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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It never ceases to amaze me when Man o' War comes up in articles regarding track times. Hope everthing goes well for Holy Bull in retirement.

10 Jul 2012 3:25 PM
Lammtarra's Arc

I truly love this horse. There would be no Cigar if the Bull did not break down.  Once clear on the lead nobody was gonna get by him when he is on top of his game.  Dr.Fager/Big Red/The Bid/The Bull/ Zapper.  Doesn't get better then that.

10 Jul 2012 4:32 PM

Mucho Macho Man has a chance to be a very nice sire. He has good size, and despite being a very late foal, he showed good stakes form at 2, improved at 3 and seems to have taken a big step forward at 4 in important middle distance races.  Like his sire, he comes from a solid female family (Sun Mixa - the family of Dynaformer) and is out of a very nice race mare. He also shows opposite gender 4X4 linebreeding/inbreeding to Mr. Prospector, and that can't hurt!  I doubt he'll ever be particularly commercial, but he's got the resume to at least get a shot. Here's hoping the Plaudit line continues on for many generations to come!

10 Jul 2012 5:14 PM

Macho Uno is taking good care of the Holy Bull male line and actually doing better at stud than his illustrious sire IMO. The future of this line also looks bright with the "coming of age" of Mucho Macho Man, one that was a very late foal (June 2008). In the Suburban he reminded me a lot of his grandsire Holy Bull in terms of his relentless pace and class that subdued quite a formidable field in that race. MMM should attain Grade One winner status at Saratoga in his next start. It will take an exceptional performance by a rival to beat him in either the Whitney or Woodward provided that he reports in the same frame of mind and physical condition.

10 Jul 2012 5:41 PM
Criminal Type

I was at Holy Bull's Florida Derby and won 800 that day. I recall getting excedingly intoxicated celebrating my win to the point I could not find my van that evening. Gulfstream Park security was kind enough to help me find it  (in a different lot) and point me toward the exit and Hallendale Beach Blvd. Today they would call the police and have me arrested. I almost drove into the Intercoastal Waterway that night. I quit drinking shortly after this experience. Been sober 17 years. It was a VERY near thing and I want to live.

I was also at the 1995 Donn...My ex was firmly entrenched in Cigars camp while I, always a lover of gray horses inspired by my meeting with Native Dancer at age 5, LOVED Holy Bull. Of course I knew his pedigree and what can you say about Ta Wee. I was devestated that day when Holy Bull injured himself while my ex gloated about Cigar being the far superior horse. Of course I got the ultimate revenge when Cigar turned up sterile. That's probably one of the reasons he is my ex.

10 Jul 2012 6:42 PM

We never did hear WHY Holy Bull was pensioned?  Do you know?  Thankfully, I have some great photos of this fella in 2005 when he was still speckled and not pure white like he seems to be now.

10 Jul 2012 6:55 PM

I am rooting for Mucho Macho Man and his connections:  great training job, Kathy!

10 Jul 2012 7:34 PM

I think there may be a lot more yet to come from Macho Uno. He was a very good racehorse-probably had even more ability than his overall race record might indicate-, he's much better bred than his sire, and he's already shown that he's a better sire than was Holy Bull. Macho Rocket, an Ocala 2 yr. old sale topper, was very impressive is his lone start (at 3 this year), but a tendon injury ended his career. I understand his owner retained him for stud (in Fl). This guy could be a good one, but it'll be tough sailing with that limited race record. FL breeders should take a close look.  

10 Jul 2012 8:59 PM

What I remember about Holy Bull the most:  when he got hurt in the Donn, some unknown called Cigar won that race.

Good luck to the line.  I always liked Hsrlem Rocker but do you think he'll have more than a sprint influence?

10 Jul 2012 10:13 PM
Pedigree Ann

Mucho Macho Man was a June foal, so was playing catch-up in terms of maturity all last spring. That he ran so well on the Triple Crown Trail was a tribute to his talent.

He was put away for the summer to grow up into his frame and has done so in spades. Like the ill-fated Second of June (named for his foaling date), he could only get better at 4.

It is interesting how sire lines often survive through links which were not stars but just solidly good horses. Like the *St. Germans line - it wasn't Triple Crown winner Assault, or Derby winners Twenty Grand, Bold Venture and Middleground, or champion Devil Diver who carried it past 1960 - it was the unconsidered The Rhymer, sire of Vertex. The Rhymer was upset winner of the Widener in 1942, getting gobs of weight from champions Challedon and Alsab. He won a couple of other stakes races, but if he hadn't sired Vertex, a distinguished member of the extraordinary class of 1954, no one would remember him.

Sterility stalked the St. Germans line - Twenty Grand and Assault were totally sterile, as were Vertex's champion son Top Knight and Malacate, an Irish Derby winner sired by Vertex's Ky Derby winner Lucky Debonair. But there were still sons of Pepenador, a son of Lucky Debonair who stood in Argentina and was a top sire there, at stud in the 1990s.

11 Jul 2012 9:07 AM

man o'war was great all around, and any colt at 2 or 3, if they blaze home in a fast time, at saratoga. they will be compared to man o'war. just like any filly or mare would be compared to ruffian or go for wand if they turn in a very impressive fast win at belmont or saratoga. which most of ruffian's records still stand, except for the time when rachel broke her record in the mother goose.

11 Jul 2012 10:43 AM
Linda in Texas

I watched Mucho Macho Man win, thought great for Kathy Rivo on not giving up on him.

Then to read the same day that Holy Bull was being pensioned. Glad and Sad all in one fell swoop.

And the days dwindle to a precious few. I still love this sport. I love those who have gone before and those coming up now and those who will be attempt to be winners tomorrow.

Very nice article. And Dr. Fager, never will forget him. Thanks so much.

11 Jul 2012 11:37 AM

I sincerly hope that Holy Bull has left enough good sons to keep his line alive.  The line needs more stamina infused into it, and it that happens, it should be around for at least another generation or two.  Our Breed needs some outcrossing and Holy Bull can be one source for that.

11 Jul 2012 12:31 PM

A full sister to Macho Uno was born this year at Adena Springs. Hopefully she'll be Holy Bull's last hurrah. I still get goose bumps when I watch the replay of his win in the Woodward. It was unbelievable. He was a champion.

11 Jul 2012 2:45 PM


The full-sister to Macho Uno is a yearling. Primal Force died in 2011.

11 Jul 2012 5:38 PM
Pete Denk

Holy Bull is one of my all-time favorites. Always rooting for this sire line. Nice job on this column Avalyn.

11 Jul 2012 10:31 PM

Stand corrected. Somehow time has a way of getting away from you!

12 Jul 2012 3:19 PM

Marvelous article....It's remarkable to be examining Himyar....I still visit Domino's grave and headstone every year or so and own a portrait of him, given to me by the last gentleman who sold Dixiana....Considering that Domino died so young and sired less than 2 dozen foals, and that his best son Commando also died very young, I always thought the line's success and longevity were  stunning

20 Jul 2012 11:11 PM

I didn't know anything about the Bull until a few years ago, when I bought Holy Bullet -- one of his offspring.  I was fortunate enough to meet Holy Bull at Jonabell last year... What a treat!  My horse looks a lot like the pictures I can find online of Holy Bull. This is a great story.  I especially like the comment about "his get... tending to have minds of their own..."  I can definitely see that in my Crazy Gray thoroughbred; but I wouldn't trade him for the world.

28 Mar 2014 10:00 PM

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