WHAT MADE HER GREAT MADE HER DIE
Was there ever anyone who saw the streak of black lightning known as Ruffian who did not love her? We think not. Nature seemed to know that there should never be another; her dam was barren to Reviewer when bred back to him.
Along with Ruffian’s greatness came great tragedy, of course. Some of it was man-made. She really did not need to run in a match race to prove her mettle. The race destroyed what should have been a promising stud career for Foolish Pleasure, as well, for there was an (idiotic) prejudice against him for ’winning’ the race after Ruffian broke down.
Twenty-twenty hindsight is a great thing, but there was most definitely some hint of what was to come when one considers that her sire Reviewer broke down three different times, and that her grandsire Native Dancer ran only 22 times at a time when horses routinely raced 40 and 50 times. We know now that it is Native Dancer whose bloodline is largely responsible for the fix we find ourselves in with the fragile modern Thoroughbred.
Reviewer’s entire female family, the Flitabout clan, has consistently thrown soft horses. Nothing was ever as bad as Reviewer, but Seeking the Gold, however gifted he may be as a progenitor, is just plain brittle. The family is trouble and it gets much of that trouble from Challenger II who appeared to throw a recessive soundness problem inherited from his paternal grandsire John O’Gaunt, and the mare Traverse. Traverse may be a purveyor of the so-called large heart gene, but if the legs cannot hold up the heart, it ends badly. Traverse could last only four starts and won not a one of them. Challenger II won his only two starts in Europe but failed to find the winner’s circle in eight U. S. efforts.
History tells us that Swynford’s sire line, even via a sire as well bred as Challenger II, was never very tough. Blandford, which was often used as an example of horrid forelegs, fared better in large part due to the Aga Khan’s use of him via *Blenheim II who in turn got *Mahmoud. Though *Mahmoud’s sire line is pretty well run out, any number of good horses, especially Halo sons, are likely to be inbred to him as he is a source of sound speed.
Ruffian’s bottom line also gives us more clues as to her eventual downfall. Traverse appears again and Ruffian is inbred to her via full siblings Traffic/Transmute on a 5 x 4 cross. The two unsound elements of Challenger II and Native Dancer also have something in common. Challenger II and Sickle’s dam Selene are very closely related. They are sired by half brothers Swynford and Chaucer and Challenger II’s broodmare sire Great Sport is a half brother to Selene’s dam Serenissima. This combination makes for a four-way cross of Pilgrimage (Canterbury Pilgrim x2/Loved One x2).
These explosive inbreeding combinations were both good and bad. And the bottom line of what Ruffian teaches us is the very basic truth that while inbreeding to great families (in her case Traverse and Pilgrimage) may strengthen a pedigree, attention must be paid to the individuals one is using for inbreeding. And that is where the ball was dropped.
Reviewer, let’s face it, should never have gone to stud. He was an accident waiting to happen. Shenanigans was a decent runner and from a good family, but you don’t cross Native Dancer on a horse like Reviewer. That is putting a match to the fire.
Sadly, it is Ruffian who paid the price. And as we know, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Nature has taken care of Reviewer for us; his bloodline is almost gone.
But in Seeking the Gold we have a horse who mixes the Bird Flower family with Native Dancer. No Reviewer blood is present, but three quarters of the formula is still there. And it’s still flammable. One of his stakes winners is a horse called Secret Savings whose second dam is by Reviewer! This ticking time bomb went to Australia to race thank heavens; we have enough soft bone in the U. S. already.
Keep in mind that Seeking the Gold has been bred to the very best mares in the world - they have a CI of 3.98! Mares who produce his foals will have the luxury of having their youngsters go to the very best trainers. If one of these individuals shows a minor problem, the fillies may be retired unraced since their catalogue pages will read well. If they are colts, they generally do best in Europe (Dubai Millennium, Lujain) where the going is softer and protects their fragile underpinnings. The only good thing about him at this point is that most of his best runners are fillies. His ’best’ son, Dubai Millennium, died young. With a little luck, not too many of his sons will go to stud and we will only have to worry about breeding around his daughters.
We all loved Ruffian and if there is any way to preserve her memory (other than banning match races), it is to consider what her pedigree teaches us. By all means, inbreed to great families. This is a priceless tool and one of the main reasons we publish Pedlines. But don’t inbreed mindlessly. You are creating a living thing.
Wouldn’t you rather have an inbred like Seattle Slew than Ruffian? Both had intriguing pedigrees, but the individuals used in Slew’s pedigree had the right kind of toughness needed to support the final result. So think before you sign that stallion contract or accept that mare into your stallion’s book. We’d love to see another Seattle Slew, but it would break our hearts to see another Ruffian.