We are just about to officially click over to our official breeding season, 1 September.

Usually I have my breeding decisions sorted well and truly by now. I’ve studied, thought, mulled (with the help of a little vino), and I’ve looked at the sire and the mare naked in the paddock (them, not me of course). I’ve talked with a few people and mulled again, and then I trust my instincts and go for it. Basically, I work through the equation I have always put out there for breeders, not as an equation for glory, but as an equation for good results from what you have and where you want to go.

Breeding this way can still be incredibly exciting and outside the square. All it does is make sure you think things through – and make whatever decision you want! Breeding horses is something that gives us a sense of control over nature, while still being totally at the mercy of nature. Actually, we are just trying to get “in synch” with nature AND the market place. But nature is the best poker player you have ever sat round a table with…lol  And I am not sure that too many of us walk away from that poker table with a profit!

This is the formula I have always put up for breeders to use to make informed but personal decisions  (note: there is no subscription fee or theory you have to follow):

1 + 2 + = + $ + V + U + ?

Which translated means:

1  What the mare brings to the table, plus
2  What the sire brings to the table, plus
=  How those complement each other, plus
$  Your budget and what’s good value
V  The added value of how you raise the foal
U  Your goal – what you are aiming to succeed in, plus
?  An element of luck.


This year I am only breeding two mares – Zenterfold (to Art Major) and Nostalgic Franco (to A Rocknroll Dance).

I’ll blog on both of those breedings next time, as the Zenterfold one in particular ties in with the conversation we are having about the limitations of simple “golden cross” matches compared to looking at what might be driving things in the maternal lines.

Personally, I’m sceptical about the term “golden cross”. It is usually used for the cross of a damsire and sire. But it leaves out a huge chunk of a foal’s pedigree, which is actually where much of the “engine room” lies – in the maternal bottom line and often in damsires along that line as well.

In terms of Olympic glory, we may find our own breeding stars better by aiming for canny silvers and passionate bronzes rather than relying “crosses of gold”.

Over the years I’ve read/heard numerous references to “bred on the golden cross of..” and to be honest I am left under-whelmed.

Like the Olympics, you have to earn your golden medal. It is not there for the taking. And even when a horse performs well in one maiden race, the commentator’s observation that it is “bred on that golden cross of xx with xx mares” is hardly an insight to why the horse won. It has sometimes, especially in the North Island of New Zealand, started to sound like a marketing ploy.

The most dominant “golden crosses” are sire to damsire, or damsire to sire. Keep a wise mind when using the Golden Cross database such as the NZ Standardbred Breeders Assn one, or the USTA one. They are really interesting and sometimes useful, but mostly for horses that are well established and have enough of racing age to be statistically significant. As a direction for new sires (even those with oldest foals at 5 or 6 years) tread carefully as the gold nuggets are in the detail just as much as in the overall stats. You can only really see this if you drill down another level at least.

For example, what may be driving the success of a so-called “golden cross” could lie just as much in common factors on the maternal line or the quality of the mares overall (e.g “double copy” mares), not just her own sire.

And hugely influential historical “golden crosses” like Artsplace x Western Hanover may often be more to do with availability and numbers of quality mares to a very well performed sire.  Same with the so-called golden cross of In The Pocket mares with Bettor’s Delight in New Zealand – he has had over 200 of them. Because In The Pocket was one of our most expensive sires, ipso facto he got many of the well bred or well performed mares, more-so than the normal population. Having stepped up to that level, breeders then wanted their good mares to go to one of the best Northern Hemisphere sires available, in Bettor’s Delight. As an outcross, it was a great match. However whether there is anything more intrinsic or deep in that “golden cross” I am not sure.

In one way, I am agreeing with that old adage “bred the best to the best”. I’m not saying that is all you need to do (no way!), but it sure makes life easier for a new sire if he gets good or proven mares, and many of them. The volume of good mares ensures that a higher proportion of them will “click” if there is any “click” to be had. (Which is of course why big studs in North America have traditionally built up top broodmare bands to give their new boys a chance to survive “Round One” of their career as a sire.)

For a really nice and well-bred sire who is not so commercial, the road is hard and uneven. And the numbers are much lower so your chances of meeting the right girl with the right attributes to make a good match are much, much lower.

A “golden cross” should be viewed as much wider and deeper than just the sire/damsire cross. And even then, you are not likely to find any clear answers, because:

  • statistically often there are not enough progeny to make valid assertions (at least not until it is obvious if a sire is going to succeed regardless)
  • so many other factors intervene in terms of breeding AND racing success, such as conformation, temperament, how a horse is brought up and trained, injury and accidents, the situation of the owner financially, the standard of the racing environment the horse is in.

