There is no pat answer to what makes an outstanding broodmare. But we know very few breeders who would not like to lay claim to a producer like Khara. This daughter of Kai-Sang-Decree by *Wrack was a champion at two in 1929, then produced 10 foals, nine of whom won and two of whom won stakes.
From two of her daughters, stakes winner Savage Beauty and winner Little Sphinx, sprang roots which would produce a Chef-de-Race, two major sires, a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, a German champion, a Kentucky Derby winner, a champion steeplechaser and two millionaires who earned their money the hard way. Along the way, Khara’s descendents also produced one heck of a lot of very nice horses who won $200,000 and up like Skate’s Honor, Lucky Conn, Kate’s Valentine, Stellar Performer, Cool Northerner, Architect, Bungalow, Homing Pigeon, Hammocker and Crafty Alfel. None of those horses are household names, but families that keep hitting with good local stakes horses are just as much fun for an owner to have in the barn.
In order to get some controversy out of the way in a hurry, it is noted above that this family is responsible for a Kentucky Derby winner. That Kentucky Derby winner is Dancer’s Image, the horse who was disqualified from the 1968 Derby. We’ll get to his full story a little later on, but suffice it to say that the manner in which the whole affair was handled was so absurd that if you ask most people today who won that 1968 Kentucky Derby, they are going to say, “Dancer’s Image” and be done with it.
Khara was bred and raced by Harry F. Sinclair of Rancocas Stable. Winner of the Selima Stakes and seven other races, she earned the two year old title of 1929 but did not win again, though she placed in stakes at three.
Her pedigree is a study in antiquity and early Americana. Her sire, Kai-Sang, won the marathon Lawrence Realization and was a son of Belmont Stakes winner The Finn, best son of the imported *Ogden, whose sire line has all but disappeared.
In Sire Lines (first published in 1939), Joe Palmer wrote of the *Ogden male line: “The Finn made a meteoric rise to lead the sire list in 1923, raised to that bright eminence by his smashing racer Zev, which seems an almost complete failure in the stud. But he got good horses in addition to Zev. Possibly the best chance of the survival of this line was Flying Ebony, winner of the 1925 Kentucky Derby and three times among the leading 20 sires. Flying Ebony’s best son, the grand staying Dark Secret, went to victory and death in the 1934 Jockey Club Gold Cup, flying over the finish line with a broken leg……there is a considerable possibility that unhappy day at Belmont Park, seeing as it did the death of the best son of one of the best sons of The Finn, may have greatly hastened the finish of the line.”
Palmer was prophetic. *Ogden’s sire line did finally disappear. But who could have thought the rather obscure Kai-Sang, sire of but nine stakes winners, could still be alive in pedigrees sixty years later? For that alone, Khara is to be celebrated, for she represents the best of a great sire line long absent from the spotlight.
The remainder of her pedigree is peppered with historic names. She is inbred to Star Shoot, a leading sire and sire of the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton; to Star Shoot’s sire Isinglass, whose sire line is still alive, though barely, through the descendents of Swynford via The Axe II and Crepello; to other old-timers like Hindoo and Hermit, Virgil and Bend Or, all sterling names, the latter in particular as it is the tail-male line of Phalaris.
Khara’s broodmare sire, Wrack, was by Robert Le Diable, who was better known for what he did not do – advance the male line of Hampton – than what he did. It was rather for another son of Hampton, Dark Ronald, to keep this sire line alive. This he did with much success, largely through the produce of his great son Son-in-Law.
Khara was almost exclusively a monogamous mare, that is she was bred to only two stallions during her stud career. For the first two seasons she was bred to the Rock Sand-line horse Lucullite. From then on, she was bred only to *Challenger II, a son of Swynford who sired 34 stakes winners including Challendon, Escadru, and Gallorette, and a fine broodmare sire.
Much of Khara’s name recognition today is due to Hurstland Farm, who owned her granddaughter Little Hut. A daughter of Futurity winner Occupy (by *Bull Dog), Little Hut’s foals all had “at least some ability” according to one article written about her excellent son Habitat.
Habitat was Little Hut’s best offspring. Purchased as a yearling by Charles Englehard for $105,000, he went on to become a champion miler in England, and later became both a leading sire and broodmare sire in that country. Among the best of his 89 stakes winners were champions Habibti, Flying Water and Sigy. His daughters have produced almost 200 stakes winners, including such champions as Reference Point, Never So Bold and Barathea. For his contributions to the stud book, which should continue for many years yet to come, Habitat was named a Chef-de-Race.
Not quite so good a racehorse or so influential a sire as Habitat was his half brother Northfields by Northern Dancer. Bought by John Olin for $130,000, Northfields took a while to come to hand for trainer Woody Stephens, but ultimately won the Hawthorne and Illinois Derbies and ran second in the Monmouth Invitational (now the Haskell). Northfields got shuffled about quite a bit at stud, standing in Ireland and South Africa (where he died in 1993), but nonetheless did well, particularly as a broodmare sire.
