Brotherly love and sister acts: The greatest siblings on the racetrack
April 10 is Siblings Day, an occasion to celebrate our brothers and sisters. As a racing fan and pedigree aficionado, I’d like to expand on that idea and recall some of the greatest sibling acts of the turf.
To keep the universe of candidates more manageable, only full siblings qualify. I also preferred to concentrate on rare racetrack exploits rather than long-term influence at stud. Even so, it was difficult to whittle this list down to a top 10.
Ruthless and the “Barbarous Battalion”
Ruthless secured her place in racing history by defeating males in the inaugural Belmont S. in 1867, and she dispatched them again in the Travers S. But Ruthless proved to be the opening salvo in a series of terrific sisters, all New York-breds sired by Eclipse (not to be confused with the foundation sire from the prior century) and out of the mare Barbarity.
In a nod to their prolific dam, they were dubbed the “Barbarous Battalion.” Relentless and Remorseless were both outstanding juveniles. Regardless and Merciless scored their signature wins in the Alabama S., in 1874 and 1876, respectively.
Iroquois and Harold
Iroquois represented a landmark achievement for American Thoroughbred breeding, as the first U.S. native to garner England’s coveted Derby at Epsom in 1881. Bred by the Erdenheim Stud of Aristides Welch (namesake of the first Kentucky Derby winner, Aristides), Iroquois added the St James’s Palace and Prince of Wales’s, as well as the oldest British classic, the St Leger.
His dam, the influential Maggie B. B., had already produced an American classic winner, Harold. Also sired by Leamington two years before Iroquois, Harold won the 1879 Preakness S. He wouldn’t be memorable by himself, but his transatlantic tag-team with Iroquois remains an incredible feat — especially for full siblings.
Maggie B. B. wasn’t done. She later foaled their half-brother, Panique, who captured the 1884 Belmont.
Omaha and Flares
A half-century later, another dynamic duo spanned the Atlantic. William Woodward’s homebred Omaha emulated his sire, Gallant Fox, with wins in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont in 1935, to become the only father-son Triple Crown winners.
Omaha was shipped to England for his four-year-old campaign, and his most memorable result was a near-miss in the prestigious Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. His year-younger brother out of Flambino, Flares, was campaigned in England. The winner of the 1937 Champion S., he secured the 1938 Gold Cup that had eluded Omaha.
The sire line was something of a brother-fest. Gallant Fox was a full brother to major winner Fighting Fox and to Foxbrough, England’s top juvenile of 1938. Moreover, Gallant Fox’s sire, Sir Gallahad III, was a full brother to another outstanding progenitor, Bull Dog.
Moccasin and Ridan
Flares became an ancestor of a brother-sister act bred by Claiborne Farm. His descendant Nantallah and the blue hen Rough Shod II united to produce Ridan.
The co-champion two-year-old colt of 1961, Ridan won such lucrative events as the Washington Park Futurity and Arlington Futurity and crossed the wire first in all seven of his starts that season.
Although unable to retain divisional leadership at three, he won the Florida Derby, Blue Grass, and Arlington Classic. Ridan also placed in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and an iconic Travers, when he was outdueled by Jaipur in a thriller.
In 1965, his full sister Moccasin made history as the only juvenile filly honored as Horse of the Year (albeit in a split decision, as Daily Racing Form chose Roman Brother). She compiled eight wins from eight starts during the campaign, featuring the Gardenia S., Spinaway S., Matron S., Alcibiades S., and Selima S. Moccasin was not as successful in her ensuing seasons, but she won the 1966 Test S. and 1967 Phoenix H.
Another full sibling, Lt. Stevens, warrants mention as a major winner. So would sister Thong, if factoring in broodmare influence.
Lord Lyon and Achievement
About a century earlier in England, a brother-sister pair dominated the classics.
Lord Lyon swept the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and St Leger in 1866, which made him the third winner of the English Triple Crown.
Just a year later, his full sister, Achievement, came agonizingly close to her own classic treble. After a win in the 1000 Guineas, she finished a close second (in a dead heat) in the Oaks at Epsom and beat the boys in the St Leger. Those three races comprise a Triple Crown for fillies.
Their dam, Paradigm, came within three-quarters of a length of producing two Triple Crown winners. Lord Lyon racked up other major prizes, as did Achievement, whose highlights include the Coronation S. and Doncaster Cup.
According to Patricia Erigero of tbheritage.com, Lord Lyon and Achievement ranked as the two leading earners sired by Stockwell, the “Emperor of Stallions.”
Diamond Jubilee and Persimmon
When Queen Victoria celebrated her diamond jubilee of 60 years on the throne in 1897, her son “Bertie,” the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, welcomed the arrival of a magnificent bay colt.
