When, some four and a half years ago, I chose the title for this feature, I was extremely conscious of its ambiguity; in fact, it was my deliberate intention that it should be open to two interpretations.
This was to be a slot where emphasis was generally placed on the distaff side of pedigrees – a weekly dissertation on some aspects of a female family that had become topical by virtue of a recent result in a major race.
But I did not mean to promote the view that pedigrees should be interpreted solely in terms of female lines. It stands to reason that a proper reading of any pedigree should give due weight to all its component parts; when science tells us that, at every mating, each parent contributes equally to the genetic make-up of their product, we are on dodgy ground if we choose to believe in direct lines as crucial to the inheritance of characteristics.
Indeed, we do not even need the evidence supplied by Mendel, and the many eminent authorities who have supplemented the knowledge that he imparted. Any amateur student of the Thoroughbred has long been able to recognise, by dint of minimal research, that male lines tend to flourish for a while, then fall into decline. It is not necessary to go back into ancient history to establish that fact; it suffices just to know how potent the lines descending from such as Hyperion and Tourbillon were 30 or 40 years ago, and to realise what is now left of them.
Similarly, it is common knowledge that female lines tend not to thrive consistently over long periods; their fortunes fluctuate, and frequently deteriorate when access to successful sires is denied them.
Furthermore, in a breeding regime which generally permits only a tiny percentage of males – those who are proven successful athletes – to procreate, but which provides that opportunity to almost all females, regardless of their performance on the racecourse, we kid ourselves when we claim that the Thoroughbred of today is the product of three centuries of selective breeding. We have selected the males for logical reasons, with performance as the chief criterion; the females have never been selected on that basis.
In truth, when we use the term ‘family matters’ in its other sense, suggesting that it has genuine importance, it is most often applicable only in terms of the commercial market. The convention of displaying catalogue pedigrees as we do has evolved precisely because the bottom line in any pedigree tends to be its weakest area. All the mares in other positions are there by reason of success in production, through descendants who have earned a right to breed; that is not necessarily the case in the direct female line, hence the need for catalogues to attempt to show just cause for those mares to feature in the breeding population.
And nobody need doubt that catalogue entries have tremendous influence on the perceptions of buyers. The amount of black type displayed on the page may make a huge difference to the value of any animal. Without question, in that sense, family matters.
In order to acquire a firm conviction that family truly matters to events on the racecourse, we probably need more weekends like the one just gone, when several big race results lent substance to the belief.
There was a Group 3 winner out of a mare who won the Oaks. Another was the third individual Pattern winner for her dam. A Group 2 winner was the second from his dam to have won at Pattern level this year.
Another successful at that level became the sixth major winner out of his dam, herself a victress of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. No less wondrous was the fact that the two Group 1 winners at Ascot were closely related in the female line – and only in the female line – the dam of one being full sister to the grand-dam of the other.
So, let’s hear it for the females of the species! Oaks heroine Love Devine’s St Leger-winning son Sixties Icon (Galileo) notched the sixth Pattern victory of a stellar career in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. Sadima, already with Group 1-winning colts in Youmzain (Sinndar) and Creachadoir (King’s Best) to her credit, was responsible for her third notable scorer in as many years when her daughter Shreyas (Dalakhani) won the Denny Cordell Lavarack & Lanwades Stud Fillies Stakes at Gowran Park.
Mare aux Fees , who produced this year’s Prix Vanteaux winner in Belle Allure (Numerous), doubled her Pattern score for 2008 when Jukebox Jury (Montjeu) took the Royal Lodge Stakes, both having arrived in her late teenage years. And the celebrated
Urban Sea, last of her sex to have recorded a “triomphe” in the Arc, added to her outstanding record as a broodmare – exemplified by Urban Ocean (Bering), Galileo, Black Sam Bellamy, All Too Beautiful (all by Sadler’s Wells) and My Typhoon (Giant’s Causeway) – when Sea the Stars (Cape Cross) staked a claim for consideration for 2009’s Classics with his victory in the Beresford Stakes on the Curragh.
But it was surely no less remarkable that Raven’s Pass (Elusive Quality), now rated Europe’s champion miler after his dismissal of Henrythenavigator and Tamayuz in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and Rainbow View (Dynaformer), Britain’s undefeated and undisputed champion juvenile filly after her triumph in the Fillies’ Mile, should share such a close connection in the female line.
The honours in the case of the Gosden-trained duo belong to sisters Words of War and Ascutney, respectively the 1989 and 1994 products of matings involving Lord At War (a male line grandson of the great Brigadier Gerard) and Right Word, a daughter of Verbatim from a family previously renowned for Grade 1 winners such as Danzig Connection and Pine Circle.
Right Word, who died in 2005 at the age of 23, was no great shakes as a runner herself, managing only one second place from six starts, but Words of War was a tough stakes-winner, placed twice at Grade 3 level, and Ascutney had a Grade 3 win in the Miesque Stakes to her credit. Words of War made her name as a broodmare swiftly, as her first-born was No Matter What (Nureyev), successful in the Del Mar Oaks, and next came E Dubai (Mr Prospector), a Grade 2 winner, Grade 1-placed in the Travers and Super Derby, and already a noted sire.
Ascutney already had a Grade 3 winner in Gigawatt (Wild Again) under her name before Raven’s Pass came along, while No Matter What had just one minor scorer on her CV before the emergence of the exciting Rainbow View.