Today, we add a legend to the list of Reines-de-Course. A legend who did not begin her career as a broodmare with a flourish, but whose blood greatly enriches the breed today. We speak, of course, of the mighty – the one and only – Sceptre.
The Agnes Family
There is some question among pedigree enthusiasts which foundation matron had the most overall influence on the stud book. But few would argue the merits of the grand mare Agnes.
“Wrong in the wind”, and thus a very poor racehorse, Agnes retired to found a dynasty that included not only Sceptre but great producers like Plucky Liege, Friar’s Daughter, Bel Agnes, Primonetta, and Santorin; as well as fine runners like Holy Bull, Relko, and *Noor to merely scratch the surface. Further, the family is still newsworthy. Top 2000 runners Red Bullet and Country Garden are Agnes (Sceptre) descendents, as is Broodmare of the Year Anne Campbell.
The branch of Agnes from which Sceptre descends is Miss Agnes. Her owner, Sir Tatton Sykes, bred Miss Agnes’s daughter Polly Agnes, who was so tiny and unprepossessing she was given to her groom.
Polly Agnes won a race or two and then produced an even better runner in Lily Agnes, by Macaroni. Lily Agnes was a big, rangy filly and a tough one to boot. She won 21 races and had immense stamina.
When Lily Agnes went to stud, she was bred to Doncaster at the Duke of Westminster’s stud. She was later purchased by the Duke and when bred to Bend Or in 1886 produced the filly Ornament, a full sister to Triple Crown winner Ormonde.
At the races, however, Ornament was no Ormonde. She ran only once and was beaten. Nevertheless, as a full sister to a Triple Crown winner, Ornament was a tremendously valuable broodmare. Her first few foals showed promise, but it was not until she was bred to Derby winner Persimmon that she foaled her crown jewel. Sadly, the Duke of Westminster did not live to see Sceptre compete.
Instead Sceptre was dispersed along with the totality of the Duke’s Thoroughbreds. And though the Duke’s heir, the next Duke of Westminster, intended to buy Sceptre, he found himself outbid by a Damon Runyonesque character named Robert S. Sievier, who purchased the charming filly for 10,000 guineas – a record at the time. Had she been purchased by a publicity seeking buffoon or a man who merely knew his mind? As history will show, Mr. Sievers proved a bit of each.
Prior to her first start, Sceptre had demonstrated a remarkable resiliency which would stand her in good stead throughout her remarkable career. Like modern runner Seattle Slew, who carried two lines of her, three more of Orme and one of her half sister Brooch, Sceptre liked – and required – a good deal of work.
Sceptre ran three times at two, winning the first two – the Woodcote and July Stakes, and running third in the Champagne. There seemed to be no real explanation for her defeat, but she wisely was not tried again until her classic season.
Oddly enough, at this point Sceptre’s owner decided to train her himself. He might well have been right in his intentions despite his lack of experience for accounts of the beginning of Sceptre’s three-year-old year show a severe disgreeement between Sievier and his assistant and once the man was fired, Sceptre began to improve.
Because she was not up to par due to the feuding humans in her background, Sceptre lost her first start at three, but barely. She then began to improve and was pointed for both the One Thousand and Two Thousand Guineas, an ambitious idea indeed, since most fillies do not try colts in the latter.
But Sceptre won them both, and stylishly, taking the Two Thousand by two lengths, the One Thousand in hand. With two classics already in her resume, Siever then tried her at 12 furlongs in the Derby, but she could run only fourth.
Various excuses, including a bad ride, were given for Sceptre’s defeat in the Derby, but one has to wonder in retrospect if such a task would have been asked of her by a more experienced trainer. More likely, Sceptre’s Derby defeat is simply “the one that got away” and the thought that she should have won it simply adds to the legend -for if she had, Sceptre would have taken all five English classics, a remarkable accomplishment.
But there was no real shame in the loss, and she was certainly none the worse for wear, as just two days later, she won the Oaks. Later in the year, she added the marathon St. Leger. No horse since her has won four English classics, and it is unlikely that any ever will.
Having conquered England, Sceptre was sent to Paris for the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamps, which she lost. Returning to England, she lost again in the Coronation Stakes at Ascot, while giving huge weight concessions to her rivals. But once more she proved her toughness, for the day after the Coronation Cup she came right back and won the St. James Palace Stakes.
That particular race again brought up her Derby defeat. She had after all beaten Derby winner Ard Patrick in the Two Thousand Guineas and now she had beaten the Derby second, Rising Glass, in the St. James Palace.
