Hall of Fame Bloodlines: A Study of Female Families

In 1895, pedigree researcher Bruce Lowe’s Breeding Horses by the Figure System was published posthumously by his friend and editor William Allison. Lowe had traced the pedigrees of the winners of the English classic races and grouped them by direct lines of tail-female descent. He then tallied the number of classic winners in each female family, and numbered them in declining order, with the family descending from Tregonwell’s Natural Barb Mare as family #1, the Burton Barb Mare as #2, and so on, for a total of forty-three numbered families. Herman Goos later expanded this to fifty families. While most disregard the theory that Lowe proposed as a result of his research, his family numbers are still used as a convenient method of denoting Thoroughbred female families.

It’s no surprise that some female families have proven to be exceptionally prolific – my personal favorite example is La Troienne’s family 1-x, – but I was curious to know to what extent the greatest horses of our sport descend from common female ancestors. So, I looked up the Lowe family numbers of all 206 equine members of the United States Racing Hall of Fame, and came upon some very interesting findings.

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Farewell to a Hero

It took me a while to post this, as it is by far the most personal thing I have ever shared on the internet, but I feel it would be an injustice to Blackie to omit the reasons he was such a substantial influence in my life. In reality, this is not a blog post about Better Talk Now – those who knew the horse far more than I have written beautiful tributes to him already,  – this is a blog post about the profound impact he had on me, personally.

I’d like to thank Herringswell Stables for their care of Blackie during and after his racing career, and for their generosity in sharing him with his legions of loyal fans. I’d also like to thank Graham Motion for responding to a letter written years ago by a teenage girl whose life was changed by his superstar gelding. I still treasure the letter (now laminated) and photographs I received in reply.

A few images from an incredible summer interning at Saratoga, a lifetime high experience born of the passion that Better Talk Now inspired


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2016 Breeders Cup Friday Selections

As I have in years past, I will be posting my 2016 Breeders’ Cup selections in the format of a $2 win bet, a $1 3-horse exacta box, and a $2 W/P/S bet. As I’m not much of a gambler, this isn’t exactly how I will be playing the races (my actual bets will likely be on Twitter), but I’ve found it’s a useful way to gauge my own handicapping success in the Breeders’ Cup.

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2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic – The Influence of La Troienne

In 1931, a small, nondescript bay mare arrived at Colonel Edward Riley Bradley’s Idle Hour Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, one of two purchases from the Newmarket December Sale of the prior year. The filly had failed to win in her 7 starts in France and England, but had nonetheless been purchased, in foal to the mighty Gainsborough, by Dick Thompson on behalf of Bradley. The name of this mare was La Troienne, and she would become one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century as the foundation mare of Bruce Lowe’s family 1x – and her influence is still apparent today.
Of the ten horses entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, four of them have a direct tail-female descendant of La Troienne within the first 5 generations of their pedigree, and only two are without any trace of her in their lineage.
The overwhelming favorite in the race is California Chrome, whose modest breeding has often been highlighted by the media. Personally, however, I believe that his success could be due, in part, to the influence of La Troienne in his dam, Love The Chase. Though an unsuccessful racehorse, Love The Chase’s sire, Not For Love, and damsire, Polish Numbers, both hail from family 1-x – and both from 1971 Champion 2yo Filly Numbered Account, who is the dam of Polish Numbers and the second dam of Not For Love. Interestingly, Numbered Account herself is bred on the same pattern, being by Buckpasser (a great-grandson of La Troienne).
California Chrome is by the stallion Lucky Pulpit, grandson of 1991 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy. While A.P. Indy is not a direct descendant of La Troienne, she does appear three times in his bloodlines. His sire, Seattle Slew, whose dam My Charmer is inbred 6×6 to La Troienne – her sire, Poker, and damsire, Jet Action, both trace tail-female to the great matriarch (sound familiar?). A.P. Indy’s second dam is a daughter of Buckpasser.
Win The Space, by contrast, is a longshot in this year’s event. He is out of a mare by Mutakddim, a stakes winner in England and sire of multiple champions. Mutakddim is a fascinating example of linebreeding to La Troienne. He is by Seeking the Gold, whose damsire Buckpasser is one of La Troienne’s nine direct tail-female descendants in the North American Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame. Buckpasser is also the sire of Mutakddim’s third dam, the aforementioned Numbered Account, whose 5th dam is La Troienne. The dam of Mutakddim, Oscillate, is by Seattle Slew. Mutakddim, therefore, contains five crosses of La Troienne (6x8x8x6x8 ).
The ever-consistent Hoppertunity introduces another example of Numbered Account’s role in carrying on the legacy of her family. He is out of a mare by Unnacounted For, a G1-winning son of Numbered Account’s son Private Account. Additionally, Hoppertunity’s sire Any Given Saturday is out of an A.P. Indy mare, which gives Hoppertunity five total crosses of La Troienne.
Effinex is by Mineshaft, one of the exemplaries of family 1-x. Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year in 2003, and is inbred 8x8x8 to La Troienne. Perhaps also worth noting is that Effinex’s 5th dam, Stolen Hour, is by Mr. Busher, himself a grandson of La Troienne.
The horse that most proclaim to be California Chrome’s biggest threat is the three-year-old Arrogate, winner of the Travers in track and stakes record time. While most of his pedigree is free of La Troienne, he is a grandson of Unbridled, whose pedigree is intriguing on a few levels. Unbridled, as we all know, won both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1990. A quick glance at his pedigree immediately shows a doubling-up of the great broodmare Aspidistra, who produced two Hall of Fame champions in Dr. Fager and Ta Wee. Aspidistra is a daughter of Better Self, winner of the Saratoga Special, Carter Handicap, and Discovery Handicap, among many others. Better Self is by La Troienne’s Hall of Fame son Bimelech, champion at both two and three and winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes of 1940. Aspidistra is the 4th dam of Unbridled, via her daughter Magic, who was by Buckpasser. Magic is a slightly different take on the prolific sire x damsire cross demonstrated by the likes of Numbered Account and Love The Chase demonstrate, as she is by a stallion from family 1-x, but her damsire is instead a paternal grandson of La Troienne.
Santa Anita Handicap winner Melatonin does not have an excessive influence of La Troienne, but he is inbred 6×4 to the great broodmare Ballade, whose broodmare sire Cohoes was a direct grandson of La Troienne. Similarly, War Story has distant influences of La Troienne via his damsire Pulpit (a son of A.P. Indy), and also via Quadrangle, who appears in the 5th generation of his pedigree and is a son of Cohoes.
Dominant Met Mile winner Frosted is by Tapit, a grandson of A.P. Indy who is out of a mare by Unbridled. Seattle Slew appears again in his pedigree via Avenue of Flags, the sire of Frosted’s 2nd dam. While the influence is distant, this does mean that La Troienne appears eight times in his pedigree.
With the Breeders’ Cup on the horizon, we are likely to see the legacy of La Troienne continue to grow. While there are no direct representatives of family 1-x in this year’s Classic, her presence will certainly be felt in the bloodlines of some of the breed’s greatest, as it has and inevitably will be for generations to come.

