By Avalyn Hunter
Modern breeding in North America and Europe is dominated by just three major male lines: Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, and Seattle Slew. Other male lines still exist but they range from the relatively healthy Hail to Reason and In Reality lines, which encompass a sizable number of stallions, down to lines with just one or two major representatives remaining, such as those of Domino and Plaudit.
The male line of Sharpen Up (GB) is one of those lesser sire lines that has managed to survive the 20th Century and has recently been represented by Man o’ War Stakes (gr. I) winner Doctor Dino (Fr). Sharpen Up was a foal of 1969 and like Mr. Prospector, a grandson of Native Dancer, but the similarities in their backgrounds ended there. Where Mr. Prospector was the son of a champion (Raise a Native) out of a high-class race mare (Gold Digger), Sharpen Up came into the world as the son of a might-have-been out of a mare that failed to even break her maiden.
Atan, the sire of Sharpen Up, was sired by Native Dancer out of the *Tudor Minstrel mare *Mixed Marriage. Like the similarly sired Raise a Native, he was highly regarded prior to the start of his racing career and flashed early speed, but one brief flash was all he had time for. After winning at first asking by six lengths, he broke down. He stood for a couple years at stud in the United States before being sent to Ireland in 1967. In Ireland, he served two books of mostly indifferent mares before being sent on to Japan in 1969. Only three of his 176 foals won stakes events, and his name would be forgotten today were it not for Sharpen Up.
Produced from the Rockefella mare Rocchetta (GB), who placed in five of her 14 starts, Sharpen Up proved a far better racer than anyone could have expected. Although he did not stay beyond sprint distances, he was fast and game. His unbeaten juvenile season was capped by a victory in the six-furlong Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I), and he trained on well enough to place in two group events at 3.
At stud, Sharpen Up once again exceeded expectations. Standing at Gainesway Farm near Lexington, Ky., he eventually sired 78 Northern Hemisphere stakes winners, including at least six champions or divisional highweights. Among them were the full brothers Kris (GB), two times the highweighted miler in England, and Diesis (GB), England’s champion juvenile male of 1982, both out of the Reliance II mare Doubly Sure (GB). Both proved successful sires, with Kris reaching the top of the English sire list in 1985. Unfortunately, none of Kris’ sons have proved able to assume his mantle.
Diesis, who stood at Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington until he was pensioned in 2006 (he died later that year), did not earn any sire titles but has seven champions and over 80 stakes winners to his credit; his final crop of three foals was born this spring. Among those seven champions was Elmaamul (out of the excellent producer Modena, by Roberto), who was highweighted over 9 1/2 to 11 furlongs on the Irish Free Handicap as a 3-year-old in 1990. That year, the colt tallied victories in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) and the Phoenix Champion Stakes (Ire-I).
Unfortunately, Diesis has had little success as a sire of sires, and Elmaamul (who died in 2006) proved to be about as good a stallion as any of his sons. Elmaamul sired only 12 Northern Hemisphere stakes winners and so was not as consistent as similarly sired Halling, who produced 40 Northern Hemisphere stakes winners. But Elmaamul sired 1997 Brazilian Mare of the Year Bandeira Nativa and four other champions or divisional highweights (Halling sired only one champion). In the United States, Elmaamul is probably best known as the sire of Sweet Return (GB), winner of three grade I turf races in California in 2003-2005 and still in training at age 7.
Elmaamul’s most accomplished son on the racetrack is Muhtathir (GB), a divisional highweight as leading older miler in England (2000), Italy (1999 and 2000), and the United Arab Emirates (2000). Produced from Majmu, a group III-winning daughter of Al Nasr (Fr), Muhtathir scored his biggest wins in the 1999 Gran Premio Vittorio di Capua (Ity-I) and the 2000 Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard-Jacques Le Marois (Fr-I).
Muhtathir stood his first season in 2001, making Doctor Dino a member of his first crop. Produced from the Priolo mare Logica (Ire), Doctor Dino is easily the most accomplished runner from Muhtathir’s 127 foals of racing age. He is not the only one familiar to American racing fans, however, as the filly Mauralakana (Fr), a group III winner in France, won this year’s Locust Grove Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs. All told, Muhtathir has sired five stakes winners so far.
Muhtathir, who stands at Le Haras du Mezeray in France, is one of a dwindling number of sires maintaining the male line of Sharpen Up, and the future of the line may well rest with Doctor Dino, Sweet Return, and a handful of group stakes-winning colts sired by Halling. None are likely to receive top-drawer opportunities, so the odds do not look good. Nonetheless, Sharpen Up himself was a horse who beat the odds as both a racer and a sire, and perhaps at least one of his current group of descendants will manage to continue the line to future generations.