If the measure of a female family is how many truly unforgettable horses it has produced, then Brulette most certainly passes muster. One need mention only two of them, All Along (FR) and Vaguely Noble to make the point. Two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners, both of whom came to America and made their presence felt, one at the races and the other in the breeding shed.
Brulette was a mare who earned her way into history in the same manner as her distinguished relations. A full sister to French Derby winner *Hotweed, Brulette herself won the 1931 Epsom Oaks while having her fair share of problems negotiating the downhill course. She continued on at four to earn a championship in that season, winning the Goodwood and Jockey Club Cups.
The daughter of Grand Prix de Paris and Prix Royal Oak winner Bruleur was bred by Lt. Col. C. V. Birkin and was raced by him early in her career. In his colors, she won the Prix Penelope and the Prix la Rochette as well as the Oaks.
She could not handle her great stablemate Pearl Cap (winner of the French 1000 Guineas and Oaks and later an important producer in her own right) in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but started out well the next year at four with a win in the Prix du Cadran. As Lt. Col. Birkin had passed away, the executors of his estate elected to sell Brulette and she was purchased by Lord Woolavington and sent to be trained in England.
Though Brulette was not quite so good at four and five as she had been early in her three-year old year, her win in the Goodwood Cup was at the expense of the great stayer Brown Jack, who had previously beaten her in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Ascot. Any shortcomings she may have demonstrated late in her racing career were soon made up for at stud.
Though her best runner was undoubtedly the Hyperion filly Tropical Sun, Brulette has five daughters who have made an impact on the stud book in various parts of the world. They are Crox de Feu, whose grandson Free Ride was a champion older horse in France; Protein, the fourth dam of 1983 American Horse of the Year All Along; Muirburn, dam of good Chilean sire Big Burn (1950 by Big Game, not to be confused with the Florida sire of the same name); and Desert Sun II, whose descendents include the smashing English champion Diminuendo, winner of the Epsom and Irish Oaks as well as the strong American branch of Creme Brulee that gave us Cloudy Dawn and Instrument Landing. Tropical Sun, of course, is the third dam of Vaguely Noble, and the useful French sire R. B. Chesne also descends from her.
When Vaguely Noble came along, he was the kind of horse whose pedigree was not terribly fashionable. His dam, Belle Sauvage, had been a disappointing producer up to that point and his breeder, Major Lionel Holliday, was upset that another foal by Vienna (sire of Vaguely Noble) born at his stud had been horribly deformed.
Major Holliday died in 1965, so he did not live to see that the mating he was none too keen about would bear remarkable fruit. As Vaguely Noble entered the sales ring as a two-year-old-in-training, he was a study in promise. He had already won the Observer Gold Cup, the most important race for young colts in England, in convincing fashion. This major victory caused enough interest in the son of Vienna that he sold for a record 136,000 guineas despite not being nominated for the English classics. Since the former record for a horse in training was 37,000 guineas (though admittedly set in 1900), Vaguely Noble’s sale to Americans Robert and Wilma Franklyn made all the English papers. And the best was yet to come.
American Nelson Bunker Hunt, who had made his fortune in the silver market, was underbidder on Vaguely Noble, and soon after the colt’s sale, he acquired a half interest in the colt, who was subsequently moved to Etienne Pollet’s stable at Chantilly in France. Bunker Hunt intended that Vaguely Noble be pointed for Europe’s premier race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It was a heady goal for a colt who had won but one major race. But in the 1960’s and 1970’s Bunker Hunt had a magic touch with horses, and Vaguely Noble was no exception.
Vaguely Noble had four races leading up to the Arc; the Prix de Guiche, the Prix du Lys, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Prix de Chantilly. He won all but one of them, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, rather easily and he was poorly ridden in his loss.
There was some question as to the quality of horses he had beaten in his easier victories, but there would be no such question in the Arc, where he would meet the outstanding Epsom Derby winner Sir Ivor along with other stellar performers Roseliere (French Oaks); Luthier (Prix Lupin) and Ribero (Irish Derby and English St. Leger). But it was in the words of Sir Ivor’s rider Lester Piggot that Vaguely Noble’s three-length Arc victory can best be appreciated: “What a tremendous horse that Vaguely Noble must be!” said the champion rider, “For Sir Ivor had the heart of a lion and could not match him.”
Vaguely Noble retired immediately after his Arc victory and a half interest in him was sold to John Gaines for $1.25 million. Thus the horse with the very European pedigree took up residence at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky, where he became a great favorite of his handlers, who were taken with his intelligence and lovely disposition.
Vaguely Noble was also enormously pleasing to the eye. William G. Munn wrote of him in the December 1989 Thoroughbred Record, “He possessed an excellent shoulder and a lovely head. Although he filled out a bit as a stallion, there was never any coarseness about him. In fact, he was a rather elegant animal with a tremendous amount of class and presence.”
Still, the truth of the matter is that the Vaguely Noble children truly were better suited to racing on grass in Europe, and while he did, indeed, sire some good American dirt horses, foremost among them the ill-fated Exceller, his best offspring were grass horses. Americans were quick to note that Vaguely Noble’s best racing sons – Ace of Aces, Noble Decree, Empery, Gonzalez and others did not produce offspring precocious enough for American racing, and save for a few regional sires here and there and some bits and pieces in South America and the Antipodes, Vaguely Noble’s sire line is nearly gone.
