St. Astra

Celestial Roots

Our latest Reine-de-Course, St. Astra, is tail-female to the great foundation mare Maid of Masham, responsible also for Reine-de-Course Fairy Gold.  By double classic winner Ladas (Two Thousand Guineas and Epsom Derby), a son of Hampton from the grand Illuminata, St. Astra was produced by Saint Celestra, a half sister to *Star Shoot, sire of the very first American Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton.

St. Astra thus had what is known in breeding circles as a ‘no apologies’ pedigree and she was no paper horse, for she took her heritage out for a spin and won a classic – the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) with it.  Obviously well-named, this lady was bred to shine from the start.


*Star Shoot’s connection to St. Astra is impossible to ignore.  Bred by Major Eustace Loder at his Eyrefield Stud, *Star Shoot was a good but not superior runner, in large part due to a wind affliction, which caused him to be sold to America.  After inhabiting several lesser bluegrass farms, *Star Shoot ended up at Hamburg Place where he became a five-time leading American sire.  For Hamburg alone he got more than 34 added-money winners, one of which was the above-mentioned Sir Barton.  Another of his best runners was the grand racehorse Grey Lag.

Today, one finds the names of Sir Barton and *Star Shoot emblazoned on street signs in and around the Hamburg Shopping Center in Lexington, Ky., since the land was sold off and the graves of the great horses moved.  To see photographs of some of the legendary Madden-owned and bred horses on the way to the restrooms in the grocery store seems a less-than-dignified way to remember these wonderful horses.  One cannot help but find it both terribly sad and terribly sobering at the same time.

The Record Stands

Yet whatever modern times – and greed – have done to the Hamburg legacy is inconsequential compared to what the horses themselves left behind.  Or as Madden supposedly once said, “Opinions die.  It is only the records that stand.”

And what a record *Star Shoot’s little ‘cousin’ St. Astra made!  She is the fifth dam of Prince Chevalier, the eighth of Black Tie Affair (IRE), the ninth of Lit De Justice and the tenth of Gourmet Girl.  But perhaps it is a grandson, produced by her daughter Astrella, which made the richest contribution.  This was the great Asterus.

A French Flavor

Although St. Astra’s family would eventually make an impact on such faraway places as California, it first would first take a turn toward France, where her dam, Saint Celestra ended up.  Once Saint Celestra established herself as the dam of a classic winner in St. Astra, the family flourished.

Bred to Poule D’Essai Des Poulains (French Two Thousand Guineas) winner Verdun, St. Astra produced the unraced filly Astrella.  The mating was a good one, introducing another strain of Pocahontas (1837) via Rataplan, for a total of four (Stockwell x2/King Tom/Rataplan), a third strain of Queen Mary for a treble of that matron via Blinkhoolie/Haricot/Blink Bonny, and a third cross of Martha Lynn for a treble of that prolific family (Voltigeur x2/Volley).

When Astrella in turn was bred to Teddy to get Asterus, this match added a daughter strain of Pocahontas via Araucaria, another of Stockwell, a cross of St. Simon’s full sister Angelica to Rabelais, and doubled Ellen Horne via Rouge Rose/Paradigm.  Thus is the formula for a classic winner.

Asterus was foaled in France in 1923.  He was a marvelous runner, winning the Champion Stakes at Newmarket; the Poule D’Essai Des Poulains (French Two Thousand Guineas), and Prix Greffulhe at Longchamps and the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot.

Marcel Boussac stood Asterus and he made an enormous impact on that great breeder’s stud, where he became one of the most influential broodmare sires in the history of France, leading that list for six years in a row, from 1943-1948.  (He sired *La Troienne’s three-quarter sister Adargatis, winner of the French Oaks and a Reine-de-Course).

Some of his daughters’ best produce were champion filly Esmeralda, winner of the French One Thousand Guineas; Adargatis’ son Ardan, winner of the French Derby and Arc, champion two-year-old *Priam II; and Arbar, an Ascot Gold Cup winner who appears in the pedigree of horses like Daylami and Dalakhani.

Wrote Abram Hewitt in Great Breeders and Their Methods, “Asterus was a horse with a good turn of speed, had been a high-class two-year-old and had a distance limitation of ten furlongs.  He was a good-looking individual and had an impeccable pedigree, so once his racing class was known, expectations were high for his success at stud and his performance as a stallion was in line with those expectations. “It seems probable that his exceptional record as a broodmare sire was due in large measure to the quality of the younger Boussac stallions, to which Asterus’s daughters were bred.”

