Foal Song: Arrogate and Songbird’s Duet

When Songbird retired, there was debate among the community as to who would be the lucky party to purchase one of the most successful mares to ever go through a sales ring. The public had already set their sights, and their hopes, on Mandy Pope. She had purchased Groupie Doll, Havre de Grace, and Plum Pretty in years prior, so would she do it again?

Irrational paranoia about her possibly being sold to an international buyer was quelled when Pope purchased Songbird in a feisty bidding war for $9.5 million dollars, just $500,000 short of what she paid for Havre de Grace in that same sales ring only a few years ago.

The scandal was thought to be over, and it was, until it was announced that Pope intended to breed her multi-million dollar mare to Arrogate.

He was one of the most talked about horses in recent years thanks in part to his record setting Travers -winning by almost 14 lengths in a ridiculous 1:59.36- and soul-stirring Dubai World Cup, when he swept by everyone to win despite missing the break completely. He had been victorious in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus Invitational before that remarkable Dubai trip, and he returned from it experiencing a form reversal that puzzled even his Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert.

For the rest of his 4 year old season after his return from Dubai, Arrogate tasted defeat in every subsequent race, despite being the overwhelming favorite for every one -minus the Classic at Del Mar- which was won by Gun Runner.

Horse people figured that it was one of two things: he either hated the Del Mar surface and just refused to run on it, or his form began to plummet because Arrogate was done being a racehorse. Either could happen to an athlete that can’t vocalize his feelings but some of the general public decided that -based on his last few performances- Arrogate was not “worthy” of being bred, much less to a champion like Songbird.

You would have thought that Pope was spending tax dollars on this breeding (and not her own money) with the responses to the news. It was borderline absurd at times and I did my fair share of defending both Arrogate’s genetics and Pope’s brilliant choice to breed the two.

Here’s the bottom line: Arrogate’s last racing season does not impact his genetics and his genetics are a masterpiece. Songbird herself holds a couple generations of black type along with various distant family members currently racing in America and is bringing in her own valuable array of strong familial traits.

The future foal (now that Songbird has been confirmed as pregnant) is going to be benefitting from two very classy families. We’ll start with Arrogate, since that seems to be such a point of contention for some people.

Arrogate’s dam, Bubbler, was an honest racer who fought her way to $211,622 in career earnings. She didn’t shine as a Grade I horse, but she had a strong effort in the Ouija Board Distaff Handicap, and won a few local stakes races in Houston. For a mare that got her start at Remington Park, she made her name the old fashioned way.

Bubbler’s dam, Grechelle, is a daughter of the champion Meadow Star. After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Frizette, Spinaway, and Matron (all Gr. I races) along with the Gr. III Astoria Breeders’ Cup and the Gr. II Schuylerville, Meadow Star was named Champion 2YO Filly. Her momentum continued into her three year-old year when she claimed victory in the Gr. I Mother Goose, Acorn, and Comely Stakes. She also won the Gr. II Queen of the Stage stakes and was second in the Gr. I CCA Oaks behind Lite Light, whose owner M.C. Hammer caused more of a stir than the winning horse and who happened to be the filly that Meadow Star had beaten in the “Mother of all Gooses”. That race is shown below:

Meadow Star went on to produce Grechelle and the dams of horses like Belle Gallantey and Mongolian Shopper before passing on in 2002 during foaling. Both she and her Fusaichi Pegasus foal were lost and she is buried at Trackside Farm in Versailles, KY.

Grechelle also made it to the track and placed third in the Golden Rod. Upon retirement, she produced two proficient daughters in Bubbler and Unbridled Femme, who have both gone on to produce stakes horses, including the aforementioned Arrogate.

While he receives a lot of flak for being a “source of unsoundness”, Unbridled’s Song’s daughters have negated this stereotype by throwing sound and strong horses; they’re also prone to producing their best offspring early on in their careers as broodmares. Though Bubbler is by a different sire, the fact that she produced Arrogate at only seven years old plays well in her son’s favor. If the “produce their best work early” mentality works for daughters by Unbridled’s Song, would it be unreasonable to hope for the same success in a son, especially when both sides of his pedigree seem to favor the trend?

Unbridled’s Song’s sons do include stallions like Graydar, Bird Song, Cross Traffic, Liam’s Map, Mission Impazible, and Midshipman, who is the odd man out in this list as the only non-grey horse. While they aren’t experiencing Uncle Mo levels of early success, the young stallions in this group are throwing some precocious winners in their breeding careers. However, most have not seen the quality of book that Arrogate is going to be getting for his first breeding season; with better mares comes an even better chance that he will succeed in fantastic fashion.

Great genetics are clearly not a problem for Arrogate.

Songbird’s family is a little different. Her dam, Ivanavinalot, earned quite a bit more than Bubbler did on the track and her name is considerably harder to pronounce. At $647,300 in career earnings, the Florida bred daughter of West Acre -a son of Claiborne Farm’s homebred Narrate- was a strong Gr. II and Gr. III performer throughout her career with victories in the Bonnie Miss, Susan’s Girl, My Dear Girl, and Brave Raj stakes.

Ivanavinalot’s earlier foals haven’t done much compared to their famed half sister, Songbird, but they also were lacking one key trait: they weren’t by a stallion like Medaglia d’Oro. If you don’t know who he is, then where you have been the last few years can rightfully come under question. The famed sire of Rachel Alexandra just likes throwing talented fillies with Plum Pretty, Marketing Mix, and recent Breeders’ Cup winner Bar of Gold padding his impressive resume as a sire. Some of his sons include Talismanic (GB), Mshawish, and Vancouver (AUS), thus giving hope to the idea that Songbird’s foal, regardless of gender, will acquire some of that racing music.

However, is there a mare that we can look to for a potential glimpse into what her breeding career might become? Yes, there is.

One of the many things that has been frequently touted is how closely Songbird’s breeding resembles that of Rachel Alexandra, whom she passed as Medaglia d’Oro’s highest money earner. Rachel only had two foals, but those two foals both turned out winners, with her daughter Rachel’s Valentina, achieving Gr. I fame with her victory in the Spinaway at Saratoga. Her son, Jess’ Dream, was able to break his maiden in a dazzling effort first out, but was retired after injuries plagued his short-lived career. After a life-threatening complication, Rachel Alexandra was unofficially pensioned (it was never formally announced but Barbara Banke has made it known that there were no immediate plans to breed her for the last few years) and is now living a comfortable life at Stonestreet.

Their striking physical similarities aside, Songbird is just as well-equipped genetically as Rachel was to become an incredible broodmare too. Her sire has already proved his worth as a broodmare sire, and Songbird has the best chance of producing something special in the capable hands of Mandy Pope.

As for Arrogate…

This entire idea that the tail-end of a racing season should impact an entire future gets stranger the more you say it and mull it over in your head. You don’t have to like a horse, but proclaiming one as “unfit to breed” based on traits that aren’t passed down genetically (like a burn-out after a rigorous season) is nothing more than people anthropomorphizing -or giving animals human traits- and lashing out with an undeserved sense of entitled bitterness.

This foal, regardless of sex, is going to be the result of years of careful planning, breeding, and meticulous research.

Like its parents, this duet of two talented horses will be a masterpiece.

A genetic work of art.

1 reply »

  1. This is a great blog, Pati. I hope that readers will be educated and informed enough to know that this match will be awesome.