Roberta Grump: West Virginia’s Blue Hen

It is hard to pinpoint the qualities that make a great broodmare. Some claim that great race mares aren’t generally inclined to be great broodmares, though there are plenty of mares out there that may disagree with that assessment. It is generally accepted, however, that not all great broodmares showed exceptional ability on the track. The immortal matriarch La Troienne, for instance, was winless in three starts. Love the Chase was a claiming mare with one win to her name, but she later became the dam of California Chrome, North America’s richest racehorse of all time. It is in this same vein that you can find Roberta Grump, a mare whose offspring have dominated West Virginia-bred stakes races for over a decade. With the recent retirement of Russell Road, this year looks to be the first since 2000 that she will not have at least one foal running in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics, where her offspring have racked up five victories (not to mention a sixth win, by a grandson, in 2015).

Roberta Grump was a daughter of Florida stakes winner Verification, and out of the mare Blue Spring, by Ambehaving. When Roberta Grump was foaled in 1991, Blue Spring had already produced two stakes horses. Ten years prior, Blue Spring foaled the Noholme II filly Spring Loose, who placed 3rd in the G1 Hollywood Starlet at age two. Her 1980 foal, Spring to Victory (by Inverness Drive), won Keystone Race Track’s New Hope Stakes in 1983. In 1988, Blue Spring sold at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December Mixed Sale for $2,300 in foal to Nepal. The result of that breeding was a filly named Royal Chitwan, Blue Spring’s first West Virginia bred foal. Royal Chitwan didn’t amount to much, earning just $2,628 in 8 starts. The mare didn’t foal in 1990, but she produced Roberta Grump the following year.

Roberta Grump was no factor in her first and only start, finishing 9th of 10 in a Maiden Special Weight at Charles Town on September 18, 1993. She produced her first foal two years later, a filly by Jeloso appropriately named Grumps First. That foal was 8-for-48 lifetime and earned $62,598 while racing exclusively at Charles Town, mostly in claiming races. She was then covered by stakes winner Oh Say for a 1997 foal. The filly, Sweet Annuity, was the beginning of Roberta Grump’s reign.

Sweet Annuity broke her maiden in her 4th career start, a victory she followed up with an allowance win and a stakes score in Charles Town’s Ruth C. Funkhouser Stakes. She was the first foal from Roberta Grump to compete in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics, finishing 2nd as the odds-on choice in the West Virginia Division of Tourism Breeders’ Classic Stakes for three-year-old fillies. She won three of her first five races in 2001, including two stakes wins and two stakes placings, before finishing a disappointing 6th in the West Virginia Cavada Breeders’ Classic Stakes for older mares. She would make another attempt the following year, once again finishing off the board as the favorite.

