ENJOYING THE "GOOD GREY BLOOD"
"It seems it may be adduced that certain qualities, derived from a distant ancestor, can, in some instances, be transmitted for an undetermined number of generations, and may afford the explanation of the survival of the three progenitors of the Thoroughbred horse in the male line, and the few original mares from which he descends in the female line, the influence of these particular animals refusing to be obliterated with the passage of time....." C. M. Prior (Early Records of the Thoroughbred Horse).
In all probability, it is nothing more than coincidence, but it seems to us that of late, we've had a plethora of awfully good grey racehorses. They are rather difficult to miss, standing out as they do in a sea of bay and chestnut brethren.
Think about them: Daylami, Holy Bull, Skip Away, Silver Charm, Free House, Wekiva Springs, Grand Flotilla, Alphabet Soup, Fastness, Listening, Shoop, Lit De Justice, Silver Goblin, Maria's Mon, Unbridled's Song, Halo America, Smoke Glacken, Apolda, Timarida, Belle of Cozzene. And we've no doubt left somebody out.
We were considering after Silver Charm won the Kentucky Derby that no grey had won the Kentucky classic until 1954 when Determine took the prize for California. His victory didn't exactly open a floodgate of grey winners, but it was followed by Determine's son Decidedly (1962); Dancer's Image (1968); Spectacular Bid (1979); Gato del Sol (1982), Winning Colors (1988) and Silver Charm in 1997..
It doesn't take a vast amount of research to discover that the majority of today's grey blood is passed down through three major sources: *Mahmoud, Native Dancer and Grey Sovereign. *Mahmoud was out of the grey Mah Mahal, a daughter of the grey Mumtaz Mahal, she a daughter of the grey The Tetrarch, he by the grey Roi Herode.
Native Dancer also received his distinctive coat color via Roi Herode. He was out of the grey Geisha whose first three dams were also grey and whose third dam, La Grisette, was a grey by Roi Herode.
Grey Sovereign is out of the grey mare Kong, a daughter of grey Baytown, he a son of grey Princess Herodias, out of grey Queen Herodias by grey The Tetrarch by grey Roi Herode.
So of these three most common source horses, all trace back to Roi Herode. In the marvelous history book of sires "Names In Pedigrees" written by Joe Palmer circa 1939, Palmer tells us much of Roi Herode's history.
He begins by reminding us that Herod's male ancestor, the Byerly Turk, was the eldest of the three founding sires at 1679, predating Eclipse's founding sire the Darley Arab (1702) and Matchem's Godolphin Barb (1724). However, he reminds, the Herod line very nearly died out.
In 1915, the Pryor's Register of Thoroughbred Stallions listed the five-cross pedigrees of 269 sires, only five of which descended from Herod in tail-male. One of these was The Tetrarch, the son of Roi Herod generally acknowledged to be the savior of the Herod line.
Although The Tetrarch was best known for the salvation of Herod, and his tombstone said of him, "He produced a line of horses hitherto unequalled in size, make, shape and speed.....", today the casual observer may be faulted for thinking of him as being best remembered for being the agent through which the grey coat color of the Alcock Arab found its way into the likes of Holy Bull and Alphabet Soup.
The Alcock Arab was acquired by the second Duke of Ancaster in 1722 from a Mr. Alcock, who also had a stud farm in Lincolnshire. Unfortunately, the stallion died the following year after begetting but five foals for the Duke, but his name still lives on not because of his greatness, but because of his unique ability to transmit through the years the grey coat color of his Arab ancestors through dozens of lines and crosses to today's modern runners.
It is true of him that he shares the honor, along with the three generally acknowledged patriarchs of the breed - the Godolphin Barb, the Darley Arab and the Byerly Turk, of being the only imported stallion from whence descended a Derby winner, that being 1785 winner Aimwell, a great-great-grandson of the Alcock Arab.