Among his best runners were European champions Northjet, North Stoke, and Novelle, and he also sired Poule d’Essai De Poulains winner No Pass No Sale, Queen Anne Stakes winner Baptism and Dee Stakes winner Infantry. His daughters produced over 100 stakes winners, among them champion grass horse Paradise Creek. His daughter, Northern Sunset, was named 1995 Broodmare of the Year for her contributions which number European champion St. Jovite, Salem Drive, Lac Ouimet, and L’Carriere.
Two of Little Hut’s daughters, Summer Hut and Lodge, also made major contributions. Summer Hut, an unraced daughter of Summer Tan, was bred by Nuchols Brothers’ and was acquired in 1961 as a yearling by trainer Harvy Vanier and his wife Nancy.
Vanier trained many of Summer Hut’s top produce including Hawthorne Derby winner Architect (by Mr. Leader), and the winning Parlor. Parlor won no stakes, but produced stakes winner Front Room and the two stakes placed fillies, Square for All and Westward Hope. Westward Hope in turn produced for Vanier his tough millionaire Western Playboy, who won four stakes including the Blue Grass and Jim Beam Stakes and the Pennsylvania Derby.
By Prince Bio-line Play Fellow, Western Playboy also placed in the Grade I Florida Derby and Donn Handicap and ended his career with earnings of $1,128,449. Although he was unfortunate enough to be a three-year-old the same year as Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, Western Playboy was nonetheless among the best of his generation as a racehorse.
A beautiful cross for his dam’s relatives Northfields and Habitat, Western Playboy has much to offer as a stallion for the bargain-basement stud fee of $1,500. Among his strengths are multiple crosses of Sir Gallahad/Bull Dog; Selene through Hunter’s Moon and three Hyperion crosses – making him a lovely mate for the many mares who carry Native and Northern Dancer/Buckpasser crosses; a cross of Blenheim II’s half brother King Salmon, unusual in American horses; a rare son cross of Never Say Die; three Prince Rose crosses via *Princequillo/Prince Bio and a cross of the Betty Derr clan via Iron Maiden. He presents an opportunity to advance the Prince Bio line in America and has the pedigree to pull it off if mated properly. His first foals raced in 1996 and included the ill-fated Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Southern Playgirl.
Lodge, by Bold Lad (USA) was stakes placed, running third in Delaware Park’s Open Fire Stakes. Her best daughter, Guinevere’s Folly, by Round Table, won that stake and became the second dam of French Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victor Suave Dancer.
Bred by the late Lillie F. Webb of Xalapa Farm, Suave Dancer was purchased for Henri Chalhoub by Keith Asmussen for $45,000 at the 1989 Keeneland September yearling sale. Suave Dancer won his Arc in 1991 on deep and tiring turf, defeating an excellent field which included English St. Leger winner Toulon; 1990 English Derby winner Quest for Fame; triple classic winner Generous (English and Irish Derbies, Two Thousand Guineas); Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Miss Alleged; English Oaks winner Jet Ski Lady; and Irish St. Leger and Rothmans winner Snurge.
Suave Dancer is at stud in England. But like Habitat and Northfields, his blood can be found. Sometimes it is even found in the most unlikely of places.
In 1996 we visited a small ranch outside Sacramento, Calif., to see one stallion, but we were taken with another standing at the ranch. His name was Percifal and though he had failed to win in 14 tries and had earned just $10,830, he caught our eye. Or rather his pedigree did, for it read Riverman-Guinevere’s Folly by Round Table. Not long after, our interest was piqued even further when a son of Percifal named Let Bob Do It burst into prominence as one of the nicest three year old grass horses in California.
Unfortunately, Let Bob Do It broke down in a workout and was destroyed in late July of 1996. But before his tragic death he won two graded stakes (three stakes in all) in Southern California. He began his string with the non-graded Pirate’s Cove Stakes at Santa Anita, then could not quite catch eventual Kentucky Oaks winner Pike Place Dancer in the Grade III California Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Returning to Southern California, he promptly won the Will Rogers Handicap then added the Cinema Handicap a month later. Trainer John Sadler compared him to a young John Henry. But the trainer was wrong about one thing. Sadler called the gelding a “come-out-of-nowhere, no-breeding type of horse”. No breeding? Not quite. The star-crossed runner carried the powerful blood of the marvelous Khara, while his broodmare sire, Baldski, is out of the very first Reine-de-Course, Too Bald.
When telling the story of any female family, there is always one member who stands out. Our Lassie has her Mill Reef, Boudoir II her Majestic Prince, Almahmoud her Northern Dancer. And Khara has her Dancer’s Image.
Dancer’s Image did not descend from the Little Hut branch of Khara but rather from Little Sphinx, a full sister to Little Hut’s dam, Savage Beauty. Little Sphinx, bred by W. L. Brann, was born in 1943 and won three races, none of them stakes. She was sold to Larry S. MacPhail who bred from her three stakes winners and three stakes placed horses including Astarita and Frizette Stakes second Noor’s Image.
