Wonder

At the moment, we seem to be in a Whitney groove, so why stop now?  Our most recent notable mare with a background in the old H. P. Whitney stud is the Disguise mare Wonder, a 1910 chestnut filly from the Belle Rose family.

A Most Unique And Versatile Family

Most special female lines are versatile, but when it comes to Wonder, the word takes on a whole new meaning.  Why so?  This family contains double Horse of the Year John Henry, excellent two-year-olds Hennessy and Family Style, classic winner Editor’s Note and hard-knockers like John P. Grier, Best by Test, and On the Line.

It has a most definite turf flavor, with not only John Henry but European group winners Splendent, Hold That Tiger and Career Boy.  This is a family that produced a horse brave enough to keep trying Man o’ War (John P. Grier) and a sire whose offspring are better than he was (Hennessy).

Few female lines can claim so broad an influence on so many spheres.

The Beginning

Wonder, a foal of 1910, was bred by James R. Keene and acquired by Harry Payne Whitney’s Brookdale Stud.  Full siblings John P. Grier and Miss Whisk, by Whitney’s Whisk Broom II, were the best and most lasting produce from this auspicious purchase.

John P. Grier was second to Man o’War in the Belmont Futurity and Dwyer Stakes and third in the great horse’s Travers.  Miss Whisk did not win a stake, but she placed in the Gadsden D. Bryan Memorial H.

John P. Grier was not considered a success at stud, but he is far from absent in modern pedigrees.  Indeed, he appears quite often via the mare Marching Home who is present in the pedigree of no less a giant than Seattle Slew.  He is also the sire of Miyako, second dam of Native Dancer, who is just about everywhere via either Raise A Native or Natalma, dam of Northern Dancer.

Miss Whisk, on the other hand, carried the family line forward in tail-female to its present glory. As the family bred on, it showed line after line of Whitney-influenced matings, including sires like Tom Cat and *Mahmoud.  But perhaps the most intriguing of Miss Whisk’s descendents is a mare with the most classic inbreeding.

The Unlikely Blue Hen

There was nothing to indicate that Miss Whisk’s most famous daughter would be the Dis Donc filly Fly Swatter, also bred by Whitney.  Not only did she not win a race, but she ran only three times and was sired by the abject failure Dis Donc, an unsound specimen by the notoriously unsound Sardanapale, whose only true racing contribution to the breed was Top Flight.

Down through Fly Swatter, however, came the Firethorn filly Flyweight, who won the Besty Ross and Debutante Stakes.  Fly Swatter also produced First Flight (by *Mahmoud), a Futurity and Fall Highweight winner from which On The Line and Career Boy descend.

Three Major Crosses

But Flyweight was the one to carry the day.  Via her Count Fleet daughter Flynet, who was a winner, came the Needles mare Needlebug who won one of five starts and from Needlebug came the Tom Cat mare T. C. Kitten.  And T. C. Kitten was pure Whitney blood.

Flynet, who was inbred 3 x 3 to full siblings Sunreigh/Sun Briar, was the first of the three mares to show a superior inbreeding cross.  She was then bred to Derby and Belmont winner Needles.

When Needles was added to the mix, the resultant foal was inbred 4 x 4 to full siblings John P. Grier and Miss Whisk as well as carrying the Sunreigh/Sun Briar cross.  So there were two pairs of full siblings in the same generation in each mare.

Finally, Needlebug’s daughter T. C. Kitten came along.  Her sire, Tom Cat, another Whitney-bred, added another cross of Sun Briar, another of Supremus, a line of Friar Rock to go with Needlebug’s Fair Play and, most importantly, a double of Equipoise, one of H. P. Whitney’s greatest horses.

Equipoise, like Wonder, was from the 8-C family and both descended from the mare Belle Rose.  In the pedigree of T. C. Kitten, she appears via Royal Rose x 2 (sire of Equipoise’s sire Pennant) and via Pink Domino x2, second dam of Wonder.

One of the most fascinating things about studying the patterns of our most successful breeders is to see how inbreeding was layered, generation after generation.  Naturally, not all such crosses produce top horses, but when Nature decrees that all the best be passed on, then the result is a Reine-de-Course.

Of course, even the best of breeders may not know what he has once he gets it.  Whitney, in fact, sold T. C. Kitten in foal to Banquet Table at the 1980 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Tom Gentry bought her.

Two Impressive Colts

Hennessy is all about emphasizing a solid beginning and carrying on.  He was one of the best early G1 winners by Storm Cat that was bred by Overbrook Farm and he is an established sire, with a son already at stud (Johannesburg) who was even more impressive at two than he was himself.

T. C. Young acquired Hennessy’s family line when he purchased his dam, Island Kitty, at the 1982 Keeneland November sale. In foal to Affirmed’s sire Exclusive Native, she was not cheap at $550,000.

Sadly Hennessy, while precocious and fast, was not very sound.  He never made it back to the races at three.

