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A Perfectly Balanced Habitat

by Nigel Pullen

Habitat Part 1

Within the space of a quarter of an hour at the 1967 Keeneland Yearling Sales, multi-millionaire Charles Engelhard purchased two choicely bred colts by Ribot and Sir Gaylord for $100,000 and $105,000 respectively. The subsequent career of each colt would evocatively capture the highs and lows of racehorse ownership, via an uncanny reversal of their fortunes.

As the summer of 1968 crept into autumn, the cheaper of the two colts appeared to have been the shrewder investment. Named Ribofilio, he was crowned Champion English Two-Year-Old of 1968 after a smooth victory in the Dewhurst Stakes; while the Sir Gaylord colt was still languishing in his stable unraced. However, by the end of the following season Ribofilio's classic dreams remained unfulfilled. Although winning two minor races, he is best remembered for starting favourite in four European classics, and winning none of them. Ribofilio was eventually exported to South Africa, where he became a successful stallion.

As the fortunes of Ribofilio began to wane, the $105,000 purchase by Sir Gaylord out of Little Hut, named Habitat, set out on his own quest for glory. Backwardness and minor niggling injuries had kept him off the track as a juvenile, and his initial three-year-old outing gave little indication of the successes to come. In the ten furlongs Royal Stakes at Sandown Park in April 1969, the debutant dwelt at the start and finished last; the contest being won by eventual Epsom Derby runner-up Shoemaker. Habitat reappeared a fortnight later on similar soft ground, over the same distance at Windsor's figure-eight track. A first victory looked likely, until he edged left in the last few strides, and was caught in the shadow of the post by Absolved. Brought back to a mile, the son of Sir Gaylord finally relinquished his maiden tag with an easy five lengths success in a minor contest at Haydock on 23rd May.

Three races in the space of a month had obviously had no ill effect upon the colt; and just eight days later he returned to the racecourse to take on some of England's top milers in Newbury's Lockinge Stakes. It appeared a tough task, for the field included 2,000 Guineas-placed colts Jimmy Reppin and Tower Walk, together with future Eclipse Stakes winner Wolver Hollow. Backed from 20-1 to half those odds, Habitat led inside the final furlong to win by a length and a half from Jimmy Reppin, with the rest of the field strung out behind. Even though Habitat was receiving weight from all of his rivals, it was still an impressive performance, and ranked the rapidly improving colt alongside the best three-year-old milers.

This opinion was confirmed two weeks later when he was beaten just half a length, at level weights, by the dual English and Irish 2000 Guineas hero Right Tack, in a very rough St. James's Palace Stakes over Ascot's old mile. With an autumn campaign in mind, Habitat was now given a well earned two months break and reappeared in mid August at Deauville to contest the one mile Prix Quincey. On good ground, he easily defeated the useful French filly Mige by one and a half lengths. The following week, he was back on the racetrack in the Wills Mile at Goodwood, taking on his old rival Jimmy Reppin, and the brilliant three-year-old filly Lucyrowe. This was Habitat's first race on firm ground, and after showing excellent acceleration inside the final furlong, he prevailed by half a length over the filly, with Jimmy Reppin a similar distance away in third. The quality of the performance can be gauged by the fact that none of this trio was ever to be beaten again.

Despite his win at Goodwood, Habitat had appeared ill at ease on the firm ground, and similar conditions prevented him taking up an engagement in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, won incidentally by Jimmy Reppin. Consequently, his final racecourse appearance was destined to be the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp on 'Arc day, a race with more than just prize money and prestige hinging on the result.

On the eve of the race, Tim Rogers of Airlie Stud in Ireland offered $1 million for the colt, conditional upon him winning the following afternoon. Habitat played his part to perfection to seal the deal, convincingly scoring by two lengths with less than three lengths separating the remainder of the field. By one of those cruel twists of fate, Ribofilio had finished out of the first ten in the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, barely forty minutes earlier.

Syndicated at 10,000 a share, Habitat retired to Grangewilliam Stud in Ireland with an initial fee in 1970 of 2,750 guineas; one of the highest advertised at the time. Many questioned the wisdom of these figures, but the astute Tim Rogers was proved right yet again. During Habitat's stud career, many substantial offers from America were refused, and by 1986, his last covering season, nominations were changing hands for 80,000 Irish guineas. He was eventually put down on 23rd June 1987 after unsuccessful attempts to stem the laminitis that had afflicted him the previous autumn.