Despite Sweet Annuity’s defeat, it was still a good 2002 Breeders’ Classics night for the family of Roberta Grump, Her three-year-old daughter Shesanothergrump (by Weshaam) had already taken the West Virginia Division of Tourism Breeders’ Classic Stakes as the favorite, after hitting the board in five other stakes that year without a win. In one of those races, the $35,000 Sadie Hawkins Handicap, Shesanothergrump finished ahead of Sweet Annuity, defeating her older sister by over 7 lengths.

The next year, 2003, would be the first – though not the last – time that two of Roberta Grump’s foals raced against one another in the Breeders Classics, as Sweet Annuity and Shesanothergrump raced again as a coupled entry for owner Kenneth Pitta and trainer Karen Duke in the West Virginia Cavada Breeders’ Classic Stakes. This time, Sweet Annuity refused to lose. Despite being headed by favored Fancy Buckles in the stretch, the 6-year-old veteran mare came again to finally take down a race on Breeders Classics night. Her entrymate finished up in third. Sweet Annuity was retired following four poor starts in 2004, but Shesanothergrump was still around to carry the torch, although she failed to win a race that year and was a lackluster 7th in the Cavada.

Come 2005, there was a new grump in town. Shesagrumptoo, by Luftikus, broke her maiden in her second start for Mark Russell and James Casey. She finished 4th in her first stakes attempt, and finished 4th once more in the West Virginia Triple Crown Nutrition Breeders Classics Stakes, for two-year-old fillies. After a third-place finish in the Tri-State Futurity, Shesagrumptoo won the West Virginia Futurity against males.

Meanwhile, Shesanothergrump had another winless year and finished 8th in the Cavada. On December 1st, 2005, she dropped in to a $6,000 claiming race at Charles Town, where she was claimed off a second-place effort by Tina Malgarini-Mawing for owner Garvis Williamson. She made seven starts for her new connections without success, and retired following a last-place finish in the West Virginia Distaff Stakes in May of 2006.


Roberta Grump’s offspring in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics

With that, Shesagrumptoo was left to carry on the family tradition of success at Charles Town. She won two allowance races in the summer of 2006 before running 2nd in the Ruth B. Funkhouser to odds-on favorite Julie B, and was beaten 3/4 of a length as the favorite in the West Virginia Division of Tourism Breeders’ Classic Stakes, just failing to catch Malibu Sue. She finished out the year with a 3rd-place effort in the Syvlia Bishop Memorial Stakes behind those two fillies.

She continued to chase Julie B in 2007, finishing 4th behind her in a June allowance race, and 2nd to her in the Roger Van Hoozer Memorial Stakes, and then running 3rd in the Cavada when Julie B was defeated by Carnival Chrome.

In 2007, a three-year-old daughter of Roberta Grump named Natures Annuity broke her maiden by over 7 lengths in her April debut. The following year, she won three straight Allowance races and then finished 4th in her final prep for the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics.

Shesagrumptoo was claimed for $32,000 on September 5th, 2008, and entered the Cavada for new connections – owner Scuderia Montese Stables and trainer Raimondo Schiano-Dicola. She finished 2nd to Julie B in the Cavada, with Natures Annuity closing to finish another 3 1/4 lengths back in 3rd.

It was also in 2008 that the most successful of Roberta Grump’s offspring hit the track and started making some serious noise on the local racing circuit. Russell Road was beaten half a length in his debut for Mark Russell and James Casey, but he rebounded to romp in a maiden race by over 12 lengths in his following start. He won the Dr Ernest Benner Stakes at the end of September, then added a 2 1/2-length allowance victory, won the Tri-State Futurity by 8 1/4 lengths under wraps, and the West Virginia Futurity by 8 1/2 in similar fashion.

Russell Road started off the new year by winning Laurel Park’s Dancing Count Stakes, and then ventured to Aqueduct to try G3 company in the Gotham, where he finished 5th behind I Want Revenge. He returned to Charles Town and won the April 18th Blue and Gold Stakes by a neck over Bunker Hill, who defeated him in the Red Legend Stakes. Both horses, however, were soundly defeated by eventual G1 winner Big Drama, who romped by 7 lengths. Russell Road won three straight stakes races going into the Breeders’ Classics, where he kept the winning streak in tact, taking the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic Stakes by 8 lengths.

In the 2009 Cavada Stakes, Nature’s Annuity turned the tables on her older sister, missing the victory by a nose but finishing 7 1/4 lengths in front of Shesagrumptoo in third. It was the fourth stakes placing that year for Shesagrumptoo, though she hadn’t won a since the race that Scuderia Montese Stables claimed her out of. She finished up the track in an allowance optional claiming race about a month after the Cavada, and was claimed for $20,000 by William Campbell and Jack Gordon.

