06/27/2014 3:27PM

Sparkman: Royal domination for Northern Dancer line


The continuing proliferation of “championship meetings” around the world has made it much more difficult to declare with any degree of certainty what is the world’s highest-class race meeting. This year, Australia added a championship week in emulation of similar meetings in the United States, Dubai, Hong Kong, Great Britain, and France, to name only the most prestigious.

The Breeders’ Cup meeting inaugurated in 1984 usually is seen as the model for these meetings, and it was indeed the first race meeting put together from the start as a way to determine championships. Before the innovation of the Breeders’ Cup, however, high-quality race meetings traditionally developed more organically, and the Royal Ascot meeting, both then and now, could lay claim to being the highest class, most competitive meeting in the world.

Founded by Queen Anne in 1811, Royal Ascot has always benefited from the royal imprimatur, and since it has served as the centerpiece of the aristocratic social calendar for more than 200 years, there is no more important meeting for the English aristocracy and wealthy gentry. Thus, those wealthy owners obviously always have wanted to run their best horses over the Berkshire Heath in June.

A set of prestige races coalesced around the Ascot Gold Cup by around 1830, and though races at the 2 1/2-mile distance of the Gold Cup have long since gone out of fashion, other races have been added over the years. The 30 races over the five days of the 2014 Royal Ascot meeting attracted a total of 489 starters, an average of 16.3 per race, including the highest rated horse in the world of 2013, Treve, and several others rated in the top 20.

Treve was beaten into third in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes by The Fugue and Magician, two other highly rated older horses with previous Group 1 wins to their name. All three of those horses are male-line descendants of Northern Dancer, and as shown in the accompanying box, Northern Dancer’s domination of the most important race of the meeting extended over the whole meeting, as his male line accounted for 20 of the 30 races, including five of the seven Group 1 events and 11 of the 17 group races.

Over the past two decades in Europe, the Northern Dancer line has devolved basically into two branches, Danzig and Sadler’s Wells, with the Nureyev branch through his grandson Pivotal making some inroads in recent years. The Danzig and Sadler’s Wells branches each produced eight winners at the 2014 meeting, with Group 1 honors also divided evenly at two each, while Pivotal’s grandson, Sole Power, accounted for the fifth Northern Dancer Group 1 win.

Five different Northern Dancer-line stallions each sired two winners at the meet: Dansili and Starspangledbanner from the Danzig branch; and High Chaparral, Montjeu, and Montjeu’s son, Authorized, from Sadler’s Wells.

Mr. Prospector has been the only other male line offering a real challenge to Northern Dancer in Europe for the last decade or more, most recently through Seeking the Gold’s grandson Dubawi, who sired two winners at the 2013 meeting, but Dubawi drew a blank this year. Instead, the most prolific Mr. Prospector descendant was Dutch Art, sire of the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee sprint winner Slade Power and the non-stakes winner Baccarat. Coronation Stakes winner Rizeena, by Iffraaj, also won a Group 1 race for the Gone West branch of Mr. Prospector, which accounted for three of the eight Mr. Prospector-line winners.

The Never Bend male line has died out in America but survives in Europe through his great son, Mill Reef, who was represented by Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes winner Integral, a daughter of Dalakhani, by Darshaan, by Shirley Heights, by Mill Reef. The only “outside” line represented at Royal Ascot this year was the only important remaining male-line descendant of Blandford, the late Monsun, who sired Arab Spring, winner of the non-black-type Duke of Edinburgh Stakes.

American-bred winners of major European races have become progressively more scarce over the past two decades as American breeders turned away from breeding for turf racing, but 2013 was a banner year at Royal Ascot for the Yanks, when four American-breds won, led by Group 1 Queen Anne winner Declaration of War, by War Front. Though not quite so prolific, American-breds did well again this year, with Cursory Glance, by Distorted Humor, winning the Group 3 Albany Stakes for 2-year-olds; Cannock Chase, by Lemon Drop Kid, the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes; and Hootenanny, who is American-trained as well as American-bred, capturing the listed Windsor Castle Stakes.

