Developing a Stakes-Winning Thoroughbred Filly, Part I

Editor's note:  Dr. Robert Fishman, breeder of recent stakes winner Girlfrienontheside, graciously accepted a request from TrueNicks' Byron Rogers to recount the pedigree considerations that resulted in the filly. Girfrienontheside is by Indian Charlie (TrueNicks,SRO) out of the Unbridled's Song (TrueNicks,SRO) mare Refrain. She won the Crank It Up Stakes on turf at Monmouth Park June 28, and was graded-placed as a 2-year old in 2008. Dr. Fishman shares his experience and insights into Thoroughbred breeding in this short series. Be on the lookout for parts II through V during the next several days.

To better explain how Girlfrienontheside came to be I should begin with her second dam's sire, Gold Seam (b.c. 1986, Mr. Prospector--Ballare by Nijinsky II). I first became acquainted with him while reading through my annual edition of Timeform Racehorses (of 1989). What I saw (I was first drawn to him by the photo and physical description) and read led me to explore further. Here was an exciting stallion prospect, as he was well bred, brilliant, of seeming grade-I ability, and a real looker. Gold Seam later repatriated to the U.S., initially to David Whiteley's barn at Belmont where I inspected him. He did not disappoint. Following one start here, the colt was retired to Akindale Farm in upstate N.Y., but died after siring one relatively small crop.

Nearly all his foals resided at Akindale where I saw them in the fall of 1993. They were a pleasing group, but one clearly stood out. She was the near-image of her sire, being very athletic, beautifully balanced, leggy, and quite correct, and luckily, the best bred of the lot. "Inlaw" aroused in me that rare sense of certainty.... Her dam was grade II stakes winner Yestday's Kisses, whose first foal, a very handsome Criminal Type colt, had recently sold quite well at Saratoga Select. Failing then to acquire her, and again when she brought $60,000 as a sales yearling (later sold for $125,000 at a 2-year-olds in training sale), I followed closely (with frequent barn visits) Inlaw's racing career, purchasing her near its end. As a 2-year-old, she had broken her maiden by a wide margin in a small stakes. The rest of her career was comprised by recurring illness (non-orthopedic), but she did manage a few more wins and another juvenile stakes placing. I remained smitten with her, sure of her ability, and confident in her potential as a broodmare.

I chose second year sire Unbridled's Song as her first mate, for these reasons:

  • Inlaw was a superb mover, and with her size, leg, and athletic physique made for a very desirable physical type. I wanted a stallion of like attributes and Unbridled's Song fit that rather well. He was brilliant, the most talented performing racehorse of his crop and among the most gifted of the decade. His pedigree, while not outstanding, was quite good and of sufficient merit (unlike some with similar racing credentials) as not to diminish his chance for stallion success. I was also aware that his dam, Trolley Song, was far more talented than her record might suggest. Unbridled's Song was one of very few "unproven" stallions in recent years that seemed destined for success. No matter how perfectly his pedigree may suit, I have learned to use only those stallions I regard highly. Stated somewhat differently; the best pedigree cross seldom makes the best mate. His pedigree was an acceptably decent cross for Inlaw whose pedigree provided little to "bite back into" effectively. Her sire, Gold Seam, was bred well enough; his Nijinsky II dam, Ballare, had won the mile on turf Senorita Stakes at Santa Anita, and her dam, Morgaise, had yet more speed and class, and despite being sired by Round Table, accomplished this all on dirt. The female line was known for speed. But, for such well-bred and well performing mares, their production records were a bit disappointing.

