There are an amazing number of extraordinary mares whose stories deserve to be told and who will eventually be named Reines-de-Course, but few are quite as special as Raker. This 1881 daughter of Ascot Gold Cup winner Scottish Chief out of a mare by Epsom Derby winner Orlando, is responsible for a whole group of American classic horses including Arts And Letters, Pass Catcher and Grindstone, as well as champions like Macho Uno and Awesome Again, North Sider, Fair Star, Parlo, Silverbulletday and Bleep Bleep. All these descend from her and we are not even counting all the G1 winners and classic placed horses!
Raker was bred in England by Capt. D. Bayley. Out of Fravolina, she was a half sister to Coturnix, the third dam of influential sire Spearmint. Just a few of mighty Spearmint’s major contributions include Catnip, the second dam of Nearco; Plucky Liege, dam of four Chefs-de-Race (Bois Roussel, Admiral Drake, *Bull Dog and *Sir Gallahad III) and tail-female line of Fappiano, Quiet American, Honour And Glory and Distant View. Spearmint was also sire of Bathing Girl, third dam of War Admiral and Eight Thirty and Epsom Derby winner Spion Kop.
Raker’s daughter *Chinkara was imported to the U. S. and got two important branches for August Belmont: Chit Chat (the main agent of which is Etoile Filante, which means “Shooting Star”) and Change. The pair are sisters, Chit Chat being by Rock Sand, Change by Fair Play. Change is even more closely related to Etoile Filante, which we discuss in depth under Primal Force’s section of this story.
The Chinkara/Change Branch of the Raker Family
(Raker-Chinkara-Change-Sue Steele-Neglect-Jean Sickle-Blue Eyes-Chavalon-Square Generation-Prime Prospect-Primal Force).
Although a nice group of horses have descended from this line, it is Chavalon which really woke the family up. Inbred to two sets of siblings (Sunreigh and Sun Briar via her sire, Royal Rose and Pink Domino via her dam), Chavalon was all set up for success. Her dam, Blue Eyes by Count Fleet’s persistent rival Blue Swords, won just two of 25 starts; second dam Jean Sickle by *Sickle’s son Agrarian also won just twice. However, she was a half sister to two pretty serious runners, Omission (eight stakes wins and 19 wins overall) and Johnny Jr. (one stake win, eight stake placings and 22 wins overall). Both colts were by Jock and both were ultra-tough. Omission ran 90 times, Johnny Jr. ran 152 times (and that is not a typo).
Third dam Neglect by the Sweep horse General Thatcher was unraced, fourth dam Sue Steele by Ballot won only one race but was a sister to Pimlico Nursery winner Yankee Princess. Such was the order of succession from Change to Chavalon. It takes a lot of faith in a family to hang on when major winners don’t keep coming your way, but that’s what happened to Change’s branch of Chinkara and the faith was obviously richly rewarded.
Primal Force, dam of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again and two-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Macho Uno became the latest in a long line of distinguished matrons to be named Broodmare of the Year in 2000. She is the second producer so honored who traces to Raker. The first was All Beautiful, dam of champion Arts and Letters.
The relationship between these two matrons is as follows: Change, the eighth dam of Primal Force, is a three-quarter sister to Etoile Filante, the fifth dam of All Beautiful. Both are by Fair Play. Change is out of Chinkara; Etoile Filante out of Chit Chat, a daughter of Chinkara.
Primal Force, who did not win stakes, was bred by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone. She was purchased by Frank Stronach at the 1992 Keeneland January sale for $95,000.
The bay daughter of Blushing Groom earned a little over $74,000 and has a very versatile pedigree which is devoid of Northern Dancer blood. She fits a wide variety of stallions, with the ‘wide open’ look her lineage provides. Her dam contributes a rare sex-balanced cross of Count Fleet (Sequence/Count Turf) and is inbred to Frizette and she shows ‘standard pattern’ linebreeding to Selene and Lady Juror.
Primal Force is bred on the same pattern as the good racemare Miss Ra He Ra. Primal Force is by Blushing Groom; Miss Ra He Ra by Rahy, a son of Blushing Groom. Primal Force is out of Prime Prospect, Miss Ra He Ra out of Glimmer of Gold, a daughter of Prime Prospect. In years to come, it will be interesting to see if this pair meets in pedigrees (though we don’t like the Mr. Prospector double).
