Selected inbreeding, family tree at the root of Charismatic's success

Colt's balanced traits honed through generations

June 05, 1999|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

A rags-to-riches story, Charismatic is not.

Even though the chestnut colt drew little attention before his unexpected win in the Kentucky Derby, and his follow-up win in the Preakness, Charismatic's breeding heralds the makings of a champion.

Shake the horse's family tree and roses, black-eyed Susans and carnations fall out. Secretariat. Bold Ruler. Northern Dancer. All winners of one or more Triple Crown races, with blue blood to boot.

"It's like a basketball player being descended from Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird," said Rick Waldman, a thoroughbred consultant in Lexington, Ky.

Pedigreed to the hilt, Charismatic runs for the Triple Crown in today's Belmont Stakes. The traits he'll take to the post -- from size to stamina -- were honed through generations of high-caliber horses. For example, Charismatic appears to have the short-distance savvy of Maryland's Northern Dancer as well as the rugged stretch drive of Secretariat.

Certain traits were deemed so desirable that they were passed down from the same horses on both the paternal and maternal sides.

Yes, we're talking about inbreeding.

"Charismatic has considerably more inbreeding than the vast majority of horses today," said Jack Werk, an equine pedigree expert in Fremont, Calif. "That's a real factor in his success."

The horse's great-great grandsire is the fabled Bold Ruler, paternally and maternally. Charismatic's great-great granddam, Somethingroyal, also appears on each side of the family tree -- three times, all told.

A couple of other quality forebears show up twice: Sir Gaylord and Tom Fool.

"This is not a horse with a wrong-side-of-the-tracks pedigree," said Werk.

Breeders deliberately match cousins, nephews and nieces to flesh out favored genes. Because horses get hitched with fortunes in mind, inbreeding is seen as a tactic worth the gamble.

The risk is that it can also bring out a thoroughbred's negative traits, like bad temperament. But more and more horsemen appear willing to take that chance.

"Twenty years ago, inbreeding was the odd experiment; now, it's standard practice," said Waldman.

The breeders of Charismatic crafted a hypothetical pedigree long before the horse's parents, Summer Squall and Bali Babe, were introduced.

One sticking point: the abundance of Bold Ruler genes in both. Bold Ruler was a champion racehorse, though wired a bit like Dennis Rodman.

"Bold Ruler was talented, but hard to handle. His blood, we call `hot blood,' " said Tom Roach, of Midway, Ky., co-breeder of Charismatic.

Roach believed that in a foal, the flighty manner of Bold Ruler could be tempered by the level-headedness of Somethingroyal, dam of Secretariat and a star brood mare.

"Somethingroyal balanced out Bold Ruler perfectly," said Roach. "We figured she had enough mental balance to offset his high-spiritedness.

"Tripling up on her [genes] while doubling up on Bold Ruler would give us something other than a high-strung offspring."

The result was Charismatic -- cool, calm and now collecting hefty winnings. He may resemble his great-grandsire, Secretariat, in looks and deeds, but horsemen say it's Secretariat's dam -- the woman behind the man -- who really made Charismatic what he is today.

"Somethingroyal gets the most credit," Roach said. "Charismatic is the most in-bred animal we've bred in 90 years on this farm -- and Somethingroyal is why he's not a crazy horse."

Pub Date: 6/05/99

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