The homebred son of St Simon and Perdita II fueled high hopes, as a full brother to Persimmon, who’d won the 1896 Derby and St Leger, and added the Eclipse S. and Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 1897. Their older brother, Florizel, collected a series of marquee wins but did not obtain classic glory.
Given the date of his birth and his illustrious family, what else could the youngster be named, but Diamond Jubilee? Such names often tempt fate and lose. This time, the horse vindicated his royal owner. Diamond Jubilee prevailed in the 2000 Guineas, Derby and Eclipse, and he completed the English Triple Crown by landing the St Leger in 1900. Queen Victoria lived to see it, but passed away just a few months later.
Domino and Correction
In 1890s America, a pair of speed merchants from Maj. Barak Thomas’s Dixiana Stud took center stage. The hardy mare Correction raced 122 times, won or placed in 95, and most notably defeated males in the 1894 Toboggan H.
Better still was her younger brother, by Himyar and out of Mannie Gray, Domino. His nickname, the “Black Whirlwind,” summed up his near invincibility up to a mile. Unbeaten in nine starts as a juvenile in 1893, he set a new earnings record and received acclaim as Horse of the Year.
Domino’s stamina limitations caused him to yield championship honors to fellow Hall of Famer Henry of Navarre in 1894 and 1895, but he continued to prosper in his wheelhouse.
He sadly died at the age of six, left just 19 foals behind, and merited his epitaph: “Here lies the fleetest runner the American turf has ever known, and one of the gamest and most genuine of horses.”
Bimelech and Black Helen
Despite his tragic loss at stud, Domino became a potent influence. His sire line ultimately yielded brother and sister Hall of Famers for Col. E.R. Bradley’s Idle Hour Stock Farm.
The first offspring of Domino’s descendant Black Toney and the blue hen import La Troienne, Black Helen, was the champion three-year-old filly of 1935. She conquered males in the predecessor to the Flamingo at Hialeah and was the first filly since Modesty (1884) to win the American Derby. Black Helen garnered a prize in her own division, too — the Coaching Club American Oaks.
Her younger brother, Bimelech, the undefeated champion two-year-old colt of 1939, lost his perfect record when second as the 2-5 favorite in the 1940 Kentucky Derby. The upset was blamed on an ill-considered prep. With different management, Bimelech arguably would have swept the Triple Crown, since he re-asserted himself in the Preakness and Belmont.
Another full sibling, Big Hurry, couldn’t match their Hall of Fame status but did land the 1938 Selima.
Glorious Song and Devil’s Bag
Canadian Hall of Famer Glorious Song might have had a brother worthy of our Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, if only Devil’s Bag could have had his sister’s longevity.
E. P. Taylor bred both offspring of Halo and Ballade. The older Glorious Song, foaled in Ontario, became the first Canadian-bred millionaire. Voted Canada’s Horse of the Year for her 1980 campaign, she earned two more divisional Sovereign Awards, as well as an Eclipse Award as U.S. champion older mare.
Maryland-bred Devil’s Bag was so brilliant at two that he was hailed as the next Secretariat. Not only did he win all five starts by a combined margin of 27 lengths, but he posted eye-popping times in the 1983 Cowdin (G2) and Champagne (G1).
The bubble burst when Devil’s Bag tired to a bad fourth in the 1984 Flamingo (G1). A bone chip was discovered in his right knee later that spring, and he was retired to stud with a nagging what-might-have-been.
Another full brother, 1992 Arlington Classic winner Saint Ballado, ended up a more influential sire.
The Hasili “Hussars”
Since the turn of the 21st century, Juddmonte matron Hasili has furnished a series of top international performers by supersire Danehill. Why not give them an alliterative label, in the spirit of the “Barbarous Battalion,” and call them the Hasili Hussars?
French highweight Dansili was arguably unlucky in a flying, near-miss third in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). European champion Banks Hill and Intercontinental both clinched Eclipse Awards in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) in 2001 and 2005, respectively.
Next came their multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire brother Cacique, followed by $2.8 million earner Champs Elysees, the 2009 Canadian Horse of the Year.
Postscript: What about all the Galileos?
Aidan O’Brien has trained several siblings to lift significant prizes — e.g., Magical and Rhododendron; Highland Reel and Idaho; Churchill and Clemmie; Gleneagles, Happily, and Marvelous; and currently, Japan and Mogul.
Their proliferation is a testimony to sire Galileo’s prepotency, as well as the Ballydoyle system. Yet their recency makes me wonder how well each set of siblings would stand up over time, compared to similarly accomplished pairs over the past century who didn’t make the cut.
A similar point applies in the case of Noble Mission. I just couldn’t bracket him alongside his phenomenal brother, Frankel, who deserves to stand alone.