Anyone familiar with the Thoroughbred runner has long since become aware of the wonderful bloodlines which Federico Tesio’s Dormello Stud bequeathed to the breed. Likewise anyone who has read of Tesio’s theories, principles and numerous champions would undoubtedly name Nearco and *Ribot as not only his finest contributions, but two of the most important sires ever born.
Even the most cursory examination of modern pedigrees makes it readily apparent that the bloodlines of both these sires are alive and well through their multiple outstanding descendents from Seattle Slew and Northern Dancer (Nearco) to His Majesty and his fine son Pleasant Colony (*Ribot). Nearco is perhaps the greater contributor in the United States, for his sons *Nasrullah and *Royal Charger sired dynasties which only continue to grow and their blood virtually saturates the pedigrees of today’s best runners.
Interestingly enough, the eventual influence of Nearco’s bloodlines in America might be partially explained by his pedigree. His third dam, Sibola, was bred in the United States, though she raced in England where she distinguished herself by winning the classic One Thousand Guineas.
In his outstanding book Makers of the Modern Thoroughbred, Peter Willett suggests that it was two previous Tesio purchases which influenced the breeder’s liking for Sibola’s daughter Catnip. The first was the filly Fausta, who Tesio bought in Italy. A daughter of Spearmint, Fausta became not only a great racemare but an outstanding broodmare as well.
The second purchase was the filly Jiffy II, a daughter of The Sailor Prince, who produced for Tesio his Grand Prix di Milano winner Fidia. To some degree, Catnip combined pedigree elements of both Fausta and Jiffy II, being by Fausta’s sire Spearmint and out of a mare by The Sailor Prince, sire of Jiffy II. It was icing on the cake that Catnip’s dam, Sibola, was also a classic winner.
Tesio purchased Catnip at the 1915 December Newmarket sales for a mere 75 Guineas from the consignment of the estate of Major Eustace Loder, owner of Spearmint. The low selling price was more reflective of the World War I market than any failing on the part of the filly.
Nevertheless, Catnip was not universally beloved. She was described by her breeder’s stud manager, Noble Johnson, as ‘a light, narrow filly that carried very little flesh.’ Tesio saw her through different eyes, however, describing her as ‘small, sound and well made’. Tesio’s judgment was obviously the sounder of the two, thus weaving a somewhat romantic “eye of the beholder” aspect into the story of no less a legend than Nearco.
Catnip, who had maternity problems thoughout her career, was barren from 1920-1922 and from 1924-1927. Those fallow years might have discouraged some breeders, but Tesio persevered and in 1918 the outstanding Tracery filly Nera Di Bicci was born. She was said to be the finest filly or mare Tesio ever bred, and she in turn bred him a dynasty. But Tesio’s patience with Catnip would be severely tested, for it would be ten long years before she produced anything else of note. The reward was a rich one. In 1928 Catnip dropped the Havresac II filly Nogara. She would become the dam of his incomparable – and unbeaten – Nearco.
Nera Di Bicci’s blood is not common in the U.S., but it is highly beloved in Italy and Germany. Among the excellent horses who descend from her branch of the Catnip family are champions, classic winners and leading sires Niccolo Pisano, Nereide, Nordlight, Neckar, Naxos, Nuvolari and Nadia. Nera Di Bicci’s blood can also be found in the offspring of the Grade I winner Nebos, whose pedigree is a study in inbreeding to the Catnip family.
Nebos, who won the Grosser Preis Von Europa – the German equivalent of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – is inbred to Catnip 7 x 7 x 6 x 7. Three of the crosses come from Nogara, but his sixth dam is Nera Di Bicci.
Good enough as a runner to be second highweight at two (1978) on the German Free Handicap and champion and Horse of the Year in West Germany the following season, Nebos also turned out to be a good sire. A few of his better runners are champions Praire Neba, Pinot and Gondola; he has sired 20 stakes winners overall.
Anyone interested in acquiring a strain of Nera Di Bicci’s blood without traveling to Europe might investigate the get of Nebos’ half brother, Numa Pompilius (by Dr. Fager). Numa Pompilius, who stood in California, was Group 3 stakes placed in France and won the Cortez Handicap and placed in the San Simeon, Inglewood and Caballero Handicaps in the U.S., and may still have some daughter lines available.
The blood of Neckar, however, is probably the strongest source of Nera Di Bicci. This great champion and sire’s influence is monumental in Germany and it is not unusual to see him used along with Nebos as in the pedigree of the Group stakes winning filly Aragosta where he appears 3 x 3 with his full sister Naxos.
Neckar is the broodmare sire of the very speedy champion mare Martessa, who successfully invaded the U.S. after winning the German Oaks and the Group II Prix de L’Opera in France. In the U.S. under Ron McAnally’s care, Martessa ran a mile in 1:33 flat before suffering a career-ending injury. Her brilliance should lay waste the thought that all German horses are indifferent plodders. Instead, they are marvelously outcrossed horses of dense bone and the best of their number from Acatanango to Martessa are quite capable of holding their own in international competition.
Martessa, however, has not been bred back to her strengths – e. g. using a Caro-line horse -and thus has produced nothing of note. It would be a terrible shame to continue this waste and one can only hope that she is one day properly mated.
