This feature first appeared in the June edition of Owner Breeder

As Martin Stevens outlines in his analysis of today’s thoroughbred (‘Sire Lines’), there is a current concentration of sire lines that is obviously not only to the detriment of others but arguably questionable for the health of the breed.

When Selkirk retired to stud in 1993 as one of the last top-class sons of Sharpen Up, breeders had access to a host of differing lines. The sire tables for 1992 paint an interesting picture. Sadler’s Wells assumed his customary position at the top. El Gran Senor, another Coolmore son of Northern Dancer (but sub-fertile), owed his standing in Europe primarily to the Group 1 campaign of Rodrigo De Triano. Shirley Heights’ son Slip Anchor was responsible for the Oaks and St Leger heroine User Friendly and thus also took high ranking. Others such as Ahonoora, by Lorenzaccio, Riverman, by Never Bend, Persian Bold, by Bold Lad, and Rainbow Quest, by Blushing Groom, also enjoyed good seasons. Among the first-crop sires, Chilibang, by Forli’s son Formidable, and Persian Heights, by Persian Bold, were first and second by number of winners in Britain while the Busted horse Mtoto made a promising start ahead of a career that was to be capped by the Derby winner Shaamit.

Today, many of those lines have disappeared – or are about to disappear – as a concentration of Northern Dancer, whether through Sadler’s Wells or the quicker Danzig and Storm Bird among others, and to a lesser extent Mr Prospector take precedent.

One victim is the Sharpen Up sire line, another popular influence of his time who popped up more than once through his son Selkirk over Newmarket Guineas weekend.

A noted broodmare sire, Selkirk was represented by his 12th Group/Grade 1 winner in that department by the Roger Varian-trained 1,000 Guineas heroine Ellmalka, a daughter of the Prix de l’Opera and Flower Bowl Stakes winner Nahrain. In the process, she became the 11th top level winner for Juddmonte’s Kingman, also sire of the admirable Group 1 winner Kinross out of a Selkirk mare.


Meanwhile, Selkirk’s underrated son Cityscape fired in a Group stakes double courtesy of Chilli Flag in the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes at Churchill Downs in the US and La City Blanche in the Group 3 Queen Memorial Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong.

Selkirk was Sharpen Up’s last major son to head to stud, his retirement coming just over two years following his sire’s withdrawal from service in Kentucky. At the time, there was plenty to recommend the sire line, primarily through the siblings Kris and Diesis; Kris had been champion sire of 1985 in the aftermath of his champion daughter Oh So Sharp while Diesis had already provided the first of his three Oaks winners, Diminuendo, from his base in Kentucky.

Selkirk, a tall, flashy chestnut raced by his breeder George Strawbridge with Ian Balding, was the champion miler of 1991 by virtue of his win in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and turned in several Group 1 calibre performances the following year, notably when taking the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, then a Group 2, and running a whisker second to Marling in the Sussex Stakes. He was retired to Lanwades at a fee of £8,000 and went on to enjoy a consistently successful stud career that ultimately left him and his sons as the last meaningful representatives of the line belonging to Bernard van Cutsem’s 1971 Middle Park Stakes winner Sharpen Up.

Sharpen Up did various breeders, particularly those at a smaller level, some good turns during his time at stud in Britain. Initially available at moderate fees at Side Hill Stud in Newmarket, he hit the big time when Kris, a brilliant miler, emerged out of his third crop. The syndicate behind him duly cashed in and Sharpen Up was sold to stand at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky, where his fee peaked at $75,000 in the aftermath of Trempolino’s record-setting Arc win in 1987.

Given the popularity during their time of Kris and Diesis, in addition to other sons such as Trempolino and Sharpo, it’s disappointing that the Sharpen Up line hasn’t endured as well as it may have done. It is thanks to primarily to Selkirk, responsible for nearly 100 stakes winners, that it remains relevant and in terms of sire line, even that now is diminishing. Several of Selkirk’s early sons were given their chance at stud, including Kirkwall, Trans Island and Altieri, but the best has turned out to be Cityscape, the record-breaking winner of the 2012 Dubai Duty Free at Meydan.

The Juddmonte homebred spent nine seasons at Overbury Stud, where he never stood for more than £5,000. For whatever reason, the market never really latched on – his largest crop was his first at 71 foals – but he’s been more than useful nevertheless. That first crop contained the winners of the Fred Darling and Musidora Stakes in Dan’s Dream and Give And Take, and subsequent European crops have yielded Caernarfon, a sister to Dan’s Dream who ran third in last year’s Oaks, and the high-class American runners Avenue De France, winner of last year’s Grade 2 John C Mabee Stakes, and the current Grade 2 winner Chili Flag.


However, Cityscape has done particularly well in Argentina, where shuttle trips to Haras Vacacion have provided champions Zillion Stars, Top One Escape and The Punisher. Now 18-years-old, Cityscape is a permanent resident of Argentina.

In the case of Selkirk’s daughter Nahrain, a flashy chestnut typical of her sire, Elmalka is her second top-notcher after Benbatl, a hardy international performer for Godolphin who won the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes in Australia, Group 1 Dubai Turf at Meydan and Group 1 Grosser Dallmayr Preis – Bayerisches Zuchtrennen in Germany. The son of Dubawi now stands at Big Red Farm in Japan where his first crop are yearlings.

