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Set Free

Set Free after 100 year wait by Nigel Pullen © 2004

In the long and colourful history of the English Classics, dating back to the first running of the St. Leger in 1776, just seven mares have had the distinction of producing three individual English Classic winners. Most were in the early years of the 19th Century, and amazingly four of this magnificent seven, namely Penelope, Pope Joan, Fillagree and Cobweb, were all close relatives descending from the wonderful broodmare Prunella. Penelope and Pope Joan were daughters of Prunella, while Cobweb was a daughter of Fillagree, who was herself a granddaughter of Penelope.

In between times an unnamed daughter of the stallion Rubens added her name to the role of honour, and when Araucaria’s son Rayon D’Or passed the post first in the 1879 English St. Leger, this exclusive club gained its sixth member. However, with racing becoming more competitive and the broodmare population rapidly increasing, it would be exactly one hundred years before the feat was to be repeated, courtesy of the victory of Set Free’s daughter Scintillate in the 1979 Epsom Oaks. Set Free’s treble was achieved in just four years following her daughter Juliette Marny’s triumph in the 1975 Epsom Oaks and her son Julio Mariner winning the 1978 St.Leger.

The story of Set Free had some remarkable twists and turns along the way; a tale which began at the dawn of the English Classic races, for she traced tail female to a mare named Fancy, a full sister to the first Epsom Derby winner Diomed. This particular branch of the family found its way to France in the mid 19th Century, with Set Free’s sixth dam Ignita actually being a full sister to a French Derby winner in Gardefeu.

The defining moment in Set Free’s destiny came at the 1937 Newmarket December Sales when Monsieur Pierre Wertheimer offered his ten-year-old mare Democratie, in foal to the sprinter Xandover. She was purchased for a mere 230 guineas by Major Beatty, and exactly a year later was back in the same sales ring, this time in foal to a much more fashionable stallion in English Triple Crown winner Bahram. A bid of 1,900 guineas from Mr Purcell was now required to secure her, ensuring a reasonable profit for her vendor, even considering that Bahram’s covering fee at that time was 500 guineas.

It soon appeared that the vendor had the best of the deal, and not solely because the Bahram covering failed to result in a foal. Although subsequently covered by such top stallions as Bahram, Fair Trial, Fairway and Solario, Democratie produced just three minor winners in Doyenne (by Bahram), Finette (by Fairway) and Demetrius (by Wyndham).

However, as the years went by three of Democratie’s daughters began to make their mark as broodmares. Her 1940 foal, Sunright (by Solario) initiated the renaissance by producing the prolific broodmare Zanzara. This daughter of Fair Trial’s son Fairey Fulmar became dam of fourteen winners, sired by eleven different stallions, including the speedy juveniles Showdown (Coventry and Middle Park Stakes) and Farfalla (Queen Mary Stakes). Showdown later took up stallion duties in Australia, where he became an instant success, imparting speed to his offspring in a similar fashion to another English export in Star Kingdom.

Democratie’s second important daughter proved to be Finette (by Fairway). Foaled in 1942, she became ancestress of Group winners Decent Fellow, Muscatite and Nomination. They were quite a diverse trio; Nomination winning the Richmond Stakes (G2) as a juvenile, Muscatite taking the Craven Stakes (G3), while Decent Fellow combined flat and hurdle racing successfully, winning the John Porter (G2) and Larkspur Stakes (G3) on the level, together with eight hurdle races including the prestigious Irish Sweep Hurdle.

However, it is Democratie’s third important daughter, the unraced mare Fair Freedom, upon whom our spotlight falls. A daughter of Fair Trial, she was foaled in 1945, and would ultimately become the granddam of Set Free. Significantly, the pedigrees of Zanzara, Finette and Fair Freedom had some remarkable similarities, but before we look at them in detail, it is necessary to set the scene by considering the pedigree of Democratie.

