Big Brown working at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2008.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Big Brown working at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2008.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Big Brown and the Domino Factor

Floyd Oliver digs into the similarities between Big Brown and Domino.

by Floyd Oliver

Big Brown ran off with the Florida Derby (gr. I) March 29 with the same commensurate ease he demonstrated in his two previous starts. Despite breaking from the disadvantageous 12 post and being carried four wide into the first turn, Big Brown blazed a half in :45.83 and then instead of tiring, he left the rest of the field in the dust. It was quite a performance from such an inexperienced horse.

Prior to the Florida Derby, Big Brown had won his first two starts by a total of 24 lengths. He brought a lot of hype into the Florida Derby, and his pedigree merited some study. The fact that he is by Boundary is something of a surprise. Not that Boundary was a terrible stallion, but he wasn’t the sort to sire classic contenders. Both of Boundary’s previous grade I winners were sprinters. The conclusion might be that if Big Brown didn’t owe his freakish ability to his sire, then maybe it came from his dam.

Back in January of 1991 I wrote an article for The Blood-Horse, the theme of which was that inbreeding to the offspring of Rough Shod II might prove highly beneficial. The pedigree of Big Brown’s dam, Mein, quickly revealed that such a pattern was present. Mein’s sire is Nureyev, whose third dam is Rough Shod II. Mein’s dam, Miasma, is by Lear Fan, whose dam is by Lt. Stevens, a son of Rough Shod II. Mein, thus, is inbred 3 x 4 to the full siblings Thong and Lt. Stevens, a daughter and son of Nantallah and Rough Shod II.

This inbreeding to Rough Shod II wouldn’t be that meaningful in itself, but it becomes highly significant when tracing Mein’s female line. It turns out that Mein descends directly in tail female to Goody Two-Shoes, as do Thong and Lt. Stevens through Rough Shod II. Therefore, Mein has three crosses of this powerful female line.

This unusual phenomenon of multiple crosses of a matriarchal female line in one individual is rare but has been seen before. One of the truly great horses in American Thoroughbred breeding, Domino is the result of a similar pedigree pattern. To understand the great potential that Big Brown may possess, one first must become familiar with the pedigree of the "Black Whirlwind", Domino.

What similarities could exist between Domino and Big Brown, horses competing 114 years apart? There are many.

Both of their respective sires, Himyar and Boundary, are speed stallions a little below top class. Himyar was actually leading sire in North America in 1893, helped by then-2-year-old Domino’s world-record $170,890 earnings. To match this feat, Big Brown would have to win the Triple Crown this year, followed by the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders’ Cup Classic (all gr. I) to make Boundary leading sire.

Domino and Big Brown are both highly-inbred horses. Domino is inbred 3 x 4 x 4 to Lexington while Big Brown is inbred 3 x 3 to Northern Dancer and 3 x 4 to Damascus and 4 x 5 to Round Table. Horses inbred 3 x 3 or closer are rarely top class runners. However, when a horse inbred in such a manner can overcome the expected loss of hybrid vigor, that individual is considered likely to become a great breeding animal. Examples of such horses so bred are Turn-to, Galopin, Flying Fox (GB), and Ksar. If Big Brown, like Domino, can prove himself a top-class racehorse, it is likely he will be a valuable breeding animal.

Another similarity between Big Brown and Domino is the linebreeding to their own matriarchal family. In the case of Domino it is to Gallopade. Big Brown is linebred to matriarch Goody Two shoes through the full brother and sister Lt. Stevens and Thong, as well as his own direct female line that traces to Goody Two Shoes. The difference is that Big Brown has several collateral crosses of Goody Two Shoes from the presence of Nasrullah in his pedigree. Nasrullah is by Nearco (ITY) and out of Mumtaz Begum (FR), a daughter of Blenheim II, whose broodmare sire is a son of Goody-two shoes.

Are we witnessing the emergence of another great horse? Whatever the outcome, it’s going to be interesting to watch.

Click here to read more about Domino's pedigree.


Floyd Oliver is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. He edited Golden Hoofprints Thoroughbred Newsletter and Sales Projections from 1978 to 1990. Other articles on breeding have been published by The Blood-Horse, Florida Horse, and the Horseman’s Journal. Oliver has been a farm manager and adviser to Carl M. Freeman of Tusculum Farm, Maryland, (breeder of Miss Alleged), and a consultant to Leonard C. Green of Holmdel, N.J., for whom he purchased the dam of November Snow and Scatmandu as agent.