Pitura More than 1 year ago
AT 14 hands ND proved size isn't the most important factor in a racehorse
Betany Caballero More than 1 year ago
Trivia point - In Reality is the only gate to the tail male line to Man o' War. The most notable descendents of In Reality still carrying on the tail male line to Man o' War are Tiznow and Successful Appeal.
Patsy Finley More than 1 year ago
if they dont import alot of out of country horses soon they will have inbred so much that they cant withstand it i love alot of our sires and dams but most cant get a mile and most cant race over 20 times in their life most coming 3 year olds use to run 5 to 10 times as 2 year olds now most 3 year olds do good to race 3 times by the derby time and cant run all 3 triple crown races for they are to brittle we breed the best to the best long has gone john henry forgo and all the older horses that was bred for stamine and strength i just wish they all would look at what commercial breeding has done
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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mrm More than 1 year ago
Are you worried about her financial well being? I don't think anyone needs to take a collection for her.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Cannot help but notice that the number of three year olds that can race beyond their sophomore season is shrinking. Lots of nice, lovely classic winners who can't race around the block without their champagne glass legs falling apart. Numbers of annual starts are about half just a few years ago, not to mention lifetime starts are less than the annual starts of more healthy and robust Thoroughbreds of a few years ago. Not being an expert, all I can do is observe and ask questions and wonder. Other factors no doubt contribute...it never is just one thing.
Matt Sanders More than 1 year ago
I agree on the durability issue, but I also wonder if (to some degree) the top 3 year olds are retired now for the same ailments and aches that the top 3 year olds simply raced with 50 years ago, since the big money now is made in the breeding shed, instead of the winner's circle.
GOODWIN More than 1 year ago
How long until the inbreeding of the sire lines that ALL go back to Phallaris becomes a very serious issue? While a horse like Holy Bull gets little respect, despite being a sire of sires, and BC/KYDerby winners...