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The Influence of Alydar

At the TrueNicks office in Lexington, Ian Tapp and Scot Gillies recently raised some interesting questions about the pedigree and rating of a sister to the very talented Brother Derek (TrueNicks,SRO), who was offered at last Monday’s Barretts May Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training.

This filly, named Sister Kate, is by Alydar’s son Benchmark (TrueNicks,SRO) out of Miss Soft Sell, by Siyah Kalem. What’s interesting about this pedigree is that there are only six foals of racing age – including two-year-olds of 2010 – by Benchmark out mares by Siyah Kalem, and from just three starters, the cross has resulted in grade I winner Brother Derek; grade III winner Standard Setter; and stakes winner Don’tsellmeshort, so the cross has a 100% stakes winner/starter strike rate. Brother Derek and Don’tsellmeshort are full-brothers, and we have to note that without the presence of Standard Setter, the TrueNicks algorithm would have defaulted to a deeper cross to calculate the rating. The reason for this is that when TrueNicks was created, one of the requirements to rate a specific version of the cross where there were stakes winners, was that there be at least two stakes winners, out of two distinct mares. This was to avoid as much as we could, situations where there were stakes winning siblings that might be result of an affinity with elements in a specific sire and dam, rather than an indication of an affinity between a sire (or sire line) and broodmare sire (or broodmare sire line). Here with two mares (of quite different ancestry on their distaff side), producing three stakes winners from three starters on the Benchmark/Siyah Kalem cross, for a TrueNicks variant of 834.7 – one of the highest we’ve ever seen – and an A++ nick rating (Click to see the report).

That we are seeing a genuine affinity between Benchmark and Siyah Kalem is borne out by a look at Benchmark’s strike rate with all other Mr. Prospector line mares. That’s produced 43 starters, and just one additional stakes winner (graded winner Grazen, out of a mare by Rubiano). The broad Alydar/Mr. Prospector cross resulted in only 11 stakes winners from 451 – excluding the Benchmark/Siyah Kalem trio – for a stakes winners-to-starters rate of 2.4%. This figure is not terribly exciting, even taking into account the depressing record of Alydar sons as stallions overall. The reverse cross, Mr. Prospector/Alydar isn’t much more spectacular, with a TrueNicks variant of 0.34 and a rating of D.

This raises a couple of questions: why was Alydar/Mr. Prospector (and the reverse) so poor in general; and why has the Benchmark/Siyah Kalem version proved so much better than the norm? Before tackling those, however, we probably should answer another question that must surely have popped into readers minds by now, and that’s “who on earth is Siyah Kalem?!” The answer is that he was a rather well-bred son of Mr. Prospector and the Graustark mare Lady Graustark (dam of two other stakes winners, including Bel Bolide – a group winner in England, third in the classic 2,000 Guineas (gr. I), and subsequently a four-time graded winner in the U.S.). Siyah Kalem showed his best form in Europe, where he earned seconds in two German group events and a third in England’s group II Waterford Crystal Mile, then came to the West Coast, where his most notable effort was a second in the Premiere Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park. He sired six stakes winners from 247 starters, none of them graded.

Let’s look at the distaff sides of the pedigrees of Benchmark and Siyah Kalem for sources of an affinity between the pair. While the answer doesn’t exactly leap off the page, there are commonalities which might offer an explanation. Winter’s Love, the dam of Benchmark, is by Danzig (bringing in Nearctic and Petition). She is line bred to Mahmoud, and her second dam is by Turn-to (by Royal Charger, whose granddam, Mumtaz Begum, is a three-parts-sister to Mahmoud), out of a daughter of the important mare Lavendula. Lady Graustark, the dam of Siyah Kalem is by Graustark, whose broodmare sire, Alibhai, has strong pedigree links to Nearctic and Petition. She has Mahmoud and Badruddin, similarly-bred three-parts-brothers to Mumtaz Begum, and My Babu, another grandson of Lavendula. Conclusive evidence? No, but as “The Boss” said, “You can’t start a fire without a spark,” and there are enough genetic relationships here to ignite the right kind of timber. We also wouldn’t count out some biomechanical factors. Our colleagues who toil in the field of equine biomechanics have advanced the notion that Alydar was a “stride” horse, a horse whose rare talent resided in an ability to maintain an economic stride, rather than having a balance of stride and power. The best runners by such stallions are often “outliers” and don’t cross well with a high proportion of the broodmare population. An interesting note with regard to this and Alydar is that his two sons who were relative over-achievers, Benchmark and Jeblar, were atypical of their sire being seven furlong horses, while probably his most successful stallion son, Saratoga Six, was a brilliant juvenile and also somewhat physically atypical of his sire.

As far as the Alydar/Mr. Prospector and Mr. Prospector/Alydar crosses are concerned, as a rule of thumb, crossing a sire or dam back over their immediate sire line (Raise a Native in this case) almost always has a below opportunity strike rate. You might have hoped that the similarities in the pedigrees of Alydar and Mr. Prospector would have offset the negatives of this pattern, but obviously this was not the case. There is a good chance that combining Alydar and Mr. Prospector elsewhere in pedigrees may have a positive effect as there are upwards of 250 stakes winners inbred to Raise a Native through Alydar and Mr. Prospector, 30 of them grade I winners. This is pretty amazing considering Alydar’s limited impact as a sire of sires, and the fact that many of his sons have little impact as sires of broodmares. What is unusual about Alydar, unlike Secretariat and Buckpasser, who also disappointed as sires of sires, is that he has not been an outstanding broodmare sire of sires. The most notable exceptions to that principle would be Peintre Celebre in Europe and Australia, and Easing Along in South America, while Arch (TrueNicks,SRO) has a second dam by Alydar.

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