In addition to his record as a broodmare sire, Asterus had a decent sire son in Abjer, who sired Caravelle, winner of the French One Thousand Guineas, the French Oaks, and the Grand Criterium.  Abjer also got Fair Dolly, who won the Prix De Malleret.

Today, we find Abjer in the pedigrees of some very good European horses who have Boussac origins like Sunbittern, dam of Park Hill Stakes winner and Irish Oaks second High Hawk.  High Hawk had two major winners by Sadler’s Wells – Hunting Hawk, winner of the Group 2 Prix Greffulhe and placed in the French Derby, and his full brother, Breeders’ Cup Turf winner In The Wings, sire of Singspiel.

Abjer also appears in the pedigree of the incomparable Dahlia as the sire of her second dam, Adorada II.  Dahlia, of course, was tail-female to Frizette, whose line Boussac acquired from Herman Duryea’s widow.

Prince Chevalier

The line from St. Astra to Prince Chevalier took a different course than the line to Asterus. Bred to Gran Criterium and Prix Lupin winner Le Sagittaire, a Herod-line horse, St. Astra produced Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French One Thousand Guineas) winner Diavolezza.  To this day, Diavolezza’s is the strongest branch of St. Astra, and we will return to her in a moment, but for now the subject is Prince Chevalier, who was bred by R. de Beauregard.

By the time Prince Chevalier came along and won the French Derby, the family had fallen from grace.  His dam was a winner but did not earn any black type.  She did, however, produce a nice filly named Legende by Blandford-line Pampeiro who in turn produced the Jockey Club Stakes winner Mister Cube by Hyperion.

Second dam Kassala produced Prince Chevalier’s three-quarter brother Pappageno II, a stakes winner and decent sire.  His most notable offspring was the good sprinter Pappa Fourway, who in turn got Jo Lar Tay, third dam of classic-placed stakes winner Blumin Affair.

As to Prince Chevalier’s overall impact, though he is ranked the same as Prince Bio (Classic) as a Chef-de-Race, we always thought of him as a source of more stamina.  He is perhaps best known to Americans as the sire of Doutelle, he paternal grandsire of Canonero II.  But Canadian champion Comet Shine, current runner Maid’s Causeway and Queen Elizabeth II’s Oaks winner Dunfermline all carry lines of him.

Abram Hewitt was known to be not particularly fond of Prince Rose in general and was usually rather harsh in his assessment of his best sons.  He wrote of Prince Chevalier:

“Although he had shown good racing form and consistency, Prince Chevalier left something to be desired in the matter of pedigree.  Still, his dam had better bloodlines than did the dams of *Princequillo and Prince Bio, the two other sons of Prince Rose which largely were responsible for making the line fashionable and successful.”

It was not a bad idea that Hewitt went on to hedge his critique a bit, softening his criticsm of the line in general.  When Prince Rose was bred back to this branch of St. Astra years later, the product was Theodora, ancestress of the good runner and sire Soviet Star.  It was also this branch which got Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Lit De Justice and champion Gourmet Girl.  So the promise was there all along.

The Hollybrook Contribution

Taking a closer look at the relationship between Lit De Justice and Gourmet Girl is worthwhile.  One can only hope they one day meet in a pedigree!

The pair shares an obvious Northern Dancer-Hollybrook cross, but they also have more in common:  Both have *La Troienne blood (Businesslike and Baby League in Lit De Justice, Big Event in Gourmet Girl).  And while Lit De Justice has multiple lines of Mumtaz Mahal, Gourmet Girl has more of her half sister, Lady Juror.

The Unique Comely

There are any number of fascinating horses under St. Astra, but perhaps the one with the most interesting pedigree is the mare Comely, a 1966 daughter of Boran-Princesse Comnene by Beau Prince II.  Comely’s seventh dam was St. Astra.  But that was hardly the whole story.

Comely is linebred x3 to St. Astra via three lines of her daughter Diavolezza (Celerina/Farizade x2).  In other words, Comely herself, her sire and her broodmare sire’s sire (Prince Chevalier) all are tail-female to St. Astra.

Comely is so fascinating because she is the dam of Pharly (FR) and Melyno (IRE).  Pharly is the broodmare sire of Jade Hunter, sire of the multiple champion and Horse of the Year Azeri and graded stakes winner Midway Road.  Melyno is the broodmare sire of champion Jewel Princess.

