Without a doubt, one of the most hard-held axioms in pedigree lore is that Man o’ War was bred to terrible mares. We don’t know exactly how this idea got started, but there should certainly have been enough Man o’ War daughters who became foundation matrons to refute it by now.
Just a few examples are War Kilt (responsible for Roving Boy and A Wild Ride among others); Judy O’ Grady (Grey Dawn II); Salamina (Sir Ivor); Boat (Skip Away); Spotted Beauty (Relaunch); and Baton Rouge (Hail To Reason). Not to mention Reines-de-Course Valkyr, Warrior Lass and Hostility – all Man o’ War daughters.
As might be expected, our current subject, Firetop, is also a daughter of Man o’ War and even if her family was responsible for only Nijinsky II, she would be a “made” commodity. But Firetop was considerably more than Nijinsky II’s fourth dam. Champion Doubledogdare, the top two-year-old Royal Ski, elegant An Empress, excellent grass router Allez Milord, brilliant Cheval Volant and tough as nails Skip Trial all descend from this family.
In all fairness, the best of the family was that part developed by E. P. Taylor, but one of the bloodlines’ strengths is its plethora of relatives to which one can inbreed, so those lesser-lights also serve a valuable role. Just imagine, for example, how much of the classiest and best of this bloodline will be available as mates for champion Skip Away!
Firetop was bred by Morton L. Schwartz, and was only able to place in seven lifetime starts, earning just $500. She did not start out much better at stud, foaling a colt named Red Petee by Petee-Wrack (a Travers-winning half brother to Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox) who ran five times without winning. The following year, however, when Firetop was returned to Petee-Wrack, she produced a filly named Columbiana who won the Widener Challenge Cup Handicap, a $50,000 race, and retired with 11 wins in 28 starts and earnings of $60,925, a respectable total for the early 1930’s.
At stud, Columbiana started out well, foaling stakes winning full brothers Free America and Ocean Wave by *Blenheim II and the winning Whirlaway mare Whirl Columbia who has been keeping this branch of the family alive, largely through the produce of the mare Run Columbia, who has established a good branch in the mid-Atlantic area.
Although Firetop’s daughter Petaline, a full sister to Columbiana, still has a stakes horse or two representing her, it was not until 1941 when she was bred to Omaha that Firetop really became an important mare. By this time, she had changed hands, and her 1941 foal, Flaming Top, was bred in the name of John R. Macomber, owner of Petee-Wrack.
Flaming Top did make it to the races, but she did not win in three tries and never earned a nickle. She was acquired in foal to Menow by A. B. Bull Hancock of Claiborne Farm and the filly she was carrying was later sold to E. P. Taylor for $8,500 at the 1948 Keeneland July yearling sale.
At that same sale, Taylor purchased a colt later named Bull Page for $38,000. What no one could have guessed at the time was that Taylor had just acquired the ingredients for the dam of a horse who would win the first British Triple Crown since Bahram in 1935.Flaring Top, as Taylor’s filly was known, was a winner. However, when she was bred to Bull Page, she got a top-class filly named Flaming Page, a winner of Canada’s Derby, the Queen’s Plate, over males and second to Meadow Stud’s Cicada in the 1962 Kentucky Oaks. She was champion of her age and sex in her native Canada.
Flaming Page was destined to have a brief but very brilliant career as a broodmare. Slipped twins, dead foals and barren years were her lot as a rule, but when she did produce something, it was world-class.
Flaming Page produced just three foals, but two of them were champions and the other was the stakes placed dam of a champion. Her most important contribution, of course, was Northern Dancer’s best son Nijinsky II, and a part of his story is worth retelling here, for his impact on the breed is enormous and his place in the history of the sport is unique.
In 1983, Nijinsky II set a record for number of stakes winners sired in a single year, and Thoroughbred Record editor Tim Capps wrote a lovely tribute to him that is very fitting to the family’s story. “He was named for a famous ballet dancer, and the beauty and poetry of his racecourse performances created a magical aura about him which made him one of the most popular and admired Thoroughbreds to appear on the continent of Europe since the end of World War II.”
Indeed, Nijinsky II had an aura about him. He was champion at two and three in both England and Ireland, won all three of England’s Triple Crown races from the one mile Two Thousand Guineas to the 1 3/4 mile plus St. Leger and added Ireland’s Derby as a bonus. His leading sire statistics take up a third page on his dam’s produce printout as he either led or was among the leading sires and broodmare sires in England, Ireland and the U.S. at various times. To date he has sired more than 150 stakes winners though there are only a handful of his runners still out there. His daughters, still in full production, have produced over 190 more.
But it was the living, breathing presence of Nijinsky II that caused most of the stir which led to his $5.4 million syndication and made his name a household word in several countries. His record of 11 wins in 13 starts missed being perfect, in fact, only because of his own nervous temperament, which many observers felt cost him both the Arc, which he barely lost, and the Champion Stakes, in which the toll of his long, arduous campaign at the highest level finally took its toll.
Nijinsky II lost nothing of his great charisma in defeat, however. Having won the first English Triple Crown in 35 years, and perhaps the last anyone is likely to see in Great Britain, assured his immortality. (The connections of most major runners today choose to bypass the testing St. Leger and go straight for the shorter and richer Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe). His brilliance and versatility were all but legend by the time he arrived at Claiborne Farm to take up stud duty for the 1971 season.
The son of Northern Dancer succeeded from the beginning, immediately creating his own physical type. The Nijinsky II’s were bigger and longer than the pony type that Northern Dancer so frequently sired and they were also able to consistently run farther. Although he passed on his nervous temperament, he also passed on his good, dense bone and his excellent forelegs.
