When Claiborne Farms master A. B. “Bull” Hancock said that the family is stronger than the individual, he might have had the great producer Erin in mind. Few foundation matrons have given the breed such a wide variety of good runners, producers and stallions. The depth and versatility of the family also ranges all the way from two-year-old filly champions like Epitome and Ruffian to classic colts like Pine Bluff to classic sires like Bold Commander and even to the outstanding steeplechaser, Augustus Bay.
Erin was sired by Tremont Stakes winner Transmute and was out of Rosie O’Grady, a daughter of Hamburg who was also the dam of 1947 Broodmare of the Year Potheen, Erin’s year older sister by Wildair. Prior to beginning her career as a producer of top-class broodmares, Rosie O’ Grady had been a very good runner, winning the Fashion and Clover Stakes.
In 1922 Rose O’Grady produced the Whisk Broom II mare Weno, granddam of Intent, the ultimate savior of the Matchem line in America. In 1928 came Potheen, dam of champion Bewitch; Champagne Stakes winner Pot O’ Luck and two more stakes winners. Between the two came Erin.
It did not take Erin long to establish herself as one of Wheatley Stables (Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps) prized broodmares. For Wheatley, Erin established a considerable dynasty whose two major daughters, Bransome by *Royal Minstrel and Bold Irish by Fighting Fox, would ensure the family’s place in prominent pedigrees for years to come. Neither was a stakes winner, though Bransome did place in the Gazelle Stakes.
Two minor Erin daughters, Ballyshannon by Mad Hatter and Mag Mell, a Fashion Stakes winner by Pompey, also were responsible for stakes horses. Ballyshannon foaled Astoria Stakes second Shannon, second dam of Del Mar Handicap winner Noredski. Mag Mell foaled Demoiselle Stakes winner Drumuir, second dam of top steeplechaser Augustus Bay and City of Miami Beach Handicap victor Fort Drum.
Erin also had two stakes winning sons, Bold Irishman, winner of the Pimlico Futurity and Eire, winner of the Interborough Handicap.
There is little doubt, however, that it is Bold Irish’s branch of the family which is the strongest. It also has the most interesting history.
When Mrs. Phipps daughter, Barbara, married Stuart S. Janney, Mrs. Phipps encouraged the couple to get into the business of breeding Thoroughreds as her son, Ogden, had done. One of the mares the Janneys started with was Bold Irish, by Gallant Fox’s full brother Fighting Fox.
At the time of her acquisition in 1958, Bold Irish had yet to prove her worth, though she had produced the stakes winning colt The Irishman. Later, she would produce stakes winner Knocklofty and several important daughter branches: Leix; Shenanigans; Irish Trip; Longford; Castle Hyde and Blarney Castle.
Leix’s most important contribution is her grandson Pok Ta Pok, a good sprinter by Full Pocket; Irish Trip foaled Jasmine Stakes winner Dungarven; Longford produced champion two year old filly Castle Forbes, dam of the good sire Irish Castle. Castle Hyde’s most important contribution is her granddaughter Rowdy Angel, dam of Preakness winner Pine Bluff and Arkansas Derby winner Demons Begone, as well as Pine Bluff’s stakes placed full sister, Angel Fever, dam of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus; while Blarney Castle’s branch is responsible for two champions: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Epitome and French champion Green Forest.
Most female families have one really important superstar, a horse who reaches beyond the record books to the hearts of those who love the sport. So, as Betty Derr had her Swaps, *Cinq A Sept her Secretariat and Boudoir II her Majestic Prince, Erin also had such a horse – a horse named Ruffian.
Ruffian’s dam, Shenanigans, was a daughter of Native Dancer who was just a nose shy of stakes class, finishing second in the 1965 Maryland Futurity. She won only three of 22 starts and $18,120, however, making her far from a superior runner.
Whatever she lacked as a racehorse, however, Shenanigans gave back tenfold in the breeding shed. Before Ruffian was so much as a glimmer in her dam’s eye, Shenanigans had already foaled the smart Nearctic sprinter Icecapade, who would become a top sire. The year after Icecapade, Shenanigans produced the winning Bold Ruler filly Laughter, who made such major contributions to the breed as Private Terms, Blue Ensign and Steel Maiden. After the birth of Ruffian, Shenanigans would foal the lovely dark bay Buckpasser horse Buckfinder, a stakes winner who placed in the Metropolitan Mile and who sired the good runner Track Baron among others. Buckfinder is also beginning to make his mark as a broodmare sire. His daughters have produced such major winners as millionaire Sultry Song and Solar Splendor.
Shenanigan’s excellence as a producer should have surprised no one, for her pedigree fairly danced with important names. Both her once beaten sire and her female family were impeccable, her inbreeding intriguing.
Shenanigans was sex-balance inbred to Rock Sand and also had a cross of Fair Play from Discovery, a cross which had forged the mighty Man o’ War, who was by Fair Play from a Rock Sand mare. She also had three lines of Ben Brush, two through his son Broomstick, another via Sweep. Her dam was inbred to the speedy Commando, her sire to Polymelus.
