One of the most interesting aspects to the sale topper at Fasig-Tipton November, Betterbetterbetter, is her all-European pedigree and that she was purchased by an American, Mandy Pope. Bought for $5.2 million from John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale consignment, Betterbetterbetter is by Galileo—the best sire in Europe (and perhaps the world)—and from the Darshaan blue-chip producer Jude. Her pedigree, without delving any further, spells turf and distance—not exactly hallmarks of American racing. To have a horse of her stature valued so highly here may signal the beginnings of a shift back to another time.
North American breeding once was heavily marked by the importation of quality foreign sires and dams, and Ms. Pope—who was challenged by several European bidders for Betterbetterbetter—is only following a time-honored tradition of buying the best bloodlines available anywhere. Today, they include the names of horses like Galileo and Darshaan and War Front, the latter the Claiborne stallion to whom Betterbetterbetter is in foal. And because War Front’s sensational rise to the top of the sire ranks has encompassed US and European racing, the foal from this mating will be in high demand for Europe when he enters the sales ring. Note that not that long ago, North American-bred yearlings were regularly sought after for the European classics.
Take a look at this list of North American-bred winners of the Epsom Derby, separated by decade, since 1970:
In the 1970s, five North American-breds won the Derby:
’70 Nijinsky (Northern Dancer)
’71 Mill Reef (Never Bend)
’72 Roberto (Hail to Reason)
’76 Empery (Vaguely Noble)
’77 The Minstrel (Northern Dancer)
in the 1980s, another six:
’80 Henbit (Hawaii)
’82 Golden Fleece (Nijinsky)
’83 Teenoso (Youth)
’84 Secreto (Northern Dancer)
’86 Shahrastani (Nijinsky)
’89 Nashwan (Blushing Groom)
in the 1990s, three:
’94 Erhaab (Chief’s Crown)
’95 Lammtarra (Nijinsky)
’97 Benny the Dip (Silver Hawk)
in the 2000s, just one:
’03 Kris Kin (Kris S)
So, after being responsible for 11 of 20 Epsom Derby winners throughout the 1970s and 1980s, North Americans have accounted for only four of the next 24. The corrosion of appropriate sire power is the culprit.
During this time frame of North American-bred decline at Epsom—and Europe in general— the rise of Sadler’s Wells and his sons Galileo and Montjeu pulverized European sire ranks. Part of this is due to the classics-suited sire power of these horses in Europe (the last three Epsom Derby winners are Ruler of the World, by Galileo; and Camelot and Pour Moi, by Montjeu), plus those of the Danzig line, particularly through Danehill but also including other offshoots such as Green Desert, grandsire of Sea the Stars, for example. Stamina aside, turf ability, obviously, was a major requirement, and the Sadler’s Wells and Danzig branches of Northern Dancer—much more long-lasting in tail-male than Nijinsky or Lyphard or Nureyev—delivered.
Correspondingly, North America’s reliance on Mr. Prospector, Storm Cat, and A.P. Indy was geared more for speed (certainly the first two) and dirt (the latter, particularly), so the gulf between North America and Europe widened during this time frame, to the point that Europeans couldn’t use what North America had to offer, and North Americans, in the main, stayed away from European lines as racing distances shortened here.
Enter recently some young North American sires like Hard Spun, Medaglia d’Oro, Scat Daddy, Kitten’s Joy, and most importantly, War Front. They and some others are piquing European interest again.
And there may soon come a time when North American breeders and stud masters reincorporate European and foreign bloodlines into the gene pool here, as John Gaines and others did in the 1980s, for example, with Blushing Groom, Sharpen Up, Riverman, Irish River, Caro, etc. Those stallions brought European buyers and breeders to Kentucky. More recently, Frank Stronach made El Prado into the dirt Sadler’s Wells sire, and this once exclusively European sire line is starting to percolate here.
Claiborne has had a storied history of importations. Notably there was the 1950s game-changer, Nasrullah, but how about lesser successes, such as French Derby winner Le Fabuleux? He’s the broodmare sire of Unbridled. And the broodmare sire of Unbridled’s best son, Unbridled’s Song, is the imported Caro—who also sired Derby winner Winning Colors and leading sire Cozzene, among others.
Turf and foreign horses have historically played inportant roles like this, in both supporting and starring parts.
Now Ken Ramsey has shown everyone here how a home-grown grass horse like Kitten’s Joy—a son of El Prado like Medaglia d’Oro—can become a leading sire in North America against the odds, and Coolmore’s Scat Daddy—who has a penchant for siring AW and turf horses—has demonstrated aptly how to get (for these days) a rare European two-year-old Group 1 winner even trained over here, like No Nay Never.
Of course, War Front is about to blow the lid off this paradigm. Mandy Pope just bet on it, and it’s a good bet others will follow the example she set.