Which is a tragedy, for his gifts of good disposition, classic stamina and toughness could only improve the fragile American Thoroughbred we see today. And indeed, it is the failure of American breeders to appreciate such horses that has brought the breed to its current state.
As to the greatest horse that Vaguely Noble ever sired, that would undoubtedly be Dahlia, winner of Grade 1 races in five countries, and dam of two millionaires and five Grade 1 winners. She is but one of Vaguely Noble’s great broodmare daughters. In fact, his daughters have produced over 140 stakes winners to date including such illustrious individuals as Indian Skimmer, Yokama, Homebuilder, Sharekann, Aztec Empire, and of course Dahlia’s sons Rivlia and Dahar.
The next time a great relation of Brulette burst into American racing was 1983. The occasion was the telecast of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, when Daniel Wildenstein’s colors, atop a handsome bay filly with a wide star, came bursting clear of the pack. Her name was All Along.
After seeing the Arc, one could hardly expect to see such a filly in the United States, but there she was just in time to sweep the three greatest turf races in North American – the Turf Classic, the Canadian International and the D. C. International. Like Brulette’s relation Dahlia before her, All Along was a true internationalist and before long, she would be called “Horse of the World”.
Prior to her retirement, she also ran second in the Japan Cup and in the first Breeders’ Cup Turf. She lost the latter by a scant neck, and the amount of respect she had gained the previous year was evident in the crowd’s response to her stretch battle with Lashkari. As the pair galloped back to be unsaddled, it was All Along who received the most applause.
All Along has not been a gem of consistency as a broodmare, but then she was a difficult mare to breed. Her first foal, Along All, by Mill Reef won the Grade 2 Prix Greffulhe, was Group 1 placed and is now a sire in Japan.
Her 1995 colt by Miswaki, Arnaqueur, placed twice in Group 3 races and there are still some youngsters out of her yet to race; a 1998 filly by Woodman named Armure Royale and a yearling filly by Miswaki named Armee Rouge. Two of her daughters are stakes producers; All Dancing by Dancing Brave and Allez Les Bleus by Kris. All Dancing is the dam of German St. Leger second Asolo (by Surumu), who also ran third in the G1 Prix Royal-Oak. Allez Les Bleus is the dam of a Shirley Heights gelding named Golden Allez who placed in a minor stake in Italy.
All in all, her record should be better and we feel it would have been had she been bred to a horse like Robellino in order to cross her line of Round Table back on his full sister Monarchy and to place that sire (Round Table) and Hail to Reason in the same pedigree position, which has worked very well with such good horses as Seattle Slew and Martial Law. For now, all we can do is hope that All Along’s classic pedigree will not die on the vine while being bred on more popular crosses.
At present, the strongest female branch of this family belongs to Cacti (1977 by Tom Rolfe). Her two full-sister daughters, Diminuendo and Pricket, are both in full production. Diminuendo was, of course, an incredible racehorse, winning the Epsom, Irish and Yorkshire Oaks and placing in the St. Leger and One Thousand Guineas. Pricket is a listed stakes winner, but ran second in the Epsom Oaks.
Diminuendo is eight years older than Pricket and while she has foaled just won stakes winner, Group 3 winner Calando, she has a weanling colt by Royal Academy and two well-bred daughters just beginning their broodmare careers.
Pricket had her first foal this year, a colt by Nureyev, so she is just getting started, but these two quality sisters are undoubtedly going to have something to say about the continuation of Brulette’s line.
Perhaps one of the saddest stories from Brulette’s family is that of Rampage, the 1986 Arkansas Derby winner, who is inbred to Brulette’s best daughter Tropical Sun. Moved around from farm to farm, he has sired only a handful of foals, most of which run well beyond their seventh birthdays, for he is passing on Brulette’s soundness. Unfortunately, because his get are not precocious, this wonderful contribution has been allowed to languish in obscurity.
One of the most fascinating things about Brulette is how many times a major horse has emerged when one of her relations was exposed to the blood of Reine-de-Course Aloe. All Along is by a son of Round Table, who traces to Aloe; Vaguely Noble is by Vienna, who has an Aloe cross via Angelola; Rampage is inbred to Aloe; Diminuendo and Pricket are by Diesis, whose paternal grandsire, Atan, traces to Aloe and one of All Along’s stakes producing daughters, Allez Les Bleus, is inbred to Aloe via Round Table and Atan.
There is little doubt that in the U. S., Brulette’s blood will likely always be most plentiful via Vaguely Noble. Other sources are the occasional daughter of R. B. Chesne who may make her way to these shores, or perhaps a daughter of Lead On Time. Keep in mind also, those mares with lines of Creme Brulee (via Cloudy Dawn, Instrument Landing, Hedevar, etc.)
We have been on the fence about naming Brulette a Reine-de-Course because her influence is not as deeply felt in the U. S. as some other matrons. However, it is absolutely necessary to recognize some of the sounder families as well as some of the more brilliant ones, for when all the soundness is gone – and make no mistake it is rapidly going – we need to know where to turn for the kind of substance that families like Brulette’s provide. So if you happen across a cast-off daughter of Rampage or mare with a line of the much maligned Astray, look her over carefully. You might have the answer to one of the most important questions of the upcoming century, and that is where to start building some strength back into what has essentially become a very fragile animal.
For her substance and classic contributions, we thus name Brulette and her daughters Tropical Sun and Desert Sun II as Reines-de-Course. We will have our fingers crossed as tightly as possible that we can one day return to this family to add the wonderful All Along to the list.