Mating Choices -- Serena's Song

When discussing a Thoroughbred racehorse, it's customary to rattle off a list of its biggest victories. In the case of Serena's Song, that list would fill up my word count for the entire article.  Suffice it to say, few fillies have ever recorded double-digit grade I victories or come close to her on-track earnings of nearly $3.3 million.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the great distaffers of recent history and ponder the mating choices made during their broodmare careers.  Serena's Song is a fine first subject; she has multiple runners and has achieved success with divergent sire lines for breeders Robert and Beverly Lewis.  As a daughter of Rahy, Serena's Song also descends from an aptitudinally and physically distinct branch of Nasrullah, making her potential (and actual) matings even more intriguing.

So here we go, in order:

  • 1998 - Serena's Tune (pedigree) by Mr. Prospector:  The cross of modern breeding's most omnipresent influence -- Mr. P -- with daughters of Rahy is an example of the popular breeding pattern where a sire is crossed with mares from his own broodmare sire line. In this case we see Nasrullah 4S x 5D (and there's a third cross at 7D for good measure). We also see a duplication of  Native Dancer/Nasrullah lines in a reverse cross. For Serena's Song's first foal, Mr. P was the obvious choice. He'd been a leading sire for most of the previous two decades and was the undisputed go-to stallion in Thoroughbred breeding. Another son of his sire had already crossed well with Serena's Song's dam (giving us 1991 Golden Rod Stakes (gr. III) winner Vivid Imagination). And perhaps most important, Mr. P was getting old.  Actually, at age 27 when he was bred to Serena's Song, he had reached "old" several years before and was approaching the extremes of age for stallion potency. (In fact, the son of Raise a Native went on to two additional years at stud.)  Serena's Tune won seven of 14 races including black type contests on turf and dirt -- while Mr. Prospector might have been the safe pick, he was also a wise selection.  Sadly, Serena's Tune was euthanized due to laminitis in 2006. Two of her four foals were stakes winners.
  • 1999 - Sophisticat (pedigree) by Storm Cat: This filly marks the first of multiple attempts at this cross and for good reason: it worked darn well. Sophisticat took the Coronation Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot and won or placed in graded/group races in France and Ireland as well. The mating with Storm Cat brought in the same Nasrullah pattern (in the sire's damsire line and in the dam's sire line) but added a new twist: here, Serena's Song's Northern Dancer damsire line was matched with Storm Cat, whose grandsire was Northern Dancer. Sophisticat has two black type horses from three foals of racing age thus far.
  • 2000 - Arbitrate (pedigree) by Deputy Minister:  The first non-stakes-winning offspring of Serena's Song was at least stakes-placed. When the mating that resulted in Arbitrate occurred, Deputy Minister was the reigning top sire in the U.S., a position he'd held for two years. Again, this stallion selection wasn't much of a leap for Serena's Song -- it followed the age-old reasoning that "sending the best to the best" was the best way to breed Thoroughbreds. Had Arbitrate taken a few stakes races, he likely would have been a reasonable stallion prospect for a regional program in the U.S.  As it is, he's standing in Mexico where his bloodlines are enough to take the chance on him.
  • 2001 - Grand Reward (SRO) by Storm Cat: Arguably the best of the five full siblings (a sixth is not yet of racing age), Grand Reward won only a single grade II contest in the U.S., but he placed in four group contests in England and Ireland to retire from the track with a career bankroll topping a half-million dollars. Grand Reward was conceived when Sophisticat was just a yearling, but the element of risk was minimized:  Storm Cat had just spent the past two years as leading sire in America. He was also at the beginning of a three-year stretch that saw his stud fee rise $100,000 each year
  • 2002 - Harlington (SRO) by Unbridled: It was lucky timing that Serena's Song went to Unbridled's court in 2001 -- the son of Fappiano was only 14 but would die later in the year. By this time, Serena's Tune had been an impressive juvenile winner and had already won the first of her stakes races. It was a good choice to send Serena's Song to a son or grandson of Mr. Prospector, and Unbridled was one of the best Mr. Prospector-line stallions standing. In addition to Mr. P's pedigree influences, Unbridled contributed a sex-balanced cross to Wild Risk (FR) to the mating, an influence that probably contributed to Harlington's fairly lengthy 8.75-furlong average winning distance.
  • 2003 and 2004 - Pure Symmetry (pedigree) and Colourful Score (pedigree) by Storm Cat: Here's proof that the same mating doesn't always produce comparable results. Pure Symmetry could only mange two third-place finishes in a short juvenile campaign, and full brother Colourful Score didn't finish in the money in either of his 2-year-old starts.
  • 2005 - Spark Candle (pedigree) by A.P. Indy (SRO):  The ridgling Spark Candle completed Serena's Song's own version of the "Big Three" -- she had then produced foals from the Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, and Seattle Slew sire lines.  Spark Candle was sold as a yearling to Japan and still races there; his only win to date came as a juvenile.  A.P. Indy was yet another stallion whose broodmare sire line descended from Rahy's great-grandsire Nasrullah.  And yet again, Serena's Song was sent to the reigning leading sire in America.
  • 2006 - Schramsberg (pedigree) by Storm Cat:  Unraced.  Bred before Pure Symmetry and Colourful Score proved that Storm Cat/Serena's Song wasn't going to have quite the hit rate as, say, Danehill/Hasili.
  • 2008 - Unnamed Colt by -- you guessed it! -- Storm Cat:  The good news is that Serena's Song took a year off and had some time for physical renewal. Perhaps a newly reinvigorated mare will help this now-yearling colt rise to the level of his eldest full siblings.
  • 2009 - Unnamed filly by Unbridled's Song (SRO):  It's one step further removed from Mr. Prospector, but the next logical mate from this sire line was Unbridled's Song.  No real notable differences in the five-cross pedigree for this foal versus Harlington.  As a filly, this could be the first Serena's Song foal in a while to avoid the Keeneland September sale ring (all male foals other than Grand Reward have been offered there).

With all that black type from her early foals, it's hard to fault Serena's Song's produce record.  I might say the stallion choices were somewhat uncreative -- or perhaps it would be fairer to say they were "obvious" in that they were all cases of picking leading sires and top stud fees -- but this mare deserved no less than the best.  I would like to have seen a couple of those Storm Cat matings mixed up a bit by instead going to other sire lines, however. 

Dynaformer (SRO) would be a great choice and wouldn't sacrifice the M.O. of always visiting top sires. The hypothetical mating with Dynaformer is especially interesting because his sire (Roberto) and Serena's Song's sire (Rahy) were bred on a reverse Hail to Reason/Nasrullah cross.  Other interesting choices would be Singspiel (IRE) (SRO) (giving a 2S x 3D cross to Glorious Song), a cross likely to produce a European-style classic horse, or Giant's Causeway (SRO), whose broodmare sire is Rahy and who I've always thought would be a better conformation match for Serena's Song than his own sire (Storm Cat) was.

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