The Early Years
In general terms, there are four sire lines usually referred to as “American male lines”. These are Spendthrift, Himyar, Bramble and Hindoo. The latter two are now pretty much ‘dead’. Bramble is still seen here and there via Sweep in War Admiral’s pedigree. Bold Ruler carries not only Sweep but Spendthrift and Hindoo (via Hamburg) as well. So while the tail-male lines are gone, the blood is not.
As for Spendthrift, this is the Man o’ War line, and is found almost exclusively via In Reality. Himyar comes to us via two branches, Domino (which may end unless a son of Broad Brush wakes it again) and Plaudit (Holy Bull is keeping this line alive).
One of the finest things we ever read, and something that still touches our heart after all theses years is the epitaph on Himyar’s gravestone. It reads, “Speed springs eternal from these ashes”. And eternal indeed it sprang just this spring when Giacomo, tail male to Himyar via Plaudit, won the Kentucky Derby.
Our current topic, Native Wit, comes down to us via Correction (Himyar-Mannie Gray by Enquirer). Correction, third dam of Native Wit, was a full sister to another excellent producer named Mannie Himyar and the pair of fillies were full sisters to none other than Domino. Correction was also the second dam of Haste, broodmare sire of Count Fleet and she is also found in the pedigree of Jack High, broodmare sire of Needles.
Mannie Himyar, by the way, was the second dam of Ariel, broodmare sire of Grey Flight, and she is also found in the pedigree of the good sire Wise Counsellor, which is found most frequently via Clever Trick and Bolero. Bolero in particular is interesting, as he is out of Stepwisely, a half sister to Quickly, dam of Count Fleet. Thus, when Stepwisely and Quickly meet in a pedigree (this could easily happen with Mr. Prospector and Storm Cat crosses), one finds not only a double of Stephanie (dam of Stepwisely and Quickly), but also a cross of Correction and Mannie Himyar!
Re-Awakening In A New Age
As classy as the family was, it suffered a dry spell until a Texas oilman named R. W. McIlvain, who owned Walmac Farm near Lexington until his death in 1959, helped bring it to life again with a Fair Play mare named Native Wit which he purchased from Joseph E. Widener.
Working for McIlvain as a farm manager was one Leslie Combs II, who later established a nice little farm named Spendthrift. And it was at Spendthrift, of course, that Affirmed’s sire, Exclusive Native, made a name for himself.
As McIlvain bred and raised several nice foals from Native Wit, the family began to improve. Sent to Sir Gallahad III, she got Native Gal, the fourth dam of Affirmed, fifth of Lil E. Tee and the sixth of Ghostzapper and City Zip. Native Gal also produced stakes winners of her own, namely Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Billings and Spinster Stakes winner Royal Native.
When McIlvain died, the family scattered and eventually settled into a pattern that came down to us via Witty (by *Rhodes Scholar) and Billings’ full sister Native Valor (by *Mahmoud). What makes the family so good, and what makes it worthy of Reine-de-Course status, is that it established its own sub-branches immediately and got not only good producers, but good males as well.
Witty’s main group is Sailaway (Lil E. Tee and Ghostzapper); Native Valor was more productive with half sisters Won’t Tell You (Affirmed, Senor Pete, Dr. Caton) and Coccinea (Thrill Show and Noble And Nice). There is also a half sister to this pair’s dam named Half Tone, whose descendents include Clear Copy and Kalookan Queen. With daughters and granddaughters like this, Native Wit was bound to carry on.
Defining Greatness — The Affirmed-Alydar Duels
No matter who one asks, he is likely to hear that Affirmed and Alydar provided the best Triple Crown rivalry in the history of that venerable event. Although Affirmed defeated Alydar more than he lost to him, Alydar took over in the breeding shed – at least in the beginning. Most breeders believed that Alydar was bred better than Affirmed, but the truth of the matter was that neither was from a family that consistently produced sires. Now, all these years later, both sire lines are more likely to be saved by the produce of their daughters than any sons of note.
Affirmed outlived Alydar (whether one chooses to believe that Alydar was ‘murdered’ or not) and as time went on, he established himself as an excellent turf sire, getting horses like the incomparable Flawlessly, Canadian champion Charlie Barley and European superstar Bint Pasha.
Alydar will always be remembered for his Kentucky Derby winners, Alysheba and Strike Gold and for Easy Goer, whose duels with Sunday Silence nearly rivaled those of Alydar and Affirmed. Sadly, however, Alydar (who was inbred to top broodmare sires Bull Lea and *Blenheim II) did not prove a sire of sires, a great loss to the breeding community.
Today, Affirmed has just one son, Perfect (a full brother to Flawlessly), at stud. Standing in New Jersey, he is not likely to be in a position to carry on the sire line with his modest race record and rather feminine looks.
The “Other” Relative
Lil E. Tee, of course, was never compared to Affirmed, even though they were closely related. Generally considered a ‘blue collar’ Derby winner, even a lucky one (and what Derby winner is not lucky?), he has never been commercial and has thus never seen a book of mares even remotely as good as Affirmed saw.
