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Can knowing more about where Christian Cullen has come from, throw some light on where his sireline might be going?

Christian Cullen

Christian Cullen

He has been such a profoundly great racehorse and sire that just the mention of his name in a pedigree is enough to give owners and breeders confidence. With his half sister Kate’s First as a back up (winning the Auckland Cup amongst other things), it seems almost rude to probe into the pedigree of the family. But that is what I’ve been doing lately.

It’s been interesting. To be honest, from 10 registered foals of his grandam Pleasant Evening, and 12 from his dam Pleasant Franco, you might have expected even more than what we got. I have often said that consistency is gold, and a mare that can produce consistently good horses and some very good ones is the aim of most breeders.

The reality is for most families that is very hard to achieve – including this family of Christian Cullen.

What is often more likely is one or two or perhaps three exceptional horses spread over a few generations, and from quite a few branches.  And that is the case here. His dam Pleasant Franco has left two outstanding horses in Christian Cullen and Kate’s First, plus a few more good ones that many people would be happy to have (including Julius Caesar who never had a real chance to shine on the track before breaking down, and Tiger Woods, both of whom got a chance as lower tier sires), and in that sense Pleasant Franco stepped up the family to a higher level of consistency. But whether Julius Caesar would have made it a hat trick of great racehorses we can never be sure. So far Pleasant Franco’s fillies are tracking okay but not spectacular.

But before Pleasant Franco, the family was a bit of a tease.

Christian Cullen’s grandam Pleasant Evening (by Overtrick) won 3 races herself and 7 places, if minor, and left plenty of foals but what a mix they were. Pleasant Franco was her first, and definitely her best. Many of the others were raced in Australia (including a Gee Whiz II mare called Robo’s Whiz who never raced, was obviously hard to get into foal and left nothing of any interest to a range of trotting sires from Sundon to Aldebaran Yankee and a Life Sign thrown in). Another filly was by Klondike Kid and she has done nothing to date. But a Holmes Hanover filly called Prime Time Franco had better results – 10 wins, 17 places from 50 races and a total of $33k. But again, her progeny haven’t fired. Note: There is a pattern with Pleasant Evening of briefly trying and selling on the horses from between Franco Breeding and Australian owner David Shammall, a connection that exists through to today as Peter O’Rourke (ex Nevele R) and Shammall are co-founders of “Stallions Australia“.

The males bred from Pleasant Evening turned out to be average on paper at least – Franco’s Promise by Holmes Hanover was the best with $73k plus after 92 starts. Franco Paragon chipped away for 7 wins from 50 starts for just $12k. It is always hard to know at a glance whether some of them might have been sold on to North America and done ok. I know Falconbridge (Falcon Seelster x Pleasant Evening) won a few here and was exported to America, and did race well over there. But to be honest, nothing leapt out of the ground. Her last foal was Evening Dash, a trotter by Sundon who was raced by the Trotting NZ Syndicate and had been bought at the yearling sales in the late 1990s for just $12,000, but only won one race and later retired as a hack.

So we are pretty much left with Pleasant Franco to carry the line forward.

Just before looking at her record, I want to go back another generation or two, firstly to Lumber Dream mare Romanda, the dam of Pleasant Evening. Remarkably, her only other foal was a very, very good trotter in Australia called True Roman. He won over half a million dollars – 73 wins in 135 starts, finishing racing when he was  12yo. So an accumulator, but a good one. If you look at his pedigree, you will see a close double up with Knight Dream. and that theme occurs now and then in some of the family’s best results. It might also explain the selection of trotting sires as matches for some of the family (as mentioned above).

And yet another generation back is the U Scott mare Romarin – of her 6 foals, 5 were fillies but Romanda is the only one I can find that has added value to the line in an decent way. At this stage the family was firmly rooted in Australia. The best performer from Romarin’s foals was an Overtrick filly called Pleasant Roma (so Pleasant Franco, being by Overtrick, is closely related in blood to this mare) who raced in the 1970s and had 5 wins and 12 places, $24k, but again she appears to be lightly tried to less quality sires. I’m hoping some of my Australian blog readers might be able to fill in the gaps or mention some offspring from the family that have forged a thriving line over there, but I cannot spot anything myself.

That reminds me, the other thing I want to mention is how “Trans Tasman” this family is. Christian Cullen’s family is very much a “downunder” venture, with many of them performing in both countries or crossing The Ditch at some stage of their lives. I hadn’t really realised that before.

