Scapa Flow

When a great broodmare produces an immortal sire, she is enshrined for all time in the memory-books of pedigree researchers.  When such a mare produces several great sires – Plucky Liege for example – she becomes a treasure.

While Plucky Liege is in fact a non-parallel, another such mare exists who, while being bred almost monogamously to Phalaris, foaled two sires of such quality that she is deserving of mention on anyone’s top ten list of all-time great broodmares.  Named Scapa Flow, this 1914 daughter of Chaucer-Anchora reflected a variety of factors that also make her an interesting mare to study.

For starters Lord Derby’s trainer, the Hon. George Lambton, who was instrumental in so many wise bloodstock decisions, went to Derby in the early 1900’s and informed him that his stock was becoming too delicate, that he should consider purchasing some stouter blood to cross with his existing bloodlines.  Derby gave Lambton the go-ahead and he found the perfect mare in a commonly-bred stayer named Anchora.

The daughter of Love Wisely was purchased as a seven-year-old in 1912 for 1300 guineas, and her constitution was just what Lambton had in mind.  Explained the trainer to writer/researcher Abram S. Hewitt,  “All courses up to 12 furlongs came alike to her and all sorts of going from rock hard to fetlock deep seemed equally agreeable.  While she had been in training six seasons and had started 51 times, she still looked fresh, strong and well.”

Lambton added that he had observed her sire suffering the most extreme preparation as a three-year-old for the 2 1/2 mi. Ascot Gold Cup and thereafter thought of him as a source of exceptional toughness and soundness regardless of pedigree.  Now only the question of how Anchora would influence the Derby stud remained to be seen.

In her first season, she delivered her worth when a mating to Chaucer netted the stocky, short-legged filly who would race as Scapa Flow.  Scapa Flow began slowly, and while her demeanor was good she did not come to hand until late in her three-year-old year.

Actually run in claiming races twice, the filly broke her maiden at 12 furlongs and looked as though she had inherited her dam’s late-maturing quality.  However, Lord Derby had no intention of allowing whatever racing ability she may have possessed to interfere with her stud career, and just when it seemed that Scapa Flow was about to realize her potential as a racehorse, he retired her and bred her to John O’Gaunt in 1918.  The result of that first mating was a colt (later gelded) named Spithead who had soundness problems but who nevertheless became a good stayer, winning among other races the Chester Cup.

For Scapa Flow’s next mating (and for most of of her future matings) the choice was Phalaris.  As an outstanding sprinter, doubts abounded about the staying properties of Phalaris’ get.  Nevertheless, Derby proceeded to breed and re-breed Scapa Flow to the horse, owing to several of his beliefs and theories.

Derby believed in inbreeding, but only to the best.  For such crosses only the most outstanding individuals were chosen.  In Makers Of The Modern Thoroughbred, Peter Willett also wrote of Derby’s pedigree decisions, “His theory was drawn from the scientific fact of the genetic variability of the Thoroughbred which means that the potentially most favorable results of any given mating may not be realized in either the first or the second offspring of it.  Derby was convinced that a well-thought-out mating must be put into practice at least three times in order to give it a fair chance of success.”

As it turned out, Derby bred not one but three outstanding individuals from the Phalaris-Scapa Flow matings:  Champion Stakes winner and Derby second Pharos, a leading sire; champion and St. Leger winner Fairway, also a leading sire; and champion and One Thousand Guineas winner Fair Isle.  Of special interest is that each of the individuals were different physically.

Pharos was a compact, medium sized colt of very tough constitution, and somewhat back at the knees.  His best distance was 10 furlongs, but he showed no lack of staying power when running a length second to Papyrus in the Derby.  As a stallion his best son, Nearco, ensured his immortality, although all his stock were known for courage and soundness.

Fairway was often described as a true stayer of genuine class, on the nervous side and of lighter frame and constitution than his full sibling.  His stride was effortless and graceful.  Unfortunately, Fairway’s lack of constitution may have cost him as the founder of a sire line.  Though an outstanding sire in his own right, only his son Fair Trial was truly able to establish a line of his own and several major sons like Blue Peter and Watling Street were less than cracks at stud.  Today, the line exists in Europe through Petition and Great Nephew and several successful branches are also extant in South America through Blue Peter and Petingo while Australia/New Zealand favors the Court Martial strain.