There’s an Antipodean flavour to this family in Nahrain’s third dam La Mer, a daughter of the British-bred Royal Charger stallion Copenhagen. One of the best mares to grace New Zealand, La Mer’s haul of 24 wins included the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks, Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes and Air New Zealand Stakes for trainer Malcolm Smith and owner Wynthorpe Stud, then the base for a fledgling educational facility which had paid just NZ$8,000 for the filly as a foal at foot with her dam La Balsa from her breeder, Jack Alexander.

In what was an enterprising move for the time, Captain Tim Rogers imported La Mer at a rumoured valuation of NZ$300,000 to his Airlie Stud in Ireland. The move didn’t reap immediate rewards as although La Mer foaled seven winners, only one, the Habitat colt Cipriani, won a stakes race. Today, the family flows at its strongest through her Mill Reef daughter Lady Of The Sea, a Haydock maiden winner for Sheikh Mohammed who is the granddam of Nahrain via her Generous daughter Bahr, winner of the 1998 Ribblesdale Stakes and second in the Oaks for Godolphin.

Away from Nahrain, Bahr’s family remains current through various other daughters; In Dubai, by Giant’s Causeway, is the dam of the Group 1-placed two-year-old Go Bears Go while Dorrati, one of the few mares in production by Dubai Millennium, is the granddam of Palace House Stakes winner and young sire Far Above. His well-regarded brother Night Raider also has the potential to represent the family to good effect despite his underwhelming effort in the 2,000 Guineas.


Rouhiya – a fitting success

There was something rather appropriate to Rouhiya handing the Aga Khan Studs’ an eighth success in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches at Longchamp. The list of luminaries, which includes Zarkava (whose son Zarak sired the Poulains winner Metropolitan) and Siyouni’s first major representative Ervedya, brings the owner-breeder level with the record held by the Rothschild family as well as Marcel Boussac, from whose stock Rouhiya descends.

There were 157 broodmares listed in the 2023 Aga Khan’s stud book, plenty of them deriving from the purchase of the Boussac and Francois Dupre stock in the late 1970s and more recently that belonging to Jean-Luc Lagardere. Such lock, stock and barrel acquisitions have undoubtedly been key reinvigorating the stock belonging to the Aga Khan over the years. As a snapshot, that 1970s group of Boussac mares included Delsy, the dam of Darshaan, Denia, the granddam of Dalakhani and Daylami, and Evisa, the granddam of multiple Group 1 producer Ebaziya, while the Dupre stock provided the Aga Khan with his 1979 Prix du Jockey Club winner Top Ville. For its part, the Lagardere stock guaranteed ample access to Linamix and have also provided numerous rewards, perhaps none more so than Sichilla, who won a Listed race for the Aga Khan prior to foaling Siyouni.

Rouhiya’s family has been in the hands of the Aga Khan for six generations, stretching back to the 1975-foaled Rilasa, a daughter of St Paddy who ran third for the owner in the Prix Vanteaux. The line goes back to Boussac’s Prix Maurice de Gheest winner Theano via Astana. Like plenty of Boussac’s stock, Astana was pretty inbred, in her case 3×2 to Tourbillon. But the daughter of Arbar became an important producer, initially as the dam of Boussac’s Prix de Diane heroine Crepellana, and indeed her line remains very relevant today, whether through her Ribot daughter Valdavia, whose line provided the Aga Khan with the Group 1 winners Behera and Behkabad, or Rose Ness, her 1965-foaled filly by Charlottesville who foaled Denia in addition to Sarila, the ancestress of Rouhiya.

Sarila’s branch today operates at its strongest through her St Paddy daughter Rilasa. Laurens and Ridasiyna are among the top-flight performers within the further reaches of this particular line. As for Rouhiya, she is out of the Listed-placed Rondonia, a half-sister to the 2014 Group 2 Debutante Stakes winner Raydara and descendant of Rilasa’s Group 3-winning daughter Rayseka (by Dancing Brave). The Aga Khan has campaigned the bulk of the black-type horses from this branch of the family, among them Rondonia’s Listed-winning dam Raydiya (by Marju) and the Classic-placed Rayeni in addition to the aforementioned champion Ridasiyna.

Rouhiya, who went off at 31/1 for the Pouliches having won a Chantilly maiden at two and run third in a conditions on her three-year-old return for Francis-Henri Graffard, is only the second foal out of Rondonia, who joins Falling Petals (dam of Saffron Beach) and Contradictive (dam of Mishriff) as the third Group 1 producer by Raven’s Pass.

exceptional run

Her win also capped an exceptional run for her sire Lope De Vega. Now the sire of 20 Group/Grade 1 winners, the Ballylinch Stud stallion had been to the fore in the US just hours prior to the French Guineas thanks to the easy Grade 2 Man O’War Stakes winner Silver Knott. Only a week earlier, another son Program Trading also struck in the Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs to bag his third victory at Grade 1 level.

Young sire son Phoenix Of Spain also continues to quietly impress at the Irish National Stud, with the likes of 2,000 Guineas third Haatem and the Group 3-placed Alpheratz from a first crop of 97 three-year-olds. Belardo, now at Bearstone Stud, has also had his moment in the sun this year as the sire of Californian Grade 2 winner Gold Phoenix.

However, there is real promise in Lope De Vega’s momentum as an emerging broodmare sire. Now the damsire of 15 stakes winners, a further two major names were added to that haul during French Guineas week in Birthe, winner of the Group 2 Prix Saint-Alary, and Forest Fairy, successful in the Listed Cheshire Oaks. Both provided important landmark victories for their young sires, Birthe as a daughter of Lanwades Stud’s highly promising Study Of Man and Forest Fairy as the first stakes winner for Arc hero Walgeist, who stands alongside Lope De Vega at Ballylinch Stud.