‘If your mare has no La Troienne, get her some. If she does have La Troienne, get her more.’
La Troienne, foaled in France in 1926 where she was bred by Marcel Boussac, is widely considered to be the most important broodmare to be imported into the United States in the twentieth century. Her stud career spanned the decades of the 1930s and 1940s, during which time she produced a champion colt (who became a champion sire) and, more importantly in the long run, several daughters (including a champion filly) who, between them, made sure that La Troienne’s name remains a hallowed one in pedigrees almost a century after her birth.
The above quote, from a well-known bloodstock publication, was not a piece of advice given to breeders in the 1950s, 60s or even 70s. It was published as recently as 2010, after She Be Wild had been named the champion US two-year-old filly of the previous year. According to the writer, that was due in no small part to La Troienne’s multiple presence in the filly’s pedigree, though you’ll search in vain for her name among She Be Wild’s 62 closest ancestors…
That wasn’t the only twenty-first century example of the veneration of La Troienne that we have stumbled upon. Here’s another example from an article on Kentucky Derby hopefuls in 2018. On a wide-margin winner of a maiden, we are told that ‘this female family also traces to the legendary Blue Hen producer La Troienne. So there is a lot to like about this colt…’ Yes, the colt in question did trace to La Troienne, though we eventually found her name on the bottom line of his pedigree eight generations back!
A race in the 1960s which involved a pair of two-year-olds who had La Troienne much closer up in their pedigrees was the 1965 Futurity Stakes at Belmont. It was won by La Troienne’s great granddaughter Priceless Gem who was to earn further fame as a broodmare when foaling Daniel Wildenstein’s 1974 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Allez France. The colt that Priceless Gem beat half a length into second in the Futurity was Buckpasser, another who could boast La Troienne as his great grandam. That season’s champion two-year-old male and Horse of the Year the following season, Buckpasser, as a renowned broodmare sire, is one of the most important male ‘carriers’ of La Troienne’s name in pedigrees.
Buckpasser had to miss the Kentucky Derby, and the other Triple Crown races, in 1966. In fact, it took until the 1990s before a Kentucky Derby winner could boast of having La Troienne on the bottom line of his pedigree. La Troienne’s own champion son, mentioned above, Bimelech, would have been a Triple Crown winner but for defeat (the first of his career) at Churchill Downs in 1940. Bimelech subsequently beat Kentucky Derby winner Gallahadion in both the Preakness and Belmont.
So it was not until 1993 that Paul Mellon’s Sea Hero became the first Kentucky Derby winner tracing back to La Troienne who was his fifth dam. La Troienne was additionally the fourth dam of Sea Hero’s sire Polish Navy. Sea Hero, incidentally, was out of Priceless Gem’s sister Admiring.
Just a year later, and another colt, Go For Gin, won the Kentucky Derby with La Troienne as his fifth dam. For what it’s worth, this century, two more Kentucky Derby winners have emerged from La Troienne’s (1-x) family, namely Smarty Jones in 2004 (who has La Troienne as his seventh dam), and Super Saver in 2010 (La Troienne is his ninth dam).
A more recent Kentucky Derby winner, California Chrome, successful in 2014, although not related to La Troienne as a direct tail-female descendant, caused excitement in certain circles with his pedigree which features her name no fewer than seven times. California Chrome’s great grandsire A P Indy is alone responsible for three of those occurrences.
Firstly, A P Indy’s grandam Lassie Dear is a daughter of Buckpasser. Secondly, A P Indy’s own sire Seattle Slew, or more accurately, Seattle Slew’s dam My Charmer, features two strains of La Troienne in her pedigree. My Charmer was by Poker out of a Jet Action mare; Poker and Jet Action were a great grandson and grandson respectively of one of La Troienne’s daughters Baby League.
Meanwhile, in the bottom half of California Chrome’s pedigree, US champion two-year-old filly (of 1971) Numbered Account appears twice. Not only does Numbered Account trace back directly to La Troienne (her fifth dam), she is a second daughter of Buckpasser in California Chrome’s pedigree.
But was California Chrome a Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year because of those multiple strains of La Troienne in his pedigree, or is La Troienne merely ‘background noise’ nowadays because she has become so prevalent in modern American pedigrees?
There is a paradox at work here. As the years pass, La Troienne is receding further into horses’ pedigrees and so, logically, any influence she is having on modern thoroughbreds must be diluting. Yet, at the same time, her number of descendants, whether directly through her female line, or through the many stallions which now carry one or more of her strains (Unbridled, Tapit and More Than Ready?to name but three more) are inevitably increasing, hence the belief in some quarters that La Troienne’s influence remains as potent as ever.
By our reckoning, 111 individual North American Grade 1 winners and European Group 1 winners (since those labels were adopted on either side of the Atlantic in the early 1970s) trace back to La Troienne as tail-female descendants. Seven of La Troienne’s daughters have G1-winning descendants. Those seven, in the order they were foaled, are Black Helen (her champion filly), Baby League, Big Hurry, Businesslike, Besieged, Belle Histoire and Belle of Troy.
In turn, this septet have produced no fewer than twenty granddaughters between them who have each founded their own families that include at least one G1 winner.
La Troienne gained three new G1 winners tracing to her in 2019. Interestingly, while each of the three stem from different daughters, all three trace back to granddaughters of La Troienne sired by the 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral.
Five-year-old mare Come Dancing won the Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga. She traces back to Baby League, the daughter of La Troienne who has the most G1-winning descendants, the vast majority of which stem from Baby League’s daughter Striking. This is the same branch that the Kentucky Derby winners Super Saver and Smarty Jones belong to. Come Dancing’s great great grandam Basie, a Grade 1 winner herself in the 1985 Delaware Handicap, was a half-sister to Smarty Jones’s grandam.
Two-year-old colt Maxfield won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Out of a half-sister to Sky Mesa who won the same race (when it was a Grade 2) and the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, Maxfield descends from Buckpasser’s dam Busanda who was out of La Troienne’s twice-raced daughter Businesslike.
While La Troienne’s influence has largely made itself felt in North America, she does have Group 1-winning descendants in Europe too, and the latest is the Galileo colt Circus Maximus, winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes and Prix du Moulin in 2019. He has the aforementioned Priceless Gem as his fifth dam, and this branch of the La Troienne family has its origins with her granddaughter Searching whose dam was Big Hurry, a full sister to Black Helen and Bimelech. July Cup and Nunthorpe Stakes winner Mozart was another member of the Searching branch to make his mark in Europe.