Reines & Families


It occurred to me when I finished an article in my Reine-de-Course series that, without really trying, I had written a book full of the kind of information that I wished I had had as a reference when the series began.  At the same time, I realized that the series will have its twenty-seventh birthday in November and that no one is more surprised than I am that it has not only continued but prospered since the first article appeared in Owner/Breeder in 1991.

The series, which is basically a history of the great Thoroughbred female families, had its beginnings in a letter, an article and an old series written by a dear friend.  The letter was one I had written to Leon Rasmussen questioning Moccasin’s influence in the pedigree of her son Apalachee; the article was one written about Broodmare of the Year Too Bald in which I coined the term “Reine-de-Course” (or ‘Queens of the Turf’); and the series was “Great American Matriarchs”, written by the late Bob Stokhaug for The Thoroughbred Record.

Perhaps the most important reason that the series has gained fans and earned acceptance is that until recently, there was a total dearth of published material on great broodmares.  While there is much information available and several important texts in existence about great stallions, finding comparable information on mares can become a research project very quickly.  It was a research project I was willing to accept and one that I learned to love, for as each story was written it meant there was that more available information for breeders large and small to access, that the next person to look for information on a given mare would not have to spend seven or eight hours finding out just the basics, as I had done. Of course, there was the additional benefit of learning a great deal myself.

The series has changed and grown over the course of its existence, its move to the Oklahoma magazine The Homestretch, and finally to our newsletter Pedlines and this web site.  In the beginning, one mare at a time was written about and she was generally a fairly recent matron like Too Bald or Grey Flight.  As I began to delve deeper and deeper into family trees, however, I learned that this was not enough. Therefore, more recent articles have included major matrons who are far older like Maggie B. B. and Pretty Polly, who were born in the 1800’s but whose families are as strong today as they ever were, perhaps stronger.

I have been asked many times how I choose which mares will be included on the list and the answer is that there are many ways that a mare can become a Reine-de-Course.  Sometimes she is a veritable force throughout the breed like *La Troienne, Mumtaz Mahal, Frizette, or Quiver and other times she is a more recent matron who has shown a proclivity for stamping her family with certain characteristics.

For example, “sire source” mares include Plucky Liege, dam of four Chefs-de-Race and Lady Josephine, whose daughters and granddaughters gave us *Nasrullah, *Royal Charger, *Mahmoud, Tudor Minstrel and Fair Trial, while other mares stamp their families with a decided female sex bias.  These include Bourtai and her Broodmare of the Year daughters Delta and Levee, Banquet Bell, who gave us Cum Laude Laurie; Luiana and Maud Muller; and Sunday Evening who got Prayer Belle, Home By Dark, and Time For Bed.

Some mares influence their families with speed, as Too Bald and *Papila did, while others like Teresina and Quiver tend to produce rather stouter relations.  And some mares have made such a huge international impact – Pretty Polly and Centerbury Pilgrim are good examples – that to not include them would be be to render the series meaningless.

Despite the pronounced characteristics of some families, the name Reine-de-Course basically stands for quality.  These mares have no numbers or formulas attached like Chefs-de-Race, nor will they ever have. And though they have been called the female equivalent of Chefs-de-Race, we have never thought of them that way.

Females, of course, cannot produce 300 plus foals like a sire might.  However, if the bloodline is filled with quality like *La Troienne or Selene’s, said mare may very well be responsible for even more stakes winners than a given sire, or even a sire line.  Since it has been argued by those who think ill of dosage that it is incomplete, since the female influence is not considered when calculating a horse’s dosage numbers, evidence of a Selene or a Plucky Liege out there gives this argument a great deal of weight. One of the weakest reasons we have ever heard for not including mares in dosage calculations is that “mares have sires and their influence is what is used”.  Of course the last time we checked, sires also have dams, so that argument really doesn’t hold much water.

Claiborne Farm patriarch A. B. “Bull” Hancock often said that the family was stronger than the individual. Which is where the great female families come in.  If a colt was a wonderful racehorse and is sired by a powerful stallion, he is still going to have a better chance of being a good sire if he comes from a good female family.  A recent rather glaring example is Seattle Slew, who descended from and was inbred to Frizette and was also inbred to *La Troienne, versus Spectacular Bid, whose female family laid no such claims to greatness.

One often hears a horseman say that a young horse has promise because he comes from a good family or that he bought a horse at an auction because he knew the family.  Which is as rousing an endorsement for female influence as can be found.

Likewise, long time breeders frequently develop familes from which a number of excellent runners have evolved, whether we are discussing the vast Betty Derr clan which produced not only Swaps but his Broodmare of the Year full sister Track Medal or a more recent example like Pretty Jo, who counts among her contributions such excellent performers as Sky Beauty, Caesar’s Wish, Dayjur and Sunday Silence’s broodmare sire, Understanding.