Nature’s Annuity romped in an allowance race in her first start of 2010, then finished 2nd in the Fancy Buckles Stakes, with Shesagrumptoo, now under the care of trainer John Robb, back in 5th. They would meet two months later in the Sadie Hawkins Stakes, where the now 7-year-old Shesagrumptoo pulled off a 28-1 upset. Nature’s Annuity was 4th.

Russell Road began his 4-year-old season with a disappointing last-place effort in an allowance at Laurel Park. He showed an improved effort in his second start of the year, finishing 2nd although well defeated by 2-time Charles Town Classic winner Researcher. He won the Springtime Handicap and an allowance in his two subsequent starts, added another stakes-placing in the Wild and Wonderful Stakes, finished off the board in the Frank Gall Memorial, and won another allowance prior to an attempt to defend his Breeders’ Classics title. He finished fourth.

In the Cavada, Nature’s Annuity finished 2nd at 16-1. Shesagrumptoo couldn’t reproduce her Sadie Hawkins effort, and finished 9th that year. She raced six times in 2011, and even after another trainer switch to Michael Beck, she failed to hit the board that year, retiring after a claiming race in June. Natures Annuity had a solid 2011 campaign, failing to win but never finishing worse than 4th in 7 starts, with three more black-type placings on her resume, among them another 3rd in the Cavada. She retired after one more start in an allowance race, where she finished 4th.

Russell Road started off 2011 with two Charles Town stakes wins, then hit the board in three additional stakes prior to winning his second West Virginia Breeders’ Classic Stakes. He won the same two stakes to start off 2012, lost the Wild and Wonderful Stakes, then reprised his 2009 win in the Frank Gall Memorial. He was sent off as the favorite in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic, but was defeated by the up-and-coming three-year-old Lucy’s Bob Boy, marking the beginning of a WV-bred rivalry for the ages. Their finishing positions were reversed in the A Huevo Stakes a month later.

Russell Road raced primarily at Mountaineer in 2013, winning an allowance and two stakes there prior to a September 21st return to Charles Town, where he was defeated by Fred High in a handicap. In the Breeders’ Classic, he grudgingly gave way to that same foe in the final strides.

Russell Road returned in May of 2014 after a 6-month layoff, winning an allowance race at Mountaineer. After that, however, the eight-year-old, while still competitive, appeared to be showing signs of slowing down. He finished 4th in another allowance at Mountaineer and proceeded to chase Lucy’s Bob Boy home in three consecutive starts, running third behind him in a Charles Town allowance, then finishing three lengths behind him in the Robert Gall Memorial and 7 1/4 lengths back in another allowance. Consequently, Lucy’s Bob Boy was 1-2 in the West Virginia Breeders Classic, but when the two hooked up at the 3/8ths pole, it was Russell Road who prevailed in a thrilling stretch duel. With that victory, he became only the second horse to win three West Virginia Breeders’ Classics (2009, 2011, 2014). In a race named for the only other horse to accomplish that feat, Russell Road defeated Lucy’s Bob Boy by 4 1/2 lengths in the 2015 Confucius Say Stakes.


Russell Road in the 2015 Confucius Say

Owner Mark Russell and trainer James Casey had another budding superstar in the barn, though, and on February 26th, 2016, the 3-year-old gelding Charitable Annuity broke his maiden in his second start. The son of Charitable Man was the first foal of Early Annuity, a full sister to Shesagrumptoo who won only once in her five lifetime starts for Russell and Casey. Charitable Annuity won five of his first eight starts, including the Robert Leavitt Stakes, and was highly thought of enough to earn a chance in the West Virginia Breeders Classic.

Lucy’s Bob Boy and Russell Road were once more the 1-2 choices in the race, with the former being a slight favorite. Neither hit the board, and in fact Russell Road was eased in the race, but perhaps it was a symbolic passing of the torch, as Charitable Annuity won impressively by 2 3/4 lengths.

Russell Road was disappointing in his next two starts, now at the age of ten, but he won an allowance on June 18th, 2016, defeating favorite In The Fairway along with his longtime rival Lucy’s Bob Boy. In The Fairway rebounded in Mountaineer’s Northern Panhandle Stakes, defeating Russell Road by 6 1/2 lengths. The 10-year-old gelding came out of the race with a minor ankle injury, and his connections decided to retire him. His career earnings of $2,001,586 make him the second-richest West Virginia-bred in history behind Soul of the Matter.

Of 11 foals to race out of Roberta Grump, all were winners, 4 were stakes winners, and one additional foal was stakes placed. Her legacy as a broodmare will be carried on through her grandsons and granddaughters, headed at the moment by WV Breeders Classics winner Charitable Annuity.