Pleasant Franco (Bo Scots Chip x Pleasant Evening)

The success of Kate’s First (by Holmes Hanover, breeder G E May) and then Christian Cullen (by In The Pocket, breeder Paul Bielby) opened up opportunities for several of her foals. Tiger Woods (by In The Pocket) broke down before he’d hardly started but stood as a lower tier sire in Australia for 25 winners from 190 foals. Here’s a link to the announcement of his 2013 stud shift to South Australia, which also notes a good point that Pleasant Franco is one of very few mares to ever have 3 sons at stud at the same time – being Christian Cullen, Julius Caesar and Tiger Woods. I see Tiger Woods is noted as deceased but I cannot recall when what happened and Google hasn’t helped me regarding the circumstances. The usual Aussie snake perhaps?

Julius Caesar (by In The Pocket, breeders C N Radford, W E Radford, Mrs D E Richardson), was the foal born in 2000, and is a full brother to Christian Cullen. He always struck me as a much lankier framed animal, although very good looking. He raced four times as a two-year-old, finishing runner-up in the Group 2 NZ Sapling Stakes and Cardigan Bay Stakes before being retired due to injury. He took a record of 1:57.5. Would he have raced on to be a champion? We will never know, but I think his type would have benefited with having time. He could have become more a tough stayer, as indeed many of his progeny have been. His record as a sire is not bad. I covered off his development as a sire in an article I wrote earlier this year for Harnessed magazine about the “new boys on the block”.

Another male foal was Oscar De La Hoya (by Jaguar Spur, breeders G H Beirne, P R Bielby) and he was a buy-back at the yearling sales for $200,000 but turned out to be just a solid but not spectacular performer from 3yo to 7yo, earning a total of $47k. He got his 6th win from 14 starts as a 5yo – I can’t recall, but there must have been soundness issues or injury breaks to be that lightly raced.

There is one last male foal from Pleasant Franco who is not at all well known here in NZ but might be recognised in Australia – his name is Great Place (Ina Great Place for his racing in Australia), and he is by Artsplace (breeders C N Radford,W E Radford,Mrs D E Richardson),  and although he is not a star in the same way that Christian Cullen is, he ground out a good racing career with 146 races, 16 wins, 21 seconds and 16 thirds, and a total of $105k stake earnings. I see he was racing right up to Sept/Oct this year, getting some good placings at Albion Park in the latter part of September 2015.

Pleasant Franco had 7 filly foals in total, so no lack of opportunity to carry on the maternal line: Kate’s First (Holmes Hanover, 1993), Dreamsaregold (In the Pocket, 1999), Cracker Kate (Holmes Hanover, 2001), Special Ball (Presidential Ball, 2002), Arty Alice (Artsplace, 2003), and two unraced fillies Lucky Pocket (In The Pocket, 2006), and Courage A Plenty (Courage Under Fire, 2007).

Kate’s First was exceptional (19 wins, $624k) but only one of the others could win a race (Arty Alice). Cracker Kate was the only other one tried as a race horse and had a record of 32 races for no wins, 8 places. The value of the remaining filly foals (and of these two racemares as well) was obviously a strong factor in whether they would be racing horses or diverted early on to breeding. The mana of their dam and Christian Cullen was strong enough to over-ride other considerations.

But what lines from this family will continue to flourish? And is it the basis for a siring line?

The next generation

Is the family kicking on after that burst of brilliance from Pleasant Franco as a broodmare?

And the answer seems to be mixed but in some cases promising.

Arty Alice is a success story so far – she’s left 6 foals to date, all from top sires, and 4 are winners so far, some yet to start racing. Her first two are Earth Angel by Mach Three (13 wins and $79k and still racing) and Beach Shack (Somebeachsomewhere, 9 wins and $94k and also still racing). The breeder is listed as BFJ BLOODSTOCK TRUST, VIC.  A younger filly by Rocknroll Hanover is called Rockstar Angel and she has already had a win and two places from just 6 starts. These are well-bred fillies that hint well for the future of the family.

Cracker Kate is chipping in with her NZ-bred foals including star gelding Heez Orl Black who has won over $300k. You’d be very happy with that. He shifted to Australia midway through 2013 after an excellent 2yo season here (including winning the Welcome Stakes) and a solid 3yo and part 4yo season. Her next foal was the lightly tried filly Cracker Three by Mach Three, who is just starting her own breeding career, as is Cracker Kate’s next foal an unraced Art Major filly. She is named Code Cracker, and that filly sold for a surprisingly light $34,000 at the 2012 Premier Yearling Sales in Christchurch. Out of interest, (Heez) Orl Black sold in the 2010 yearling sales for $57,000. Since then, Cracker Kate has proven difficult to breed – there is a Changeover colt who is now a 2yo but nothing else.)

