11/08/2013 4:04PM

Sparkman: Development of top horses takes a village

Barbara D. Livingston
It took a village to produce Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, writes pedigree columnist John P. Sparkman.

Any survivor of the 1970s is inevitably reminded of the disco group The Village People by the name of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic hero, Mucho Macho Man. The Village People brought the phrase “macho man” into the vernacular through its hit disco anthem by that name.

The group was named by their creators, Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, for the American cultural stereotypes they portrayed on stage – construction worker, Native American, soldier, cowboy, motorcycle rider, police officer – playing on the idea that all types of people could be found in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.

At considerable risk of stretching a metaphor beyond the breaking point, the pedigree of Mucho Macho Man can be viewed as a group effort by a collection of offbeat characters rarely encountered in the Thoroughbred village, creating a sum somewhat inexplicably greater than its parts.

Mucho Macho Man was bred in Florida by John and Carole Rio, but the mating that created him was made by Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, who claimed his dam, Ponche de Leona, by Ponche, from her 30th and final start for $50,000. That is not to deprive any honor from the Rios, who took the risk of paying $33,000 for Ponche de Leona, in foal to the unproven sire Macho Uno, at the 2007 Keeneland November sale.

Ponche de Leona had slid a considerable distance down the scale from youthful glory at the time Adena Springs claimed her. Bred in Florida by Karen Imperato, she began her career at 2 by winning a 4 1/2-furlong, $25,000 maiden claiming race and a six-furlong, $50,000 claimer at Calder for Monarch Stables. Beaten in an allowance race, she won another $50,000 claimer, and then was sold privately to Charles Cono and transferred to trainer Christopher Paasch in California.

Ponche de Leona immediately won the six-furlong Anoakia Stakes at Santa Anita for Cono, and then ran second in the Moccasin Stakes at Hollywood Park to complete a productive juvenile season. Ponche de Leona raced pretty consistently in California allowance races and stakes for the next year or so, winning twice without earning more black type, but by the time she was five years old she was back to her claiming roots, winning for $40,000 in a 1 1/8-mile optional claimer on turf at Santa Anita and for $50,000 at a mile on the same course. All told, the tough, sound mare won eight of 30 starts, placed six times, and earned $260,870.

That admirable race record was considerably beyond what might have been predicted for a daughter of the rather obscure stallion Ponche, a son of the useful Mr. Prospector horse Two Punch out of the good, well-bred racemare Street Ballet, by Nijinsky II. Like his daughter, Ponche was a good, tough runner, winning 16 of 47 starts, including five stakes at Calder and Hialeah. Those local achievements did not earn him much patronage at stud in Florida, and he sired only five minor stakes winners from 134 foals in nine crops.

Ponche de Leona’s dam, Perfect and Proud, was a winning daughter of another decent racehorse who achieved next to nothing at stud: two-time Canadian stakes winner Nonparrell, a well-bred son of Hoist the Flag. Nonparrell sired only three stakes winners from 168 foals in seven crops.

Ponche de Leona was one of seven winners out of Perfect and Proud, who was a half-sister to stakes-placed Proud Drummer, by Spanish Drums.

If you go far enough back along any female line, you are bound to encounter good horses. Otherwise the line would have been discarded by breeders completely. Mucho Macho Man’s fourth dam, Gal Sal, by Blasting Signal, won the Clipsetta Stakes at old Latonia, but was a half-sister to a much better horse in 1972 Del Mar Oaks winner House of Cards, by Promised Land. House of Cards is the dam of Grade 3 winner Jacksboro, by Ace of Aces, and of unraced Execution, by The Axe II, who was purchased by the late Ned Evans and is ancestress of numerous Evans-bred stakes winners, including graded winners Possible Mate, Fairy Garden, Dream Empress, Prenup, and Cat’s At Home, among others.

Mucho Macho Man’s sixth dam, Sunny Dale, by Eight Thirty, was a full sister to stakes-placed Sunny Vale, dam of Darby Dan foundation mare Golden Trail, ancestress of Dynaformer, Sunshine Forever, Brian’s Time, Ryafan, Memories of Silver, and Winter Memories, among others.

The genetic distance of these championship-level horses from Mucho Macho Man reflects considerable credit for his ability on his sire, Macho Uno. Macho Uno – by Holy Bull out of Broodmare of the Year Primal Force, by Blushing Groom – is a half-brother to 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, by Deputy Minister. The gray or roan Stronach homebred was a Breeders’ Cup winner himself, and went one better than his older sibling by earning an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male in 2000.

Macho Uno’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory, by a nose over the hard-charging Point Given, was his third in four starts as a 2-year-old, following a victory in the Grade 1 Grey Stakes at Woodbine. Unfortunately, the rest of his career – and with it the question of exactly how good a racehorse he was – was shadowed by injury. Minor leg problems forced him to miss the Triple Crown races at three, but he returned in time to win the Grade 3 Pennsylvania Derby, and he ran very well indeed when fourth to Tiznow, Sakhee, and Albert the Great in the Breeders’ Cup Classic after a rather rushed preparation.

Macho Uno looked like he might have just as good a 4-year-old campaign as Awesome Again’s unbeaten run when he won his first two starts, including the Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap, but he did not follow through on that promise, running reasonably well but not up to his best form in his last four starts.

Retired to Adena Springs’s Florida branch in fall 2003 because of his half-brother’s presence at the Kentucky headquarters, Macho Uno enjoyed immediate success at stud when his son Wicked Style (out of Deviletta, by Trempolino) captured the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at 2 in 2007. Wicked Style’s contemporaries Macho Again (Go Donna Go, by Wild Again) and Harlem Rocker (Freedom Come, by Lit de Justice) achieved comparable feats by winning the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap and the Canadian classic Prince of Wales Stakes, respectively.

That was quite sufficient to justify Macho Uno’s transfer to Adena Springs in Kentucky, and he has continued to compile a fairly solid record as a stallion without reaching the same heights as Awesome Again, who has sired four Breeders’ Cup winners. Mucho Macho Man is one of 24 stakes winners from 531 foals of racing age by Macho Uno, including 2013 Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes winner Private Zone (Auburn Beauty, by Siphon).

Ponche de Leona did not produce a foal the year after Mucho Macho Man, and the Rios bred her to Gottcha Gold and sold her for only $5,000 to Fanlew Farms, agent, at the 2009 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. October mixed sale. The resulting foal, the filly Mucho Mans Gold, has won three of 10 starts to date and placed in the Sarah Lane’s Oates Stakes this year at Fair Grounds.

Ponche de Leona produced the current placed 2-year-old filly Golden Finish, by Chestertown Slew, in 2011, and was sold in foal to Macho Uno for $300,000 to Black Rock Stables at Keeneland November that fall. She has since produced a yearling full brother to Mucho Macho Man and a weanling filly by Tapit. She was bred this year to Distorted Humor.

Among the wonders of meiosis is the fact that the process of splitting chromosomes and creating eggs and sperm remixes the gene pool in unpredictable ways every generation. While it is true that the best sires and dams are able to contribute more of their positive genes to subsequent generations than less successful ones, those obscure stallions and mares do occasionally crop up in the pedigrees of even the best horses.

The names of Ponche and Nonparrell are rare in the pedigrees of graded stakes winners, but it takes all kinds of characters to make a village.