Standing at 16.1 hands, Habitat was an imposing colt that always carried plenty of condition. Conformation-wise, his bad points were his forelegs and knees, a trait he passed on to some of his offspring. More importantly, he also imparted in abundance the priceless asset of class and speed.

To gain an appreciation of the factors at work in Habitat's pedigree the best starting point is his sixth dam Prinzessin (by St. George - Katie Havlin). She came from a long established American family, also responsible for Nearco, and her pedigree presents a perfect example of the blending of early American and English strains. Her sire, St. George, was 3x3 to the full brothers Rataplan and Stockwell, both by Birdcatcher's son The Baron out of Pocahontas by Glencoe. Meanwhile Katie Havlin's American heritage came through her sire Hanover (3x3 to Glencoe's son Vandal, plus a strain of Lexington) and dam Medje (2x2 to Lexington/Glencoe sources Susan Beane and La Henderson).

The Glencoe link between the Rataplan/Stockwell and the American strains is obvious, but not so apparent at first glance is the fact that Lexington and Pocahontas' dam Marpessa shared strains of Orville, Diomed and Saltram. Just for good measure Katie Havlin was 6x4 to the full brothers Birdcatcher (also grandsire of Rataplan and Stockwell) and Faugh-A-Ballagh). This meant that Pocahontas was in fact a wonderful foil to the numerous Lexington/Glencoe cross that proliferated in American pedigrees at that time, and a perfect way of blending the two strains together.

Let us move on now to Habitat's fourth dam Decree. A daughter of Wrack, Decree was inbred 3x3 to the English Triple Crown winner Isinglass via a daughter (Samphire) and a son (Star Shoot). Her sire Wrack had been bred by the 5th Earl Of Rosebery at his famous Mentmore Stud, and proved a versatile performer on the turf winning ten races on the flat and six over hurdles, before being exported to America where he became a successful stallion.

Wrack was by the extremely important Robert Le Diable. This son of Ayrshire was 3x4 to the full sisters Feronia and Violet, whose dam Woodbine was by Stockwell out of a full sister to Newminster, named Honeysuckle. Just for good measure, Rose Of Lancaster, the granddam of Robert Le Diable, was also a full sister to another influential stallion in Bend Or, who appeared in Wrack's fifth generation. So every time Robert Le Diable met up with mares carrying the prevalent strains of Newminster and Bend Or, it created a powerful pedigree pattern bringing together these two sets of full brothers and sisters. Furthermore Wrack actually traced tail female to another close relative to Rose Of Lancaster and Bend Or named Paraffin; making Wrack 3x5x4 to the trio of Rose Of Lancaster, Bend Or and Paraffin.

The other important stallion in Decree's genetic make-up was his maternal grandsire Star Shoot (by Isinglass - Astrology by Hermit). Since Hermit was a son of Newminster, and Isinglass was 3x4 to the brothers Stockwell and Rataplan, this made Star Shoot and excellent foil to the previously mentioned Woodbine.

Decree's second foal Khara developed into one of the leading American juvenile fillies of 1929, capturing the Selima Stakes and seven other races from a career spanning 32 starts. Her sire Kai-Sang (by The Finn - Kiluna by Golden Maxim), although a useful stayer, was responsible for nothing else of note. However, a glance at his pedigree shows that it contained some important balancing strains. His sire, The Finn (by Ogden - Livonia by Star Shoot - Woodray by Rayon D'Or), was a product of John E. Madden's Hamburg Place and the winner of 19 of his 50 starts over four seasons, including a Metropolitan Handicap. As his maternal grandsire was Star Shoot, this made Khara 4x3 to that stallion via two daughters.

The Finn's sire Ogden is of particular interest, as his dam Oriole (by Bend Or - Fenella by Newminster's son Cambuscan) was a three quarter sister to Dongola, herself dam of the influential mare Gondolette. This strain was further reinforced because Rayon D'Or (sire of The Finn's granddam) was by Flageolet, himself an obscure half brother to Fenella. This made The Finn 3x4 to Fenella/Flageolet, and more importantly provided rare opposite sex-crosses to the important mares Fenella and Gondolette.