In the U. S., Lord At War (a Fair Trial descendent) and Island Whirl (a Blue Peter descendent) both were/are truly fine sires, but neither has ever been very commercial and their tail-male lines hang by a thread in the U. S.  This is particularly tragic in the case of Island Whirl, who also carries a cross of Fair Isle.  What madness it would be if the fate of the best sister to Pharos and Fairway were tossed away simply because the horse who carried her blood was not considered popular!  After all, those who do not appreciate such worth are doomed to lose it.

Pharos and Fairway’s full sister, Fair Isle, was foaled in 1927.  On the light side like Fairway, she did not stand training very long, but nevertheless was champion at both two and three from just 10 career starts.  Although she was considered a failure as a broodmare, her line lives on.  Today, such champions and major winners as Stagecraft, Color Spin, Opera House and Sandford Lad all call Scapa Flow their taproot dam thanks to Fair Isle.

Scapa Flow’s other filly, also by Phalaris, was born the year after Fair Isle and was called Fara.  Showing none of her full siblings’ talent, Fara was just stakes placed, though she resembled her dam as much or more than any of her foals.  Her best racing offspring was the colt Umballa by Umidwar, later a successful sire in Argentina.  Today Fara’s branch of the family is extant in South America, England and even in part of this country.  The branches are so-far flung that they have accounted for such diverse winners as an Argentine champion, a Group winner in England and several Arkansas Derby winners.

There is little doubt that it is Fair Isle, however, rather than Fara which is keeping Scapa Flow’s female family alive.  That Opera House (1988) and Stagecraft (1987) are of such recent vintage bodes well for the sire future of the family while such good mares as Hyabella (1988), a listed stakes winner by Shirley Heights and a half sister to Stagecraft as well as Torch Rouge (1991), a Group 2 winner who is also stakes placed in the U.S., define the family’s female-line future.

Whenever a great sire-producing mare comes along, one has to wonder at the source of that sex bias and with Scapa Flow, as we saw with Plucky Liege, inbreeding to the great sire-source mare Pocahontas (1837) could well be one explanation.  Scapa Flow carried four crosses of Pocahontas 5 x 6 x 6 x 6 through a double of Stockwell and one cross each of King Tom and Rataplan.  Now what did Phalaris add?

Only nine more Pocahontas crosses!  Thus, the overall pattern in Fairway/Pharos/Fair Isle, etc. was a remarkable thirteen crosses of Pocahontas.

Naturally, Fairway and Pharos had more inbreeding than Pocahontas – and the majority of other inbreeding was also sire-oriented.  For example, a 4 x 3 cross of St. Simon (by Galopin), sex-balanced son Chaucer to daughter Cheery is found along with a third cross of Galopin through his daughter Rattlewings, thus sex-balancing Galopin as well.  Galopin was the leading sire until his great son St. Simon came along, so sire blood indeed abounded in the veins of these two top sires.  There are also multiples of leading sire Newmister through varied crosses.  Though the Hermit branch of Newmister is nearly extinct; the Hampton branch is reliable enough to have given us Hyperion and Son-In-Law, ancestors of *Forli and *Grey Dawn II respectively, to name only a few.

Today, inbreeding to Scapa Flow is going on all the time.  But it is largely done through Nearco/Nearco matings.  While he does have a Nearco double, champion Opera House has a lovely pedigree in that he traces top and bottom to Scapa Flow.  His inbreeding to her is 6 x 7 x 8.  What would be truly interesting is to breed such a horse to an animal who has Fairway doubled and build the Scapa Flow blood to intensify it.  Because Opera House is a European, just such a cross is possible.

In addition to her Phalaris children and Spithead, Scapa Flow was bred to the failed sire Torloisk and producing the useful horse Pentland and to Coronach to produce the colt Highlander. Highlander was thought at the time to be not only Scapa Flow’s best looking but most promising offspring. Unfortunately, temperament problems led to his being gelded so we shall never know if Scapa Flow could have produced a major sire by a horse other than Phalaris, because her only good sons at stud were full siblings.

In 1929, Scapa Flow foaled another Phalaris colt named St. Andrews, skipped a year and in 1931 foaled Pharillon, also by Phalaris.  Neither were of much use at the racetrack or as sires. She was bred the following season but did not get in foal and died soon after.  At the time, her three successful offspring had won enough money to set a record that stood for many seasons.

It is always a great pleasure to add a mare as important as Scapa Flow to the Reine-de-Course list.  The pleasure is magnified when we discover that these old lines have thriving female branches living on today to add to their glory.

With respect for the past, and with great hope for the future, we add Scapa Flow and her descendents Hill Queen and Blue Queen to the Reine-de-Course list.  What a joy it would be to discover that Opera House or Stagecraft might become the next Pharos or Fairway!

Family 13-E