Other Major Contributions

It would be unfair to Astrology to not give at least brief mention to St.Astra’s half sister, L’Etoile, a full sister to *Star Shoot.  Today, L’Etoile’s line comes down to us via the winning Fleet Nasrullah mare Forest Princess.

Among her most important descendents are champion and Breeders’ Cup winner Caressing, the late Sea Cadet (G2 stakes winner, G1 placed), G2 placed On Target and Excetera, G3 winner Willowy Mood, and other stakes winners Chillon, Transgogo, and Paper Princess.  Much of this family was developed by the late Verne Winchell, and as his heirs continue in the business, expect to hear more from this line.

The California Connection

Just as Astrology’s family found its way to France to plant its classic roots, it then had a major impact on the U. S., much of it in California.  The above-mentioned Verne Winchell horses nearly all ran in California and other major winners from the clan like Flying Pidgeon (Hollywood Gold Cup), The Very One (G1 Santa Barbara Handicap), the above-mentioned Gourmet Girl and Lit De Justice (the latter now stands in Calif. at Magali Farms near Santa Ynez), G1 San Fernando winner Right Con and Eddie Read and San Juan Capistrano (G1) winner Fly Till Dawn all ran on the left coast.

The Stongest Branch

As previously mentioned, it is the Diavolezza (FR) branch of St. Astra which is the strongest.  This classic winner’s descendents include graded stakes winners in France, Japan, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, and the U. S.  The majority of her major runners (see chart) have already been discussed, the lone exception being American Horse of the Year Black Tie Affair (IRE).

This grey son of Miswaki was a tough customer, running 45 times and earning over $3.3 million.  Born in Ireland, he ran entirely in the U. S. and started his stud career here.  He was sold to Japan and stood there briefly before being returned to the U. S. to stand at Blue Ridge Farm near Upperville, Va.  In 2004 he was moved to O’Sullivan Farms in West Virginia.

Given the number of times he has been moved around, Black Tie Affair has not done badly with more than 35 stakes winners to his credit, including millionaires Evening Attire, Formal Gold, and License Fee.  He is also the broodmare sire of the good current runner Nightmare Affair and his daughters’ produce are starting to stand out at the sales.

A Most Cosmopolitan Pedigree

Astrology and St. Astra are obviously not products of one country or culture.  They are “du monde” (of the world), for St. Astra’s is a most cultured lineage.

She descended in tail-male from a line of classic winners and cup horses, mostly stamia types, from her sire Ladas (Derby) to his sire Hampton (Goodwood and Doncaster Cups)-Lord Clifden (St. Leger)-Newminster (St. Leger)-Touchstone (St. Leger).   Her tail-female line was, of course, the incomparable Maid of Masham, winner of the Great Yorkshire Stakes and ancestress of such great branches and sub-branches of horses as Reine Fairy Gold and The Apple (whose branches include Reines-de-Course Nellie Flag and Bourtai).

Perhaps what stands out most in the pedigree of St. Astra is her lack of a most important name – that something being the best sire of her time, St. Simon.  There is a cross of his sire, Galopin, via her broodmare sire St. Angelo, and even this line has an asterisk, for this St. James Palace Stakes winner is listed as by either Galopin or Clairvaux.  In any event, her lack of St. Simon made her particularly well-suited for him, as in the case of Prince Chevalier by Prince Rose-Rose Prince-Prince Palatine-Persimmon-St. Simon.

One other thing about the pedigree of St. Astra that stands out is her link to a modern mare who got her start in France and that, of course, is Frizette.  St. Astra was inbred to Lady Moore Carew via half siblings Mendicant and Gameboy. Mendicant is the sixth dam of Frizette and Frizette was, of course, by Hamburg, John Madden’s first good Thoroughbred.  It was the sale of Hamburg which made possible the purchase and naming of Madden’s Hamburg Place.  And so the story comes full circle.

And The New Reines Are

Our new Reines-de-Course are Astrology, St. Astra, Diavolezza, Aziyade, and Theodora.  There are arguably some other mares who belong, but for now we feel these are the highlights.

There are a great many ways to use this family for inbreeding.  Take a look at Lit De Justice with Jewel Princess or Azeri, or Black Tie Affair with Gourmet Girl.  These are lovely matches to a tough old family that has produced a wide variety of inbreeding material.  Even when a horse is not a leading sire (Pharly, Melyno, Fly Till Dawn, etc.) he still manages to get his name in the pedigree of some very influential horses.  This makes inbreeding to the line a bit easier.  Would that this be the case with all fine female lines.

Family 9-F