    To diverge: Both possessed what I labeled "nick pedigrees" (up close sire line-dam line affinities), as Ballare was by Nijinsky II out of a Round Table mare, and Morgaise by Round Table out of a Nasrullah mare. I've observed and reasoned that horses with affinities of this type (see below) are sometimes less able to transmit their phenotypic prowess to the next generation, i.e., their phenotype is a less accurate reflection of what the genotype can offer. Put yet another way: fortuitous affinities are unlikely to be transferred intact (the result (above) may be less dramatic, and the mechanism perhaps different, but it may be similar to what occurs in heterosis. Some affinities may be attributed simply to conformational factors--such as may exist between Nijinsky II with Round Table (opposites blended best), or Pleasant Colony with Stage Door Johnny or Hail To Reason-line (likes blended best). There are, no doubt, other more discrete affinities of like mechanism, and some so genetically "structured" to more profoundly affect later generations. Among those with some reach may be line-breeding/inbreeding "nicks" as found in (for example) Saddler's Wells-Mill Reef via Lalun line-breeding; Tom Fool-Graustark via Selene line-breeding, and a "nick", perhaps, associated with other affinities; Ribot-Hyperion via St. Simon line-breeding; etc. Pedigree analysis is much about gaining a clearer insight into how a phenotype might come to be. While certainty is beyond its reach, some "truths" will be uncovered, and many false beliefs discarded. .
  • Yestday's Kisses, Inlaw's dam, was a quality performer over turf/distance. Her sire, the rather well-bred D'Accord, was among Secretariat's best racing and siring sons, and of them, the one I viewed with least reservation. Her dam, Rollrights (GB), was a small, very attractive mare who was a well regarded quality performer in England, winning at distances from 5 furlonts to 1 1/2 miles. Rollrights' sire's sire, Ragusa (GB), was among Ribot's most accomplished racing and siring sons. Yestday's Kisses' pedigree provided enough to suggest that there was a well-rooted genetic basis for her racing success. It was not eye-popping, but there was little to dislike about the pedigree blend of Gold Seam on Yestday's Kisses.

    It was aptitudinally well balanced--Gold Seam was a brilliant sort, and nearly all siring sons of Mr.Propector were imparting speed. Gold Seam already had that extra Nasrullah cross (albeit back a ways), and Yestday's Kisses (via D'Accord-Secretariat-Bold Ruler) contributed another. Inlaw was line-bred (balanced, for those who care) 4x4 to Northern Dancer through two genetically similar and rather superior conduits. I'm not ga-ga over Northern Dancer, but conceded this was a beneficial pattern. Another Princequillo on Nijinsky II also didn't hurt. Ribot, through the exceptional Ragusa, may have aided D'Accord in siring Yestday's Kisses, and was a plus for Nijinsky II as well. I was glad there wasn't an overabundance of Native Dancer (Gold Seam was plagued by thin walls), and Inlaw was well endowed with St. Simon.

Such was my review of Inlaw's pedigree, both before her purchase, and prior to her first mating. The Unbridled's Song-Inlaw cross would yield a 4x3 inbreeding to Mr. Prospector. This gave me pause, but Unbridled's Song's Mr. Propector was through Fappiano (note that his Mr. P.--Dr. Fager (back to Bull Dog) "nick" didn't seem to deter his stallion success), and Inlaw was quite correct (especially through the fetlocks), and not a "bleeder". Also, should the cross result in a filly this inbreeding could benefit her later career as a broodmare. The aptitudes appeared to align well, and I liked the Caro (IRE) (and its source, Trolley Song) combined with another Raise A Native (through Inlaw), and the additional Nasrullah that Inlaw offered Unbridled's Song. I would have preferred closer Nasrullah and Buckpasser influences, and less Native Dancer. In the end, it was an easy decision to make. His phenotype with hers nearly trumped all else, and his pedigree was of sufficient value and fit. No reasonable stallion was overlooked, but few received more than a second glance.

The product of this mating fulfilled my hopes. Refrain was more refined and compact, and had less size, leg, and scope than her dam. She was, though, more attractive, equally as athletic in appearance and, like her dam, an exceptional mover. As much as I admired Inlaw, Refrain, for me, was an improvement. I couldn't part with her, and she was retained for racing/breeding.

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