10/25/2013 4:56PM

Sparkman: Evolution of sire lines seen at Breeders' Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Descendants of the late sire Mr. Prospector have been dominant at the Breeders' Cup.

Although the Kentucky Derby – and to a lesser extent the Preakness and Belmont – might enjoy more widespread popularity and recognition among the sporting public, the Breeders’ Cup represents the highest-quality racing on the North American continent each year. As such, it is both entirely predictable and entirely fitting that cumulative Breeders’ Cup results over its 29-year history reflect the distribution and evolution of major American and international sire lines.

In 1984, when the Breeders’ Cup was inaugurated, the 20-year-old Northern Dancer led the English sire list for the fourth and last time. Although his champion son Slew o’ Gold was controversially beaten in the first Breeders’ Cup Classic, Seattle Slew finished 1984 atop the American sire list for the first and only time.

Seattle Slew’s sire championship marked the 18th time since 1955 that Nasrullah or one of his male-line descendants had led the American sire list. After such a dominant streak of 18 championships in 30 years, no one would have guessed that 19 more years would pass before another male-line descendant of Nasrullah, Seattle Slew’s son A.P. Indy, would top the American sire list.

The results of three other inaugural Breeders’ Cup events that day presaged the future, however. Chief’s Crown’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile made his sire, Danzig, by Northern Dancer, the leading freshman sire of 1984. And the victory of Northern Dancer’s great-granddaughter Royal Heroine (by Lypheor, by Lyphard, by Northern Dancer) in the first Breeders’ Cup Mile gave Northern Dancer a lead on the Breeders’ Cup male-line list that he has never relinquished.

On that same day, the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Sprint victory of Eillo confirmed the position of his sire, Mr. Prospector, among the world’s elite sires.

As shown in the accompanying chart, descendants of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector have continued to dominate the Breeders’ Cup, leaving the once-dominant Nasrullah male line in third place and other male lines in supporting positions. Over the 29 years of the Breeders’ Cup’s existence, the Northern Dancer male line has provided 73 of the 240 individual Breeders’ Cup winners. That 30 percent strike rate is remarkably close to the Northern Dancer male line’s “market share” of about 33 percent of all individual American graded stakes winners over the past five years, especially considering the line’s comparative youth in 1984.

Northern Dancer’s son Be My Guest had led the English sire list in 1982, but it would be four more years before Lyphard, by Northern Dancer, led the American sire list and five more years after that before Danzig made it to the top for the first of three consecutive years. In subsequent years, Palace Music, Deputy Minister, Storm Cat, El Prado, and Giant’s Causeway have added to Northern Dancer’s legacy of leading sires in America, and Sadler’s Wells, Caerleon, Galileo, Danehill, Montjeu, and seemingly countless other descendants have ascended to the top of sire lists worldwide.

As shown in the accompanying table, the male-line branches of four different sons and two grandsons (Deputy Minister and Storm Cat) of Northern Dancer have provided at least four individual Breeders’ Cup winners. The Danzig branch of Northern Dancer alone has provided more winners than the much older Ribot, Damascus, In Reality, and Icecapade male lines. Danzig remains a powerful influence in American sire lines, especially with the recent rise of his sensational young son War Front, who might have more than one live candidate at this year’s Breeders’ Cup meeting. Descendants of Sadler’s Wells and Storm Cat also are certain to have a say in the proceedings at Santa Anita.

Mr. Prospector was only 14 years old at the time of the first Breeders’ Cup meeting, and his first Breeders’ Cup winner, Eillo (out of Barbs Dancer, by Northern Dancer), was a product of his final Florida crop, conceived before his transfer to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky. The better mares available in Kentucky enabled Mr. Prospector to lead the American sire list in 1987 and 1988, but surprisingly, only four of his male-line descendants – his son Smart Strike in 2007 and 2008 and grandsons Thunder Gulch in 2001, Elusive Quality in 2004, and Distorted Humor in 2011 – have ascended to similar heights. Remarkably, the Mr. Prospector male line has been much more dominant in the American Triple Crown races, notably producing 14 of the past 19 Belmont winners, 10 of the past 19 Kentucky Derby winners, and 11 of the past 19 Preakness winners.

Since 1984, descendants of Turn-to (Halo, Saint Ballado, Kris S.), Nasrullah (A.P. Indy, Cozzene), Tom Fool (Buckaroo), Raise a Native (Alydar), and Ack Ack (Broad Brush) also have led the American sire list, but only Turn-to and Nasrullah have made a comparable impact on the Breeders’ Cup.

The Nasrullah male line is holding its own primarily through the rising influence of A.P. Indy, but as recently as last year, Mizdirection, by Mizzen Mast, a male-line descendant of Nasrullah through his son Grey Sovereign, and Grey Sovereign’s grandson Caro, captured the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and Flotilla, another daughter of Mizzen Mast, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Similarly, Pounced, by Rahy, by Blushing Groom, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2009.

Turn-to’s male line scored its first victories at the 1985 Breeders’ Cup meeting when his great-granddaughters Life’s Magic and Twilight Ridge, both by Cox’s Ridge (by Best Turn, by Turn-to), captured the Distaff and Juvenile Fillies, respectively. The victory of Halo’s great son Sunday Silence in the 1989 Classic was the first of seven for that branch of Turn-to’s male line through his best son Hail to Reason. In that same year, the victory of Prized (by Kris S., by Hail to Reason’s son Roberto) in the Turf announced the persistence of the Roberto branch of Turn-to, which also has accounted for seven wins.

Other male lines have celebrated only sporadic victories at the Breeders’ Cup in the last decade. The victory of Shared Account in the 2010 Filly and Mare Turf was the first for the Ribot male line since that of her sire, Pleasantly Perfect, in the 2003 Classic. Folklore’s victory in the 2005 Juvenile Fillies is the only one for the In Reality male line since her sire, Tiznow (by Cee’s Tizzy, by Relaunch, by In Reality), captured his second Classic in 2001.

Given that male-line descendants of Northern Dancer have captured about 40 percent of the 2013 American graded stakes and male-line descendants of Mr. Prospector another 29 percent (as detailed in the Sept. 20 edition of DRF Breeding), it is all but inevitable that those two male lines will once again dominate the 2013 Breeders’ Cup. As in almost everything else, strength in numbers counts in Thoroughbred racing.

In racing, though, unlike some other endeavors, that strength in numbers is earned by actual performance. And performance at the Breeders’ Cup is merely a reflection of the larger trends in the global Thoroughbred.

Breeders’ Cup individual winners by sire-line branch

Northern Dancer 73
  Danzig 17
  Deputy Minister 10
  Nijinsky II 8
  Nureyev 4
  Sadler’s Wells 12
  Storm Cat 13
  (others) 9
Mr. Prospector 52
  Fappiano 13
  Gone West 7
  Gulch 3
  Smart Strike 4
  Seeking the Gold 3
  (others) 19
Nasrullah 50
  Blushing Groom  10
  Bold Ruler* 7
  Caro 8
  Never Bend 6
  Seattle Slew 17
  (others) 2
Turn-to 19
  Cox’s Ridge 4
  Habitat 1
  Halo 7
  Roberto 7
Ribot 9
  Graustark  3
  His Majesty 4
  Tom Rolfe 2
Damascus 6
In Reality 6

  Relaunch 5
Icecapade 6
  Clever Trick 3
  Wild Again 3
Djebel 4
Speak John 4
(Others) 11

*Descendants of Bold Ruler not through Seattle Slew