by Alan Porter
Historically, it has always been difficult for a top-class racehorse with an uncommercial pedigree to develop into a top-class stallion. This is not particularly surprising when one considers how few stallions, regardless of race record and pedigree, make the grade, and there is no doubt an element of self-fulfilling prophecy here, breeders being unwilling to commit their best mares to a horse whose pedigree raises a red flag.
So it’s somewhat less than astonishing that the history of the breed is littered with the names of stellar runners with not-so-stellar pedigrees, whose stud careers did not match up to their race records. One of the most recent examples is dual classic winner Silver Charm, a charismatic performer whose iconic status did not prevent him being exported to Japan after siring just five crops of runners.
As a racehorse, Silver Charm was certainly very good. Winner of a maiden and the Del Mar Futurity (gr. II) at 2, he developed into an exceptionally consistent 3-year-old. Making seven starts in his second campaign, he captured the San Vicente Stakes (gr. III) and the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I), and his four defeats consisted of seconds in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), where a late-charging Touch Golddenied him the Triple Crown; the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), which he lost by a head; the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) and the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II).
At 4, the imposing gray was even better. He earned honors as the United Arab Emirates champion older male after a season in which he won six of nine starts including the Dubai World Cup (gr. I) and five grade II races: Strub Stakes, Clark Handicap, Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap, and San Fernando Breeders’ Cup Stakes. Two of his three defeats came at the hands of Awesome Again , who defeated him in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. II) and in an epic Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) where those behind included Swain, Victory Gallop, Skip Away, Coronado’s Quest, Touch Gold, Arch, and Gentlemen (ARG)). Silver Charm was less of a force at 5 when, with maturity, he became a much heavier horse, and he won only once in five starts, that victory coming in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II).
Unfortunately, as impressive as his race record was, Silver Charm simply did not have a stallion’s pedigree. He was a grandson of Buckpasser, a great racehorse who failed to establish a sire dynasty, being a much better sire of fillies (and subsequently a broodmare sire of sires) than of colts. Silver Charm’s sire, Silver Buck — a very well-bred horse — was one of Buckpasser’s best racing sons, winning the Suburban Handicap and Metropolitan Handicap, both as a 4-year-old. Silver Buck began his stud career in Kentucky and later moved to Florida, but while he was never a commercial success, in retrospect his record is that of a more useful sire. In addition to Silver Charm, Silver Buck’s best representatives included the Brooklyn Handicap (gr. I) victor Forever Silver; Silver Maiden, heroine of the Frizette Stakes (gr.I); and other graded winners Silver Survivor, Silver of Silver, The Silver Move, Bay Street Star, Fiftysevenvette, and Silver Profile.
If Silver Buck seemed an unlikely candidate to produce a notable sire, the same was true — and to an even greater extent — of Silver Charm’s dam, Bonnie’s Poker. She was a daughter of Poker, also the broodmare sire of Seattle Slew, but that tangential brush with greatness would have been her only association with class had not she produced Silver Charm. That said, Bonnie’s Poker was tough, and by the look of her race record, was also a trier. She started 63 times in four seasons, cramming in 27 starts as a 4-year-old, and won 11 times, with nine seconds and 10 thirds. Unfortunately, apart from the occasional flirtation with allowance company — which did once see her come within a neck of victory — nearly all these efforts were in the claiming ranks.
Neither Bonnie’s Poker’s dam, What a Surprise, nor her granddam, Militant Miss, produced a black type winner, although they had 20 foals between them. Their eight other daughters fared no better as producers either. Thus, the most recent stakes winners produced by the mares in Silver Charm’s direct female line or their daughters were Reaping Right, winner of the 1956 renewal of the Louisiana Derby, and Litte Reaper, who took the Bashford Manor Stakes and Governor’s Stakes one year later, both of whom were out of Silver Charm’s fourth dam, Miss Militant.
With that in mind, Silver Charm had it all to do when he retired to stud. There were actually some promising initial signs. Indeed, Bob Baffert, who had trained Silver Charm, said of his first crop that he was going to "win the Kentucky Derby with a Silver Charm, the only question was which one." As it was, only one out of that first crop actually wound up capturing a stakes, that being the Baffert-trained Preachinatthebar, who took the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) and the Tokyo City Handicap and Texas Mile Stakes (both gr. III). Silver Charm’s second crop did better numerically, with five black type winners, although none of them were graded. His third crop, currently 5, has produced three stakes winners, headed by Spring Waltz, who became the first graded winner in the group, and Silver Charm’s second overall, when taking the Rampart Handicap (gr. II) March 9. There has also so far been one stakes winner from his fourth crop, currently 4-year-olds.
Spring Waltz didn’t make it to the races until the age of 4. After scoring two wins and three seconds in her first five starts, she has been on a tear lately, recording four consecutive wins. The Rampart was her first try in stakes company, and ironically, the win came at the main expense of Tessa Blue, a daughter of Silver Charm’s old rival, Awesome Again.
A half-sister to the graded stakes-placed Golden Missile filly Marimba Rhythm, Spring Waltz is out of Relaxing Rhythm, one of the best runners sired by another classic winner who was something of an under-achiever as a stallion, Easy Goer. Relaxing Rhythm won eight of her nine starts, four of them stakes, including the Molly Pitcher Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II). Relaxing Rhythm was half-sister to the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (gr. III) winner Malagra, later a useful sire in Louisiana, and also to the multiple graded stakes winning Devil’s Bag horse Holy Mountain. Spring Waltz’s granddam, Regal Gal, was a prolific stakes scorer who recorded her most prestigious victory in the Columbiana Handicap (gr. III). A daughter of Viceregal, she was three-parts sister to the Northern Dancer graded stakes winners Northern Fling and Countess North (herself dam of New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) victor Westheimer). She was also half-sister to the Arlington Matron Handicap (gr. II) victress Impetuous Gal, subsequently dam of two graded stakes winners including Ladies Handicap (gr. I) heroine Banker’s Lady, and granddam of several other major winners, including the Super Derby (gr. I) victor Ecton Park.
What’s interesting about this pedigree, is that just as Silver Charm’s upgrading over his immediate ancestry was almost certainly the result of a clever inbreeding pattern, the ability shown by Spring Waltz — who may well turn out to be the best of her sire’s offspring — almost certainly stems from reinforcement of that pattern.
Silver Charm’s grandsire, Buckpasser, was out of Busanda. Conqueror of males in the Suburban Handicap and back-to-back renewals of the Saratoga Cup, Busanda was one of the legion of important runners and producers to be sired by War Admiral out of daughters of the great mare La Troienne. Silver Charm’s broodmare sire, Poker, is a grandson of the Schuylerville Stakes winner Striking, who is also by War Admiral out of a daughter of La Troienne. Thus, Silver Charm has the closely-related half-sisters Busanda/Striking 3 x 4 in his pedigree, and given that inbreeding to La Troienne through genetic relatives may well have been the greatest force for upgrading in the North America Thoroughbred in the second half of the last century, this is almost certainly where the credit for Silver Charm’s ability should go.
When we turn to Spring Waltz’s broodmare sire, Easy Goer (oddly enough, another very good runner by a stallion who was a disappointing sire of sires), we find that his dam, Relaxing, is by Buckpasser, and is inbred 4 x 4 to La Troienne. The second strain comes in through Relaxing’s third dam, the Selima Stakes winner Big Hurry, a daughter of La Troienne, and also a close relative to Businesslike, the granddam of Buckpasser. One has to think that this concentrated inbreeding to the genetic strength in the pedigree of Silver Charm is the key to the success of Spring Waltz.