MITOCHONDRIA THE MAKING OF SHANGHAI BOBBY?


When Shanghai Bobby retired to stand at Ashford Stud, Versailles, Kentucky for the 2014 breeding season, the hope was that he would become a prolific source of speedy and precocious dirt horses. At the time, that hope appeared to be an entirely reasonable one, given that he was an undefeated Champion Two-Year-Old; that he’d dropped back to 6½ furlongs to take a minor stakes on his final outing, after an injury had forced him off the Triple Crown trail in the spring; and that he was by Harlan’s Holiday, whose fast son, Into Mischief, was in the course of a meteoric rise up the stallion ranks.

Shanghai Bobby did get 15 first crop two-year-old winners, and three of them did win black-type contests, but none scored at graded level, his most notable representative being March X Press, successful in the Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga. Last year, Shanghai Bobby added another first crop  stakes winner in Shanghai Starlet, who took a pair of black-type stakes in Florida, and second crop two-year-old, Shang Shang Shang, who defeated a good field to take the Norfolk Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot. However, by then end of last year Shang Shang Shang – who hasn’t started again since her group victory – remained Shanghai Bobby’s sole second crop stakes winner. So it was no shock when last November it was announced that Shanghai Bobby had been exported, and would stand the 2019 breeding season at Arrow Stud, Hokkaido, Japan.

Now geographically distant from these shores, Shanghai Bobby would have remained equally far from our thoughts, had not pedigree enthusiast, Enrique Castillo, sent us a note regarded Shanghai Bobby’s success with his first shuttle crop, foals of 2015/16, sired in Brazil. That crop which consists of 105 foals andhas already produced nine black-type winners, five of them graded, and four grade one, two of whom have won at that level over 10 furlongs (2000m).

The difference between the two hemispheres presents marked contrast, certainly one that was interesting enough to encourage a little investigation. Before digging into the pedigree backgrounds, there are some environmental factors to consider. A first thought, looking at the number of good milers and middle-distance runners sired by Shanghai Bobby in Brazil, is that we may not have properly understood him as a racehorse and stallion prospect. At two, he won from the 4½ furlongs of his maiden, to the 8½ furlongs of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), and at three his only success in three outings came in the 6½ furlong Aljamin Stakes on his final outing. On Beyer Speedfigures, however, by some way his best effort was his second to Itsmyluckyday in the 8½ furlong Holly Bull Stakes (G3) on his debut at three. His pedigree isn’t really a pure speed one either – Harlan’s Holiday was a grade one winner over nine furlongs and while dam was a black-type winner over 6½ furlongs, she also scored in allowance company and 8½ furlongs.

Not only have the Shanghai Bobbys won over a wider range of distances than one might expect, but they also seem to be much better on turf than dirt, with all of the group/graded wins for his progeny coming on the grass. Of course, there is also the possibility that Shanghai Bobby is better-suited physically by the mares he’s been bred to in Brazil, and that although the best horses from that country are excellent runners, the overall standard of racing in that country is likely not strong as in the U.S.

We looked at the pedigree of Shanghai Bobby’s stakes winners, not just the crosses, and pedigree patterns, but also the female families, as identified by Achilli haplotype. The broodmare sires of the Shanghai Bobby stakes winners are Mensageiro Alado and his sire, Ghadeer (by Lyphard, Northern Dancer line); Dehere (by Deputy Minister, Northern Dancer line); Roi Normand and Exile King (both by Exclusive Dancer, Raise a Native line); Mastro Lorenzo (by Jules, Forty Niner branch of Mr. Prospector); Unbridled’s Song (by Unbridled, Fappiano branch of Mr. Prospector); Yankee Victor (by Saint Ballado, Halo line); Mark of Esteem (by Darshaan, Mill Reef line); Gilded Time (by Timeless Moment, Damascus line); Sky Mesa (by Pulpit, A.P. Indy line) and Indian Charlie (by In Excess, Caro line). There don’t be any particularly strong trends there, and we didn’t see too much of real note elsewhere in the pedigree – outside of things that would now be regarded as fairly generic, the most notably presences are probably Damascus (in five stakes winners from 36 runners – 14%), Lyphard (in six stakes winners – three grade one – from 57 starters – 109%), Halo (three stakes winners from 34 starters – 10%) and Exclusive Native (in three stakes winners from 25 starters – 12%).

The story is rather different when we look at female lines – something noted by Enrique Castillo in his e-mail to us. Until recently, when they were systematically organized, female lines were identified by Bruce Lowe numbers, the number the Australia researcher assigned to female families sorted by their oldest common ancestor. More recently, and more scientifically, female lines have become identified by Achilli haplotypes following a study by Achilli et al that traced the mitochondrial dna (mtDNA) established 18 major horse haplogroups – several of which have sub-haplogroups – to which they assigned a letter grade, with ten of these haplogroups found in the thoroughbred.

This has relevance beyond academic or historical interest. The mitochondria are known as the ‘power packs’ of cell, but for optimal energy production, they depend on the relationship between the nuclear dna (represented by the rest of the pedigree) and the mtDNA. Thus certain strains will tend to combine more successfully with a female line than others. So what does this mean for Shanghai Bobby? He himself is from the L3a1b branch of the L haplotype, which stems from a founder mare that existed between 6,000 and 13,000 years ago. When we look at Shangai Bobby’s offspring we find that seven of his 14 stakes winners are from that same L3a1b, including three of four grade one winners. There is also one stakes winner from the L2b1 branch; one from the L2a branch; one (a grade one winner) from the L1a branch, and one from L4a branch. So that’s 11 of 14 stakes winners, six of seven graded winners, and all four grade one winners from that same L haplotype.

Neither Shanghai Bobby’s sire, Harlan’s Holiday, or his leading stallion son, Into Mischief, have as marked an affinity for the L haplotype as Shanghai Bobby, which suggests that Shanghai Bobby has inherited nuclear dna from his dam, that compliments the L haplotype. With that in mind it’s interesting that is most closely duplicated ancestors are Blushing Groom and Raise a Native. Blushing Groom is by Red God (L3a1b, like Shanghai Bobby) and himself from the closely related L3a1a haplotype, and Raise a Native is from the L3a1b haplotype. Blushing Groom and Raise a Native did not pass on their mtDNA to Shanghai Bobby – it’s only passed on in tail-female line remember – but that does suggest that his dam was highly-influenced by nuclear dna that combines well with that family.

Shanghai Bobby wasn’t the prolific source of dirt speedsters we anticipated, but with a little help from his family, he’s appears to be a very decent turf sire, including of milers and middle-distance runners.

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