Royal Ascot is frequently something of a coming-out party for first-year sires, and Hootenanny became the first stakes winner for his sire, Quality Road, a multiple Grade 1-winning son of Elusive Quality who raced only on the dirt in the U.S. Distorted Humor and especially Lemon Drop Kid have repeatedly shown they are capable of siring high-class runners on grass as well as dirt, so it should be no surprise to see them sire Royal Ascot winners. Quality Road’s demonstrable ability to sire such a high-class 2-year-old on grass, however, will broaden his appeal to European buyers and should be a welcome boost to his stud career.

That achievement, though, had to take second place in the freshman sire contest to Starspangledbanner, who sired the winners of the two most important juvenile races at Royal Ascot: The Wow Signal in the Group 2 Coventry and Anthem Alexander in the Group 2 Queen Mary.

Bred in Australia and sired by the dual Royal Ascot winner Choisir, by Danehill Dancer, Starspangledbanner was a Royal Ascot winner himself in 2010 when he captured the Group 1 Golden Jubilee. Starspangledbanner added the Group 1 July Cup the following month and retired to Coolmore in 2011 as Europe’s champion sprinter as well as Australia’s. He proved to be sub-fertile, however, with only 72 foals in two crops, and returned to training in 2012 and 2013.

After failing to win again in six starts over two racing seasons, Starspangledbanner was retired for a second attempt as a stallion at his birthplace, Rosemont Stud in Australia, where he now stands. This early success, though, may earn him another chance at Coolmore as well.

Inevitably, no female line dominated Royal Ascot, but tail-female descendants of two of the world’s most famous broodmares produced two winners of group races during the meet. The great German mare Allegretta, by Lombard, is most famous as the dam of the 2000 Guineas winner King’s Best, by Kingmambo, and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea, by Miswaki, and the latter is ancestress of hundreds of group and graded winners through her great son Galileo, by Sadler’s Wells, and from the burgeoning first crop of her great racing son, Sea The Stars, by Cape Cross. Cherry Hinton, by Green Desert, the dam of Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes winner Bracelet, by Montjeu, is a group stakes-placed half-sister to Galileo and Sea The Stars.

Allegretta’s daughter by Riverman, Allez Les Trois, was not quite as talented as Urban Sea or King’s Best but plenty good enough to win the Group 3 Prix de Flore. She produced French Derby winner Anabaa Blue, by Anabaa, and two other stakes winners, and her winning daughter Al Ishq, by Nureyev, produced multiple Group 1 winner and promising sire Tamayuz, by Nayef. Their winning half-sister by Indian Ridge, Anja, is the second dam of Group 3 Jersey Stakes winner Mustajeeb, by Nayef, who is obviously quite closely related to Tamayuz.

The Wigan family’s foundation mare, Pelting, by Vilmorin, also is a tail-female ancestress of two Royal Ascot stakes winners, the dominating Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes winner Telescope, by Galileo, and Sandringham Stakes winner Muteela, by Dansili. Muteela is a sixth-generation descendant of Pelting through her best daughter, Group 3 winner Splashing, by Petingo.

Telescope also is a sixth-generation descendant, but through Pelting’s daughter, Fighting, by Aggressor, who also is a tail-female ancestress of Group 1 winners Braashee, by Sadler’s Wells, Central Park, by In the Wings, and Moon Ballad, by Singspiel.

One other famous mare had two winning tail-female descendants win races at the 2014 Royal Ascot meeting, but she is more distant in their pedigrees. Selene, the legendary dam of Hyperion, Sickle, Pharamond II, and Hunter’s Moon, is the eighth dam of Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes winner Integral and also the eighth dam of Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes winner Eagle Top, by Pivotal, both through her most influential daughter, All Moonshine, by Bobsleigh.