Noor’s Image was sold as a yearling for $12,700 and raced in the colors of M. J. Kaplan at two. As a five-year-old she was claimed for $5,000 by Peter Fuller. Noor’s Image was bred to a really good stallion for the first time in 1964 when she was sent to the court of Native Dancer and the following spring she produced a grey colt who would race in Fuller’s colors as Dancer’s Image.
The year his sire died of an intestinal blockage, Dancer’s Image was champion juvenile in Canada and also won stakes in Maryland. At three, he prepped for the Kentucky Derby by winning the Governor’s Gold Cup and Wood Memorial Stakes, then took the Derby by a length and a half to become his sire’s second Derby winner, following Kaui King in 1966.
But it wouldn’t last for long. Forty-eight hours later it was reported that Dancer’s Image had tested positive for phenylbutazone (“bute”) and Wathen Knebelkamp, the president of Churchill Downs announced that Dancer’s Image had been disqualified and placed last. Twenty year later, the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Christine wrote a definitive article about how the parties involved felt at the time and indeed still felt.
“The Kentucky Derby usually takes about two minutes to run,” Christine wrote. “But the 1968 Derby lasted almost five years.” Five years of court battles, appeals, and testimony which was ultimately as dissatisfying as the result. Peter Fuller remembers being embarrassed because he was relatively new to the business and paid little attention to things like medication, and doubly embarrassed because his “rival” for the Derby prize was Calumet, who owned runner-up Forward Pass. Fighting Calumet was rather like trying to fight the IRS. In one of the biggest ironies, it took the Kentucky racing commission until late 1972 to issue a ruling that “Forward Pass shall hereafter be considered the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby in all respects and for all intents and purposes.” In the end, the only thing Peter Fuller got was bitter memories and the Derby cup, which he was never asked to return.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that Bute is now legal in Kentucky, which is one of the most permissive medication states. And although he won the Preakness, Forward Pass did not distinguish himself further, and Stage Door Johnny, who won the Belmont Stakes, ultimately became three year old champion. Their stud careers were wildly scattered.
Forward Pass failed as a stallion and was sold to Japan; Dancer’s Image, who was injured in the Preakness and never ran again, ended up first in Maryland, later in Europe where he stood both in Ireland and France and finally to Japan, where he stood just down the road from old rival Forward Pass. Only Stage Door Johnny, who died in November of 1996, as a beloved pensioner at Gainesway Farm, became a great sire and ultimately a Chef-de-Race.
Although Dancer’s Image was not a superstar, he was far from a failure as a stallion. Indeed in light of the fact that he was practically ridden out of Kentucky on a rail and moved more often than the Breeders’ Cup, he actually did rather well, getting champion filly Lianga, top sprinter Godswalk and Saritamer, a top sprinter in France. Today his name can be found in the pedigrees of such top runners as Poule D’Essai Des Pouliches winner Danseuse Du Soir; Yorkshire Cup winner Key To My Heart; Mill Reef Stakes winner Showbrook; Golden Poppy Handicap winner Twilight Zone and most notably Serena’s Song and her half sister Vivid Imagination. One can only wonder how prominent he might have been as a sire had he stayed in Kentucky. But that, of course, would have been embarrassing to any number of people.
On Christmas Day, 1992, Dancer’s Image passed away in Japan. Owner Peter Fuller, saddened by the news, was forced to relive the memories. “My feeling wasn’t so much that I got cheated,” he said, “but that he got cheated.” So for what it’s worth, we refer to him here as the 1968 Kentucky Derby winner, since that’s what he really was.
And he is a winner by any standard. For while they can take his name off the honor roll at Churchill Downs, they cannot remove it from the pedigrees of outstanding racehorses. That battle he has won.
Interestingly enough, Dancer’s Image was not the only member of Little Sphinx’s clan to make a name for himself. As tough as his famous ancestor was fragile, Little Bold John made 105 career starts and became known as “the little iron horse”. His most important victory was the Grade II Donn Handicap in 1987, but his best remembered was the 1987 Maryland Million Classic. Little Bold John was Maryland, and the fans loved him. No one was more aware than they that he had earned his almost $2 million the hard way. And like Best Pal in California and Fourstar Dave in New York, he represented his state with honor.
Proof positive of this remarkable family’s strength and class is the multiple graded stakes winner Serena’s Song. Although she is not from Khara’s direct female family, she is inbred to her, having the full sisters Savage Beauty and Noor’s Image 4 x 5 in her pedigree. She is the best of both branches condensed into one tiny package.
For their contributions over the years, we then name Khara, Savage Beauty, Little Hut, Lodge and Little Sphinx, as Reines-de-Course. Their blood is everywhere from Japan to France to the U.S. and back. And it is equally good sprinting, staying, turf racing or going over fences. Sometimes it’s even $2 million worth of “little iron horse”. Any way you look at it, this is an honor a long time in coming.