C. M. Prior wrote in "Early Records of the Thoroughbred Horse" published in 1924 that: "The opinion is often expressed that a remote ancestor cannot exert any influence on his present day descendants. Yet we are here confronted with the fact that although our horses are now removed some twenty-one or twenty-two generations from the Alcock Arab, his color has been persistently handed down in an unbroken line, an obvious outward and visible sign of inheritance in this particular."
Prior added that had the Alcock Arab been any other color, it was doubtful that the grey coat color would exist at all in today's Thoroughbred, or would exist only extremely rarely. This is due to the fact that the descendents of the only other grey source, the Brownlow Turk, are so scarce.
So imagine the prepotence of this Alcock Arab, who died about 1723, whose color refuses to quit the breed and in fact seems to be coming back in fashion by very virtue of the number of good runners who happen to have inherited this unique aspect. While few of us have the patience to trace the pedigrees of horses back twenty plus generations in all directions, it is an interesting thought how the above-named runners will affect the coat color of the breed in the next few generations as their foals race and then meet the foals of other grey individuals via the breeding shed.
In 1976 an article by John Zediker titled "A Study In Grey" appeared in The Thoroughbred Record and traced a number of grey mares who bred true greys without exception. Mr. Zediker had been moved to write the story after reading that the great breeder Federico Tesio thought the grey coat color was a "disease". The nine mares named were Bab (1787); Vesta (1801); Wicket (1840); Unnamed Mare (1844 by Stumps); Hestema (1934); Chablis (1938); Mahmoudess (1942); Desvria (1943); and Fair Vision (1946). Zediker's purpose was to prove that grey can dominate bay and that certain individuals can pass on the color in dominant fashion. The majority of these mares had crosses of The Tetrarch or of the older Crab, a son of the Alcock Arab.
Joe Palmer wrote in his Roi Herode story that it was Crab who was responsible for dispersing the grey genes of his sire because he had so many daughters that were kept for breeding. It was via a daughter of Crab that Roi Herode inherited his coat color through the grey sire Master Robert. She is listed only as "Crab Mare, gr. 1750" and from her descend the grey mares Regulus Mare-Speranza-Bab-Sir Peter Mare and Spinster (1805).
Spinster is the dam of Master Robert, an 1811 colt by Buffer. Master Robert passed the coat color on in an almost perfect zig-zag pattern via his son Drone, to Drone's daughter Whim (1832) to Whim's son Chanticleer, to Chanticleer's daughter Souvenir, to Souvenir's son Strathconan, to Strathconan's daughter Gem of Gems, to Gem Of Gem's son Le Sancy, to Le Sancy's son Le Samaratin, he sire of Roi Herode.
The odds of such a slender thread surviving must be enormous. But somehow it was written in the genetic code of the Thoroughbred's desert born ancestors that this modern horse not forget altogether his exotic roots. And while we often see white Arab horses in the show ring and elsewhere, we see reflected in our gunmetal greys and buttermilk shades and frosty roan coats the heritage that they condense into a purer form.
Sometimes, nature echos a distant past and gives us a Free House, whose unique coat reflects the grey double of Vigors/*Grey Dawn II and Icecapade/Shenanigans his dam imparts. Such horses awaken a special interest, as they are virtual color-coded throwbacks to the past.
Imagine then their common ancestor, this mysterious grey Alcock Arab, impertinent enough to sprinkle his white hairs among the common bays and chestnuts he encountered. Given such a small chance for life simply made this strain stronger, bringing with its unique shade a fine thread of steel - a bond with his Arab and Barb and Turk cousins that links him to the very quickening of the modern horse. A modern horse whose blood contains dozens of lines and crosses of that one immutable fire that will not be quenched, the good grey blood of a horse who, having died in 1723 left just enough of himself behind to give us a Free House or a Daylami, a Holy Bull or a Silver Charm.
Yes, indeed, we've had a lot of good grey horses lately. Expect to see more as this outstanding group begins to weave its own trail of grey throughout the population, carrying on the work begun almost three centuries ago by a horse who sired only a handful of foals. What a remarkable horse this Alcock Arab must have been to have left us such a legacy.