The result of the David Jones Australian Derby (gr. I), run on April 14, was an interesting one. The winner,Ethiopia, was making only his fourth start, and more remarkably was taking his first win. The classic winner started his career finishing third in a 1700m (8½ furlong) maiden back in February, but had made his other two starts in graded stakes finishing third in the Caulfield Autumn Classic (gr. II), then second in the Alister Clark Stakes (gr. II).
Ethiopia is owned and bred by Wyadup Valle Farm, who have another horse who tackled the Australian Derby on his fourth start, in the shape of Cedarberg. He could only finish seventh that day, but subsequently captured the H. E Tancred Stakes (gr. I), and is now an earner of over A$1,500,000.
When we look at the pedigrees of Ethiopia and Cedarberg, we find that bothare by the same stallion – Helenus – out of mares by the same broodmare sire, Spectrum. What’s more, if we look at the TrueNicks Enhanced Reportfor Ethopia, we find that he and Cedarberg are the only starters bred on the cross. Since we started TrueNicks, we’v noticed from time to time, a nick that has a tremendous strike-rate from a handful of starters, for exampleDistorted Humor with mares by El Prado (three stakes winners, one grade one from three starters), or Street Crywith mares by Meadowlake (two graded stakes winners, one grade one, from three starters).
Of course, one can’t argue statistical significance for such a small sample, and we wouldn’t expect those kind of strike-rates to me maintained with greater numbers. That said, it’s pretty much a rule that no number of attempts can turn a bad nick into a good one. On that score, one of our favorite examples is that of Buckpasserwith mares by Bold Ruler. Courtesy of the TrueNicks Enhanced Report again, we find that Buckpasser sired 33 foals and 25 starters out of mares by Bold Ruler (these generally being some of the Phipps family’s best bred mares), for just two stakes winners, one group one. While this is 8% stakes winners to starters, one has to note that Buckpasser sired 16% stakes winners to starters out of all other mares, and that when Bold Ruler mares were bred to all other stallions, they produced 10% stakes winners, so the cross distinctly under-performed, especially given the quality of material involved.
In general, too, there usually appears to be some logical reason why a high-strike rate nick works. For example Distorted Humor’s dam, is by a Northern Dancer son, out of a mare by a stallion bred on a Hail to Reason/Djeddah cross, while El Prado is by Sadler’s Wells, a Northern Dancer son, whose dam is by a stallion bred on a Hail to Reason/Djeddah cross. Street Cry with Meadowlke gives linebeeding to Raise a Native andPrince John, along with a cross of Halo (whose broodmare sire, Cosmic Bomb, is a half-brother to the dam of Prince John).
So, is there some pedigree logic to the Helenus/Spectrum cross? First we’ll look at Helenus. He isn’t the most fashionably-bred horse. He is a son of the Fairy King stallion, Helissio, winner of five group one events, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (gr. I), and two renewals of the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (gr. I). Despite his talent,Hellisio was a terribly disappointing sire, getting just three stakes winners. Helenus, successful in five graded stakes, including the Victoria Derby (gr. I), MRC Caulfield Guineas (gr. I), and STC Rosehill Guineas (gr. I) is by some way the most accomplished of these. Helenus is out of a mare by Java Gold (by Key to the Mint), another top-class horse who was a disappointment as a stallion. Helenus does, however, come from a good family, as his second dam, Tender Camilla, was a the second highweighted filly of her crop in Ireland, and is a granddaughter of the Oaks winner Carroza.
At stud, Helenus has had somewhat limited opportunities, with 195 foals from his first five crops, less than 40 foals per crop. A further look at the record shows that while he’s had two stakes winners from two starters out of mares by Spectrum (both grade one winner), he’s just two more stakes winners, neither graded, from 98 starters by all other stallions.
Spectrum is another very good runner – he took the Champion Stakes (gr. I) and Irish 2,000 Guineas (gr. I) –who never really quite made the grade as a sire, although he did get five group or grade one winners. He’s also broodmare sire of five group and grade one winners. In addition to Ethiopia and Cedarberg, the Fairy King/Spectrum cross has produced one other stakes winner, the Indian 1,000 Guineas captress Alma Mater, and ther e are two other stakes winners by Fairy King and his sons out of mares by Spectrum’s sire, Rainbow Quest. We can also note that there is a stakes winner by Galileo, a son of Sadler’s Wells (brother to Fairy King), out of a mare by Spectrum (the broader Sadler’s Wells/Rainbow Quest cross has produced more than 30 stakes winners, five of them grade one), and there are also two stakes winners from the male line of Nureyev, a three-parts-brother to Fairy King and Sadler’s Wells out of mares by Spectrum, including the grade one winnerWinchester.
It’s also well worth noting that Sadler’s Wells has crossed well with Spectrum’s family producing group one winners Prince of Dance and Saddlers’ Hall, group winning and group one placed Dancing Bloom, and classic placed Let the Lion Roar and Roses For the Lady, as well as the dam of English classic winner and Champion U.S. Turf Horse Conduit. We should also mention that it probably doesn’t hurt that Javamine – dam of Henelus’ broodmare sire Java Gold – is by Nijinsky II out of a mare by Tom Fool. Both Nijinsky II and Tom Fool have the combination of Bull Dog and Menow. It’s long been known that Blushing Groom, whose sire, Red God, is out of Spring Run (bred on the same Menow/Bull Dog cross as Tom Fool, and a reverse to the dam of Nijinsky II), does very well when combined with this duo.
Overall then, both from a historical nick perspective, and in terms of general affinity, there seems to be plenty of reason for Helenus to cross well with mares by Spectrum (even though not all Spectrum mares will carry the genetic variants for performance that combine well with the make-up of Helenus), and we’d certainly expect to see more positive results in the future. In closing, we’ll also observe that Ethiopia and Cedarberg have something else often found in the successful version of good nicks, and that is supporing factors in the distaff side of the dam. Ethiopa’s second dam is by Zabeel (who brings in Nureyev, a three-parts-brother to Fairy King), out of a mare by a son of The Minstrel (three-parts-brother to Nijinsky II). Cedarberg’s second dam is by a son of Nijinsky II, adding a second strain of a horse who, as we’ve said, does extremely well with Blushing Groom.