On the Fate of the Holy Bull Male Line

(By Avalyn Hunter)

The impressive Suburban Handicap (gr. II) victory of Mucho Macho Man on July 7 is in interesting juxtaposition to the pensioning of his grandsire, Holy Bull, which was announced one day later. Though far from a failure, Holy Bull has not been a great sire. But he has been a link back to the past in American breeding, continuing the male line of 1898 Kentucky Derby winner Plaudit.

Like the brilliant Domino, whose male line hangs by the success or failure of Include in getting a successor, Plaudit was sired by Himyar, whose grandsire Eclipse (by Orlando) brought the male line to America with his importation in 1859. (Himyar's seventh-great-grandsire was the sire line founder Eclipse, great-great-grandson of the Darley Arabian.) The leading sire of 1893, Himyar was a very good racehorse in his own right, sharing the juvenile championship of 1877 with Duke of Magenta. He lived to age 30, but while he was a prolific sire by the standards of the day, only Domino and Plaudit among his sons left much lasting mark on breeding.

Domino's male-line descendants wielded considerable influence up through the middle of the 20th century but since then have dwindled steadily. Plaudit's male line, on the other hand, has always had a tenuous existence, with only one outstanding stallion during the first half-century of its existence. This was Rough'n Tumble, who sired one of the all-time greats in Dr. Fager (along with 23 other stakes winners, including champion juvenile filly My Dear Girl, from 209 foals) and became the broodmare sire of In Reality, the modern conduit for the male line of Man o' War.

Dr. Fager, alas, died when only 12. Though he led the American sire list posthumously in 1977, he failed to get a successor, and it fell to Great Above to become the next savior of the Plaudit line. A grandson of Rough'n Tumble through Minnesota Mac out of Dr. Fager's champion half sister Ta Wee (by In Reality's sire Intentionally), Great Above was mostly a good regional sire in Florida. He touched on greatness only twice: when he sired Big Dreams, the dam of two-time champion sprinter Housebuster, and when he sired a striking gray colt out of the Al Hattab mare Sharon Brown. That colt, of course, was Holy Bull, who won 13 of 16 starts before breaking down in the 1995 Donn Handicap (gr. I) and passing the torch to another racing legend in the making, Cigar.

While the brilliance of his 1994 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) victory over the best of the older males then in training earned Holy Bull titles as champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year, it was perhaps the 1994 Travers Stakes (gr. I) that was the defining moment of Holy Bull's career. After being pressed through six furlongs in 1:10-3/5 by Commanche Trail, Holy Bull found enough heart and stamina left to stave off the closing run of eventual Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Concern by a neck. To that time, only one horse had ever run the first six furlongs of the Travers faster and still had enough left to win, and that was the incomparable Man o' War.

Holy Bull retired to Jonabell Farm (now Darley at Jonabell) and remained there throughout his stud career. His get acquired a reputation for tending to have minds of their own, but the best, including 2000 champion juvenile male Macho Uno and 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo, could really run. None, though, were ever quite like their sire. But then, few are.

Now that Holy Bull has passed from the breeding scene, the fate of the Plaudit sire line most likely rests with his grade I-winning sons Macho Uno, Giacomo, and Flashy Bull and with his very quick grandson Harlem Rocker (by Macho Uno), who will be a freshman sire of 2014. (Another grandson, grade I winner Macho Again, was exported to Venezuela.) But Mucho Macho Man's authoritative win in the Suburban suggests that he too may have a role to play. He still needs a grade I win to round out his resume as a prospective stallion--preferably at least two--but with the markedly improved form he has shown so far as a 4-year-old, that may be only a matter of time.

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