For me, “golden crosses” is more a pump up than real oxygen.

In my blog post back in July 2013 I looked at the 17 Shadow Play winning performers in North America, about halfway through their 2yo season, and what their pedigree might tell us about possible golden crosses.

Those North American Shadow Play horses were: Book Babe, Shadowbriand, Alibi Seelster, Shark Festival, Reasonable Force, Brookdale Shadow, Lady Shadow, Play It Again Sam, Performing Art, Shadversary, Twin B Spy, Skippin By, Shadow Place, Courageous C,  Yoselin Seelster, Nefertiti Bluechip, and Arthur Blue Chip (the only one whose dam doesn’t carry any No Nukes/Oil Burner/Shadow Wave in her pedigree).

Out of interest, how have those horses tracked in the past few seasons? I’ll follow the same order as above, which I think was pretty random or may have been their rating on earnings at that stage – to be honest, I don’t recall.

Lifetime earnings as at 10 August 2016 (half way through their 5yo season or some have retired earlier)
  • Book Babe (mare) $33,250
  • Shadowbriand (gelding) $221,574
  • Alibi Seelster (mare) $269,878
  • Shark Festival (mare) $88,316
  • Reasonable Force (gelding) $135,837
  • Brookdale Shadow (mare) $244,203
  • Lady Shadow (mare) $1,161,012
  • Play It Again Sam (gelding) $318,979
  • Performing Art (mare) $224,853
  • Shadversary (gelding) $3,840
  • Twin B Spy (gelding) $147,686
  • Skippin By (mare) $607,879
  • Shadow Place (gelding) $139,945
  • Courageous C (gelding) $6,787
  •  Yoselin Seelster (mare) $105,508
  • Nefertiti Bluechip (mare) $299,840
  • Arthur Bluechip (colt) $524,707

I haven’t included their best times or race details, this is just an indicative account.

As a sire of horses that can show up but go on to improve, Shadow Play is interestingto follow. His pedigree shouts out to me, so I am not surprised by him proving longer term success rather than short-term 2yo brilliance. So many other factors come into it, of course, but as breeders we need to lay the potential, the springboard.

Shadow Play can add a lot of genetic value to the right mare. He may or may not be given a chance in New Zealand, but he is getting a reasonable chance in North America and Australia. And the list above shows how it can pay off.

Your own thoughts always welcome.

Shadow Play has left a beauty in the North American mare Lady Shadow. She started her career as a 2yo and 3yo going through the lucrative Ontario Sires Stakes programme and achieving over US$154,000 in each of those years. She stepped up again in her 4yo season, winning 5 of her 14 races and earning $360,862, and then has stepped up yet again as a 5yo to win some of the classic mares races this season including the Roses R Red, the Golden Girls in world record time (a performance worth watching), and a week ago the Lady Liberty on Hambletonian Day. Lady Shadow was bred by Winbak Farm, Chesapeake, and owners are David Kryway, Carl Atley and Edwin Gold. Her total earnings are now $1,312,162. What a mare!

Lady Shadow

Lady Shadow wins the Lady Liberty on Hambletonian Day 2016

Lady Shadow was one of the early 2yo Shadow Play winners I looked at back in a blog in July 2013 “Shadow Play – what can winners tells is?”  In my next blog I’ll catch up on how all those youngsters turned out to date.

What intrigued me then was the reoccurring double up of No Nukes/Oil Burner/Most Happy Fella, and Shadow Wave (who is the damsire of No Nukes, but appeared in many of these young horses pedigrees from a wide range of other sources as well.)

Lady Shadow’s grandam sire is Dallas Almahurst, a full brother to No Nukes Oil Burner. And interestingly, her maternal family (U3, Mambrino Beauty/Nervolo Belle) is the same as Shadow Play’s. It is a maternal family that in the modern day includes heaps of top trotters such as Garland Lobell, Muscle Hill and Donato Hanover, and locally the very good filly High Gait. On the pacing side, as well as Shadow Play some top North American racehorses like JK Endofanera and his sister JK Shezalady, Bar Hopping (a finalist in the 2016 Hambletonian), and Jereme’s Jet – among many, many others. The family sprawls wide in both gaits but keeps pinging up horses of great quality over many generations.

That said, the U3 family doesn’t pop up in Shadow Play’s other top progeny to date.

Those sires I’ve mentioned as positive double ups in his successful progeny are all from different maternal families – Shadow Play is from U105. No Nukes is from U4 (Jessie Pepper) family, his sire Oil Burner from U12, and his sire Most Happy Fella is from U28.

