07/12/2016 8:13AM

Sparkman: Success of Galileo-Danehill 'nick' continues

John Bambury
Deauville, by Galileo out of Walklikeanegyptian, wins the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational.

The concept of a “nick” between a Thoroughbred sire and broodmare sire is as old as the Thoroughbred itself. In fact, the period from about 1750-1820, during which something approaching the modern Thoroughbred racing system evolved, was totally dominated by the various permutations of the nick between the three greatest sires of that era, Herod, Eclipse, and Herod’s son Highflyer.

One hundred years ago, the nick between Phalaris and Chaucer redefined and reshaped the Thoroughbred to such an extent that more than 90 percent of all Thoroughbreds now descend in tail male line from four exemplars of that cross, and essentially 100 percent carry at least one example of that cross somewhere in their pedigrees.

American racing and breeding in the 1960s and ’70s centered around the progeny of the cross between Nasrullah and his sons and Princequillo and his sons, most notably the most acclaimed of American racehorses, Secretariat. And more recently in American racing, nicks between Mr. Prospector and Buckpasser mares and A.P. Indy and mares by Mr. Prospector received widespread publicity.

The dominant nick in the 21st century Thoroughbred, however, is, without the slightest doubt, that between the world’s best sire Galileo and Danehill mares, exemplified most recently by its 12th Grade 1/Group 1 winner Deauville, winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational last Saturday.

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As with each of the famous historically important nicks, however, there is much more to the story than the far too simplistic idea of ascribing the excellence (or failure) of a given racehorse to only the sire and broodmare sire. Location, for example, is of critical importance, and the racecourse ability of the sire and dam remain the most important attributes of any pedigree.

The concept of nicks has become so widely accepted over the last 40 years or so that a thriving business has emerged selling nicking data to breeders and media outlets. Those products, however, tell you nothing about the quality of the racemares that produced the horses that led to a high nick rating.

The Galileo/Danehill cross is a textbook example of how foolhardy it is ascribe racecourse performance to only one factor. Ten of the 12 Galileo/Danehill Grade 1/Group 1 winners were produced by stakes-winning mares, and the other two are the offspring of mares who never won stakes but placed at Grade 2/Group 2 level. In other words, given the historically proven prowess of stakes-winning mares as producers, the fact that each of the Danehill mares that have produced Grade 1/Grpup 1 level winners by Galileo was the equivalent of a listed winner is at least as important, and possibly more so, than the fact that they were sired by Danehill.

Danehill, of course, preceded Galileo as the dominant stallion at Coolmore Stud in Ireland, so it was inevitable that Coolmore and others would breed a number of high-class Danehill mares to Galileo. There have been a total of 217 foals by Galileo out of Danehill mares from his first 11 crops (age 3 and up), and a remarkable 41 of them have won stakes. That 18.9 percent strike rate is 68.7 percent higher than Galileo’s overall strike rate of 11.2 percent, but is it higher than his strike rate with other stakes-winning mares?

Sadly, that would require more resources and time than are at the writer’s disposal, but my money would be on the stakes-winning mares. Without knowing that number for Galileo’s foals out of stakes-winning mares, regardless of sire, it is impossible to know whether the excellence of Galileo’s foals out of Danehill mares are truly superior to his results with all mares.

Regardless of the answer to that question, though, the long-term answer to the question of the importance of the Galileo/Danehill nick will be determined by how well those horses perform in the breeding shed. If, for example, Frankel, Teofilo (already a successful sire), Intello, and Deauville, or some future representatives of the cross, become leading sires of the caliber of Pharos, Fairway, Sickle, and Pharamond II (all representatives of the Phalaris/Chaucer nick), then in 100 years our descendants will be talking about the Galileo/Danehill nick with the same reverence now reserved for the Phalaris/Chaucer nick.

When more than 90 percent of the breed descends in male line from a particular cross, such reverence is deserved.