Horse running through field

Malibu Moon Doubling Down

by Roger Lyons

In his epic poem The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Nikos Kazantzakis sends the aging Odysseus and his faithful mariners on one last adventure. All along the way they pour the usual libations to the gods, of course, but not to ask for a blessing on their journey. No, after their last 20-year sojourn abroad, during which they’d been subjected to all sorts of Olympian hi-jinks, they asked that the gods just leave them alone. Just, please, don’t interfere this time. Odysseus knew the downside risk of divine intervention too well to be seduced by the upside potential.

The equine Odysseus (Malibu Moon–Persimmon Hill, by Conquistador Cielo) must not have learned that lesson yet because he appeared to have plenty of help from above winning the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), and he’s into the deities a lot deeper than that, judging from the way he’s bred. I know pedigree consultants have been raving about his “pedigree pattern,” but, given the numbers, it’s not a pattern you’d want to repeat unless you’re assured of only the most benevolent patronage from the gods.

Malibu Moon hasn’t done particularly well in the past from this so-called “pattern.” Not counting his 2007 crop, of which Odysseus is to date the luckiest member, Malibu Moon has had five superior runners from 101 mares with Mr. Prospector in their ancestries. It’s five of 90 with Mr. Prospector in the sire line of the dam, but, when Mr. Prospector was up this close it’s been only 1/38. That’s more typical of very close inbreeding to Mr. Prospector, and it’s very much to Malibu Moon’s credit that he can cope with it at all, especially at that level.

As for Odysseus’ inbreeding to Nijinsky II, well, most of Malibu Moon’s major stakes success from mares in descent of Nijinsky II–all of it, actually–involved dams that had Nijinsky II through male strains. With female strains of Nijinsky II, as in this case, Malibu Moon is 0/22 through 2006, and he’s 0/18 with Round Table through female strains. He’s much better with male strains of both Nijinsky II (3/32) and Round Table (4/22).

So, if you look at the numbers associated with that appealing arrangement of bold-face type on the pedigree printout, it looks less like a pattern you’d want to replicate than one you’d want to avoid–a prime example of mistaking the exception for the rule.

A better model is the breeding of Glencrest Farm’s Devil May Care, recent winner of the nine-furlong Bonnie Miss Stakes (G2), also by Malibu Moon and inbred to Mr. Prospector. Her inbreeding to Mr. Prospector is at the more prudent distance of 3×4, Mr. Prospector being the sire of her third dam, and, perhaps even more importantly, her dam is from Roberto line. From 69 mares tracing in some way to sons of Hail to Reason, two of the nine that produced superior runners by Malibu Moon through 2006 trace to Roberto, which doesn’t count Devil May Care since she’s a 2007.

Don’t be distracted by the pattern of crosses of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector in Devil May Care’s female line. Of Malibu Moon’s 63 mates with both Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer in their ancestries, only four have produced superior runners by him.

The numbers make sense from the larger perspective of what very close inbreeding is supposed to accomplish. It’s not supposed to result in a Kentucky Derby winner. It’s supposed to yield runners that are specialized around the capacities for which Mr. Prospector is best known. That’s one of the reasons why, with the exception of Devil May Care, no other North American Malibu Moon offspring that is inbred to Mr. Prospector has won a major stakes beyond 8.5 furlongs.

The mythical Odysseus proved he could go the distance, but my guess is, the equine Odysseus, while he may have had Athena going for him at Tampa Bay, will run afoul of Poseidon as soon as he steps up to nine furlongs. But, then, what’s an epic hero without hubris?

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