Horse running through field

The Travails of Drosselmeyer

by Roger Lyons

Distorted Humor gets at least one superior runner out of about every seventh or eighth mare that produces at least one foal by him, counting winners of unrestricted stakes and horses that run at least second in a G1 or G2 race. In order to have a record like that, a stallion has to have a broad reach into the genealogical range of the broodmare population. Yet, inevitably, even the best stallions are challenged by certain otherwise important influences.

This brings up the interesting case of Drosselmeyer (Distorted Humor-Golden Ballet, by Moscow Ballet). He qualified as a superior runner in my system when he beat every horse except Fly Down in the Dwyer S. (G2), but anyone who’s watched the horse could see he has talent. Even so, he still hasn’t won a major stakes, nor was he able to meet the expectations represented by his challenging route to qualifying for the Kentucky Derby despite talent superior, arguably, to some of the horses that actually did qualify. For some reason, Drosselmeyer hasn’t been able to keep the promise. It’s a mystery.

It happens that Drosselmeyer’s dam, Golden Ballet, by Moscow Ballet, represents one of Distorted Humor’s most prickly issues with the broodmare population. Distorted Humor is out of a Danzig mare, and popular thinking about pedigree would suggest that Distorted Humor would work well with mares that resonate with Danzig, mares that have strains of Northern Dancer, the dams of which, like that of Danzig, trace to Teddy–maybe even mares that return Danzig himself.

Well, it isn’t so. The two most notable Northern Dancer strains whose dams trace to Teddy are Nijinsky II and Storm Bird. Of the 68 mates with Nijinsky II in their ancestries through Distorted Humor’s 2007 crop, only five have produced superior runners; and of the 56 mates with Storm Bird in their ancestries, only four have done so. What tells the tale, though, is that not even one of his 27 mates with Danzig in their ancestries has produced a superior runner.

The problem is that Distorted Humor wants strains of Northern Dancer whose dams contrast genealogically with his own strain, which is Danzig. After all, four of his seven mates with Sadler’s Wells in their ancestries have produced superior runners. Obviously, the problem is not Northern Dancer, with which Distorted Humor has an average strike rate overall in spite of his poor records with Nijinsky II, Storm Bird, and Danzig.

Drosselmeyer’s mysterious problem could be that he is out of a Nijinsky II-line mare whose second dam is by Storm Bird. Fortunately, on the other hand, his dam has a lot going for Distorted Humor.

Moscow Ballet, although by Nijinsky II, is out of a mare by Cornish Prince, with which Distorted Humor has a strike rate of 3/13. The big push, though, probably comes from Slew o’ Gold, sire of Drosselmeyer’s second dam, with which Distorted Humor has a strike rate of 2/6. That’s confirmed by his strike rates of 14/88 with Seattle Slew and 22/137 with Slew o’ Gold’s broodmare sire, Buckpasser.

How Drosselmeyer’s complex pedigree mix will resolve in his Belmont effort remains to be seen, but a horse’s pedigree is his fate, and fate gives no quarter.

2 comments to “The Travails of Drosselmeyer”

  • Mark writes:

    Thanks for pointing this out. The breeders were really trying to breed in stamina characteristics without considering all the Northern Dancer inbreeding. Compare his breeding to that of Ice Box whose breeders used Raise a Native, Northern Dancer and Secretariat to produce a superior racehorse, IMHO.

  • Roger Lyons writes:

    Mark, thanks for your comment. Too often, breeders think of Northern Dancer inbreeding in broad terms, rather than discriminating among the various strains. And you’re right about Ice Box, too, and on target in the sense that he also has a problem in which his inbreeding to Northern Dancer is implicated although in a much more nuanced way than in the case of Drosselmeyer. I’ll be posting on that soon.

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