Black Duchess

From time to time we are asked, “What makes a Reine-de-Course?”  And while there is no set standard, the basics are quite simple:  A mare who has stood the test of time, one whose offspring have given and continue to give to the breed at the highest level.  By that, or most any definition, Black Duchess is most certainly a Reine-de-Course.

As a foal of 1886, one no longer sees her name in pedigrees, but imagine if you will a pedigree without Blandford (most notably via Blenheim II) or her other major male descendent Bay Ronald, whose sire line spawned the great Hyperion and the great German stallion Dark Ronald.

As her female line filtered on down through the years, her daughters, granddaughters and great-grandaughters established branches which would make them household names in many parts of the world.  In the U. S. the most famous branch came to us via Spotted Beauty, a 1941 daughter of Man o’ War whose famous descendents include Relaunch, Golden Act, Rubiano, Glitterman, Auction Ring, Highland Blade, Zen and Gurkhas Band.

Yet another branch via Jean Bowdre gave us multiple graded stakes winner Soy Numero Uno and Preakness winner Fabius.  Others of note from various sub-branches include hardy little handicap horse Eddie Schmidt; Arlington Million and Japan Cup winner Golden Pheasant; double Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure; the good grass runner Romeo and Ohio champion Brent’s Prince.

For a mare whose legacy is so large, Black Duchess was not much of a racehorse.  She ran ten times in two seasons and won only once.  All eight of her offspring were winners, but none were quite so important as her fine son Bay Ronald.

Bay Ronald did not meet his reserve at the yearling sales, but was purchased privately by Sir Leonard Brassey for 500 Pounds Sterling.  Although the horse was terribly slow to come to hand, Sir Brassey thought so highly of his potential that he also purchased Black Duchess.  The very afternoon of the purchase, Bay Ronald won his first major race, the 1 1/2 mi. Lowther Stakes.

Though he was generally beaten by the best runners of his day, Bay Ronald added the important Hardwicke Stakes, the City and Suburban Handicap and the Epsom Cup to his trophies prior to his retirement to Preston Farm in Kent, England.  There he did not prove popular and was moved to France, where he died unexpectedly in 1907 at the age of 14.  Yet to race at the time was Dark Ronald, and he had left Gainsborough (sire of Hyperion) as well as the successful Son-In-Law in England.

Also still to come from the family was Blandford, foaled in 1919.  This grand runner and stallion was out of the mare Blanche, a granddaughter of Black Duchess produced from her winning daughter Black Cherry.

Blanche was bred by Col. William Hall Walker, whose experiments in inbreeding have given us some of our greatest foundation stock.  Blanche, however, failed as a racehorse – and she was highly regarded – as she ran only in the best company, including the Epsom Oaks.  Apparently even in defeat Blanche  had shown enough to encourage Walker to try her at stud.

She was also by a good broodmare sire, White Eagle, and her dam Black Cherry had produced One Thousand Guineas and Oaks winner Cherry Lass and the top juveniles Black Arrow and Jean’s Folly.

Walker chose for her mate the fine sire Swynford, who later would be best known as a good broodmare sire.  The match, which created Blandford, was a study in balanced inbreeding and linebreeding with Isonomy, his sire Sterling, Hermit, and Galopin all balanced and all three of Pocahontas’ major sons:  Stockwell, King Tom and Rataplan represented.

For all that, Blandford had a suspicious set of forelegs and in due course he bowed a tendon after only his second start at three.  Due to the brevity of his racing career, it is difficult to gauge his quality other than by the memories of those who handled him.

Dawson, his trainer, said he rated the horse very highly in June of his two-year-old season. He won his first start and placed in the Windsor Castle Stakes while suffering from sore shins. The following season, prior to sustaining his career-ending injury, he won the Paradise Stakes from Spike Island who later won the Irish Derby.  One of the horses to whom he gave weight (23 pounds in fact) was the mare Malva, who when later bred to him, would produce Blenheim II.

Although he had some fertility problems at stud, Blandford’s record soon surpassed that of his sire Swynford.  Among his best were, of course, Blenheim II, who won the Derby; the unbeaten Triple Crown winner Bahram; Derby and St. Leger winner Windsor Lad; Derby winner Trigo and the excellent French colt Brantome.