A daughter of Epinard, Democratie was 2x2 to genetic relatives Badajoz and Queen Of Fire, both being bred on a St. Simon/Cambyse cross, but probably more relevant to our story was the genetic background of Epinard’s dam Epine Blanche. Although foaled in France, Epine Blanche was conceived in America, being a daughter of Rock Sand out of an American mare, White Thorn, whose sire Nasturtium was a top class juvenile before being sold for a large sum to race England, but then went wrong in his wind. The pedigrees of Rock Sand and White Thorn bore many similarities; with Rock Sand’s combination of Springfield, Wenlock, Hermit and St. Simon being matched in White Thorn by Springfield (3x4), Wenlock, Hermit and St. Simon’s full sister Angelica.

Now, Springfield’s dam Viridis traced tail male to Touchstone and was a granddaughter of the mare Palmyra. This proved a crucial factor when he met up with strains of the aforementioned Hermit, for the latter was by Touchstone’s son Newminster, while his maternal grandsire Tadmor was a son of Palmyra. The combination of Springfield and Hermit, also incidentally with Wenlock, was present in the stallion Sundridge too, and the significance of this will become clear as we move on to look at the backgrounds of Zanzara, Finette and Fair Freedom.

Of this trio Zanzara had the most intense pedigree pattern, for she was by a son of Fair Trial out of a mare by Solario, thus combining 5x5x4x5 the closely related strains of Bromus (dam of Fair Trial’s grandsire Phalaris), Sundridge (sire of both the granddam of Fair Trial and the dam of Solario) and Rock Sand (maternal grandsire of Democratie’s sire Epinard).

Firstly Rock Sand and Bromus were three quarter genetic relatives, by virtue of both being by Springfield’s son Sainfoin out of mares by St Simon. Secondly if we compare the pedigrees of Rock Sand (by Sainfoin out of Roquebrune) and Sundridge (by Amphion out of Sierra), we find that not only were Sainfoin and Sierra full brother and sister, but that Roquebrune’s strains of Vedette, Hermit and Stockwell were mirrored in Amphion by Vedette, Hermit and Stockwell’s full brother Rataplan. It is a very similar story when we compare the pedigrees of Bromus (by Sainfoin out of Cheery) and Sundridge. Apart from the same Sainfoin/Sierra connection, Cheery’s background of Vedette, Stockwell, Orlando, Ion and Palmyra closely reflected that of Amphion too. Note how in both the Rock Sand/Sundridge and the Bromus/Sundridge relationships the strains in the sire of one individual were picked up by those in the dam of the other, and vice versa; making the Bromus/Sundridge/Rock Sand combination a potent genetic force.

The mare Finette did not have such an intense pattern as Zanzara; being by Fairway she only combined Bromus and Rock Sand. However, it is highly significant that two of her best descendents, the previously mentioned Decent Fellow and Nomination, had the mare Netherton Maid doubled in their pedigrees, and she provided Bromus, By George (a close relative to Rock Sand) and Solario (more Sundridge).

Moving on now to Set Free’s granddam Fair Freedom, a look at her pedigree shows that apart from the 4x4x4 Bromus/Sundridge/Rock Sand combination, it also possessed two more interesting features. These were the 6x5 cross of the half sister and brother Arcadia and St Damien, together with a 6x5 combination of the three quarter brothers Donovan and Raeburn.

Donovan’s appearance in Fair Freedom came via his son Matchmaker, and ironically enough the latter had a pedigree packed with strains of Prunella, the mare responsible for the quartet of broodmares mentioned at the start of this article. To begin with Matchmaker was 4x4 to the full siblings Go-Ahead and West Australian, whose dam Mowerina was 4x3 to Prunella’s daughter Penelope. Matchmaker’s dam Match Girl had an every stronger background of Prunella being 6x8x6x6x7x7 to her.

Fair Freedom was retired to the paddocks as a three-year-old, and proved a successful broodmare, producing thirteen foals and eight winners. Her son Marshal Ney (by His Highness) scored his best victory in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, before racing with success in America. Fair Freedom also produced two speedy daughters in the Lowther Stakes heroine Liberal Lady (by Abernant), and Be Careful (by My Babu), winner of both Gimcrack and Champagne Stakes as a two-year-old. Be Careful became third dam of the useful Italian filly Grease, while two other daughters of Fair Freedom to make their mark as broodmares were Party Whip (granddam of G3 winner Hotbee) and Bally Free (granddam of US Grade 1 winner Winter’s Tale).