Finishing third in the same Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in which Hennessy ran second (to Unbridled’s Song), came another colt from the family that had happened to arrive the same year and was also owned by Overbrook.  Named Editor’s Note, he was more than just precocious like his equine cousin.

Building on his Breeders’ Cup placing, Editor’s Note went on to become a legitimate classic horse, running 3rd in the Preakness and winning the 1996 Belmont Stakes.  Although a son of the immensely popular sire of sires Forty Niner, his offspring did not come to hand quickly enough to suit the market, and he was sold to Argentina in 2004.

While their dams are half sisters, this pair of colts serves well to illustrate how dominate a speed influence is Storm Cat and how strong a stamina influence Tom Rolfe is in the pedigree of Forty Niner.  Also noteworthy is that Storm Cat himself is from the family of Royal Rose – which we see in Equipoise’s sire Pennant.  So Hennessy is virtually loaded with this family line.

It is unfortunate that Editor’s Note has left America; one would like to have seen how the blood of the pair melded in years to come.  This is especially true in light of the fact that the pair were siring in different ways.  But who knows?  With the world growing ever smaller, such a cross may yet occur.

A Racing Contribution Only

Two other very special males from this family were not able to add to the family’s glory in the breeding shed.  John Henry, of course, was a gelding.  On The Line died as a result of a racing injury.

So much has been written about John Henry that anything we say here will already have been told and told again.  But we all have our own special, personal memories of the dear old man.

We were there for the first Arlington Million, and we were there for the first Breeders’ Cup.  “John” won the former in a display of the highest courage and he was unable to participate in the latter.  However, he was still a major story during Breeders’ Cup week in 1984.

John was never known to be a particularly friendly horse.  Some people thought he was downright mean, though we never found him so.  After the crowd of photographers (to which John had turned his rump) finally became frustrated and left John Henry’s stall, we emerged from the shadows where we had been waiting and called softly to him.

“John, oh, John,” I whispered.  Up went his ears.  But he was not certain whether or not I could be trusted, so he turned around, gave me a look and snorted.  I continued to call to him and our standoff kept up for several minutes.  Finally his curiosity got the better of him, and the old fellow turned and came over to me, extending his neck and munching on the piece of candy I offered him.  It is one of my all-time favorite racing memories.

Yet where John Henry is concerned, the memories are so many and varied as to be virtually endless.  Suffice to say that we don’t expect to live long enough to see another nine-year-old Horse of the Year.

On The Line’s  was a very sad story.  Trained like Hennessy and Editor’s Note by D. Wayne Lukas, On The Line came to hand late, and won just once as a juvenile.

At three he was not a classic type, though he did win the Derby Trial.  He improved again at four, winning the G2 San Fernando and with the Malibu in hand, was on the verge of sweeping the Strub series.  But the event proved too far for him against such a top horse as Alysheba and he ran third behind that champion and Candi’s Gold.

The following year, On The Line stayed pretty much in sprints and he ran well enough to win the G1 Carter and the G2 San Pasqual.  At the end of the year, he was highly regarded enough to be second choice in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Gulfstream.

In an eerie precursor to the next year’s horror at Belmont, Mr. Nickerson – who would die in the 1990 Sprint – and On The Line ended up behind the field.  Mr. Nickerson was slammed up against a rival at the start and never recovered, On The Line was bounced around at the start as well when Sam Who caused a chain reaction when bearing in sharply.  (He was disqualified and placed last.)

It was as ugly an accident as can happen without the horses going down.  “About 25 yards out of the gate, he got hit,” remembered rider Gary Stevens, “The head of the horse next to me hit me so hard it tore the skin off my chest.  I was bleeding when I came back.”

So was On The Line.  “The skin from right underneath the cannon bone was pushed down to the ankle,” Wayne Lukas said grimly.  “The superficial flexor tendon was severed completely.  A piece was knocked out of the deep flexor tendon and the tendon sheath was eliminated.  The suspensory ligament was okay.  The big thing we’re having to fight is infection.”

And On The Line fought well.  But even such a mighty heart could not quite stay off the specter of founder.  Like so many horses who succumb to his killer, On The Line kept all his weight on his good leg and he began to heal, only to founder in the good leg.

He was destroyed in early February of 1990.  As a son of Mehmet – a His Majesty stallion from the family of Devil’s Bag, Rahy and Saint Ballado – and from such a successful sire line, On The Line would have been a highly prized stallion with his $1,125,810 in earnings.  We feel his loss still.

And The New Reines Are

Few families can match Wonder’s for its combination of versatility, studies in courage and deep historical background.  She is also a study in how good families are built – and sometimes sold – at their zenith.  We’re proud to have visited her here.

Wonder herself, her daughter Miss Whisk, and T. C. Kitten are all new Reines-de-Course.  There are some disappointing major mares in the family, like Family Style, but there is a promising branch stemming from Lost Kitty via I’m No Pussycat which may yet have a say in the family’s history.  As always, we’ll be watching.

Family 8-C