This is an old and storied family which also includes Storm Creek; Northsider; Island Whirl; Singh; Fairy Manhurst; Parlo; Robannier; Waquoit; Pass Catcher; Grindstone; Cefis; Smelly; One Pound Stirling; At Talaq; Jeanne Jones; Avenue of Flags; Alydart; Dove Hunt; Hot Novel and Behrens – and these are just the high points.
The immediate group of mares (via Chavalon) responsible for Primal Force is listed in the accompanying chart.
Etoile Filante – The Shooting Star
(Raker-Chinkara-Chit Chat-Etoile Filante).
If ever a mare was well-named it is Etoile Filante, for her presence in a classic pedigree is meteoric indeed.
Via her daughter Fair Star, a champion in 1926 at the age of two, Etoile Filante gave us two classic winners: 1971 Belmont victor Pass Catcher and 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, sire of 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone. Both trace to the mare Gaffery, who is by Fairy Manhurst, a son of Man o’ War who is also from the family.
Then there is Cefis, a very good racehorse named for Woody Stephens’ middle name, and double champion Fairy Chant. Cefis is also inbred to the family. He, too, carries also a line of Fairy Manhurst, and his third dam, Gay Fairy, is a full sister to Gaffery, though she was unplaced whereas Gaffery was a major stakes winner.
This is not the only instance of the family being inbred to. Later in its history we find Arts And Letters bred to a family member to produce Northern Script, dam of Gordon Richards Stakes winner Scribe.
Then Gaffery’s close relation Fairy Palace’s branch of the family developed its own set of major runners via champion Parlo: Champion and classic winner Arts and Letters, California Juvenile winner Robannier, Acorn winner Forest Secrets and double champion Silverbulletday, to mention only a few.
If it has not already become apparent, there are a lot of close family relationships involved her. Gaffery and Fairy Palace share a Fairy Gold/Rock Sand/Fair Star/Chelandry nexus. This is a family that enjoys inbreeding and crossing back onto its own roots.
The Classic Colts
The first two classic colts to come from the Etoile Filante portion of Raker’s family share something in common: Each ended a Triple Crown bid. In the case of Arts and Letters, it was Majestic Prince’s 1969 Triple attempt, and in the case of Pass Catcher, the 1971 Belmont winner, it was the enormously popular Canonero II whose hopes for immortality were dashed.
Arts and Letters was bred and raced by Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stud. Mellon acquired his dam, All Beautiful, for $175,000 at the dispersal of Willaim du Pont Jr.’s stock with Arts and Letters in utero. The mare being in foal to unbeaten *Ribot obviously was one reason for the high price. The previous year, *Ribot had proven he could get an American classic winner with Preakness winner Tom Rolfe.
Arts and Letters went on after the Belmont, while Majestic Prince’s career ended because he should never have been there. Wresting the championship from Majestic Prince’s mighty grasp, Arts and Letters won the Travers, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup. The latter two were, of course, over his elders whom he had previously beaten in the Met Mile.
Arts and Letters was a moderate success as a sire. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of his line is that his best son, Codex, won the Preakness in 1980 from Genuine Risk in a controversial race, and then died after only 2 ½ years at stud.
During that brief stint in the breeding shed, however, Codex got such good horses as Lost Code and Badger Land. No one made much of an effort to continue Lost Code’s line on in the U. S., and today he is found almost entirely via mares. Badger Land ended up in South Africa where his bloodline was treated with more respect, but it far less likely to see much of the world. This was a bloodline it broke our hearts to see treated so cavalierly; it was pure gold.
The best source of Arts and Letters blood today comes via daughters. Find him in successful sires Gold Alert and Alphabet Soup and via the Equal Change sub-branch of Mahubah. And if anyone out there is lucky enough to have some Codex blood – treat it with the respect it so richly deserves and inbreed to this wondrous family with it.
Pass Catcher, unfortunately, was no Arts and Letters. The Belmont was, in fact, his only stake win. He had made a habit of running second in stakes, including the Jersey Derby to a horse named Bold Reasoning who would later immortalize himself by siring Seattle Slew.