The racing career of Rayon D'Or is well worth recording. He won a total of seventeen events as diverse as the St James's Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes, Champion Stakes Prix du Cadran and English St. Leger. Indeed he must have been pretty tough, for his Champion Stakes success was the middle leg of three wins on three consecutive days. His victory in the English St. Leger etched the name of his dam (Araucaria) in racing history, for she had already produced Camelia (winner of the English 1000 Guineas and Oaks) and Chamant (winner of English 2000 Guineas), and thus became one of the few mares to produce the winners of four of the five English Classics. Rayon D'Or was a pretty important fellow off the track too, since his dam Araucaria (a daughter of the immortal broodmare Pocahontas) was a near three quarter sister to Stockwell and Rataplan, while Araucaria's sire Ambrose was a half brother to the immortal taproot mare Agnes. What a dynamic pedigree - it contained balances to three of the most important families in the Studbook!

Quite topically, Rayon D'Or was found 3x4 in the pedigree of the mare Milfoil, an intensely inbred animal 1x2 to the near full relatives Vulcain and Madcap, and the ancestress of recent U.S. Grade 2 winner Starrer.

Kai-Sang's maternal grandsire, Golden Maxim, was also significant, courtesy of his sire, another obscure stallion called Golden Garter (by Bend Or -Sanda by Wenlock). Not only was Golden Garter a half brother to both the influential stallion Sainfoin and the mare Sierra (dam of Sundridge), but his dam Sanda was a close genetic relative to none other than Isinglass, whom we have already seen was found 5x4x4 in Khara. Both were bred on a cross of Wenlock, Industry and Stockwell. Furthermore both Sanda and Isinglass's dam Dead Lock were 6x4 to the full sisters Leda and Arachne.

At stud, Khara bred nine winners from just ten foals, and they proved a tough bunch winning between them 46 times from an amazing 379 starts. The stallion Challenger II soon became her regular suitor and sired Khara's final eight foals, with the first of this octet being Habitat's granddam, Savage Beauty. Her best performance on the racetrack came when taking the New England Oaks, and she recorded five other victories. Another of Khara's foals sired by Challenger II was the three times winner Little Sphinx, later to become the granddam of Dancer's Image who stood at stud in Ireland, France and Japan.

Challenger II encountered mixed fortunes during his racing career. After remaining unbeaten in both juvenile races, his owner Lord Dewar died, thereby voiding all the colt's engagements, including the following year's classics. There was thus little point in keeping Challenger II in training in England, and he was sold to race in America. However, subsequent to his sale, Challenger II came off the worse in an argument with some barbed wire and cut his hind legs and hocks. This caused him to miss his complete three-year-old campaign, and when raced at four on the west coast, was unplaced in all of his eight outings.

Challenger II (by Swynford - Sword Play by Great Sport) was 1x2 to Swynford/Great Sport, both bred on an Isonomy/Hermit/Pilgrimage cross. Swynford was a grandson of Isinglass, making Savage Beauty 4x6x5x5 to the son of Isonomy. Great Sport's importance stemmed from the fact that he was a balancing son strain to Gondolette, providing further reinforcement of that family. Of equal importance was Challenger II's fourth dam Amphora, a full sister to Sundridge, with this pair's granddam being none other than Sanda, the close genetic relative of Isinglass.

Racing until she was five, Savage Beauty was then retired to the paddocks, producing her first two foals to the cover of Discovery. The second of these, named Minx, was exported to Japan as an eight-year-old, in foal to the Fair Trial horse Mafosta. The resulting foal went on the win the Japanese 2,000 Guineas (Satsuki Sho), under the name of Hekiraku. Savage Beauty foaled Habitat's dam Little Hut at the age of 18. Although not blessed with the best of knees, a fault she probably passed on to her son, Little Hut was a durable mare, recording five wins at three and four, and being placed 21 times in a career numbering 55 races.

She was a daughter of the sprinter Occupy (by Bull Dog - Miss Bunting by Bunting), one of the best two-year-olds of the 1943 season, when he won the Belmont Futurity over 6 furlongs. Occupy's dam, Miss Bunting, was 6x6x6x5 to Mannie Gray, through her son Domino, her daughter Mannie Himyar, and twice courtesy of her grandson Hamburg, who appeared 4x4 via two daughters. Little Hut herself was linebred 5x5 to Ogden, 6x6 to Sundridge/Amphora and 5x6 to Flying Fox. This duplication of Ogden came via the closely related pair Mirthful and Kai-Sang, who appeared 3x3.