Sceptre also showed that she liked her races rather close together, and tended to need the warm-up event to run her best when she first lost the Sussex Stakes, six weeks after the St. James Palace, but came back two days later and won the Nassau. It seemed the filly reacted best when conditions would be against an ordinary horse, while when well-rested, she sometimes lost.
Of course it is also possible that since her owner was not really a trainer, he therefore did not have her fit enough after a break, and so she literally had to race herself into condition. It is certainly a feather in the cap of this great filly that she was tough enough to withstand such a regimen, for a more delicate model would surely have fallen apart under such a grueling program.
Still and all, Sceptre was said to have been trained half to death for the St. Leger, appearing gaunt and poor in the saddling enclosure. She won her Ledger, but lost the Park Hill Stakes, the filly equivalent. In all likelihood, the uneven training methods, the rigorous classic schedule and the travel to France had quite simply taken their toll. She was thus sent to winter quarters, winner of half of her 12 starts, and with a reputation that has not dimmed in a century’s time.
Better At Four?
Despite her glorious classic triumphs, Sceptre just might have been an even better racehorse at four. But a change in handling can make this only speculation.
In her first start, the Linconshire Handicap, Sceptre was asked to concede huge amounts of weight, and it being her first race of the season, was not up to the task, finishing an uncharacteristic fifth. Unbeknownst to the handsome filly, she had just assured herself a new home, for her gambling-prone owner had pretty well tapped himself out with various bets, the latest of which had been on Sceptre herself.
She was thus sold forthwith to Sr. William Bass for 25,000 pounds and was sent to his trainer Alec Taylor.
Sceptre was given a break and when she ran again, she looked and ran wonderfully, winning the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot in a common canter. A month later, she would face her sternest task in the Eclipse Stakes, there facing her old rival Ard Patrick and the marvelous Rock Sand, who would own a Triple Crown before the season was finished.
Sceptre handled the future Triple Crown winner, but game as she was, she could not quite handle the big stallion Ard Patrick in the head-to-head run up the hill. The task proved a neck beyond her, and unfortunately Ard Patrick was soon retired and the pair never had another chance to meet.
But if she could not even things up with her nemesis, there was still much satisfaction to be had. Much of it was attained when she handed Rock Sand a second whipping in the Jockey Club Stakes – by a handy four lengths. If the Derby had been the nadir of Sceptre’s career, then certainly this was the zenith.
To finish out the year, Sceptre won three more events, the Duke of York Handicap (in which she defeated Reine-de-Course Our Lassie, ancestress of Mill Reef and Blushing Groom), and the Champion and Limekiln Stakes. But these were anticlimactic after the Jockey Club Stakes.
Nevertheless, the Duke of York win showed that Sceptre was not just a winner when much the best, but that she had that true championship quality that can only be described as grit and heart. That day, she overcame a change of shoes, a deep track, several traffic problems and a stubborn challenge in the final yards where she looked surely beaten, only to reach deep and find the needed answer. It was not her most famous victory, but it underscored her immaculate courage.
Sceptre returned at five, but the bright fire that characterized her best races seemed to have burned itself out. Nonetheless, she ran well enough, running second in the Coronation Cup and third in the Ascot Cup and Hardwick Stakes. While Rock Sand beat her in the Hardwick, she was but a shell of her former self, and where history is concerned, she remains his superior.
Once retired, Sceptre began to exhibit a fair share of whimsey in her selection of food, demanding various mixes of feed to be placed in various containers at different times. She was a champion and would have her ways. Which merely adds to her mystique.
For Sale – Again, And Once Again
Given Sceptre’s history and great racing career, much was expected of her at stud. When she did not immediately produce a great racehorse, or two or three, she became a bit more dispensable, at least to those impatient souls who could not wait for her daughters to prove themselves.
Sceptre first came up for sale in July of 1911. Sir William Bass had earlier been forced to disperse his stock and three of her daughters were sold at that time to various parts of the world.
The hammer fell at 7,000 guineas with Messrs. Tattersall the buyers. It was later revealed that Sceptre was owned in partnership by Mr. Rupert Tattersall and Mr. Somerville.
Tattersall himself sold the great mare again in 1914 to Mr. John Musker, who dispersed his stud in 1917. Sceptre was then sold to Lord Glaney, who later sold her to the Brazilian sportsman F. J. Lundgren.