Of course No Nukes, Oil Burner and Most Happy Fella all appear in direct succession in Shadow Play’s siring line.

It is interesting always to find some common elements. I have no idea really why these sires/damsires in a pedigree seem to really suit Shadow Play.  It could be coincidence, or not. It could be the balancing of elements in a sire’s siring line and in mare’s maternal line – a “delta” effect of strong influences coming together from top and bottom.

Of equal importance is the quality of the recent family, and Shadow Play has had some solid mares to play with. Lady Shadow’s dam is a Camluck mare called Lady Camella who earned $203,022 and went 1.51.4. Lady Shadow is the 9th foal from her dam, who has also produced some nice racehorses, appearing to be types that get better as they go on. Her 2002 foal by Western Hanover was Lady Meghan O who won $424,000 and went 1.50.4. Another daughter born 2004 was Pure Movement by Artiscape who won $113,578. Both of these are now breeding on. Overall she has had 12 foals to date, 8 to race, and the best performers are her mares. Lady Shadow has a 2014 full sister called Lady Lynnly.

My personal investment

I’ve bred my Grinfromeartoear mare The Blue Lotus to Shadow Play twice. That cross brings two doses of Shadow Wave into the equation, plus Breath O Spring through a different offspring, and with New York Motoring a similar cross to Oil Burner – Most Happy Fella over a Shadow Wave mare. All in accessible places of the pedigrees.

My first result from that cross is the now 2yo colt sold at the yearling sales in February as The Snow Leopard, and renamed Blackened (after a Metallica song) by his new owner in Australia Domenic Martello.

The 2yo sold for $20,000 and  was broken in and worked for 7 weeks here by Logan Hollis who found him to be a natural. Domenic Martello has kindly kept me posted of his progress since he was moved to Australia, where he is being trained by Geoff Webster at Bannockburn. Reports are all good at this stage – a good attitude and a nice gait, and he’s paid up for Bathurst in case he turns out to have enough as a 2yo.

The mare is now back in foal to Shadow Play, after having a filly by A Rocknroll Dance. ‘

I wouldn’t mind a Shadow Play filly at all!

Delighted to receive this video of Blackened in training in Australia.



Some youngsters to watch out for were taking early learning steps at Cambridge yesterday morning.

30 July Cambridge workouts home straight

30 July Cambridge workouts home straight in the learners pace.

Amongst them one of the small and only crop of Vintage Master, the son of Western Ideal who stood here briefly for 46 live foals. This one is a 2yo filly called Spritz, well named as she is from the nice OK Bye mare Nemesis Choice and therefore a half sister to the lovely Miss Bubbles. Arna Donnelly is training this young filly for Brent and Sue Donnelly, and Brent reports she is doing everything right so far. She came in 4th of the 5 runners in the learners pace, but it is all good experience. Vintage Master has had just one 2yo qualifier this season (Woodlea Shawn, a gelding from a Live Or Die mare, for trainer Tom Twidle) and I noticed another one called Dodge Phoenix in a couple of Canterbury workouts recently, but those are the only ones who appear to be representing Vintage Master on a public track so far.

Vintage Master 2yo filly

Vintage Master 2yo filly Spritz with trainer Arna Donnelly at the Cambridge workouts

The winner of the learners pace yesterday was a Real Desire 3yo filly called Bubbles O’Leary from the Live Or Die mare Abz. She’s from the family of Tuapeka Dream, but her immediate line hasn’t shown much at the races. The best recent relative has been very good, however – a Bettor’s Delight half sister to Abz called Caribbean Rose who raced in Australia for 17 wins from 62 starts and just over $180,000 and since then has taken a record in North America of 1.51.2. Both Bubbles O’Leary and her older Changeover sister Spare Change (2 wins, 7 places from 20 starts to date) are trained by Ross Villiger at Morrinsville.

Bubble O'Leary, a 3yo Real Desire filly

Bubble O’Leary, a 3yo Real Desire filly

Close up at the finish was Kevin Shaw’s 2yo Badlands Hanover filly from his Gay Holiday family. Kevin and Cathy Shaw will be hoping this strong looking filly, named You’reluckytohaveme, adds to the family’s success, as it seems a long time between drinks! She is out of an Armbro Operative mare Cavalier Countess, who is a half sister to the family’s top performers Cavalier Queen and Hoppy’s Jet.