Kate’s First filly foal by Artsplace (called Katesplace) sold for $95,000 in that same 2010 yearling sales. Kate’s First has been an asset in terms of producing valuable foals, but erratic at producing well performing foals. Daniel Anderson (by In The Pocket) was her first foal and in terms of race track performance it was nil, regardless of what ability he may or may not have had, and in the siring barn where he had only 48 live foals not one of them was a winner and only 4 qualified. What a handsome horse he was. But in the end, he could not add to the reputation of this family re producing sires and siring lines – that is a much, much harder row to hoe. From Kate’s First fillies we have the “on paper” best opportunities to see the quality of the line unfold. But it is never that simple, always tempting and yes, there is an exceptional one in the wings. But which one? Kate’s Rocket was the first filly from Kate’s First, and she got 2 wins from 6 starts – with that breeding, that’s enough! Since starting her broodmare career she has produced a Bettor’s Delight filly called Kate De Goldie (trained by Robbie Holmes and 3 wins from 13 starts but very lightly raced and now a 5yo), then a Santanna Blue Chip filly with 1 win from 6 starts, also racing out of the Holmes stable, and a 2yo Art Major filly called Major Rocket, not sighted yet. Kate’s First’s next filly was a Western Terror foal called First Western (born 2006), who was lightly raced but showed ability. And subsequently First Western had a McArdle filly called  Marion Keisker (I presume after the woman who was a huge influence in Elvis Presley’s early recording career), and she is still racing in Australia with 50 starts for almost $39k – don’t write off her potential progeny from that breeding with McArdle as he brings in some classy Knight Dream references amongst other things. First Western’s only other filly foal has since died. Kate’s First third filly foal Rocknroll Ruby has had no luck on the track or the breeding barn to date. Kate’s First’s fourth filly is  Katesplace who got a win in Australia and was then sent to broodmare duties, and has had one or two foals, but early days.  Kate’s First’s colt foal Hurricane Stride (by Holmes Hanover) has been disappointing in terms of results to date.  The next colt foal from Kate’s First is Maverick (by Bettor’s Delight, breeders K N Spicer,Mrs A M Spicer, P J Nicholson, Mrs R Nicholson) who sold at the 2013 yearling sales for $45,000 and has done a professional job to date for Nigel McGrath and is on the improve (right now 21 starts, 6 wins and 6 places).  The latest of Kate’s First foals to the race track is Kate Black, a full sister to Maverick, who is just starting out at workouts, trials etc in New Zealand. You would imagine her future as a broodmare and the overall success of this family might lead to some hopes for another top horse along the way.

Special Ball (Pleasant Franco’s Presidential Ball mare in Australia) has left a nice enough Grin colt (Smiling Cullen, 7 wins, $28k to date), and has a couple of younger Sportswriter foals and an Always A Virgin foal following. It’s a work in progress.

Dreamsaregold (Pleasant Franco’s unraced In the Pocket mare) has kicked on well to date with her progeny – Hurricane Anvil (racing in Australia, 8 wins and 18 places to date for $84k), Close To Cullen likewise in Australia for 47 starts, 7 wins and 7 places to date. Dreamsaregold’s very lightly tried NZ-based 2009 Falcon Seelster filly The Princess now has a Betterthencheddar foal, and Dreamsaregold also has a Bettor’s Delight filly called Chevron’s Champion currently going great guns over in Australia (14 starts, 6 wins and 3 places to date, and $46k plus so far).

AND...Just to bring us right up to date, there are a couple of youngsters from the family lining up at the Christchurch Premier Yearling Sales in February 2016 – a Mach Three filly from Courage A Plenty (Lot 170) and an Art Major colt from Lucky Pocket (Lot 284).  Check out those pedigrees.

Here is a family that has a very average background but some hints of exceptional ability. Then a burst of talent, absolutely TOP PERFORMERS, like a fireworks rocket with Catherine Wheel attached. Since then, some nice Showers and some loud Jumping Jacks. But you get the feeling there is more to come from a mass of fillies and several branches – often high level talent seems to skip a generation.

One of the most interesting things for me when investigating this family (not perfectly at all, just looking thank you) is that it shows how any family can sometimes have burning embers that flare and spark into life, and if we breathe on them the right way we can start a fire. Whether that fire continues to burn requires luck, thought, and some good lungs. lol

OKAY the question remains – does his family background support Christian Cullen to be not only a great racehorse and a great sire, but also a sire of good sires?

Comment on this blog or to me at bee.raglan@xtra.nz if you would like to share your thoughts with readers.

  • Are there any success elements in terms of the genetics or performance qualities that give us a clue? The two themes I flagged up in terms of pedigree matches are Knight Dream and maybe some element from  Tar Heel (Holmes Hanover and In The Pocket has been important crosses).
  • Is a sire dependent on his maternal line (in combination with sire line) to be a success at stud?
  • Is Christian Cullen’s maternal line strong enough to support an ongoing sire line?
  • And which of the sons of Christian Cullen available now that you see as the best chance for his siring line to continue (and why

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