The influence of the great broodmare Our Lassie is best described in terms of Breeders’ Cup history. For instance, try to imagine the Breeders’ Cup without the following winners: Arazi, Lashkari, Timber Country, Wild Again, Life’s Magic, Lady’s Secret, Last Tycoon, Great Communicator, Twilight Agenda, Rhythm, Sunday Silence, Fly So Free, In The Wings, Eliza, Cardmania, Phone Chatter, Kotashaan and Cherokee Run.
What each of these outstanding horses have in common is that Our Lassie and her descendents play a major role in their pedigrees. In other words, none of them might ever have existed without this fine daughter of Ayrshire, who first distinguished herself by winning the 1903 Epsom Oaks.
Our Lassie was bred by Jack Joel who entered racing around the turn of the century along with his two brothers Woolf and Jim. Joel was the most successful breeder in England during a 19-year period after 1900, winning 11 classic races including four Oaks, one of them with Our Lassie. The family fortune was derived in part from the De Beers diamond money, but it was Woolf Joel who found a true diamond in the rough in the mare Yours. Yours ran only four times and never won a race. Despite her poor race record, she was given a chance at stud and produced St. Leger winner Your Majesty as well as Oaks winner Our Lassie. Both were foaled at Northaw House in Middlesex, England, the site of Joel’s first stud.
Your Majesty was eventually sent to Argentina where he became an influential sire but Our Lassie was at first considered a failure as a producer. Instead, Joel fancied his One Thousand Guineas and Oaks winner Jest (Sundridge-Absurdity) as the best of his fillies. Jest’s family had also done more up to that time, as she was a half sister to the Polymelus colt Black Jester, winner of the St. Leger and third in the Two Thousand Guineas.
When Black Jester was retired to stud, Joel duplicated the formula used to produce Jest and recombined the Absurdity blood with Sundridge in mating Black Jester to Our Lassie’s Sundridge daughter Lady Brilliant. This mating resulted in the filly Black Ray who did nothing to further Our Lassie’s family at the Joel stud.
However, Black Ray’s fortunes took an upward turn in 1926 when she was purchased for 1000 pounds by Capt. Boyd-Rochfort, acting as agent for American department store heir Marshall Fields. For Fields, Black Ray became a foundation mare of the highest quality and hers is generally acknowledged as Our Lassie’s strongest modern branch.
Our Lassie produced four major daughters, but the other three did little to distinguish themselves compared to what Lady Brilliant would eventually produce through Black Ray. Sweet Lassie and Perilla are each ancestresses of Auckland Cup winners (Kerry Lane and Rev respectively). Fair Lassie’s clan was European rather than Australian and she is the ancestress of Vesperale, winner of the Prix de Royallieu.
Lady Brilliant, however, has a good bit more in her resume. Black Gem and Black Ray, her full sister-daughters by Black Jester, each added something special. Black Gem is the third dam of 1947 Epsom Oaks and One Thousand Guineas winner Imprudence II, herself ancestress of Santa Ynez Stakes winner Poona Downs; Qui Native, a multiple graded stakes winner; Qui Royalty, dam of stakes winner Sum, Group I William Hill Futurity winner Bakharoff, and Group II winner Emperor Jones; Assinatura, a major winner in Brazil; and stakes placed Ribot’s Fling.
But the difference between Black Gem and Black Ray becomes immediately apparent when mentioning just three of Black Ray’s direct descendents: Mill Reef, *Khaled and Blushing Groom – Chefs-de-race all. Add for spice Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret and the point is made. As is common in taproot dams, Our Lassie had only one great daughter, Lady Brilliant, who in turn had only one great daughter, Black Ray.
How much of Black Ray’s success can be attributed to her buyer Marshall Field can only be surmised. What is known is that Field established her as his foundation matron in Ireland and bred her to the speed of The Tetrarch through Ethnarch, therefore extending Our Lassie’s family another generation with modern bloodlines to freshen and develop its classic versatility. By so doing, Fields enabled the family to retain the promise which began with Our Lassie’s Oaks at the turn of the century.
Since the family trend had been for each mare to produce just one great daughter, Black Ray should be especially lauded for foaling not one but two major daughters in Eclair and Infra Red (both by Ethnarch), a progression which suggests that, if anything, the family is getting stronger as it gets older.