Fair Freedom produced Set Free’s dam, a filly called Emancipation, in 1954. Consigned to the Newmarket October yearling sales by her breeder William Hill, and purchased by John Morrison of Fonthill Stud for 1,900 guineas (yes exactly the same price that was paid for her granddam seventeen years earlier), Emancipation was to prove a perfect foundation mare for the newly established stud. On the track she made all the running to win the last of her three starts as a juvenile over five furlongs, and added a mile handicap the following season, despite often suffering from rheumatics in her shoulder.

Emancipation came from the first crop of the stallion Le Sage, the winner of eight races between a mile and thirteen furlongs, but a sire that made little impact on the breed. His best offspring was the Goodwood Cup winner Sagacity, while his daughter Sage Femme produced the Middle Park Stakes victor Spanish Express.

Le Sage was 4x3 to Pharos, and since the latter’s sire Phalaris was a son of the mare Bromus, this helped reinforce Fair Freedom’s background of the closely related trio of Bromus, Sundridge and Rock Sand. However, Le Sage also supplied another important variation on this theme, for he traced tail male to Hurry On, a stallion with a very similar background to Sundridge. Remembering that Sundridge was by Amphion out of Sierra, it is significant that Amphion’s three quarter sister Lady Villikins was the dam of Hurry On’s sire Marcovil, while Sierra’s full brother Sainfoin was the maternal grandsire of Hurry On. All this made Emancipation 4x7x6x7x5x5x5 to the close genetic relatives Hurry On, Bromus, Sundridge and Rock Sand, and a similar sort of background could be found in the important fillies Musidora (English 1000 Guineas) and Queen Of Speed (dam of English 2000 Guineas winner Kashmir II). Finally Le Sage was also 5x5 to the full brother and sister Tredennis and Sweet Marjorie, themselves half siblings to none other than the dam of Rock Sand.

Emancipation quickly began to make her mark as a broodmare for the Morrison’s. Her second foal Spree (by Rockefella) won the Nassau Stakes, but had the misfortune to be born in the same year as the crack fillies Hula Dancer and Noblesse, finishing runner-up to them in the English 1000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks respectively.

Emancipation’s only other winner from her six foals was Set Free herself. Although not as talented as her half sister, Set Free fulfilled the initial promise of her only juvenile outing by winning a thirty runner Newbury eight furlongs maiden on her three-year-old bow. However, after finishing fourth in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes and second over a mile, her form trailed off when stepped up in distance, and she was unplaced in her last two starts over ten and twelve furlongs.

Being a daughter of Worden II, one would have expected Set Free to appreciate middle distances, but nevertheless Worden II did supply some important influences via his pedigree. His maternal grandsire Sind had the reverse Sundridge/Phalaris combination as Emancipation’s maternal grandsire Fair Trial, once again reinforcing this Sundridge/Bromus background. Furthermore, Sind’s grandsire Gainsborough provided a very similar Bay Ronald, Galopin, Parmesan and Plebian heritage to Fair Trial’s maternal grandsire Son-In-Law. Another important strain provide by Worden II was that of Wild Violet, the dam of his sire Wild Risk. Being by Blandford and tracing tail female to the mare Lady Cynosure, she was the prefect foil for Le Sage’s dam Miss Know All, the latter not only tracing tail male to Lady Cynosure’s full brother Polymelus, but also being out of a mare by Blandford. Yet again we have a situation of the sire line of one individual complementing the dam line of the other and vice versa.

With Set Free’s racing career over she was retired to her owner’s stud and covered by Double Jump. The first offspring of a broodmare is always an exciting time – a new life kindling an old dream. Set Free’s foal, a colt, duly arrived, being particularly large for a first foal. Unfortunately the colt named Lieutenant kept growing, and still unraced by the autumn of his three-year-old career was sold and eventually won a race in Belgium. Worse was to follow, for her next two foals, Librate (a filly by Stupendous) and Prairie Salute (a colt by Salvo) were very much peas in a pod and also too large to train.

