Pretty Polly

As we have learned over the course of the Reine-de-Course series, not all our stellar producers were great racemares.  However, some have raced at the highest levels and set the loftiest possible standards for their offspring.  Such a mare is Pretty Polly.

Pretty Polly’s story begins with the purchase of her dam, Admiration, by Major Eustace Loder for 510 guineas.  At the time, there was nothing about her immediate family to suggest that she would become the dam of such an outstanding runner and producer.  In her first five generations there was little of note, and the family was so ill-regarded that her sister Gaze brought 15 guineas as a hack, while one of her foals realized only six guineas as a weanling.

Major Loder must have seen something of note in Admiration’s unique inbreediing, however, for he raced her in good company where she failed to distinguish herself, showing a propensity for running second in handicaps while racing through the age of five.  Thus nothing about her prowess on the course caused her owner to deem her worthy of service by so good a stallion as Gallinule.  It is thus perhaps as logical as anything to assume that he either liked her pedigree or was perhaps one of those gifted by the rare ability to see into the heart of a horse and know his true worth.

As it turned out, not only did Admiration produce Pretty Polly but several other good daughters who branched out to account for Irish Derby winner Kopi; Chef-de-Race Promised Land; Epsom Oaks winner Why Hurry; William Hill Futurity winner Sporting Yankee; Yellow Ribbon winner Amazer; One Thousand Guineas winner Cresta Run; Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Lemhi Gold; Irish Two Thousand Guineas winner Mistigo; French One Thousand Guineas winner Dancing Maid; Irish Derby winner King John; Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure; St. Leger winner Tehran; One Thousand Guineas winner Mrs. McCardy; and French Derby winner Hard to Beat to name only the very best of the lot.  Yet for all the excellence eventually produced from Admiration’s other daughters, it is still Pretty Polly who stands tallest.  Even in such heady company, she is the crown jewel.

All Pretty Polly did as a racehorse was win 22 of 24 starts.  Her victories included the Epsom Oaks, One Thousand Guineas, St. Leger, Champagne and Champion Stakes, the Coronation Cup (twice); the Coronation and Criterion Stakes, the Jockey Club Cup, the Middle Park, Nassau and National Stakes and the Park Hill Stakes.  Her only two loses resulted in second place finishes, one in the Prix du Conseil Municipal after a harrowing journey, the other in the Ascot Gold Cup, where a bad ride may have cost her going out a winner.

So little was thought of the wooly-coated youngster when first she joined the training string of Peter Gilpin, that she was used in a trial with a fast two-year-old named Delaunay, who was thought to be the hottest property in the stable.  Despite her usually lazy workout demeanor, Pretty Polly collared the colt and nearly defeated him.  It was merely a preview of just how much greatness lay ahead, and to this day, those who have chosen to rewrite history for the sake of romance make Pretty Polly the winner of that trial, and by as much as 10 lengths.

A near stakes-winning machine, Pretty Polly was above all else a female and she had her fair share of quirks, adoring the cheers of the crowds who had come to see her and having a companion by the name of “Joey”, a little cob who she would not be without.  So strong was her attachment to the cob that she refused to allow her saddle to be removed after a race until she had “communicated” her victory to her friend and it soon became necessary to have a blanket made for the horse so that he could accompany her wherever she went to race.  Trainer Gilpin was even given permission by the stewards to allow Joey to accompany his champion friend in the post parade.  For those who do not believe that Thoroughbreds can understand loss, it is indeed poignant to note that a few days after Joey died, Pretty Polly lost her only important race in England, the Ascot Gold Cup.

Trainer Gilpin, who had not been at all impressed with Pretty Polly at the outset, once said of her, “she struck me as being almost too powerful.  If anybody had told me the filly I was looking at was going to develop into a great racemare, I would have laughed.”  Later, after Pretty Polly had taken Gilpin on the ride of his life through the classics and beyond, he praised her as having “the gift of electric dash.”

Given her race record, Pretty Polly was welcome in the book of any fine stallion in England and in fact she was bred to such horses as Desmond, William The Third, Polymelus, and Spearmint.  However, like Mumaz Mahal before her, it was not her daughters themselves, but the offspring of their daughters over several decades, which would write the name of Pretty Polly in tall bold letters among the greatest producers of all time.

Pretty Polly lived to the grand old age of 30.  She was destroyed in August of 1931 because her teeth were so worn that she could not chew properly.  As she was not getting the proper nutrition, she began to lose condition and rather than allow her to slowly starve, she was put down.  Pretty Polly was laid to rest in the lawn of Eyrefield Lodge, close to the grave of Spearmint, the Derby winner whose worth had once been proven by a trial with Pretty Polly.

Today, Pretty Polly’s family breaks out into four major daughter groups;  Molly Desmond; Dutch Mary; Polly Flinders and Baby Polly.  Molly Desmond’s branch is the largest and most varied of the Pretty Polly daughters.  From her roots come the standouts Luthier, a Chef-de-Race; Great Nephew, sire of Shergar; Nearctic (sire of Northern Dancer and Icecapade); Northern Taste, the great Japanese sire; millionaire filly Gorgeous, St. Paddy, and once beaten Brigadier Gerard, conqueror of the great Mill Reef.

