When researching the great female families, it is difficult not to wonder what the American Thoroughbred would be today if it were not for Col. E. R. Bradley. *La Troienne, Beaming Beauty, Padua – all these and more were his gifts. And now we come to *Forteresse, who is responsible for one of our great sire lines.
As we have written in previous Reine-de-Course stories, Col. Bradley frequently acquired mares abroad. One of these mares, *Forteresse, did not become a great producer while Bradley owned her, though she did give him a Kentucky Derby winner named Broker’s Tip (a failure as a sire).
*Forteresse was rather stoutly bred. She was sired by professional Chef-de-Race Sardanapale, a horse who won the French Derby and Grand Prix de Paris along with several other important stakes. *Forteresse was a three-quarter sister to one of Sardanapale’s best sons, Bahadur, winner of the Grand Prix de Deauville and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
Her pedigree was rich in staying strains like Doncaster Cup hero Hampton; the versatile Rosicrucian, who won from six to 20 furlongs; and Derby winners Doncaster and Blair Athol. But it was the blood of her sire who caught the eye of Olin Gentry, who would manage Col. Bradley’s Idle Hour Farm until his death in 1946, and would later go to Darby Dan Farm where his instincts about the bloodline would pay off.
Inbreeding to a horse like Sardanapale is not the type thing stallion managers usually look for. The horse was far too stout to belong in American pedigrees at all, wasn’t he? Gentry didn’t think so.
The fine horseman had long ago taken a fancy to Sardanapale mares, saying, “I wanted to double up on Sardanapale because I knew they could run fast, and they could run far if you could get them sound enough to go. So I had to be darn sure I was doubling up through a sound line.”
Gentry’s first step in effecting the inbreeding was encouraging Darby Dan owner John Galbreath to purchase *Forteresse’s last foal, the mare Bleebok, by Blue Larkspur. “She was tough and sound,” remembered Gentry.
For Darby Dan, Bleebok produced six winning foals including Monmouth Oaks second Delta Queen (by Bull Lea). Delta Queen became an excellent producer, producing stakes placed Beautillion by *Noor, dam of Delta Judge, and multiple stakes winner Advocator by Round Table, who ran second in the 1966 Kentucky Derby.
Three years after Delta Queen, Bleebok produced a winning full sister to her named Rarelea who would be the key to Gentry’s plan to inbreed to Sardanapale. Gentry had looked long before settling on Nashua, a sound stallion with a line of Sardanapale, as an appropriate mate for Rarelea.
That mating resulted in Bramalea, who would go on to win the Coaching Club American Oaks and later, as a broodmare, would produce the legendary Epsom Derby winner Roberto, one of the finest stallions of his or any time.
Gentry was pleased. “I planned the mating of Roberto two years before I bred his dam,” the horseman remembered in an interview some years later.
Although Roberto is most definitely the best horse from this immediate family, both as a racehorse and sire, he is not the only quality animal to emanate from these roots. The above-mentioned Advocator was not only a good two year old, but was classics-placed at three and ran on to become a fine grass star, but kept running into Dr. Fager, who was a bit much for him.
Underappreciated as a sire, he did get the good California stallion Agitate, third in the Kentucky Derby, and Just The Time, an excellent sire in Washington, and he has become a good broodmare sire. His blood is an excellent cross for Roberto mares, as it effects doubling to the full sisters Delta Queen and Rarelea and also offers an internal Round Table/Hail to Reason cross which has been responsible for such good horses as Seattle Slew, Royal Glint and Martial Law.
Exbourne, who died at the age of 10 from laminitis, was another excellent runner from the family who won the Hollywood Turf Cup and placed in the English Two Thousand Guineas. Though he sired only four crops, his daughters should be of very high quality and will also work well either with Roberto or other members of this family. (Unfortunately, Affirmed Success, a top sprinter out of Exbourne’s half sister Towering Success, is a gelding).
Kyle’s Our Man, whose dam Lady Donna is out of Roberto’s full sister Glorious Spring, stands at Roberto’s home, Darby Dan Farm. He is not off to the fastest of starts, but it is hoped that he will encounter some of the farm’s remaining Roberto blood and the horses who result from these matchs will move him into the mainstream of sires.
As it stands, he remains a good cross for any mares by stallions from the family. Additionally, his half sister Low Tolerance by Proud Truth, has produced the stakes placed filly Sazarac Jazz, who is 5 x 4 to full sisters Delta Queen and Rarelea, so the cross has already worked to some degree within the family.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the family is Rhodora, the classics-placed (3rd Irish Oaks) half sister to Roberto by *Ribot. She produced only one foal before her death, the winning True Knight filly Oh Dora. Unfortunately, Oh Dora’s family has been ill-served in how it has been bred and has obviously ended up in California, where it is highly unlikely to encounter any Roberto blood.