In desperation her breeder decide to send Set Free to the recently retired Epsom Derby winner Blakeney, a horse standing 15.2½ hands, in the hope of obtaining a foal of more modest stature. Even this idea was fraught with initial problems. Blakeney took a while to realise was what required of him in his new role, and on 11th March 1971, nearly a month after the official start of the breeding season, Set Free became the first mare he actually covered.

Thenceforth everything went to plan; Set Free conceived, and the following spring witnessed the birth of neatly made filly named Juliette Marny. Unplaced on her juvenile debut she then finished second in a seven furlong Salisbury maiden before retiring to winter quarters.

The events surrounding Juliette Marny’s three-year-old debut in the 8.5 furlongs Princess Elizabeth Stakes (G3) at Epsom are still fresh in my mind even to this day. I watched the race from way down the course overlooking Tattenham Corner, with a small investment on the 7-1 shot Persian Market. Entering the final furlong Juliette Marny took the lead, but hung left into Persian Market, before going away to beat her by two lengths. Being so far from the finish I hadn’t seen the full extent of the interference that had occurred, so when a steward’s enquiry was announced there ensued a frantic search to find my discarded betting ticket. The precious receipt eventually recovered from the hallowed Epsom turf, my financial situation improved with the announcement that Juliette Marny had been disqualified and Persian Market awarded the race.

From what I had seen of Juliette Marny beforehand she certainly looked the type to progress from the race, and benefit from a step up to twelve furlongs, so I decided to bear here in mind if she retuned to Epsom to contest the Oaks. Although Juliette Marny subsequently only just scrambled home by head in the Lingfield Oaks Trial (G3), the addition of blinkers and the assistance from the saddle of Epsom maestro Lester Piggott, made the 12-1 on offer against her on Epsom Oaks day too tempting for me to refuse. This time there were no hiccups, and Juliette Marny powered away from the field to beat Val’s Girl by four lengths. She followed this up by taking the Irish equivalent the following month, but then ended her career in anticlimax when on only third in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1).

Meanwhile Blakeney had visited Set Free again in 1974, and for a second time the union produced a Classic winner. Now it was via the colt Julio Mariner, who at 40,000 guineas topped the Newmarket October Yearling Sales when purchased by Marcos Lemos. Although finishing runner-up in both William Hill Futurity (G1) and Dante Stakes (G2), Julio Mariner lined up for the St. Leger a 28-1 outsider after some disappointing efforts. However, the application of blinkers did the trick for him too, and he ran on well to beat Le Moss by a length and a half.

Juliette Marny emulated her dam by becoming a prolific broodmare herself. Her fifteen foals resulted in seven winners, of which no fewer than four (July Girl, Lac Ladoga, Jaunty Jack and Jolly Bay) won listed events. Another daughter, Sans Dot, became dam of the excellent hurdlers Deano’s Beano and French Holly, while in 2001 Juliette Marny’s grandson Nicobar scored twice in Group 2 company. However, Juliette Marny’s most interesting offspring proved to be her son North Briton (by Northfields). An ordinary winner himself he became the resident teaser at Stetchworth Park Stud, and in 1986 actually covered one of their thoroughbred mares, a daughter of Mummy’s Pet named Branitska. The result of this union was a colt named Call To Arms, and he surprised the racing world by finishing a neck second to Dashing Blade in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes. Sadly Julio Mariner’s stud career was a lot less successful, for after siring little of note he was exported to Holland.   

In all Set Free produced nine foals by Blakeney, and although seven were winners, none quite achieved the fame of Juliette Marny and Julio Mariner. Of these Saviour was Group 2 placed and finished fourth in the St. Leger before becoming a stallion in India, while the maiden Adamson fulfilled a similar role in New Zealand.