When the mare is an exceptional one like *La Troienne or Grey Flight, we will often see them inbred to, and it is not unusual to find five or six crosses of notable older mares like Maggie B. B., Selene or Lavendula in any important pedigree today.  As a matter of fact, when a breeder does not have a mare whose own female family is superior in its first two or three generations, one way he can strengthen that family is to inbreed to the best mares in her pedigree, thereby effectively weaving a thread of excellence into her foals, and into the foals of the next generation until the hoped-for stakes horse emerges.

But of course, one needs to know which mares are the best ones to use for inbreeding.  And if he has no available information on the great female families, how can he know that Pancho Villa, who stands in Texas, is a full brother to Terlingua, dam of Storm Cat and thus a wonderful mate for Storm Cat mares?  Or that young sire Honour And Glory is a dead-on fit for Fappiano as both descend from the great mare *Marguerite de Valois?  What a shame it would be to waste such opportunities, but this is often what happens when no one leads the way by writing about these mares so that breeders may know them better.  Which is where, we hope, the Reine-de-Course series can come in handy.

I have also frequently been asked why I write the story first, and then name the mare or mares Reines-de-Course rather than just naming a handful of important matrons and writing an article about them.  To which I can only reply that these families have been ignored long enough.  They deserve to have their story told and some of those stories are priceless.

We always thought it was worth knowing that Mumtaz Mahal was the only mare the Germans did not confiscate from the Aga Khan’s French farm, that Qurrat-Al-Ain means “apple of the eye” in Arabic, that Plucky Liege’s name was changed from “Lucky Liege” when the Belgians gallantly defended the city of Liege in the first World War.  It was also of interest to learn, for instance, that Tartan Farm’s great mare Aspidistra was a gift from the 3M employees to William L. McKnight and that Alydar’s foundation dam Ruddy Light traced to a common claimer named Washoe Belle who won at Denver or that Federico Tesio’s stud manager did not particularly like Nearco’s dam Catnip.  We could go on and on, for there are many such stories.

When looking over the Chef-de-Race list, one sees many older names and half of the people looking at the names either don’t know who these horses were or why they are on that list in the first place.  With the Reines, the stories are told so that a breeder can decide for himself whether there is, indeed, something special about this family which he would either like to own a part of or inbreed to if the opportunity arises.

And of course, the series is an ongoing one.  As we write this, the research for expanding the Erin family to include Royal Rose sits on our desk.  We have a list of Reines “to be done” and partly completed files on all of them.  And of course, there are updates done to the families as well.

As Too Bald was the original Reine-de-Course, her family has been expanded to include Hidden Talent. The second Reine-de-Course, Shenanigans, has seen her family grow to include her second dam Bold Irish and her third, Erin.  Recently, we updated Mumtaz Mahal’s family to include as Reines-de-Course Tessa Gillian, the full sister to *Royal Charger who is the second dam of Reine-de-Course Eight Carat, dam of five stakes winners in Australia.  And after this year’s Belmont Stakes, we named Reine-de-Course *Uvira II’s relation Lassie Dear a Reine as well.

Which brings us to the point that the series is an international one.  Schwarzblaurot, ancestress of Steinlen, is from Germany; *The Squaw II, ancestress of Ack Ack, Tom Rolfe, Sham and Chieftain, hails from France.  Iribelle, ancestress of Flying Victor, is a Canadian; Selene, to whom many of our best sires are inbred, is British, and Qurrat-Al-Ain, who is the ancestress of *Gallant Man, is an Irish-bred; *Papila is Chilean.  And Maggie B. B. is just about as All-American as you can get and is responsible for the fine Portage group of mares who gave us Broodmare of the Year Fall Aspen and the family of Alanesian, ancestress of Boldnesian and Princessnesian.

If our work has accomplished anything, it has awakened within the racing community the thought that we need more information on the mares. In recent months, The Thoroughbred Times has been printing a series on great matrons written by John Sparkman; former Blood Horse editor Edward L. Bowen has recently published a book on great matriarchs; and Leon Rasmussen’s “Rasmussen Factor” book is due out soon.  While the Reines-de-Course may not have had an actual impact on any of this work, they did in fact preceed all of it.  Besides, we welcome this additional information.  My original idea was not to keep these mares all to myself but to get the information out there for small breeders.  When it comes to stories on great mares, we say the more the merrier.

For when all is said and done, the Reine-de-Course series is basically a love affair with the great Thoroughbred families.  We have often said that pedigrees are history lessons.  Within the bloodlines of every Thoroughbred, whether he is a hard-knocking claimer or a Grade 1 winner, there is a story waiting to be told.  How well it is told, and how well the breeder was able to interpret it, in all probability made the difference between the claimer and the champion.

If the Reine-de-Course series one day helps just one breeder to make that interpretation, to take that leap from good to better to best, it will have accomplished its task.  We can think of no better reason than that to have begun and maintained it all this time.

—Ellen Parker