Despite the excellence of Nera Di Bicci’s branch of Catnip, it is still Nearco whose blood is dearest to the heart of American breeders and it can be found in such wide variety that it hardly bears repeating. Just a few sources are *Nasrullah, Northern Dancer, Halo and Roberto. Of particular interest is the blood of horses by Caro since Caro himself was a son of Fortino (4 x 4 Nogara and thus 5 x 5 Catnip). Several Caro sons like Cozzene have yet another Nogara cross, giving three in all, so they are evidence of her incredible impact upon the breed.
Nogara, dam of Nearco, was by Havresac II, a leading sire inbred 2 x 3 to the immortal St. Simon. Ten years younger than Nera Di Bicci, Nogara was looked upon far more favorably than her dam had been and was rewarded with the following comment in the Dormello Farm register: “small, elegant, light, magnificent hocks, magnificent action. Top class from six furlongs to a mile.” Nogara was as good as she looked, winning the Criterium Nazionale and both the 2000 and 1000 Italian Guineas.
Tesio’s first choice for a mate for Nogara was Fairway, but Nogara was denied admission to his book and he sent her instead to Fairway’s smaller, more compact full brother Pharos. The result was Nearco.
To recap the career of Nearco is to know Nogara and Catnip and although his story may be well known to many, there might be some readers who are not familiar with just how good Nearco really was as a racehorse. As Tesio had feared, Nearco was on the small side like both his parents, but his size in no way impeded his incredible character.
Nearco came to hand so quickly and had so much speed that it was feared that he would never stay a classic distance and Tesio even tried to sell him for just that reason. Yet the horse who won all seven of his starts at two from five to seven and one half furlongs, continued to prosper no matter the distance or competition. All in Italy from the 12-furlong Italian Derby to the 15-furlong Gran Premio di Milano fell before him and it was decided to send him to Paris for the Grand Prix de Paris, which he won with such ease that even Tesio had trouble believing that he had finally bred the horse he had dreamed of for years.
Yet despite Nearco’s excellence, Tesio sold him to stand outside Italy, as was his custom. Once firmly installed at Beech House Stud in Newmarket, England, Nearco immediately began to work his magic on the breed as a whole. A sampling of Nearco’s best get are Derby winners Dante and Nimbus, St. Leger winner Sayajirao and Oaks winners Masaka, Neasham Belle and Noory.
Yet it was three of his lesser runners, Coventry Stakes winner *Nasrullah, Queen Anne Stakes winner *Royal Charger and Canadian champion Nearctic who have carried the banner of his male line forward, being responsible respectively for the sire lines of *Nasrullah, Hail To Reason and Northern Dancer.
It must have been difficult for Tesio to let Nearco go, no matter his perceived value as a sire. In his own words, in the Dormello register, Tesio wrote of him, “Beautifully balanced, of perfect size and great quality. Won all his 14 races as soon as he was asked. Not a true stayer, though he won up to 3,000 meters (1 7/8 mi., the Gran Premio di Milano and Grand Prix de Paris). He won these longer races by his superb class and brilliant speed.”
Nearco was not Nogara’s only success story, though all else admittedly pales in comparison to him. She also produced champion Naucide, and stakes winners Nicolaus and Nakamura, champion and leading Italian sire Niccolo Della’Arca and Italian Oaks winner Nervesa (the third dam of Fortino, sire of Caro).
Although Niccolo Della’Arca was a champion sire in Italy his major contribution to American pedigrees was the mare Bravura who in turn foaled a horse named Hail The Pirates (inbred to Nearco and his half brother Niccolo Dell’Arca 4 x 2), sire of such good horses as Hail A Cab, Nice Pirate, Try Something New, Hail To Rome and Wayward Lass. Hail The Pirates’ inability to establish or sustain a sire line may be partially explained by the stoutness of Nicocolo Dell’Arca’s sire line (Hurry On) coupled with his stout female family (Teresina).
As for Catnip, it is Nera di Bicci and Nogara for whom she is remembered, though she also produced the good Italian sire Nesiotes. Since Catnip was foaled in 1910 many of the names in her pedigree are unfamiliar to today’s breeders, yet one name shines out amidst the antiquity – Pocahontas. Catnip had no less than four crosses of Stockwell, three male and one female and another cross of Pocahontas’ son King Tom making her inbred to this great sire-producing matron 6 x 6 x 6 x 7 x 6.
We have noted in several previous Reine-de-Course stories the theory of the large heart gene which is inherited through Pocahontas and since Catnip herself carried five Pocahontas crosses imagine the possibilities of horses inbred to her like Nebos and Cozzene!
Even if Catnip had given the breed only Nogara – and thus Nearco – she would be a Reine-de-Course. But because of her great daughter Nera Di Bicci, there is a larger international impact. With that impact in mind, new Reines-de-Course are: Catnip, Nera Di Bicci, Nella da Gubbio, Nixe, Nogara and Nervesa. There is little doubt that the great sires descending from these mares will be the agents which keep their names in pedigrees from Germany to France and from Japan to the U.S. for many years to come.