Nevertheless, the Blakeney/Set Free cross certainly worked, so what made it so successful. Two hot spots in Blakeney heritage were his 4x5x4 cross of Nearco and 5x6x6 combination of Blandford. Nearco provided reinforcement of Bromus, while the three sons strains of Blandford balanced the two daughter ones present in Set Free. Another interesting fact was that Blakeney’s sire Hethersett descended from the mare Netherton Maid, who we have already seen worked well with this family.

However, perhaps we need to look a bit further back for a more important clue. Blakeney’s grandsire Hugh Lupus was 2x3 to Tourbillon with a balancing daughter strain of Tourbillon’s grandsire Bruleur, making him 4x5x4 to the latter. Now Bruleur’s grandsire was none other than Gardefeu, the previously mentioned full brother to Set Free’s sixth dam Ignita. But this is not all, for Bruleur’s maternal grandsire Omnium II (who actually appeared 6x5x7x6x5 in Hugh Lupus) was a five eighths genetic relative to the stallion Cheri, both sharing strains of Dollar, Wellingtonia and Hermit. Now for the clincher, Cheri was mated with the aforementioned mare Ignita to produce Set Free’s fifth dam Queen Of Fire; so in fact the latter and Bruleur were bred on almost identical lines, with twelve of the sixteen ancestors in her fourth generation also present in the background of Bruleur. Two other important thoroughbreds combining Omnium II and Cheri were Le Pacha (Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe and French Derby) and Barra II (granddam of Lyphard).        

Finally, let us move on to Set Free’s third English Classic winner Scintillate. After finishing runner-up on her racecourse debut, Scintillate showed promise for the future with a fourth place in the Ascot Fillies Mile (G3). She made a winning return as a three-year-old taking the Sandleford Priory Stakes over ten furlongs, but still started a 20-1 outsider when lining up for the Epsom Oaks. She belied those odds in no uncertain fashion, coming home a comfortable three lengths winner from Bonnie Isle.

Scintillate was sired by an entirely different type of horse to Blakeney, being a daughter of Sparkler. This son of Hard Tack was an excellent miler, winning four Group events, namely the Diomed Stakes (G3), Queen Anne Stakes (G3), Lockinge Stakes (G2) and Prix du Moulin (G1). With his daughter Enstone Spark taking the English 1000 Guineas a year before Scintillate’s triumph, Sparkler had the distinction of siring a classic winner from his first two crops, but never really fulfilled this early promise.

Sparkler boasted a very close-knit pedigree pattern, being 5x4 Mr Jinks, 4x4 Hyperion, 5x4 the full siblings Stefan the Great/Ishtar, 6x4 Hurry On and 6x5 Bachelor’s Double. Of course, the double of Hurry On and Bachelor’s Double reinforced Set Free’s strong Hurry On/Bromus/Sundridge/Rock Sand background. Further interest was provided by the appearance in Sparkler of Golden Orb. His 2x2 combination of the three quarter siblings Lady Villikins and Amphion supplied another variation to complement the previously mentioned Hurry On/Sundridge cross.

As Scintillate stood in the coveted Epsom winner’s circle on that June afternoon in 1979, the reputation of both herself and her dam Set Free were at their zenith, but their days in the sun were soon to become fading memories. In her final two outings, Scintillate was to finish last in the Virginia Stakes, and ninth of thirteen the Prix Vermeille (G1), to end her racing career on a low note.

Scintillate did revive the family fortunes briefly by producing Alshinfarah. A Group 2 winner in Germany, this son of Great Nephew was subsequently exported to Australian where he took the Escort Cup (G3), as a prelude to standing as a stallion. Ironically, Set Free became a victim of her own success; her subsequent exploits being measured against her early achievements. Nevertheless, she was still a breeder’s delight, producing a regular stream of foals, in fact a total of four fillies and fourteen colts in as many years. Two of her foals not yet mentioned were Newgate and Deroulede, the winners of eleven and three hurdle races respectively, and sons of old favourite Blakeney.

Set Free was certainly not the greatest broodmare of the 20th Century, but what cannot be denied is that she achieved a feat no other broodmare could better in that period of time – the production of three individual English Classic winners, earning her a well deserved place in turf history.