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Trevor Jones

Astaire a Model for Close Inbreeding

The six-furlong Middle Park was the fourth win in five starts for Astaire.

Those who follow European racing and breeding will be well aware that Jim Bolger has been a very successful trainer for over 30 years. They might also be aware that, of late, he's been doing very well with his own homebreds, many of them owning pedigrees that feature close inbreeding. They include the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I) victor Parish Hall (3x3 to Sadler's Wells), group-winning and classic-placed Rehn's Nest (3x3 to Sadler's Wells), and stakes winner Paene Magnus (3x2 to Danehill).

October 12's Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I) victor Astaire wasn't bred by Bolger, but he is by the Bolger-trained Intense Focus, and the Irish conditioner would surely approve of the inbreeding found in Astaire's pedigree.

The six-furlong Middle Park was the fourth win in five starts for Astaire. He was successful in a maiden at York in May, but weakened to sixth, after showing early speed, in the Portland Place Properties July Stakes (Eng-II). Given an easier task next time out, Astaire recorded a comfortable victory in a four-runner conditions event at Newmarket before going on to a game triumph in a three-way photo finish in the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes (Eng-II). Astaire had shown plenty of pace in his first four outings, and did so again in the Middle Park, making all before quickening clear, then digging deep to hold off the challenge of his stable companion, BMW Cornwallis Stakes (Eng-III) victor Hot Streak, by a half-length.

A son of Giant's Causeway , Intense Focus was bred in the U.S. by the Irish nursery Airlie Stud in partnership with Robert Clay of Three Chimneys Farm. Offered at the 2007 Goffs October yearling sale, Intense Focus was purchased by Bolger for €340,000. It's was no surprise that Bolger submitted the winning bid, as he bred and trained not only Intense Focus's dam, Daneleta, but also trained the second dam, Zavaleta, and third dam, La Meilleure. He also bred and/or trained several other notable members of the family, including Budweiser Irish Derby (Ire-I) winner Soldier of Fortune and group I-winning Sholokhov, who was also runner-up to High Chaparral in the Irish Derby.

Undergoing a typically busy Bolger 2-year-old campaign, Intense Focus started nine times in 5 1/2 months. He won only twice, but the second of those victories, which came on his final start of the year, saw him a nose to the good of Lord Shanakill in a strong renewal of the Darley Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I), the time being the fastest recorded for that race in nearly 50 years. The colt had gained another group I placing on his previous outing, finishing third to Naaqoos in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere-Grand Criterium (Fr-I), and had earlier taken second in the Coventry Stakes (Eng-II) and third in the One 51 Railway Stakes (Eng-II). The following year, Intense Focus started just twice, finishing second, beaten a length, in the Leopardstown Two Thousand Guineas Trial (Ire-III) and fifth in the St. James's Palace Stakes (Eng-I).

Retired to Ballylinch Stud in Ireland at a fee of €6,500, Intense Focus sired a first crop of 100 foals, 53 of which have already started. Fifteen of these are winners, and in addition to Astaire they include group-placed Heart Focus and Home School (both bred and trained by Bolger).

Astaire's dam, Runway Dancer, was unraced but is a half sister to another precocious 2-year-old in Bannister, who preceded Astaire as a winner of the Gimcrack Stakes. In addition, Runway Dancer is also a half sister to Roo, a Rudimentary filly who was stakes-placed at 2 and is dam of a quartet of black-type-placed horses including Darley Prix Morny (Fr-I) runner-up Gallagher. Similar to Runway Dancer, Astaire's granddam, Shall We Run, was unable to win but is a half sister to another very good juvenile in Dead Certain, who took the Queen Mary Stakes (Eng-III), Pacemaker Update Lowther Stakes (Eng-II), and Tattersalls Cheveley Park Stakes (Eng-I), and trained on to add the Prix Maurice de Gheest (Fr-II) at 3.

Finelta, the fourth dam of Astaire, was joint third top filly on the 1961 French 2-year-old free handicap and was also very well-bred, being a sister to Santcus, hero of the 1963 renewals of the French Derby and Grand Prix de Paris, and to Straight On, who took the Prix Penelope. Their dam, French stakes winner Sanelta, subsequently made her way to the U.S., where she produced Santa Gertrudes Stakes winner Council House and Ouro Verde, who took the Suwannee River Handicap and subsequently became dam of the Lord Avie filly Ode, winner of the Grand Prix d'Evry (Fr-II) and second high-weighted older filly or mare on the European classifications.

Telstar, another Sanelta daughter, was granddam of French highweight Le Marmot, winner of the Prix Ganay (Fr-I) and runner-up in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I). The family goes back to Noor Jahan, a daughter of Teddy and the famed tap-root mare Plucky Liege and thus a sister to the hugely influential stallion imports Bull Dog and Sir Gallahad III, and to Marguerite de Valois, who founded a famous family that includes the breed-shaping Fappiano.

We mentioned that we had seen a trend toward trying some close inbreeding with Bolger's breeding program, and Astaire is a particularly complex example. To begin by defining it in its most simple terms, Astaire is 3x3 to Danehill and 4x4 to Kahyasi. However, those duplications are through Intense Focus's dam, Daneleta, and through Astaire's broodmare sire, Dansili, who are both by Danehill out of Kahyasi mares and are thus three-quarters related.

That, however, is not all. When we look at the pedigree of Kahyasi, we see that he is by Ile de Bourbon, a son of Nijinsky II, and out of a mare by Blushing Groom. This connects with the pedigree of Intense Focus' sire, Giant's Causeway , who is by a son of Storm Bird (who has a similar background to Nijinsky II) and out of a mare by a son of Blushing Groom. Astaire is also TrueNicks rated A on the basis of the cross of Giant's Causeway and his sons with Danehill line mares. This cross, of course, also produced Intense Focus and 10 other stakes winners, including the additional group I scorers Chachamaidee and Juste Momente.

There are plenty of Dansili mares around, and Dansili also has two other brothers at stud in Champs Elysees and Cacique, as well as some young sons, so we'd expect to see this particular version of the nick get plenty more opportunities. On a conventional reading of his pedigree, Astaire should have no problem getting a mile, but close inbreeding sometimes creates a more speedy type than one might have anticipated, and given the early pace shown by Astaire, we suspect that sprints will continue to be his métier.