Feb 12, 2009


Alfred Vanderbilt got Native Dancer the first time he bred his mare Geisha to his stallion Polynesian. He made that same mating five more times and never got another that could outrun the proverbial Fat Man.

He later quipped that he was honored as a breeder while Native Dancer performed but held as a lesser genius when the siblings bombed.

Fred Hooper once told me that he was inclined not to go back to the same stallion with a mare who had produced a stakes-winner by that horse. He reasoned that he got what he came for in that mating and, statistically speaking at least, he was unlikely to get another.

Vanderbilt and Hooper were intelligent men with the financial resources to try just about anything they liked. Their divergent attitudes provided food for thought when I began to study pedigrees more intensely.

Right off the bat I got lucky. I purchased a stakes-winning mare for John Franks named Sophisticated Sam. She was stout, somethat coarse and masculine in appearance. She also had a pair of “ankles” that enabled me to see off other bidders and get her for a paltry $42,000. The ankles did not bother me. In fact, they were a plus in my mind. The best thing about a mare is not soundness, per se. Rather it is the ability to run in high level races in pain. A horse with courage and talent trumps a sound yet timid one almost every time.

I sought out Cure The Blues for her. My notes to Mr. Franks were:
“SOPHISTICATED SAM…The piece de resistance if bred to Cure The Blues. You can practically hear the tumblers clicking to open the vault. Fits Turn-to, Dr. Fager, Imperatrice, Tom Fool, Blue Larkspur like hand in glove. Highly recommended.”

It was an interesting physical match, too. Cure The Blues was
a bit small and light of bone, a good complement to the mare.

The resultant foal, named Sophisticated Man, won over a half-million dollars.

California breeder Gary Garber phoned one day and asked me to suggest a mate for his mare Olay Monique. She was a Washington-bred by a son of Mill Reef named Drouilly. Gary knew that I was familiar with pedigrees in the Northwest. I recommended Northern Dancer’s son Magesterial and bought a $5,000 season for her. That foal went on to place in the Kentucky Oaks and later she produced Strub Stakes winner Domestic Dispute.
If memory serves, it was a play on Never Bend that led to my recommendation. That one gave me confidence that common sense goes a long way in making matings.

That was the case with Cherry Moon. I was able to buy this stakes-winning daughter of Quiet American for a modest price in California for my own account. She was somewhat on the small side which caused others to pass but she figured to be that way as a daughter of the slender Quiet American and a mare by an In Reality line mare. The Fappiano/In Reality combination was starting to show powerful results by then. I expected substantial interest when I brought her to sell at Keeneland. But that was not the case so I began to hustle. I spied French agent Eric Puerari and suggested he have a look at her as a potential outcross for his employer’s stallion Linamix who was taking European breeders by surprise right then.

Eric liked her, he bought her and he bred her to Linamix. That foal was Cherry Mix who ran second in the Arc, going under in the last stride to the favorite Bago. I was in attendance at Longchamps that afternoon, having hitched a ride with British jockey Darryl Holland on his chartered plane from Newmarket. You can imagine the thrill having played a part in such a storied classic.

Another Franks Farm mare was Slide Out Front, a hard-knocking stakes mare by the obscure Silent Review. Her pedigree was thin and one had to dig deep to find a pattern.
I recommended the home stallion Eskimo (Northern Dancer).

“ESKIMO: Brings Better Self x 2 and Northern Dancer to mare w/Noholme, Nasrullah, Princequillo. Worked wonders for Sky Classic and Regal Classic.

Note that Dr. Fager’s obscure brother Highbinder produced dam of $871,000 SW Skip Out Front.”

That mating produced Grade 2 millionaire Silent Eskimo.

The breeding season officially gets underway this week. We will offer up more case histories in the weeks to come.

Feb 10, 2009


Birds colliding with aircraft happens maybe more than you might think. A British pilot for Cathay Pacific once told me that he was flying a 747 from Hong Kong to Saigon when a large goose flew into the windshield at 30,000 feet, killing the co-pilot instantly. He had to bring in the de-pressurized aircraft to land in wartime Saigon.

Years ago I managed the Daily Racing Form office in Vancouver. In the fall, the thoroughbred caravan in Western Canada shifted to tiny Sandown Park on the east shore of Vancouver Island.
Racing was conducted on Friday and Saturday afternoons. My job was to make sure that the Saturday edition arrived at the track well before the close of racing, so that punters could buy it on the way out To accomplish this I booked a seaplane and hitched a ride along with the papers to spend the weekend on the island.

We departed from a dock directly behind the plush Bayshore Hotel (Howard Hughes was holed up on the top floor at the time). The plane gunned its way through ocean-going traffic in Burrard Inlet, climbed over the majestic Lions' Gate Bridge and took us on a magic carpet ride above the numerous Gulf and San Juan Islands that formed borders between Canada and the State of Washington. It was a great time to be alive!

The racing wasn't much on class but long on laughs. Alberta horsemen quit punching cows long enough to show up for the 15-day meet, as did Klondike sourdoughs, and hustlers of every stripe. One city slicker from Vancouver even felt brave enough to run a ringer one day (she ran second) and berated us on the ferry boat home that we were all so dumb we never knew he had run one under an assumed name. Unsurprisingly, the Mounties were waiting for him when we docked and hauled him off to the hoosegow.

Next time the horse ran the handicapper for the Vancouver Sun deadpanned that the horse in question "wasn't herself last time out". If memory serves, the miscreant dodged the rap. Back then what happened at Sandown stayed at Sandown, I guess.

One Friday afternoon I picked seven straight winners on a tip sheet that I published. I doubled the order at the print shop for the Saturday card, sure that the fans would be lined up waiting for me. As luck would have it, six inches of snow fell overnight, a rare November sight for an island warmed by the Japanese Current. Maybe 50 people showed up at the races.

Cowardly Lion didn't care about snow. The gelding won six straight races during the abbreviated stand, a rare burst of success for his owner-trainer Jock Iaci. Jock's family owned a popular eatery in downtown Vancouver which permitted him to dabble in the horse game. There was a strip club across the street and what passed for hoods in those days congregated there when they weren't chowing down with Mama Iaci and her family.. The idea of winning six races in a row would never occur to these boys--they would never have turned him loose that many times.

The season had ended when I picked up the paper one day and read of a fatal crash by a float plane while flying salmon fishermen up to Campbell River on the Island. Our young pilot from Sandown had been killed when an eagle with a six-foot wingspan took down the aircraft.