WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LYPHARD LINE?

Juddmonte Farms is delighted that Tony Morris has agreed to write monthly articles for the website. Tony has become the 'scribe not to be missed'. His knowledge of breeding is world renowned - he has written on most subjects and is therefore open to suggestions for future articles. His opening piece below is on the merits of Lyphard, which is appropriate given that his son Dancing Brave ran in the colours of HH Prince Khalid Abdullah. Although not a homebred, Dancing Brave holds the mantle of being one of the best racehorses ever - that is until FRANKEL arrived on the scene.

Article by Tony Morris

By a curious coincidence, two anonymous correspondents have asked questions on the same topic, the second apparently providing the answer to the first.  No sooner had I been asked: “Are there any male-line descendants of Lyphard at stud now in Britain or Ireland?” than along came the query: “How come the Lyphard male line seems to have died out here?”

This was not a subject I had ever looked into, and a little research was required.  I found that although there are a few sons of Linamix – a paternal great-grandson of Lyphard – in service in these islands, none is operating in the field of Flat breeding.  And if there is any other Lyphard-line horse active here, he has escaped my notice.

I’m happy to answer questions about Lyphard, because he first captured my attention when he was a yearling, so I naturally followed his careers at the races and at stud with great interest.

By 1970 I had made a speciality of covering bloodstock auctions, and when the catalogue for that year’s Tattersalls October yearling sale arrived I was excited to find that lot 821 was a son of Northern Dancer out of a stakes-winning Court Martial mare.  He was coming up from Airlie Stud, whose boss, Tim Rogers, had bought him as a foal at Keeneland for $35,000.

Rogers had a deserved reputation as a shrewd operator, and this appeared to represent a particularly smart move.  The colt would be going under the hammer two days before his sire’s exceptional son Nijinsky, the first Triple Crown winner in 35 years, was due to defend his unbeaten record in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.  The only Northern Dancer yearling to go to auction in Europe that season was surely going to make a fortune.  Well, that was what I thought.

I was wrong.  The ring was half empty when the colt made his appearance, and instead of the expected fireworks, I witnessed a damp squib.  There were only two bidders – Alec Head and Arpad Plesch – and the hammer came down at a modest 15,000gns.  So much for Rogers’s shrewd acquisition.  He had actually lost money over the colt.

Why was the market so unimpressed?  It could only be the fact that the colt was small.  But so what?  Northern Dancer was himself small.  Yes, but the horse who was advertising his sire in Europe was not small; Nijinsky was a big and imposing individual, so perhaps there was a view that he was the stamp of what a Northern Dancer colt should be.

Of course, in time we were to learn that Nijinsky was the least typical of all his sire’s sons.  The colt who acquired the name Lyphard was of the true Northern Dancer type, and it was those in that mould who would command huge prices at Keeneland and Saratoga in the years that followed.

That episode at Tatts was a somewhat chastening experience for me.  It seemed I was not a very good judge of pedigrees or of market conditions.  But I still felt it would be worthwhile to keep tabs on the colt when Alec Head got him to the racecourse.

Lyphard was a decent two-year-old, winning two out of four, but disappointed badly as odds-on favourite for his first test in Pattern company.  His trainer was not disconcerted about that flop; he believed the colt had the potential to make his mark over middle distances as a three-year-old.

His second season certainly started well with two victories and what seemed an unlucky fourth in the Prix Lupin, victim of an over-confident ride.  He came to Epsom as joint second favourite for the Derby, but left as an object of derision after his steering failed at Tattenham Corner and he wound up among the backmarkers.  All that the Irish Derby proved was that he did not stay a mile and a half.

Brought back in distance, Lyphard proved his real worth, winning both the Jacques le Marois and the Foret, and failing narrowly against Sallust in the Prix du Moulin.  In all three of those races he displayed a formidable turn of foot.

Much in thoroughbred breeding is a mystery, but if there is one thing that allows breeders to believe in a prospective stallion it is the ability to quicken and sustain a finishing burst.  Lyphard was always going to get chances on that score.

He had five seasons at the Haras d’Etreham, the results of his initial coverings making him leading first crop sire in both France and England.  He never looked back, and transfer to Kentucky merely underlined that he was a dominant sire, capable of getting top-class performers from European and American mares alike.  He earned sires’ championships on both sides of the Atlantic.  Not the least of his attributes was the transmission of soundness to his stock.  If you bought a Lyphard, you could pretty much guarantee its getting to the races.

Lyphard was in service at stud from the age of four until he was 27, when his fertility failed.  He survived to the great age of 36, dying in June 2005.  Viewed as a whole, his stud career was more remarkable for his daughters than his sons, but there were outstanding sons, most obviously Dancing Brave and Manila, both foals of 1983.

Should we have expected Lyphard to establish a powerful branch of the Northern Dancer line?  It was always hard to believe that it would happen through Manila, while Dancing Brave’s stud career proved problematic, and his best son Commander in Chief departed for Japan straight off the racecourse.  Alzao, not a real star as a runner, proved a surprising success in Ireland after Jean-Luc Lagardere sold him, having no faith in him, and Linamix came to the fore just because Lagardere – and for a long while nobody else – backed him to the hilt.

Lyphard’s male line isn’t dead.  Sons of Linamix are active and making an impression; it’s just only happening in France.  But we must always bear in mind that male lines aren’t everything, and that stallions may well have enduring influence through their daughters.  

Lyphard is not going to disappear from pedigrees any time soon.  His impact on racing and breeding has been positive, and while I was wholly mistaken over how he would be received by the market as a yearling, what he subsequently achieved has been nothing less than remarkable.

Tony Morris will contribute monthly features to www.juddmonte.com. If you have a query relating to historic events, horses or racing personalities, or want his view on any aspect of Flat racing and breeding, past or present (with the exception of advice on matings), write to tony.morris@mail.com with your request.

Tony Morris has been writing about racing and breeding for over 50 years, contributing to numerous publications at home and abroad. He is the author or co-author of several books, was named Racing Journalist of the Year in 1990, and in 2010 received the TBA's highest award, the Devonshire Bronze, for his 'outstanding contribution to the British breeding industry. He has travelled widely, attending race meetings and bloodstock sales in various countries, and has been privileged to see many of the best horses and meet many of the most prominent personalities in the industry over the last half-century.

Date: 3 March 2014