Badlands Hanover 2yo filly named You’reluckytohaveme, trained and driven by Kevin Shaw

The 3rd placegetter in this local learners pace was a 3yo gelding by Grinfromeartoear, and he really caught my eye – as did his pedigree. His dam in the American-bred mare Amazing Luck who comes from the family of Princess Royal and then further down the track the branch of Dell Siskiyou (leading to the prolific family of Gidget Lobell, the dam of No Nukes, Peachbottom and TMI, all by Oil Burner). There are some excellent “clicks” with Grinfromeartoear along the many and varied pathways of this family, which is interesting, and also a fair few going back to the Oil Burner/No Nukes/Western Ideal well. Rock N Roll Heaven is a great example.

Breeder T J (Tony) Armstrong has had some success getting a few modern branches of the family underway here, and none of these things will have escaped him. This gelding’s name is Hezaluckygrinner, and he is a half to Sheza Gem (dam of Mr Franklin) and Shezaluckydreamer (who raced well in Australia and has just started a breeding career there). This gelding looks athletic and has a lovely reach. So Hezaluckygrinner will be yet another young “Grin” that I will be noting in my little black book!


3yo Grinfromeartoear gelding named Hezaluckygrinner

My Horse Rules

Having followed off and on the latest Australian 2016 My Kitchen Rules series, I want to do a funny but not so ridiculous take for harness racing.

Times are changing, and to get noticed in your game you need to put yourself out there in a way that people might relate to – if you are lucky.

So I was looking tonight at the TV (technology already on the frozen planet list) I see so many reality programmes that make things like choosing partners, driving outback trucks, having a first date,  and painting ceilings seem “sexy”. Ha! Being an old bird I can tell you plenty, but everyone wants to learn for themselves. We are such an hilarious human race, so slow at growing wisdom, so fast at growing technology….

Let’s propose a programme called My Horse Rules. Or My Stable Rules.

Pete and Manu

  1. 6 entry spots – six trainers willing to promote harness racing wider that just our “closed circuit tv”.  Over one season, from bringing any nominated horse up from an untried or novice to a race horse.
  2. A mix of good professional and  well-regarded non-professional (obviously with agreement from horse owners).  Any trainer used must have a training licence.
  3. Each trainer nominates 3 unqualified horses (of any age).
  4. Bring them up to qualifying (that is the equivalent of Pete and Manu doing the “house visits” to our lovely contestants) – but it gives an opportunity for people to see what goes on with jogging a horse up and in a stable of horses.
  5. Second round is qualifying – a set deadline for the nominated horses have to get up and going at qualifying speed, or drop out. Important – explaining why a horse drops out.
  6. Third round – Race starts – what’s involved with placing a horse, the excitement of the win, what happens to get the horse ready and on the course etc. Obviously not all horses starting in the same race but an opportunity to look at the different tracks around NZ, meet the locals etc.
  7. And the My Horse/Stable Rules may end at the final stages of the 3yo season, to show that some horses need at least that time to even show their ability.

This builds up into quite an exciting “race night” finale – even if the race night is not at the same venue or exactly the same time – the first race.

But all this showcases the time and effort and skills put into racing over a season, and hopefully interviews with the breeders and owners and trainers to get a feel for why we are passionate about it.

Ok – who is “Pete” and “Manu”? It has to be Michael Guerin or Matt Cross for Pete, but Jess is also a great choice (absolute pro, comfortable with cameras, and great interviewer with heaps of knowledge). Are any of them Paleo? Who cares!

For Manu, maybe we go away from the obvious and pick…well, which male or female could do the job of selling our industry to the wider world? We need to go outside the square to get more traction from people who don’t have a clue about harness racing. Brendon McCullum has an interest in the industry but reaches into a different sports audience as well. Or what about a complete novice but a well-known character like Lorde (okay, haven’t asked yet)  —– that’s where you might have ideas, right?

Send them in as comments.

Come on, this could fly like Pegasus!


A quiet Grin

Relaxing tonight after a busy week in the day job.

And just my usual 1/2 type bet on horses I respect or am interested in. So I’ve missed some (including the talented but erratic Vibhuti at Alexandra Park tonight even though I put him in a quinella). But pleased to see he is coming back to express the talent he has.

However I did land a big shark with taties.  That was Happy Lou in Race 7 at Addington for a ridiculously huge return (on my 1/2 bet) – this horse has breeding, form and everyone must have discounted him from the draw. Got to say a magic drive by “Snow” McLellan to weave him though when he was tucked up and full of running. Massive divvy and kept my little TAB account afloat for another month.

Like many Grins, underrated – but look at the classy pedigree he has, not just the 3×3 to Blue Horizon. Lots of good stuff there.






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