At this, a great chorus of disapproval was voiced around the English turf, for Sceptre had such a following that it was firmly believed that she should never be allowed to leave her native land, especially at the advanced age of 24. Eventually, bowing to pressure, the sale to Lundren was nullified and Sceptre stayed at home, living three more years until 1926.
A Name Not Lost, But Glorified
Today, we discover that although Sceptre did not produce any foals that were remotely her equal, there are several good branches of her family still going strong and a great many major runners who are inbred to her.
By far her strongest daughter branch is Maid of the Mist, who is responsible for recent American classic winner Red Bullet and top-class grass mare Country Garden.
This branch is also responsible for the easiest three-way cross to Sceptre linebreeding via the closely related Craig An Eran, St. Germans and Buchan (more on that in a moment).
The second strongest daughter branch of Sceptre is Coronation, which is responsible for the excellent broodmare Relance II, dam of Match II, Relko and Reliance.
Two other branches are about equal: Queen Carbine is responsible for the good sire Petition and Queen Empress gave us Citation’s great rival *Noor and Coronation Cup winner Zucchero.
Finally, there is Curia’s branch, from which descends the good runners Bolshoi Boy, Coup de Fusil and Poker Night.
Because Sceptre was foaled in 1899, it is virtually impossible to inbreed to her closely, but it is not at all difficult to linebreed to her via a variety of excellent horses who already carry multiple Sceptre lines. Chief among these are Hail to Reason (4 x 4 Craig An Eran/St. Germans); Tom Rolfe (5 x 4 x 6 Buchan); Run The Gantlet (6 x 5 x 7 x 6 x 6 to Buchan x2/Craig An Eran/St. Germans) Smarten (5 x 5 Craig An Eran).
Other recent runners, producers and sires who carry similar crosses and/or use some of the above blood are Dance Smartly (Craig An Eran x2/Petition); the great broodmare Tree of Knowledge (Skyrocket/Craig An Eran/St. Germans); Bluemamba (Buchan x3/St. Germans x2/Craig An Eran); General Challenge (Buchan x2/Craig An Eran x3/St. Germans); and Red Bullet (dam x3 to Sceptre via Craig An Eran/Buchan/Maid of the Mist).
The Best Possible Cross?
One cannot discuss Sceptre without discussing her close relationship to Orme. Sceptre is out of Ornament; Orme is by Ornament’s full brother Ormonde (Bend Or-Lily Agnes). Sceptre is by St. Simon’s son Persimmon; Orme is out of St. Simon’s full sister Angelica.
One of the best sources of Orme blood is Gold Bridge, who is 3 x 3 Orby (by Orme). Find Gold Bridge in Rough Shod II (ancestress of Nureyev, Sadler’s Wells, etc.) and Feale Bridge (third dam of Kris S.)
Then note that Kris S. is by a Hail to Reason son (Roberto) and you automatically see that Kris S. is Sceptre x2/Orme x2. No wonder he is such a good sire!
The same applies to Theatrical who is by Nureyev, out of Tree of Knowledge – and thus Orme x2/Sceptre x3. There are other examples, but these two stand out.
The Bottom Line
Thus the bottom line with Sceptre is that she is a huge influence for linebreeding and a major influence when crossed back to Orme. We are not stating that there is no other way to use Sceptre’s precious blood, but the quality of the Sceptre/Orme cross most certainly suggests that when Red Bullet goes to stud that Kris S. and Theatrical mares are not a bad idea.
Legends are difficult to put in perspective because times were different when Sceptre ran and racing was more demanding than it is today. Yet Sceptre’s toughness did not dull her brilliance, and linebreeding to such toughness – such classic toughness – can only benefit the breed.
Her pedigree may look strange to today’s pedigree student, but her sire Persimmon, was by the greatest sire of his time, St. Simon, sometimes called “the prototype of the modern Thoroughbred”. It was said of St. Simon that having no faults, he handed none on.
He certainly handled few enough on to Persimmon, who won two-thirds of the Triple Crown (the Derby and St. Leger). Today, the St. Simon blood largely stands for stamina in pedigrees, so the natural match for it would be the speed of Bend Or, broodmare sire of Sceptre. Bend Or was no speed freak, however; he won an Epsom Derby of his own, but speed is his legacy.
Thus, the family legacy is speed which is classic speed, as most recently displayed by Red Bullet. He reminds us that nearly 100 years after Sceptre captured the heart of a nation, she is still running. Long live the queen!
New Reines from Sceptre’s family besides the great mare herself are Maid of the Mist; Hamoaze; Sunny Jane; Mitrailleuse; and Relance.