Black Ray was seven at the time of her purchase by Fields and later established the remarkable record of producing 19 consecutive foals. The only year she was barren was the one in which she died at the age of 23 in July of 1942. The best two colts she foaled were Jacopo by Sansovino and Foray II by Tetratema. Both were excellent two year olds who were rated atop the Free Handicap in 1930 and 1936 respectively.
Black Ray’s two best producing daughters were the above-mentioned Infra Red and Eclair. Eclair won seven races and was one of the best fillies of her generation. She later foaled *Khaled to the cover of Hyperion. *Khaled won the Coventry, Middle Park and St. James Palace Stakes and ran second in the 1946 Two Thousand Guineas. Although much, much more than a one-horse sire, *Khaled truly attained immortality as the sire of Horse of the Year Swaps, one of the gamest and fastest horses of his time, or any time.
*Khaled was acquired from the Aga Khan by Rex Ellsworth, breeder of Swaps, and one article critical of Ellsworth’s treatment of his horses centered around Khaled. “…(he) resides in a virtual sandpit about the size of a subway platform. One end is walled in by a barn with holes in it. On the other end, a wire fence over which can frequently be seen hanging the ranch hands’ wet wash. To Khaled it makes no difference, but the effect to the outsider is one of finding the Kohinoor diamond resting in a dirty shot glass.”
What one finds particularly interesting about that account of Khaled’s abode is the contrast with the home of one of his close relatives, Blushing Groom. A champion two year old and outstanding miler, Blushing Groom was produced from Emali, whose great-granddam was a half sister to *Khaled.
Blushing Groom spent his entire stud career on the lush acres of Gainesway Farm near Lexington, Ky. During the telecast of the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984, Brough Scott and Michael O’Heir did a charming segment on what they described as “the majesty of the stallions.” In part, Scott said, “These living memories of trackside triumph are not only the richest, but the proudest, the noblest, the most beautiful animals on the earth. And if this end (breeding) of racing is almost a religion, John Gaines is one of the high priests.”
Gaines then came on camera to give his views on the care and housing of his farm’s stallions. “We were very concerned about the asthetics as well as the practicalities of how we housed the stallions. We look at these stallions as great patriarchs, we look at them as kings. And they should be housed like kings and taken care of like kings, because that’s what they are and that’s what they deserve.”
Blushing Groom thrived in his royal environment, siring horses like Mt. Livermore, Arazi, Blushing John, Nashwan and Sky Beauty to mention but a few prior to his death in 1992. Two of his sons, Mt. Livermore (Eliza) and Runaway Groom (Cherokee Run), are already the sires of Breeders’ Cup winners themselves. Not only was Blushing Groom a credit to Our Lassie’s family, he was a landmark.
Infra Red, Eclair’s full sister, was stakes placed. Her most famous descendent, Mill Reef, was bred by Paul Mellon of Rokeby Stud who won just about every major European race from the Epsom Derby to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with the son of Never Bend.
Mellon acquired Red Ray, a daughter of Infra Red, when Clive Gammon advised Jim Ryan to buy her for Rokeby on the strength of her first two dams. Infra Red had been bred by Marshall Field and had won stakes and run fourth in the One Thousand Guineas. She produced only one foal for her breeder, the sprinter Magic Red, prior to Fields’ dispersal during World War II.
Infra Red was then purchased by Lord Portal for 5000 guineas at Newmarket on July 13, 1942. Her daughter, Red Ray by Hyperion, was unraced, as was her daughter Virginia Water by Count Fleet. When Virginia Water subsequently foaled a *Princequillo daughter named Milan Mill who ran only once without winning, some might have given up on the family right then and there. But Mellon perservered, knowing the “back blood” was good.
In 1967, Milan Mill was covered by the precocious *Nasrullah son Never Bend and the following spring she foaled a smallish dark bay colt the racing world would eventually know as Mill Reef. Mellon’s patience had been rewarded.
Mill Reef was one of those horses of whose life and times legends are made. It is unfortunate, but equally true, that the most eloquent things are often written about a horse after his death. It was no different with Mill Reef.
Wrote Thoroughbred Record editor Tim Capps, “Mill Reef was something of a national hero to horse-loving England. He received hundreds of get-well cards during his recuperation for his leg injury and upon leaving Kingsclere to go to stud was bade farewell by numerous onlookers. Horses rarely gain, or earn, public affection as did Mill Reef.”