Blandford’s influence in the U. S. boils down almost entirely to Epsom Derby winner *Mahmoud, whose grey coat color is found sprinkled liberally throughout the population.  His sire line did not live on here, but it is everywhere we look.  As a matter of fact, our four most recent ‘glorious greys’ – Holy Bull, Skip Away, Silver Charm and Free House all have *Mahmoud blood from which they inherit their striking coat colors.

Bay Ronald’s contribution is quite similar.  Though only *Herbager among Son-In-Law line horses has had any recent impact in the U. S. (and this largely through Grey Dawn II, who also had a line of Blandford via *Mahmoud), the blood of Hyperion is still quite prevalent in American horses, via such a variety of sources as Nodouble, *Forli, *Alibhai and Heliopolis.

Today, Black Duchess lives on in the U. S. via two different major branches that define in no uncertain terms how little the quality of the bloodline has been diluted.  In 1906 Black Duchess produced a filly named Black Velvet, whose daughter Black Brocade by Neil Gow was imported to this country by John Oliver Keene.  From Black Brocade descended Jean Bowdre “the pearl of the Keeneland stud” and it is via her daughters’ descendents that one very strong group of the Black Duchess clan enriches the American Thoroughbred.

The other major source is via the English champion Baby Doll II, who was imported to the U. S. in the late 1960’s.  She descends from Black Duchess’ daughter Black Cherry.  Baby Doll II’s most lasting contribution, the winning Chappaquiddick by Relic (a full sister to major winner *Pieces of Eight II), became one of Claiborne Farm’s finest producers.  Her three best racing offspring were multiple Grade I winner Tiller (a gelding by *Herbager); Endear, a Grade 1-winning filly by Alydar, and dam of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure; and Tropical Park Derby winner Digress (by Topsider).  Sadly, Lure had serious fertility issues, and was finally pensioned in 2003 after siring only 88 foals.

Chappaquiddick also foaled the unraced Pogonip, by Jacinto, dam of the excellent Linda’s Magic, a stakes winner in England and Ireland and a stakes producer.

But the truth of the matter is that when Endear died after foaling only two colts (she got the winning Devil Begone by Devil’s Bag in addition to Lure) this branch of the family may have lost its best chance to breed on.  Yet there is still some hope as there are young mares from lesser known daughters like Routine and Bogus who have yet to make their mark.  Nothing major has reared its head from the pair yet, but one can still hope.

Those of you who look for well-bred descendents of major mares in regional markets may well want to seek out some of Chappaquiddick’s descendents, as some of Lure’s blood, rare though it is, may become available either via a son or the son of a daughter.  Names to look for include mares descending from Tuckernuck (1975 by Bold Reasoning) or mares with a line of *Pieces of Eight II (the full brother to Chappaquiddick).  Either can be used to cross back to Lure.

The other major U. S. branch of the family, that descending from Man o’ War’s daughter Spotted Beauty, is much stronger and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.  There are an equal number of good males (Alias Smith, Auction Ring, Relaunch, Glitterman, Rubiano and Golden Act) to females (Afifa, Passagere Du Soire, Phone Chatter, Topicount).

Despite the death of Relaunch and Rubiano, there are ample opportunities to inbreed to this branch, as Glitterman is still going strong, and Relaunch mares pose an exciting choice for him.

At the Breeders’ Cup of 1993, both of these branches of Black Duchess’ family were on display as Lure won his second Breeders’ Cup Mile and Phone Chatter put the seal on her two-year-old title with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.  Never has it been more obvious that great mares go on giving long after their names have disappeared from the four-generation pedigrees most breeders are accustomed to seeing.

There are other major descendents of Black Duchess that one can readily access for inbreeding.  One is the excellent sire Caro.  His bloodline is found in many of today’s top sires including Cozzene and his good young son Alphabet Soup, With Approval and interestingly in Honour And Glory who is by Relaunch and is therefore by a stallion from the Black Duchess family as well.  There are also still a handful of Shahrastani daughters left to be had and another handful or two of mares by Soy Numero Uno.  Further, parts of Pink Pigeon’s family is still around, and lines of Santa Claus are here and there, as are lines of Bold Favorite and Blue Train.  Even the occasional Fabius line might still be out there.

