02/05/2016 4:02PM

Representing a tenuous line

Debra Roma
Withers winner Sunny Ridge represents the fading Holy Bull male line.

Once known as one of the three great American lines of the early 20th century, the male line of the 19th-century imported stallion Eclipse, by Orlando, has long been on figurative life support. Since he is a gelding, Sunny Ridge, by Holy Bull, winner of last weekend’s Grade 3 Withers Stakes, can do nothing to revive the line, but he is a reminder of how valuable this uniquely American line has been to the Thoroughbred.

Eclipse – who must not be confused with his undefeated eponymous line-founding seventh-generation male-line ancestor who was born about a century earlier – was bred in 1855 by Charles Fulke Greville at his Bushey Park Stud, adjacent to Queen Victoria’s Hampton Court Stud. His sire, Orlando, by Touchstone, had been famously awarded the Epsom Derby of 1844 when the horse who finished first was discovered to be a 4-year-old named Running Rein. Orlando proved worthy of a Derby win, leading the English sire list three times, while Eclipse’s dam was a full sister to the sprint stakes winner Gaper, by another Epsom Derby winner, Bay Middleton.

Sold to Henry Padwick at the Hampton Court yearling sale, Eclipse won the prestigious Clearwell Stakes at Newmarket as a 2-year-old and finished in a dead heat for first with the subsequent Epsom Derby winner Beadsman in the 1 1/4-mile Newmarket Stakes as a 3-year-old, but failed to stay in the Derby and finished fourth. Despite his form over 1 1/4 miles, Eclipse was considered primarily a speed horse, a quality not then in high fashion in England, and he was purchased by the American adventurer Richard Ten Broeck, owner of the first American-bred to win in England, Prioress.

Ten Broeck’s partner was Francis Morris of Throgg’s Neck, N.Y., and the pair also purchased and imported at the same time a fast mare named Barbarity, by Simoom. Barbarity’s five high-class daughters by Eclipse, led by inaugural Belmont Stakes winner Ruthless, were known as the “Barbarous battalion.”

Eclipse twice finished second to the unassailable Lexington on the American sire list, and his speedy son Alarm (out of Maud, by Stockwell) was regarded as the first great American sprinter in the era just after the demise of four-mile heat racing. Alarm’s champion son Himyar sired the immortal Domino and 1898 Kentucky Derby winner Plaudit, both of whom founded long-lived American sire lines.

Domino never led the American sire list, but his great son Commando did, as did subsequent male-line descendants Celt, High Time, Equipoise, and finally in 1994, Broad Brush. The Domino male line, though never particularly numerous, was the critical factor in the great American stud farms of James R. Keene, the Whitney family, and Col. Edward R. Bradley’s Idle Hour Stud.

Only one male-line descendant of Plaudit led the American sire list, another American racing immortal, Dr. Fager, who led the list in 1977 despite dying much too young. Great Above, Sunny Ridge’s paternal grandsire, was closely related to Dr. Fager. His sire, Minnesota Mac, was a high-class grass horse from the same Tartan Farm crop as Dr. Fager and was also by Dr. Fager’s sire, Rough’n Tumble, while Great Above’s dam, Ta Wee, by Intentionally, was a half-sister to Dr. Fager.

Champion sprinter over males in 1969 and 1970, Ta Wee passed on her sprinting genes to Great Above, who won the 1978 Grade 3 Paumonok Handicap and set a track record of 1:09 2/5 in the 1977 Toboggan Handicap. Although Holy Bull was easily the best of his 39 stakes winners, Great Above was a solid sire of sprinters, siring graded winners Love That Mac, Nany, and Great Smoke as well.

Holy Bull, though, was a different order of racehorse entirely. Bred by the late Rachel Carpenter’s Pelican Stable out of the Al Hattab mare Sharon Brown and bequeathed to her trainer, Jimmy Croll, he was unbeaten as a 2-year-old in 1993, and defeated eventual champion 2-year-old male Dehere in the Grade 1 Futurity. He suffered his first career defeat behind Dehere in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, but redeemed himself in the Grade 1 Florida Derby with Dehere absent. After an easy victory in the Blue Grass Stakes, Holy Bull was heavily favored for the 1994 Kentucky Derby, but caught a sloppy track, broke slowly, and never got anywhere near his favored pacesetting position, finishing far back behind Go for Gin.

Holy Bull returned to his best with a brilliant performance against older horses in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, beating champion sprinter Cherokee Run by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:33.98. After easy victories in the Dwyer and Haskell Invitational, Holy Bull tried 1 1/4 miles again in the Travers against Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat. Rider Mike Smith was able to measure out Holy Bull’s speed to perfection and he held off the stout stayer Concern by a neck in 2:02.03, with Tabasco Cat far back in third.

Holy Bull had not been nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, so he capped a Horse of the Year season with a five-length victory in the Grade 1 Woodward. He raced only twice at 4, winning the seven-furlong Olympic Handicap in typical fashion, but bowed a tendon in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, figuratively passing the torch as he was pulled up on the backstretch to the eventual winner Cigar.

With his unfashionable pedigree, Holy Bull was never going to be a superstar stallion, but he proved himself capable of getting top horses without achieving the consistency required of a top-class stallion. His best son, Macho Uno (out of Primal Force, by Blushing Groom), earned a 2-year-old male championship in 2000, and has carved out a stallion career similar to his sire’s with 37 stakes winners to date, including Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, multiple Grade 1 winner Private Zone, Brazilian champion Whoopee Maker, and Grade 1 winners Macho Again and Wicked Style.

Holy Bull has also sired Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo (Set Them Free, by Stop the Music) and Grade 1 winners Flashy Bull (Iridescence, by Mt. Livermore), Confessional (Whisper Who Dares, by Green Dancer), Bishop Court Hill (Just Cuz, by Cormorant), and Pohave (Trail Robbery, by Alydar).
Sunny Ridge was bred in New Jersey by his owner Dennis Drazin out of the twice-raced Songandaprayer mare Lignum Vitae, who ran third in a mile Saratoga turf maiden-claiming race at 3. He is the second of only two foals out of Lignum Vitae to date. Her dam, Slewdacious, by Seattle Slew, was unraced and produced nothing of note, but Slewdacious’s dam, Bodacious Tatas, by Distinctive Pro, was a durable and classy racemare, winning 11 of 57 starts, including the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher Handicap.

In fact, Sunny Ridge and Bodacious Tatas are the only black-type winners produced by any of Sunny Ridge’s first five dams, but his sixth dam was the prolific producer Eleven Keys, by Royal Union, dam of stakes winners Eleven Pleasures, Dewan Keys, and Over Arranged.

Sunny Ridge won his first start in a maiden claimer last summer at Monmouth Park and captured that track’s Sapling Stakes before running second to Greenpointcrusader in the Grade 1 Champagne, and to Exaggerator in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot. The Withers victory was his first start this year.
Since he is a gelding, Sunny Ridge cannot extend the tenuous male line of imported Eclipse further into the 21st century. That task must fall to Macho Uno and Mucho Macho Man as the only realistic candidates to preserve this rare American male line.

That possibility has been made all the more poignant by the fact that the only remaining prominent representative of the Domino branch of the imported Eclipse male line, Broad Brush’s son Include, has been primarily a sire of top fillies in the U.S. so far. Unfortunately that pattern has continued for Include on his recent shuttles to Argentina, where he has sired three Group 1-winning fillies, but, to date, has no colts to win at that level.