November 11, 2011

The monstrous $8.5 million recently paid for Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (Distaff) winner Royal Delta brings up an intriguing issue. Just how prolific are female Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners at producing quality horses at stud? Obviously a myriad of factors come into play—health issues and poor breeding choices chief among them, as well as the subsequent handling of a mare’s progeny. It’s an inexact science to be sure. However, if the Breeders’ Cup series is intended to not only highlight champion racehorses, but also promote these champions as viable future breeding stock, then an evaluation of how filly and mare champions have thus far fared as broodmares is a valid exercise.

The question that likely can’t be answer with authority regards those deemed “failures” as broodmares; namely, is it the result of their own pedigree limitations, or does, in fact, winning on the track contribute in some way to their capacity to genetically pass on their talent? Still, it’s intriguing what history tells us.

Of the 21 Distaff winners before 2006, only three can be considered smashing successes as broodmares: Personal Ensign (1988), Dance Smartly (1991) and Hollywood Wildcat (1993). Two of them have produced subsequent Breeders’ Cup winners: Hollywood Wildcat’s son War Chant won the 2000 BC Mile, while Personal Ensign’s daughter My Flag captured the 1995 BC Juvenile Fillies—and then produced 2002 BC Juvenile Fillies victress Storm Flag Flying, a rare three-generation achievement. Two of Dance Smartly’s progeny captured back-to-back editions of the prestigious Queen’s Plate in Canada: Scatter the Gold (2000) and Dancethruthedawn (2001).

Interestingly, two of these mares had extraordinary siblings: Personal Ensign was a full-sister to multiple G1-winner Personal Flag, while Dance Smartly was a half sister to G1 winner Smart Strike. On the other hand, Hollywood Wildcat had nothing significant on her damside.

Among the Distaff winners with modest success, Inside Information (1995) produced 2005 champion 3-year-old filly Smuggler, while long-forgotten Sacahuista (1987) gave us Italian Group 1 victor Ekraar and successful Chilean and Australian sire Hussonet. Both Beautiful Pleasure (1999) and Spain (2000) produced unexceptional G1-placed runners, Dr. Pleasure and Plan, respectively, while Life’s Magic (1985), Unbridled Elaine (2001) and Azeri (2002) each count a Grade 2 performer among their brood.

Still others have been devastating disappointments:  Princess Rooney, Lady’s Secret, Bayakoa, Paseana, and Ashado among them. Of those, several were high-priced broodmare purchases including Princess Rooney ($5.5 million) and Ashado ($9 million)—although only one of them had much in their damline to recommend them. Ashado’s full brothers were G1 winner Sunriver and G2-placed Saint Stephen, while her dam’s half sister Quite a Bride was multiple G2-placed.

What, if anything, does that means for the future success of Royal Delta? Uncertain, of course, but she too has a quality damline—her G3-winning dam Delta Princess is out of G2-winner Lyphard’s Delta who has also produced the very nice Italian Group 1 winner Biondetti, as well as G1 winner Indy Five Hundred. Given that she’s likely to return to the track as a 4-year-old, thankfully it’s a question we won’t have to worry about any time soon.

We'll take a look at other female Breeders' Cup winners as broodmares in future posts as we consider whether or not issues like surface, distance and precociousness also help determine future success in the breeding shed.
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