As an aside, Little Hut's pedigree bore a striking resemblance to that of the mare Chaltrump (by Challenger II - Trumps by Teddy) who gained fame as the granddam of Jay Trump, the American-bred winner of the 1965 Aintree Grand National Steeplechase, run over 4 miles and thirty daunting fences. Both pedigrees contained within their first five generations Challenger II, Frillery, Pennant, Spearmint and Teddy.

Little Hut's best offspring amongst her nine winners were the fillies Guest Room, a stakes winning daughter of Hail to Reason; and Lodge (by Bold Lad (USA)), the third dam of Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Suave Dancer (by Green Dancer) and granddam of useful juvenile Shicklah (by The Minstrel). Apart from Habitat, her best colts were the Louisiana Derby winner Northfields (by Northern Dancer), Hardware (by Royal Serenade) and Group 3 placed Shack (by Mr Leader). Northfields was destined to become a successful sire in Ireland and later South Africa, while Shack met with only limited success in the 'Emerald Isle' before being exported to Germany in 1988. Mention should also be made of Little Hut's unraced daughter Summer Hut (by Summer Tan), as she will enter our story in Part 2 of this article.

Habitat's sire, Sir Gaylord had been a high class juvenile and looked even better at three before breaking down in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. He provided reinforcement of many of the strains found in Little Hut. His granddam, Imperatrice, was by Caruso (5x4 Isonomy and 4x4 Amphion who was himself 3x3 to Newminster) out of Cinquepace (4x4 Flying Fox, 4x4 Bay Ronald and 5x5x5 Bend Or and his half sister Rose Of York). Also found were Solario (providing more Sundridge and Ayrshire) and Blenheim II (4x4 Isinglass plus Robert Le Diable).

The closest inbreeding in Habitat's pedigree was 5x4 Plucky Liege via her two sons Admiral Drake and Bull Dog, 6x4 Teddy via a daughter and son, 6x6 Sunstar via two sons and 8x6x4 Swynford via a daughter and two sons. Although on the face of it Admiral Drake (by Craig An Eran) and Bull Dog (by Teddy) appeared to be only half brothers, in fact their genetic relationship was a lot closer. Bull Dog's sire Teddy traced tail male to Orme (by Ormonde out of St Simon's full sister Angelica), and tail female to the mare Doremi who was bred on the famed Bend Or/Macaroni cross. This made him a wonderful balance for Craig an Eran's dam Maid Of The Mist, for she traced tail male to Bend Or/Macaroni source Bona Vista, while her dam Sceptre had exactly the reverse pattern to Orme, being by St Simon's son Persimmon out of Ormonde's full sister Ornament. Notice how perfect equilibrium is achieved in the relationship between Teddy and Maid Of The Mist; the tail male ancestor of one being a perfect foil for the tail female ancestress of the other, and vice-versa.

Just for good measure the pedigrees of Teddy and Maid Of The Mist contained balancing son and daughter strains of both Hampton and Sterling. There was further reinforcement of this background too, for Sir Gaylord traced tail male to Nearco, whose dam Nogara proved to be a close genetic relative of Bull Dog; both having strains of Ajax, Spearmint and St Simon.

With the likes of Bull Dog's half brother Bois Roussel, his full brother Sir Gallahad III and his full sisters Marguerite De Valois, Noor Jahan and Quatre Bras II waiting in the wings it is easy to see how Habitat's pedigree proved so compatible with the broodmare population when he entered stud.

But perhaps another reason for Habitat's success as a stallion was due to his multitude of opposite-sex crosses to some of today's commonly found strains. These balancing influences included Pharos (daughter strain), Challenger II (balance to Selene), Flageolet (half brother to Fenella) Golden Garter (half brother to Sainfoin and Sierra), Amphora (full sister to Sundridge), Oriole (three quarter sister to Dongola), Araucaria (three quarter sister to Stockwell/Rataplan) and Ambrose (half brother to Agnes).

In the second part of this article we will look at Habitat's career as a stallion, and also how inbreeding to his family has been used to good effect.

January 13, 2002. Copyright by Nigel Pullen 2002.