Nijinsky II was destroyed in 1992 after a series of illnesses finally caught up with him, though he remained fertile and covered well until the end. But he left behind a pleasant surprise in the form of a colt who would race as Lammtarra and who would become his sire’s third Epsom Derby winner. Lammtarra did something else rather special as well, avenging his sire’s defeat in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Nijinsky II’s name will be in pedigrees for many years to come and we call once again on Tim Capps to put him in the perspective he really deserves. “The great Russian dancer for whom Nijinsky II was named is said to have believed that he would be reincarnated as a great Thoroughbred some day. It is likely that if Nijinsky the dancer was around to see his namesake, he would choose to search no further for a supreme model of equine excellence.”
Ah, yes, Nijinsky…But Flaming Page had a couple of other things to offer racing and breeding. Her first foal, Fleur, was a filly by Victoria Park who ran second in the Summer Stakes at Fort Erie.
Logically, Fleur was bred to Northern Dancer, since her dam had done so well with him and she produced a bright chestnut colt named The Minstrel who, like his three quarter brother, went on to win the Epsom Derby and become Horse of the Year in England. The Minstrel never quite caught on like Nijinsky II did, perhaps owing to his flashy appearance. However, he did sire a pretty good horse named Palace Music, who in turn improved upon himself to get a horse named Cigar.
Fleur didn’t stop with The Minstrel, however, but also foaled his full brothers Far North and Pilgrim, both good if not great sires. Her best daughter, stakes winner Flower Princess by Majestic Prince, also left behind a branch that is currently pretty much confined to Europe, but another of her daughters named Midsummer Magic’s family remains at home. Midsummer Magic did not race, but you might be looking for some of her offspring in sales. She is a wonderful way to utilize the Nijinsky II, Far North and The Minstrel blood that is not all that difficult to access.
Midsummer Magic had four fillies through the end of 1999. One, Dancing Halo, by Halo, was stakes placed and has two producing daughters: Passion for Crime, by Pancho Villa, and Aranis, by Cox’s Ridge. Summer Mistress, a Master Willie (GB) mare, and Prairie Sky (by Gone West) were sent to Japan; Jungle Ceremony, by Raise A Native, was exported to India but also left a couple of producing daughters.
More difficult to find, but still occasionally available, is the blood of Nijinsky II’s full brother, Minsky, who was a champion at two in Ireland and three in Canada. Minsky stands in Japan, but with international lines becoming more blurred with every year, one never knows when a previously difficult-to-acquire bloodline may become available.
There are obviously other sub-branches of this family to be used for inbreeding. California stallion Endow is from this family and a horse who is very much in the news these days, Skip Trial, is from yet another daughter branch of Firetop, that of Snow Flame.
Skip Trial was the hardiest of runners, racing 38 times and earning almost $2 million. Although a multiple Grade I winner, he was never a champion but has obviously improved upon himself to sire one in Skip Away. Skip Away, conqueror of Cigar, is the epitome of his sire’s hardiness, something all too often lacking in the modern Thoroughbred. He has a rather outcrossed pedigree himself, all the more reason to cross him back onto the best of this family via Nijinsky II, Far North, etc.
Firetop’s own pedigree has several unique aspects which bear mention here. She possesses three crosses of Doncaster, sex balanced 5 x 6 x 6 via Bend Or and the two daughters Pretty Dance and Doncaster Belle. Hampton appears through two sons, Merry Hampton and Sheen 5 x 6.
Hermit is trebled in the sixth generation, twice via daughters (Pauline and St. Marguerite) and once via a son, Peter. Peter and Pauline are of particular interest, as they are full siblings by Hermit-Lady Masham. We have no idea what was in the mid of breeder Morton Schwartz when he mated Summit to Man o’ War to produce Firetop, but the logic holds up by any standard, as he is inbreeding to Pocahontas via Stockwell/King Tom and also crossing full siblings with Pauline/Peter.
Man o’ War’s own pedigree (Fair Play-Mahuba by Rock Sand) is full of stamina and he sired like it. Firetop’s dam, Summit, did not lack stamina, but her sire Ultimus was 2 x 2 to speedy Domino, so she is something of a “fish and fowl” mare in that the two parts of her pedigree are vastly different.
As the pedigree evolved toward the mare who would produce Nijinsky II, Flaming Page, first classic blood (Omaha/Sir Gallahad III), then speed (Menow) and finally classic speed (Bull Page) were added. Flaming Page herself had six Domino strains and a 3 x 5 cross of full brothers *Bull Dog and *Sir Gallahad III.
When Northern Dancer was added to the mix, more classic speed was added, and as Nijinsky II looked more like his broodmare sire, Bull Page, than Northern Dancer, it is safe to say that what we were seeing in him was the best of the classic blood “dialed up a notch” with yet another cross of a great mare, this time Selene via her three sons Hyperion, Sickle and Pharamond II, in a 4 x 6 x 4 pattern. In essence, the way Nijinsky II came into being was by never breeding a stallion who was too extreme to the original mare (Firetop) but consistently building up doubles and trebles of great producing mares. This gives Nijinsky II a very versatile pedigree which fits many types of mates and no doubt helped him achieve his great success as a stallion.
Firetop is a mare who always belonged on the Reine-de-Course list, it was only a function of time until we could add her. Thus, she and her granddaughter Flaring Top and the remarkable Flaming Page are now officially named. We sincerely hope to return to the list if another branch of this family shows signs of growing strength in the future.