Dutch Mary’s branch found its way to Italy through Duccia Di Buoninsegna and many of the best horses in the branch are in fact Italian.  However, Derby winner Psidium, French 2000 Guineas winners Thymus and Don, the good German runner Donat, and Irish St. Leger winner Spelthorne suggest this group of mares fit well anywhere on the continent, and Chef-de-Race Donatello II belongs in good company no matter the country or time.

Polly Flinders’ branch is best known through her descendent My Game, by My Babu, whose daughters produced such good ones as Irish Oaks winner Unite; Gold Cup winner Paen; Cheveley Park Stakes winner Marwell and National Stakes victor Caerwent.

Baby Polly, Pretty Polly’s 1924 daughter by Spearmint, was the dam of Doncaster Cup winner Colorado Kid, and this family is also responsible for Vienna, sire of Vaguely Noble and the Group I winner Carroll House.

Of all the Pretty Polly relatives who have made an impact on the breed, few can be said to have so profound an effect as Lady Angela, a daughter of Hyperion purchased by Canadian E. P. Taylor at Newmarket in December of 1952.  The mare was in foal to Nearco at the time, but Taylor would not purchase her without a return breeding to Nearco.  His logic was indisputable.

Lady Angela’s first Nearco foal was a terrible looking individual who, racing as Empire Day, won three of 36 starts and placed in the $5,000 Bison City Stakes.  He did go to stud, but sired only seven foals, one of whom won a stake.

Lady Angela’s second foal for Taylor was Nearctic, sire of Northern Dancer.  A good runner himself, Nearctic was a bit lost admidst the great 1954 crop, which included *Gallant Man, Round Table and Bold Ruler.  He won 21 of 47 starts, however, and earned $152,384.

Nearctic’s true gift was not his racing class but rather was passing along his priceless pedigree to his foals, among them great sires like Northern Dancer and Icecapade, good sires like Explodent and Briartic and fine daughters like Nangela (dam of Square Angel); Nearis (dam of Kennedy Road); Quiet Charm (second dam of Quiet American); Nearanna (dam of Ben Fab) and Christmas Wind (dam of Winter’s Tale).  How different our pedigrees today would be without him!

There is narry an article to be found about Pretty Polly which does not criticize her pedigree, or at least how weak the first few generations were until her dam Admiration came along and took the family to another level.  But in reality, Pretty Polly had a very interesting pedigree and it starts with the fascinating lineage of her dam Admiration.

We have frequently stated that inbreeding to the best part of the family, either via half, full or three-quarter siblings intensifies the best part of a weak pedigree.  In Admiration we find that theory carried it to the highest level by producing Pretty Polly and her other stellar relations.  Admiration herself was inbred to the best mare in the family, “Pantaloon Mare”, the dam of the great American sire Leamington.  In Admiration’s pedigree Pantaloon Mare appears 4 x 4 through her son Lambourn and daughter Chaperon, the fourth dam.  The mare additionally was inbred 5 x 5 to Touchstone and had a line of Macaroni, both of whom descend from the same family via a different branch. Admiration is also inbred 3 x 4 to the half sisters Windermere and Brown Agnes and she has a 4 x 4 cross of half brothers Stockwell and Rataplan, both out of the immortal Pocahontas.  We would have to say that Admiration was a very well bred mare with enough versatility to do exactly what she eventually did – found a dynasty headed by Pretty Polly, but not ending with her.

When Admiration was bred to Gallinule to produce Pretty Polly, three lines of Stockwell were added, but also added were two more lines of Touchstone, as noted above a descendent of the same family as Pantaloon Mare.  Pantaloon Mare has the mare Boadicea (1807) as her fourth dam; Boadicea is the second dam of Touchstone and the third dam of Macaroni.

When Pretty Polly in turn was bred to Desmond to produce her best daughter, Molly Desmond, she picks up another cross of Pocahontas via King Tom; there are two more Touchstone crosses; and another line of Miss Agnes, making three in all.  One of the more interesting parts of the linebreeding to family No. 14 (all the Boadicea relatives) makes an appearance in this pedigree as a 5 x 6 cross of half siblings Volatile and Macaroni, both out of Jocose.

Considering how well relatives of Molly Desmond react when crossed with each other (Political Ambition, Nangela) or with other branches of Pretty Polly (Brigadier Gerard’s best performers liked a line of Donatello II), it appears that all the linebreeding in the background likes a repetition of itself, which is amusing in light of all the criticism leveled at Pretty Polly’s female family when it first burst onto the racing scene and rewrote the record books.  The bottom line is the quality was always there.

Pretty Polly’s family may be an old one, but it is just as important today as it ever was, if not moreso.  New Reines from the family include Pretty Polly herself; Molly Desmond; Sarita; Sister Sarah; Balidaress (IRE); Nangela; Molly Adare; Duccia Di Buoninsegna; Overture; Flirting; and Baby Polly.

Keep these mares and other Pretty Polly relatives in mind when choosing inbreeding patterns, and find them more easily than you think – in the offspring of T. V. Lark, any of the Nearctic sons, Luthier, Lord At War, the offspring of Arachne, Donatello II, Sunset Gun, and Vaguely Noble, none of whom are hard to find.  This is one of the great families, the kind that gets better with age.

The Square Angel branch of Pretty Polly was added in Pedlines #170

 Family 14-C