To date, from eight crops of racing age, he’s got about 200 foals, and at a time when many sires have that many foals in just two crops, he’s fighting an uphill battle to maintain his branch of the Buckpasser male line. That, of course, is one of his problems – breeders figure that if Silver Charm couldn’t pull it off, neither can Lil E. Tee.
All this because Buckpasser is neatly categorized in the minds of most as a “broodmare sire” and thus his tail-male kin are given little chance to succeed. This is thinking that has more to do with fashion than it does with common sense, of course. But don’t bother trying to tell anyone that; they’re not listening.
Lil E. Tee has some grand things in his pedigree, from For The Moment (a full brother to Honest Pleasure), an Hawaii cross (which has so much in common with the Wild Again line) and of course Rhodes Scholar, a half brother to Highway Code, the fourth dam of Forty Niner. Given all those strengths, plus the fact that his sire, At The Threshold, is from the same family as the storied Hildene (Idle Fancy), Lil E. Tee is under-used and under-appreciated.
There’s not a one of us out there in Thoroughbred land who has not seen a horse who made him say, “Ah, there’s the one!” Then when you lose them, whether they are named Swale or Ruffian, they live on forever in your heart alone, but live on they do.
For us, there was such a horse from this immediate family and his name was Burnished Bronze. By Seattle Slew and from the Coccinea sub-branch of the family owned by the Mabees of Golden Eagle Farm near San Diego, Ca., Burnished Bronze was out of a mare named Splendid Pride, a three-quarter sister to Affirmed.
When he came into the paddock at Golden Gate Fields one windy spring day, we thought him a schooler, so much bigger and more composed was he than the other juveniles dancing in the walking ring. But no, this was a runner and run he did – in the five-furlong Ladbroke Futurity, the big colt made not one but two distinct moves – something only an older and far more experienced horse is likely to do. We were spellbound.
The next morning we visited him on the backstretch and could not take our eyes off of him. We were not alone. Some of the crustiest old trainers and jockey’s agents we have ever known were standing there admiring him as he was hand-walked dry after his bath. They knew what they were looking at – and so did we.
Later, Burnished Bronze by necessity and common sense left our radar and went to southern California from whence he had come. He ran third in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship and was preparing for a try at the Del Mar Futurity when he suffered what would eventually be a fatal breakdown. When we learned of his death, we were sickened because if ever a horse had promise, it was this one.
Since Burnished Bronze died in 1984, we have seen a handful of Seattle Slew-line horses bred to this family from Dr. Caton (most closely related to Burnished Bronze) to Crownette, to Michislew. All were good horses, but none were a thing like Burnished Bronze. We still think about him, and still wonder what he might have done for this family had luck simply been on his side.
The New Kids On The Block
In the true tradition of “what have you done for me lately”, there are two very famous half brothers from the clan, sprinting sensation City Zip and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. City Zip stands in New York and has his first two-year-olds this year. To date, none of them has shown the same precocity and class as his sire, but there are still a couple of months left in the season, and something good still might happen for this chestnut flash.
Ghostzapper, of course, is just beginning. He is a fashionable horse and by a stallion who is doing well, but his soundness must be called into question, with just four starts in 2004 when he was named Horse of the Year, and 10 lifetime starts. Even City Zip managed 23 starts, coming closest to Affirmed’s 29 races among the family’s most important runners.
Native Wit, of course, was Matchem line via Man o’War’s sire, Fair Play. She was inbred times four to Pocahontas via sex-balanced crosses of both King Tom (Tomahawk/St. Angela) and Stockwell (Doncaster/Celerrima). She also owns two daughter lines of Lexington and Macaroni and two son lines of Galopin.
The Bend Or blood that came to her via Fairy Gold, dam of Fair Play, was the first really modern speed line introduced into a family whose stock in trade was speed as well. In other words, few Reines-de-Course are better illustrations of the speed-on-speed beginnings of the horses we see today.
Or, simply put, the eternal speed of Himyar, back to the American line of Spendthrift picking up the more European speed of Bend Or and all on a Galopin/Pocahontas background. You don’t get any more Thoroughbred than that!
This is a good opportunity to name the entire family line. For the moment, at least, our new Reines-de-Course are Correction, Native Wit, Sailaway, Won’t Tell You, Coccinea, and Half Tone.
We believe very strongly in inbreeding to this grand old family with its all-American roots. Anyone out there with an Affirmed mare should consider Ghostzapper or Lil E. Tee. Likewise, anyone with a mare by City Zip might try a sire carrying Affirmed, like Pleasantly Perfect.
By the way, recently taken out of retirement is the Holy Bull colt Wokeupdreaming. He, too, carries a cross of Affirmed and while we admit this is very far back he is tail-male Himyar as well, which balances his Correction cross via Affirmed. Maybe he’ll be a superstar sprinter in 2006, maybe not. But he’s worth following. After all, who wouldn’t want more of Himyar’s eternal speed?