Leon Rasmussen, “Bloodlines would like to write a few words to honor the memory of who he believes to have been the finest race horse he ever saw in living competition…..”
Kent Hollingsworth, “His races were not marked by the sudden acceleration, the burst of speed for two furlongs that characterized the triumphs of Sir Ivor, Nijinsky II, or Roberto. …..(he did it all) not with a burst of speed, just with relentless, increasing power.”
That “relentless, increasing power” carried the small dark bay to wins in the Coventry, Gimcrack, Imperial, Dewhurst, Greenham, Eclipse, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Epsom Derby, the Arc, the Prix Ganay and the Coronation Cup. He was beaten only twice – by Brigadier Gerard in the Two Thousand Guineas and by My Swallow in the Prix Robert Papin.
A rematch with Brigadier Gerard was planned for Mill Reef’s four year old season when he fractured his near foreleg during a workout at Kingsclere. For a time, it seemed that the world would lose the game little fellow, but his courage and intelligence pulled him through.
Mill Reef not only lived but lived on – in the blood of French Derby winner Acamas; English and Irish Derby winner Shirley Heights, Italian Derby winner Glint of Gold, Irish Two Thousand Guineas winner Wassl, English Two Thousand Guineas winner Doyoun; Epsom Derby winner Reference Point and internationalist Ibn Bey. In 1998 the strength of Mill Reef’s male line was recalled when High-Rise, by one of his lesser grandsons, High Estate, won the Epsom Derby. And in 1999, when Daylami awed the racing world in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, it was with the blood of Mill Reef coursing through his veins. None of his offspring were quite like him, but all served the purpose of elevating him to Chef-de-Race status and ensuring his place in history as a worthy successor of the Our Lassie tribe.
Our Lassie’s family has come a long way from the turn of the century, and while it rests its claim to greatness in large part on the classic successes of its members, there are also a number of just plain good horses from this family. One in particular is Simply Majestic, now a young stallion, who has Our Lassie as his eighth dam, Black Ray as his sixth.
Out of the King Emperor mare Beaming Bride, Simply Majestic won $1.6 million and broke Secretariat’s world record for nine furlongs by racing the distance in 1:45. Simply Majestic also has an excellent older half brother named Alwuhush (by Nureyev) who was a champion in Italy and their dam Beaming Bride also foaled Grade I Rothmans International winner Husband (by Diesis) and listed stakes winner Pia Bride (by El Gran Senor) as well as stakes placed Abri Fiscal (by The Minstrel).
Simply Majestic provides an inexpensive and easy way to inbreed to Our Lassie’s family, something which should not be taken lightly. Hillshade, dam of Epsom Oaks winner Mysterious and champion sprinter J. O. Tobin (conqueror of Seattle Slew) is just one example of inbreeding to Our Lassie and what it can produce.
Although Our Lassie’s own pedigree is too old to be pertinent to this article, it is worth noting that the trend was to build up classic bloodlines, both speed and stamina, to keep the family prominent. Mill Reef is as good an example as any, where Black Ray (by a St. Leger winner in Black Jester) was bred to speed in Ethnarch to produce Infra Red. Infra Red was then bred to the fast but equally classic influence Hyperion to produce Red Ray who was bred to the pure classic influence Count Fleet to produce Virginia Water. Some stamina was then re-introduced through *Princequillo to produce Mill Reef’s dam, Milan Mill, who was then bred to the very speedy *Nasrullah son Never Bend to foal her masterpiece.
What is equally interesting is that since Lady Brilliant was by Sundridge, still more Sundridge blood was added through Lady Josephine and Sunreigh, each of which appears in Mill Reef’s fifth generation in balanced fashion. The Tetrarch, sire of Ethnarch, is also picked up again in Never Bend through Mumtaz Mahal. In other words, some of the original blood which produced Lady Brilliant/Black Ray/Infra Red was re-introduced many generations later. A breeder could do worse than go back to the source of excellence and duplicate it.
Our Lassie’s story really deserves a book rather than an article and many of her ancestors are not mentioned here because of space limitations. Nevertheless, this family is probably as strong or stronger than it ever was, and returning to it once more to add more Reines-de-Course will one day become necessary. For the present, Our Lassie and her magnificent descendents Lady Brilliant, Black Ray, Eclair, Emali, Infra Red and Milan Mill are all welcome additions to the Reines-de-Course who have gone before them.