Round Table

 “Don’t Let Them Forget Him”

April 6 undoubtedly lacks significance to most people, except the few steeped in the history of Thoroughbred racing.

It was on this date in 1954 that Bold Ruler and Round Table were foaled only hours apart at the Hancock family’s Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky.

The coincidence of birth was dramatized when both went on to remarkable careers.

Bold Ruler would win 23 of 33 starts, 17 of them in stakes races, earning him three championships including Horse of the Year in 1957.

Round Table’s 43 victories from 66 starts, including 31 stakes race victories, garnered him six championships including Horse of the Year in 1958.

At stud both cemented their legacy as Bold Ruler sired 11 champions, led by Triple Crown winner Secretariat, while Round Table got five champions led by English-raced Apalachee.

In concert the two were also responsible for champion Seattle Slew who carries Bold Ruler-Round Table on a 3S x 3D cross.

Despite their success in the breeding shed, the two champions were polar opposites in how their careers were handled.

Bold Ruler, eight times the leading sire in the United States, excelled on dirt, and ten of his 11 champions also won their titles on the same surface.  The *Nasrullah horse also set four track records, two at seven furlongs and two at 1 1/8-miles.He was a natural for American breeders who valued precocity and speed on dirt.

Round Table?  Not so much.

The biggest problem with Round Table’s stud career was that, as a three-time turf champion, breeders expected him to sire accordingly and turf distance horses were perceived as a luxury.

Indeed, all five of Round Table’s champions earned their titles on the turf courses of England, Ireland, France and Canada.

As generations have relegated both champions’ names further to the back of pedigrees, Bold Ruler’s tail-male line is clearly still in demand via Seattle Slew-A.P.Indy-Pulpit-Tapit in particular, as breeders keep looking for the magical combination that will produce another Secretariat.

Round Table’s influence, on the other hand, continues to fade, with only G1 winning K One King of active sires tracing him in direct male lineage through his champion son Apalachee.

Over the years one of Round Table’s staunchest supporters has been pedigree analyst and turf writer Ellen Parker, creator of the Reines-de-Course (“Queens of the Turf”) series of influential mares.  To Parker, the ongoing weakening of Round Table’s contributions to pedigrees further deprives the breed of much needed soundness and stamina in a world gone mad with unsound inbreeding.

Round Table entered her world as a child in Ohio as she cajoled her parents into taking her to Arlington Park to see him run after reading about the horse in an issue of Turf & Sport Digest.  It was an instant love affair that has endured to this day, almost 60 years later.

Over the years she wrote an unpublished book after interviewing all of Round Table’s connections, from Doctor John Peters in California to the Kerr family in Oklahoma.

She allows that the time it would take to update it at this point is the main reason it remains unpublished.

Although Parker spent most of her adult life in California before moving to Kentucky 12 years ago, there were trips to Claiborne for the sole purpose of visiting Round Table in both his stud and retirement years.

The majority of his pensioned years were spent in a paddock that was in effect (the late) Clay Hancock’s backyard, and when he couldn’t chew as well as he did in younger days Hancock would puree his carrots and bring them to him.

Parker remembers visiting Round Table for his 30th birthday, bringing him a soft carrot cake that she had specially ordered from a Lexington supermarket.

She remembers a trip when Clay Hancock had arranged for Frances Griffin to make a video as a memento of the visit.  Griffin was the wife of trainer Mike Griffin, who handled the ill-fated Swale when trainer Woody Stephens was ill.

And she remembers that early morning phone call in 1987 from a Claiborne staff member telling her that the end of Round Table’s life had come that morning.

As a pedigree analyst, Parker has suggested crosses that include Round Table to clients whose mares would appear to benefit from the line. She has extolled his virtues for the past 23 years in her newsletter, Pedlines, pointing out crosses that work such as a same-generation Round Table-Hail to Reason nexus or a Round Table/Affirmed/Nijinsky II nexus that produced Seattle Slew and Flawlessly respectively, and seemed almost magical.  In so doing, she continues to honor a promise made to the late Leon Rasmussen who, when she called and told him that Round Table was gone, exclaimed, “Don’t let them forget him!”

But as she watches the Thoroughbred gene pool continue to narrow as commercial sires dominate and permeate the breed she bemoans the loss of sound lines, including Round Table, whose influence fades more with each passing generation.  When good ones with lines and crosses of either Round Table himself or a female line from Knight’s Daughter other than Monarchy, they are frequently sent either to foreign locations or lost in regional U. S. A. niches.

On April 6 of most years, Parker makes a trip to the quiet of the Claiborne graveyard to place a flower arrangement–appropriately in Claiborne’s yellow colors–on Round Table’s grave, sometimes quietly apologizing to him for what seemed to be the fading of his influence.  More recently she has been ‘talking’ to him about the great hope of Gunpowder Farm and their acquisition of his great grandson K One King and the fine mares they acquired for him, many at her suggestion.

And there are the wondrous horses inbred to him like Wise Dan and Tepin, Cirrus Des Aigles (FR) and Get Stormy and most of all Dandino (GB).  Wise Dan and Cirrus des Aigles are geldings but Get Stormy and Dandino are not.  Further, inbreeding to Round Table himself and/or his sister Monarchy is still very much in play in ‘Oz’.

But the blows to the line are frequent – horses like During, Minardi, Toby’s Corner and Midnight Interlude which could have added to the mix, not to mention millionaire Concerto kept falling off the grid.  Saddest of all, perhaps, was a 2011 email from friend and client Diane Becker.  Becker  lived in Long Beach, California and had, at Ellen’s behest, purchased an unraced mare named Reine de Vent (aka “Nicky”) from a former client in Florida.

The mare was a dead-on fit for Florida sire Concerto, paternal grandsire of Toby’s Corner.  The idea was to match Round Table with a Monarchy double.

Coincidentally, it was a mirror image of the Toby’s Corner match.

Becker noted that the filly had been foaled that Wednesday, auspiciously on April 6 and in honor of her birth date, she was named Daughter of Time.  Oh, how the dreams followed this miss!   But the door slammed suddenly and sadly when the filly was found dead in her paddock, presumably of colic.  Both Becker and Parker were inconsolable and it was several years before Becker could bring herself to breed the mare again.  By then Concerto had been sold off to Panama of all places.

In 2015 Becker relocated all her horses from the east coast to California so she could be closer to them, giving her the opportunity not only to supervise but to enjoy them in person.  Then last year, she decided to try breeding “Nicky” once more.

This spring the mare foaled a bay colt by Giacomo who has earned the nickname ‘Slick’ on the farm, but the mare had enough trouble during his delivery that she had to be transported to a clinic to recover from the birth, so he will likely be her last offspring.  Still, Reine de Vent, who is 3 x 3 Round Table/Monarchy has one other opportunity to advance her family line (which is the same as G1 winner Cherry Mix [FR]) and that is via Stormingthecastle, her 2009 filly by the late Mr. Livingston.

Stormingthecastle did not win but there are legitimate questions about how she was handled.  As Princess Zahra Aga Khan noted, families can lie fallow for a time and then come back to life all of a sudden when the breed seems to need them most.  Thus while commercial breeders might not want a foal with the first two dams unraced, Stormingthecastle just might be worth rolling the dice.  Becker is considering breeding her in 2017 as this article is being written.

And Parker is considering who might be the best candidate in order than April 6 might come to life once again.