*Forteresse was something of a problem mare. She was barren six times and produced only six foals in all, Bleebok being her last. Delta Queen was quite prolific, but Rarelea had four barren years. Nonetheless, there are a lot of young fillies from various branches of this family that are well worth seeking out if for no other reason than that Roberto’s sons are such excellent sires.
Rarelea died at Darby Dan in 1983 at the age of 24, when she succumbed to a massive heart hemorrhage. She was carrying a three-quarter sibling to Roberto by Good Counsel at the time.
Roberto’s own contribution cannot yet be measured. Even his name was unique. Owner John Galbreath, who also owned the Pittsburg Pirates, named the Hail to Reason-Bramalea colt after the remarkable baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.
Both horse and ball player were champions of their day and both died far too young: Clemente was killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972 while flying relief supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake and Roberto died at 19 in 1988 from head injuries he sustained when he became distressed in his stall at Darby Dan, possibly from the onset of colic. A little less than two months earlier, John Galbreath himself had passed away.
It almost seemed fitting that Roberto follow his master so soon, for together they accomplished something quite spectacular: The colt made Galbreath the first man ever to own and breed the winners of both the Kentucky Derby (Chateaugay) and the Epsom Derby (Roberto himself). Since then, Paul Mellon has joined this elite list after having bred Sea Hero and Mill Reef.
Roberto was champion of his age and sex at two in Ireland but it was at three that he would accomplish the two things that announced his arrival among the greats. His Epsom Derby victory over eventual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victor Rheingold was proceeded by a second in the Two Thousand Guineas. But his finest moment may have been in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup when he handed champion miler Brigadier Gerard his first and only defeat.
He ran only three times at age four, winning the Group I Coronation Cup, then retired to Darby Dan with wins in half his 14 starts and three seconds. His earnings converted to $339,902 in American dollars.
The big bay horse was an instant success at stud, something quite rare for a European-raced horse, though these were different times. Seven stakes winners in his first crop gave him an enormous push and before he was done there would be 79 more. Among his champions were Sunshine Forever, Sookera, Critique, Celestial Storm, I Want To Be, Driving Home and Legarto.
His sons have done enormously well at stud. Kris S. has gotten four winners of Breeders’ Cup races: Hollywood Wildcat, Prized, Soaring Softly and Brocco. Lear Fan is a veritable force among grass sires with champions Sikeston; Verveine; Loup Solitaire; Windsharp and several others and his son Labeeb is on target for a few votes of his own as champion grass horse of 1998.
Silver Hawk is another enormously successful Roberto son at stud, and his son Benny The Dip, last year’s Epsom Derby winner, has just taken up residence at Claiborne Farm. He has also gotten such good runners as Lady In Silver; Memories of Silver; Zoonaqua and Red Bishop.
Then there is Brian’s Time, immensely successful in Japan, and his three-quarter brother Dynaformer, who is doing well here at home, not to mention Red Ransom, who gets an excellent percentage of stakes winners himself. There is no argument from anyone that Roberto is ‘breeding on’.
And his daughters? Their offspring have names like Commander In Chief; Blushing K. D.; Warning; Raintrap and Elmaamul. By any measure, Roberto was one of the best.
Roberto is inbred to *Royal Charger and *Nasrullah, but he is also sex-balance inbred to Blue Larkspur and Pharos and has four lines of Plucky Liege plus, of course, his dam’s Sardanapale inbreeding. He has not one drop of Native Dancer blood, either through Raise A Native or any of his sons or via Northern Dancer.
What is even more intriguing is that none of his major sire sons have any of this blood either! With the exception of Kris S., however, all do add a line of Selene, which Roberto lacks. Dynaformer has two crosses of Hyperion, Brian’s Time has one. Red Ransom has both Hyperion and All Moonshine; Silver Hawk has a Hyperion cross and Lear Fan has a Pharamond II cross. One possible reason for this apparent liking is that Roberto has two crosses of Swynford, and Selene is by Chaucer, Swynford’s half brother.
Above all, however, Roberto’s pedigree is a study in how a sire and dam really fit each other. Looking at his six-cross pedigree, nearly every base is covered and the pair compliment each other perfectly. There is absolutely nothing flukey or odd about this horse having become a great racehorse and sire.
So with yet another tip of the hat to Colonel Bradley (and one to Olin Gentry as well), we add *Forteresse, Bleebok, Delta Queen and Bramalea to the Reine-de-Course list. This is one family one can inbreed to with impunity as the majority of the horses in it are very sound indeed, a quality of which we could most certainly use more in our modern Thoroughbred.