But despite her overall excellence as a producer, Shenanigans will always be remembered as the dam of the coal-black candle flame known as Ruffian. This great champion filly came hard on the heels of Secretariat and inherited his mantle for all too brief a time, becoming his filly counterpart. When she died trying to defeat Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, her nose was in front when her foreleg betrayed her and a whole nation was touched by her loss.
Even all these years later, the mention of her name is enough to bring a lump to the throat of the toughest racegoer. Because Ruffian was like nothing before her, and nothing since.
From the moment she set foot on the track, her size, her midnight black color, her unearthly speed caused heads to turn. She was unbeaten and unbeatable when she entered the starting gate to take on Foolish Pleasure and the fans were unashamedly in love with her.
Track records, race records, all fell before her and 12 furlongs was the same as five to her. She won her five races at two by a total of 45 3/4 lengths, her five at three before the match by 28 1/4. Whatever superlatives modern writers chose to describe her, she reminded historians of past greats who ran “as if the ground wasn’t good enough for her”.
Attempting to place Ruffian in historical perspective is as difficult as capturing lightning. More often than not, she is still referred to as unbeaten despite technically losing the race she could not finish. Turf historians have suggested she might one day be equaled, but never surpassed. There is precedent for their thinking.
The morning after Ruffian’s burial in the infield at Belmont Park, as the NYRA flags flew at half-staff, word came from Claiborne Farm that Shenanigans was again in foal to Ruffian’s sire, Reviewer. But it was not to be. Shenanigans was later found to be barren and both Ruffian’s parents died before another mating could be arranged.
It was as if nature had intervened to confirm what the racing world had always known: There would never be another Ruffian.
Icecapade’s considerable contribution did not make Ruffian’s loss more bearable, but it helped a little. Though he won up to 1 1/16 mi., Icecapade was best at shorter distances and at the time of his retirement had set a track record at six furlongs (1:08), had run seven furlongs in 1:22 2/5 and eight furlongs on the turf in 1:33 3/5. Prior to his death on November 12, 1988, Icecapade sired champions Izvestia, Kingsbridge and Ice Cool as well as the very good stallions Wild Again and Clever Trick. His daughters have produced such top runners as Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret, Markofdistinction (GB) and Siberian Summer.
Icecapade may well have lost his finest son when Canadian Triple Crown winner Izvestia, bound for stud duty at Gainesway Farm where his sire stood prior to his death, broke down and was destroyed in the Rothman’s International. However, Wild Again and Clever Trick as well as grandson Phone Trick have kept the sire line prosperous.
Erin’s own pedigree is such a wonder, one could write a book on it. However, her linebreeding to the great mare Pocahontas is so pronounced that it sticks out like a sore thumb despite other notable inbreeding patterns.
Whether one believes in the “X” Factor which is reportedly responsible for the large heart gene or not, this pedigree is just astounding. Erin’s linebreeding pattern to Pocahontas appears 8 x 8 x 9 x 8 x 7 x 10 x 7. The individuals involved are Knight of Kars/Stockwell/Ayacanora/Auracaria/Stockwell/Ayacanora/King Tom. Thus, Erin has four son crosses (Knight of Kars, Stockwell doubled and King Tom) and three daughter crosses (Ayacanora doubled and Auracaria).
Erin was also sex-balance inbred to Bonnie Scotland, sire of Bramble, whose sire line stayed with us long enough to give us Ben Brush who later gave us Broomstick and Sweep. The fine early American sire Vandal, a son of *Glencoe, appears 6 x 6 in sex-balanced fashion supported entirely by her dam. *Glencoe, it will be remembered, just happened to be the sire of the aforementioned Pocahontas.
Vandal’s sire line, which appears via daughter Ela D. and son Virgil is noteworthy since Virgil’s sire line evolved into and pretty much ended with Hamburg, a great broodmare sire but a poor sire of sires.
Two other great American sires, Lexington and Leamington are 6 x 6, Lexington through two daughters and Leamington through two sons. The Lexington inbreeding is supported only by Rosie O’ Grady. Finally Australian, tail-male line of Man o’ War, appears 6 x 6 via daughter Ivy Leaf and son Fellowcraft.
This is a pedigree which touches on the genesis of the great American runner, who combined the best of old American and imported strains and, in this instance, is anchored by inbreeding to a mare that Vullier wanted to make the only female on the Chef-de-Race list.
It is well to note that this incredible inbred pedigree carried forward to produce what many still feel is the greatest American filly of all time, Ruffian. To the best of our knowledge, no one autopsied her heart to weigh it. But having seen her in action, can anyone possibly think that Ruffian’s heart was anything but oversized?
Reines-de-Course from the Erin family are Erin, High Voltage, Bold Irish and Shenanigans. In this case, many individual members are representative of the entire family’s excellence.