Although it is difficult to place Black Duchess’ pedigree in any kind of modern perspective, it is worth noting that she was by a son of the best sire of her time (Galopin) and was inbred to half siblings Macaroni and Touchstone.  Such patterns still work today in more modern mares.

Consider Chappaquiddick for instance:  Her sire, Relic, was by War Relic who was inbred to half brothers Fair Play and Friar Rock, while her dam, Baby Doll II, was inbred to half brothers Nearco and Niccolo Dell’arca.

Beauty Spot, the most productive of Spotted Beauty’s daughters, has an even more noteworthy pattern:  She is 4 x 5 to half siblings Bay Ronald and Black Velvet, both offspring of none other than Black Duchess herself.  Perhaps this alone is the key to her strength as the strongest surviving branch of the line!

Black Duchess has given us many gifts and it is well past the time to honor her as a Reine-de-Course.  So with an apology for our tardiness in neglecting her previously, new Reines-de-Course from the family of Black Duchess are:  Black Duchess; Black Cherry; Baby Doll II; Life Hill; Diamond Drop; Blanche; Black Velvet; Silver Beauty; Spotted Beauty; and Beadah.

This article originally appeared in Pedlines #101.  The following supplement appeared in Pedlines #146.

We never expect our Reines-de-Course to remain static, but naturally some families – and some branches thereof, are bound to be more active than others.  Beadah was always a favorite, always one of the best, and we have taken far too long to return to her and grant her daughters their just desserts.

Beadah’s family has had more than a half century to blossom and that is exactly what it has done.  Whether we are talking about the sublime Relaunch, whose sire line is not only extant but vibrant thanks to Tiznow and Bertrando, or great mares like Moon Glitter and Belle O’Reason, this is a family to love and celebrate.

Two horses under Moon Glitter’s Ruby Slippers sub-branch have made the most noise this year.  Her daughter Tap Your Heels, a three-quarter sister to champion sprinter Rubiano, is the dam of G1 winner and now well-regarded (read ‘hot commercial’) sire Tapit.  We have problems with his Raise a Native double (what else is new), but we give credit where credit is due.

Tap Your Heels and Rubiano also have a half sister by Alysheba named Hong Kong Jade.  She just so happens to be the second dam of pro-tem champion three-year-old Summer Bird, winner of the Belmont and Travers.  Talk about an active branch!

So, all things being equal, here are our new Reines-de-Course from the Black Duchess line, courtesy of Washington state’s very own Beadah:  Foggy Note, Belle O’Reason, Moon Glitter, Ruby Slippers, Retsinato, Hooplah, Afifa and Passing My Way.  This family can only continue to prosper and there are a number of excellent ways to use it for inbreeding.

Welcome, Beadah’s descendents.  This grey daughter of Djeddah has always been deserving of heading her own branch of the family.  And now she does.

Yet another addition to this family was published in Pedlines:


Named for a mountain range in Africa, Ruwenzori is a rare bird in any event, as she is *Mahmoud line via Oil Capitol and of course tail-female and linebred to the grand Black Duchess via the Jean’s Folly sub-branch that also gave us Caro.

Linebred as well to Canterbury Pilgrim, St. Marguerite, Sainfoin/Sierra and several other major lines, Ruwenzori was a winner who placed in the Ramona Handicap (later a G1).

Among her better offspring, and here named as Reines-de-Course along with Ruwenzori herself are Santa Barbara and American Handicap winner Pink Pigeon, whose descendants include Golden Pheasant,  Seewillo, Pink Dove (her best daughter and hereby also named a Reine-de-Course thanks to her Japanese contribution) and Gray Dove, also a new Reine and responsible for horses like Gravelines (FR), and G1 placed Distinctive Passion.

This has always been a grass family and it was bred to grass champion males like Round Table and T. V. Lark.  We lost what was possibly the best stallion prospect from the line when Arlington Million winner Golden Pheasant was sold to Japan.  Anyone who owns a line of him is lucky indeed.

The family has had success in regional racing on both coasts and on several continents.  So while it is grassy indeed, it is versatile and classy.

New Reines-de-Course are  Ruwenzori, 1956, Pink Pigeon 1964, Pink Dove 1984 and Gray Dove 1966.

Family 3-O