Pass Catcher was by *Turn-to’s son All Hands who hailed from the Rinovata clan via Risky. This family would go on to give us Key to the Mint, With Approval and Touch Gold, but All Hands would always be best known for Pass Catcher alone. Sad to say, Pass Catcher would also not succeed as a sire in any meaningful way.
He managed to get a handful of good horses including graded stakes winners Amber Pass, Amerilad and Michelle Can Pass, but that’s pretty much it. Which is really too bad, since Pass Catcher shared a most uncommon birthday, April 6, with two of the giant’s of the breed, Round Table and Bold Ruler.
Still and all, we were lucky to even have a Pass Catcher. His dam La Grue, a $6,000 weanling purchase, ran through a fence as a two-year-old and according to a Thoroughbred Record article by George Procter, impaled herself on a board. Not a pretty picture for the chestnut daughter of *Flaneur II (a Prince Chevalier half brother to *Royal Charger). And, since *Flaneur II did share a dam with *Royal Charger, Pass Catcher was inbred to those half brothers 3 x 2. All the more reason his failure at stud was something of a tragedy.
Grindstone, the 1996 Kentucky Derby winner, reminded one of the meaning of Etoile Filante’s name. Like a shooting star he streaked across the newspaper headlines and just as quickly, he was gone.
From the first crop of another Derby winner, Unbridled, Grindstone picked up the soundness problems attributed not only to Mr. Prospector’s male line but to the Drone in his dam, Buzz My Bell. But he was an Overbrook homebred trained by Wayne Lukas for Bill Young and that made him a popular Derby winner.
The story behind the mating which created him was the type that made for good Derby lore. Young, one of the richest men in the Bluegrass (he owned Storm Cat), had only to look outside his own window to find a top stallion. But the match which resulted in Grindstone came about because of a philanthropic gesture on Young’s part.
Carl Pollard, a friend of Young’s, had donated a breeding season to Unbridled to the Kentucky Derby museum in 1992 and Young bought the season because he believed the museum was a good cause and a good investment. It was also thought that Unbridled was a good conformational match for Buzz My Bell, the Spinaway winner for which he had paid over $2 million (in foal to Secretariat).
It took Buzz My Bell awhile before she seemed worth that price, but she finally got a stakes winner on her fourth try, with the Storm Cat colt Western Territory. She got another three years later with the Deputy Minister colt Deputy Bodman. The next year, she foaled Grindstone.
Grindstone, with just six starts, was bound to be approached with caution by mare owners, so he has never been a 100-mare-book sire. However, he has sired a handful of decent horses, the best of which is obviously Belmont winner Birdstone who, in the tradition of his sire’s kin Arts and Letters and Pass Catcher, destroyed the Triple Crown hopes of a beloved horse, in his case Smarty Jones.
Sadly, Bill Young had died six months before Grindstone’s son took his classic race. Could be young Birdstone had an angel on his shoulder.
As one might imagine, Raker like most foundation mares, was very well bred. Linebred to full brothers Selim and Castrel, these Herod-line brothers appears 6 x 5 x 6 x 6 x 5 x 6 x 6.
There is then there are three lines of St. Leger winner Orville and one of his half brother Cervantes. This pattern is 6 x 6 x 5 x 5.
Next, half siblings Eleanor/Walton Mare/Sorcerer, all out of Young Giantess (6-A) at 5 x 5 x 6 and three-quarter siblings Jerboa and Wanderer at 5 x 5.
So Raker proves the power of inbreeding as well as the power of family. She is a rare jewel indeed.
Like most major producers, too, she has dominant traits: A tendency to throw classic horses and better colts than fillies, but not necessarily better sires than producers. Awesome Again is the most important stallion to come from this family in many a moon. His half brother, Macho Uno, may become another.
Aside from Awesome Again, the stallions have been useful at best. A rising star may be just a season away, but he has yet to make his presence felt if he is out there.
Now members of the growing Reine-de-Course listing are the very deserving Raker, Chavalon, Square Generation, Etoile Filante, Fair Star, Parlo, Beautiful Spirit and Twisterette. As always, we’ll be watching to add more mares from this grand line. Our only regret is in taking so long to include them.