09/07/2013 6:31PM

Sparkman: Galileo-Danehill ‘nick’ still hot

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Unbeaten champion Frankel was sired by Galileo and is out of the Danehill mare Kind.

During the 2011 racing season, it seemed that practically every good horse in Europe was by Galileo out of a Danehill mare. The great Frankel (Galileo–Kind, by Danehill) dominated his competition, but Roderic O’Connor (Galileo–Secret Garden, by Danehill) and Golden Lilac (Galileo–Grey Lilas, by Danehill) both won classics, and later that season, Maybe (Galileo–Sumora, by Danehill) earned highweight Irish 2-year-old filly honors.

Added to 2006 champion European 2-year-old male Teofilo (Galileo–Speirbhean, by Danehill) and 2008 Group 1 Italian Derby winner Cima de Triomphe (Galileo–Sopran Londa, by Danehill), those four 2011 Group 1 winners by Galileo out of Danehill mares brought the total number of top-level winners for the cross to six. This year, Intello (Galileo–Impressionnante, by Danehill) has won the Group 1 French Derby and Romantica (Galileo–Banks Hill, by Danehill) captured the Group 1 Prix Jean Romanet, bringing the current count of Galileo-Danehill Group 1 winners to eight.

That is surely as strong an example of a sire-broodmare sire nick as one can find in contemporary Thoroughbred breeding. It also – and, in fact, already has – ensures that practically anyone with a Danehill mare is going to send them to Galileo.

But Galileo is a great sire, almost regardless of the mares he covers. He has led the English sire list four of the past five years (a run interrupted only by Danehill’s son Danehill Dancer in 2009) and sired 154 stakes winners, including 90 group or graded stakes winners, 36 Group 1 winners, and nine champions. Galileo succeeded the late Danehill, leading English sire from 2005-2007, as Europe’s (and the world’s) greatest sire, and it was Danehill who ended the record 13-year streak as leading English sire by Galileo’s sire, Sadler’s Wells.

So, are Galileo’s eight Group 1 winners out of Danehill mares a classic illustration of a pedigree “nick” or merely the result of breeding him to high-quality mares by the best stallion available who does not produce excessive inbreeding? Sadler’s Wells led the English broodmare sire list from 2005 through 2011 until Danehill took over leadership in 2012, and obviously most breeders are not going to send them to his best son, Galileo.

In other words, is the Galileo–Danehill nick the result of some genetic alchemy or is it merely a reflection of Bull Hancock’s dictum, “Breed the best to the best and hope for the best”?

As shown in the accompanying table, regardless of any possible affinity between the genes passed on by Galileo and those contributed by Danehill in any mating, the dams of all eight Group 1 winners by Galileo out of Danehill mares are at least listed stakes winners.

Two dams, Grey Lilas, dam of Golden Lilac, and Banks Hill, dam of Romantica, were Group 1 winners themselves, and Banks Hill, of course, was an international champion and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner.

Impressionnante, the dam of 2013 French Derby winner Intello, won the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham and ran second in the Group 1 French 1000 Guineas, while Sopran Londa, dam of 2008 Italian Derby winner Cima de Triomphe, captured the 1998 edition of the Group 2 Italian 1000 Guineas. The dams of Frankel, Maybe, Roderic O’Connor, and Teofilo all are listed stakes winners.

The numbers and percentages in the table are cumulative, whether you scan right or scan down. Thus the table shows that Galileo has sired 18 named foals out of Group 1- or Grade 1-winning Danehill mares, 31 out of group or graded stakes winners (including the 18 Group 1 or Grade 1 winners), 57 out of stakes-winning mares (including the 31 group or graded stakes winners), etc.

Likewise, along the top line of the table, Galileo has sired 18 named foals out of Group 1- or Grade 1-winning Danehill mares, and two are Group 1 winners, three are group or graded stakes winners (including the two Group 1 winners), four are stakes winners (including the three group or graded winners), etc.

The percentages that those hard numbers represent – 11.1 percent Group 1 winners to foals, 16.7 percent group stakes winners, 22.2 percent stakes winners, and 27.8 percent stakes horses – are all ridiculously higher than the averages for the breed, but, of course, they should be. Any time you breed very high-class mares to very high-class stallions, regardless of pedigree, percentages go up dramatically. Average for the breed statistics say that 0.2 percent of named foals win Grade 1 or Group 1 races, 0.8 percent win group or graded races, and 3.2 percent win stakes races. Obviously, Galileo and daughters of Danehill, especially stakes-winning daughters, are far better than the average for the breed.

Pedigree is important. Any cross of Galileo with a daughter of Danehill ensures 3x4 inbreeding to the great Northern Dancer, the most dominant stallion of the past century. But thousands of their contemporaries carry comparable duplications and they cannot run like Frankel, Teofilo, or Golden Lilac. Each individual mare may introduce other duplications as well from the bottom quarter of the pedigree that contribute positive genes to their offspring.

There is, however, a huge difference between the production of the stakes-winning mares by Danehill bred to Galileo and the non-stakes-winning mares. In fact, the production record of non-stakes-winning Danehill mares with Galileo is very similar to Galileo’s overall sire record in terms of the relevant percentages. Galileo has sired 2.1 percent Group 1/Grade 1 winners overall, abou10 times the average for the breed, but his overall percentage of group or graded stakes winners is higher than his percentage of group or graded winners from non-stakes-winning Danehill mares, and the overall percentage of stakes winners and stakes horse are almost identical.

This is a strong indication that the critical factor in the Galileo–Danehill nick is the combination of the extraordinary quality of Galileo as a sire and the racing ability of stakes-winning Danehill mares. In other words, pedigree is important, but racing ability is even more important, especially when it is allied to top pedigrees.

Breeders, of course, have taken notice of the eight Group 1 winners by Galileo out of Danehill mares, especially the undefeated Frankel, and sent Danehill mares of every description to Galileo’s court. There are 28 named 2-year-olds of 2013 by Galileo out of Danehill mares. Tapestry, a filly out of 2005 European champion 2-year-old filly Rumplestiltskin, by Danehill, has already won the Group 2 Debutante Stakes and on Sept. 1 ran a troubled second to Rizeena in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes. Wonderfully, out of 2001 Empress Stakes winner Massarra, by Danehill, has won the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes. Wonderfully’s 3-year-old full brother, Mars, has run third in the 2013 Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes and fourth in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes and was recently sold by the Coolmore partnership to race for South African trainer Mike de Kock’s globe-trotting stable.

It should be no surprise if all three of those horses win Group 1 or Grade 1 stakes. In fact, given their race records to date and the expertise and achievements of their connections, it would be surprising if they do not.

What almost always happens with successful apparent nicks, however, is that once breeders discover their supposed prepotency – prepotency usually delivered by the high quality of the individual mares involved – they send mares with similar pedigrees but far less racing ability to the stallion involved. The percentage of high-quality runners inevitably declines.

There are 35 registered Galileo yearlings out of Danehill mares and there are likely to be that many or more among Galileo’s foals of 2013. Obviously, most of those will not be out of stakes-winning mares.

Still Galileo is such a great sire and Danehill such a great broodmare sire that there are bound to be other good horses that emerge from the cross, even from lower-quality runners by Danehill.

This is one “nick” that is not going to go away.