Posts Tagged ‘Meadow Skipper’

In my recent blog on Big Towner I added a link to the viewfromthegrandstand American blog on the influence of Meadow Skipper (Skipper, Skipper Everywhere) which noted the passing of one of Big Towner’s last siring sons – and the domination of Meadow Skipper blood in the “top” and “bottom” lines of many sires. He listed those few sires who are relatively Meadow Skipper-free, amongst them In The Pocket and his son Christian Cullen, both of which are powerful elements in the breeding industry in New Zealand.

The proposition is that when a siring line dies out, we lose an important ability to outcross. We risk getting too much of one bloodline, and our pacing breed is worse off for that.

I agree with that in general. But almost all our siring lines descend from Hambletonian, so what really is an outcross sire? Siring lines branch and develop, and those branches take on their own characteristics. They ebb and flow in what contribution they make to the overall breed. Some don’t survive, but overall I think the desirability of outcrossing ensures that remote branches often become sought after and revive their fortunes when a certain “saturation” level of one dominant siring line is reached.

Of course “market forces” in breeding may not quite line up with the timeframes required for this to happen i.e. a siring line may die out before there is enough interest in outcrossing to it. With Direct Scooter, it was quite a close call.

Meadow Skipper himself now sits usually 4 or more generations removed in most pedigrees, so his influence becomes mixed with a range of many other genes and types – often including outcross sires like Big Towner, Direct Scooter and Abercrombie appearing in the maternal lines – for the very reason that breeders have looked for for that difference to get some “hybrid vigour” or to avoid “too much of a good thing” or just as likely have looked for a certain type of sire to complement their type of mare (stamina sire over smaller speedy mare, etc). So to a large extent the tendency to overdose on one line or branch of a line will self correct over time as breeders turn to other options.

Having said that, there was a long period in North America where it seemed the Dale Frost (Meadow Skipper) line and the Adios (Abercrombie) line sires were in a dance of their own.  The Gene Abbe (Big Towner) siring line was thin on the ground, and Steady Star was the last of the Tar Heel siring line. Thank heavens for Direct Scooter!

In The Pocket to the rescue
In The Pocket is a son of Direct Scooter from a Tar Heel mare,  who actually has Meadow Skipper as her damsire (which is an unusual juxtaposition because Tar Heel was really a generation before Meadow Skipper but Tar Heel’s enduring 28 years at stud allowed him to overlap in this sort of way with the early siring careers of horses like Meadow Skipper).  In The Pocket was otherwise pretty much an outcross sire with his two closest double ups being to Billy Direct  and Scotland.

In The Pocket stood here in New Zealand from 1994 until his death in 2010 and two of his best sons bred sons – Christian Cullen and Courage Under Fire – are making longterm impressions as sires, starting to look very nice as damsires and potentially (particularly Christian Cullen) as sires of sires. Several other top performing sons of In The Pocket have also stood at stud but need more time to see what they will deliver as sires – the tough New Zealand Cup winner Changeover is one with a lot of potential and received good numbers of mares in his first couple of years at stud, and his first yearlings are fairly well represented at the 2013 yearling sales next February.

I would like to make a comment on the list in the Skipper, Skipper Everywhere blog I referred to earlier – Christian Cullen is listed as having Meadow Skipper on his bottom line only but in fact he has Meadow Skipper in both his sire’s family (In The Pocket’s grandamsire) and his dam’s family (his damsire Bo Scots Blue Chip is a son of Most Happy Fella, a son of Meadow Skipper of course).  I’m not sure if by ‘top line’ the writer is referring to the siring line only rather than the sire’s paternal and maternal lines. But it is certainly true that compared to many North American sires, Christian Cullen brings a very different genetic mix to the table.

Influence through maternal lines
It is important to remember that in terms of lines like Tar Heel and Big Towner “dying out”, we are only talking about siring lines. The lines that have become siring ‘stubs’ are some of the most potent influences on our pacing breed and have produced sires that have made a huge contribution through maternal lines. I’ve done some blogs on Overtrick and Big Towner and also Shadow Wave as examples of this. It’s just worth repeating the observation because their genetic contribution is just as (if not more) vital to the future of breeding as the more commercially promoted siring lines.

In a very real way, these bloodlines have found their optimum influence – a way to ensure their best assests are carried forward into future generations with less danger of being made “redundant” as a sire of sires. If you buy into the x factor/heart size theory (and there is a lot of evidence to support it), then we should be more concerned about identifying and nurturing potent damsires among those lines who may struggle to deliver a succession of sire sons, so that we make sure the ‘baby’ is not thrown out with the ‘bathwater’. Bret Hanover-Warm Breeze-Falcon Seelster is one sequence that I’d flag up in that regard. In each case, as sires they have produced top racehorses, but their enduring contribution is more in the bottom line of pedigrees through their daughters. The sons of Falcon Seelster (Elsu and McArdle) may well be continuing this.

Outcross sires in the New Zealand breed
The impact of In The Pocket and another outcross sire Falcon Seelster here in New Zealand has been phenomenal in the past 20 years – these were two sires with plenty of “outcross” blood, and hence our smallish breeding pool has developed in recent decades in a different way than the North American mare population. These sires crossed well with the Meadow Skipper line sires that had stood here – Albatross sons Vance Hanover, Holmes Hanover and Soky’s Atom, and Most Happy Fella sons Smooth Fella and New York Motoring – none of which were the Meadow Skipper line stars that North America accessed.  Readers from North America will recognise New York Motoring perhaps as the brother of Happy Motoring. But these sires did a great job with our mares and produced many excellent racehorses. Interestingly, none of them left a really successful siring son but they carried classy maternal lines that have become an important part of our breeding pedigrees.

We sort of skipped all the Artsplace/Western Hanover excitement that happened in North America, except for Dream Away and later Badlands Hanover,  and we tried only a few Abercrombie line sires (including a brief fling with Life Sign when he was past his peak in North America, but that didn’t really go anywhere either). We had a few sons of Cam Fella come out to New Zealand  (covered in another of my blogs) but nothing that really worked for us except Presidential Ball, and we missed access to Cam Fella’s best sons in Camluck, Cambest and Cam’s Card Shark.

We were extremely lucky that In The Pocket and then Falcon Seelster came along.

(In nearby Australia, it was quite a different story, with much more influence from Cam Fella line and Abercrombie line sires over that same period.)

Well, those are some musings on how New Zealand has ended up with such a good quality but different genetic pool.  The quality of our pedigrees started much further back than what I’ve mentioned here – there were some great ‘colonial’ breeds, and also the injection of absolute classy genes like those U Scott and Light Brigade brought with them (when imported from America by Roydon Lodge) was a turning point in the 1930s/40s, and Bachelor Hanover in the 1970s, among others.

It seems to be a story of solid building up of quality, with some spectacular injections of outcross sires with classy maternal lines at just the right moment.

Are Bettor’s Delight and Art Major going to be two of the same, in hindsight? I’m not sure about Art Major, but Bettor’s Delight (from the Cam Fella sire lines and no Direct Scooter anywhere at all) is going gangbusters to the point of saturation (more of that in my next blog), and Real Desire (from the Abercromie sire line and no Direct Scooter at all) could be another Mr Right – standout sires that leave a lasting impression on the development of our breed.

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