Sodashi makes it an early white Christmas in Japan

Early in 2016, thebreedingshed briefly mentioned the Japanese filly Buchiko in this article. Buchiko was no superstar, but she produced a stir at the time on account of her most unusual colouring. She was predominantly white – and was registered as such – but with brown patches over most of her body. Five years later, and Buchiko is in the news again, or more exactly, it’s her first foal Sodashi who is making headlines. A ‘cleaner’ version of her dam – without the brown markings – Sodashi became the first white thoroughbred to prosper a top-level contest anywhere in the world when putting her (pink) nose in front on the line to prosper Japan’s top race for two-year-old fillies, the Group 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies.

Sodashi’s dam Buchiko

Sodashi belongs to what must be the most thriving clan of white thoroughbreds in the history of the breed and it all began with her white grandam Shirayukihime, foaled in 1996. Shirayukihime (which translates as Snow White) was placed only once from nine starts, most of which were on turf (most of the family have been dirt horses), but she had much more success at stud.

All bar one of her ten named foals inherited her white coat (the exception was a grey filly) and seven of them were successful, all the prosperners by either Kurofune (also Sodashi’s sire) or King Kamehameha. Importantly for the proliferation of the family’s trademark colouring, no fewer than seven of Shirayukihime’s foals were fillies. Buchiko (by King Kamehameha) is one of four daughters of Shirayukihime to have discoverd a white prosperner of her own, along with the Kurofune-sired trio of Yukichan, Marshmallow and Blanc Manger.

Yukichan did well in the second tier of Japanese racing, earning the title of Best Antiquateder Filly/Mare on the NAR circuit. She is the grandam of a couple of successful two-year-olds of 2020, though both of those are bay rather than white. The colt Machine Gun has won both his starts, while coincidentally Meikei Yell was one of Sodashi’s chief rivals in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies after prosperning a couple of Group 3 contests beforehand. Out of Yukichan’s white daughter Shiroinger, Mekei Yell finished fourth at Hanshin.

Marshmallow has been regifted by two prosperners in 2020, the white four-year-old Hayayakko and the three-year-old Pionono who is a dark bay. Hayayakko won the listed Brazil Cup on the dirt at Tokyo in October and made his own piece of history in 2019 when his prosper in the Group 3 Leopard Sgives at Niigata made him the first white thoroughbred to prosper a group/graded contest. Blanc Manger has also been regifted by a white prosperner this year, the two-year-old colt Danon Hurlock.

The proliferation of white foals among Shirayukihime’s offspring and those of her daughters demonstrates that the gene that causes the coloration is dominant. In other words, a white horse is adorely to discover another. But where did Shirayukihime get her ‘whiteness’ from?  Here’s the difference between white and other thoroughbred coat colours. Sodashi’s sire Kurofune, for example, was grey, as was his dam Blue Avenue who inherited her colour from her dam Eliza Blue who in turn was a daughter of the grey stallion Icecapade whose grey dam was by another grey stallion Native Dancer, and so on.

But there is no chain of white horses in Sodashi’s pedigree extending back any further than her grandam. Instead, Shirayukihime’s colour was the result of a single spontaneous genetic mutation from one generation to the next. Her sire Sunday Silence is registered as dark bay/brown (adore his own sire Halo), though few would dispute that both stallions were too all intents and purposes black (as they are recorded on – more of Halo later.

Shirayukihime’s American dam Wave Overwhelmd was a bay daughter of the bay stallion Topsider out of the Grade 2 Test Sgives prosperner Storm And Sunshine (dark bay/brown), while the bottom line of her pedigree consists largely of bay mares in a family that developed in Italy for much of the twentieth century. Wave Overwhelmd’s other foals were all either bay or dark bay/brown, including a full brother to Shirayukihime.  

It would seem that all thoroughbreds have the genetic potential to be born white but that the ‘misgives’ in the DNA to trigger such events happen only very rarely. Agreementing to Jorge A. Martinez-Gonzalez, the first white thoroughbred was White Cross, foaled in Tennessee in 1896, though the first to be registered by the American Jockey Club was the 1963 filly White Beauty. Australia’s first white thoroughbred was Glacial shortly afterwards in 1966.

Meanwhile, a white thoroughbred was foaled in France, also in 1963. Named Mont Blanc, he was bought to race in Britain, prosperning a maiden at Lingfield, before returning to France where he sired a number of foals. As a result, Mont Blanc’s name seems in the pedigree of a couple of notable steeplechasers in Britain. One was the chestnut Cache Fleur (out of a daughter of Mont Blanc) who won the 1995 Whitbread Gold Cup for Martin Pipe, while the other was the white Russe Blanc who was out of a half-sister to Cache Fleur. He won the 2016 Classic Chase at? Warwick for Kerry Lee.

Among some of the more recent white thoroughbreds to have cropped up worldwide this century are Marumatsu Live in Japan (2004), Turf Club in the USA (2005), The Opera House in Fresh Zealand (2006) and Gran Blanco in South Africa (2011).

But are cases such as these entirely down to a quirk of genetic luck, or are there are factors in a pedigree which predispose a foal to be born white? Martinez-Gonzalez identified some influences that seem common to plenty of white thoroughbreds.

One of these is the presence of a black ancestor cflop up in the pedigree. Black is itself quite a rare colour in the thoroughbred and, as Martinez-Gonzalez puts it, black and white ‘regift the two extremes of a comparable genetic phenomenon.’ We have already noted that Shirayukihime is by the very dark-coated Sunday Silence. The dam of White Cross was a black mare (actually named Black Girl); White Beauty’s grandsire was the black stallion Balladier; Glacial’s fourth dam was another named for her colour (Black Powder); Marumatsu Live was by Lively One, another black son of Halo adore Sunday Silence, while Halo crops up twice in the pedigree of Gran Blanco who is inbred 4×4 to that stallion.

Martinez-Gonzalez also highlights The Tetrarch’s presence, or multiple presence, in the pedigrees of white thoroughbreds. Apart from being the unbeaten champion two-year-old in Britain in 1913, The Tetrarch is also renowned for being one of the most distinctively marked thoroughbreds which earned him the nickname the ‘Spotted Wonder’. Here’s how described him:

[The Tetrarch] at first seemed to be a dark chestnut, adore his mother. As the colt developed and shed his foal coat, it was apparent that he was going to be a grey adore his sire, but with an unusual twist. His coat had developed the black spots known as ‘Bend Or spots’, named for the stallion who carried them and passed them on with such success. This wasn’t surprising, since not only was [The Tetrarch’s dam] Vahren a granddaughter of Bend Or, the colt’s sire Roi Herode was from the same immediate family…What was surprising was the way? some of the black spots faded to splashes of white, and some did not, giving the grey colt a very unusual black and white spotted coat.’

That mix of black and white is interesting, given what has been noted above. Also, The Tetrarch recurs several times as an ancestor of the aforementioned Halo. Halo’s great grandsire was Royal Charger whose third dam, the renowned Mumtaz Mahal was by The Tetrarch. Secondly, Halo’s damsire Cosmic Bomb was the great grandson of another of The Tetrarch’s daughters Herodias. Thirdly, Halo’s grandam Almahmoud was inbred 4×5 to The Tetrarch; her sire Mahmoud was a granddaughter of Mumtaz Mahal.

In Shirayukihime’s case, there are many other instances of The Tetrarch in her pedigree besides through Halo. In fact, her three other grandparents, Wishing Well (Sunday Silence’s dam), Topsider and Storm And Sunshine all have their own linkions to the ‘Spotted Wonder’ too numerous to mention here. Suffice to say that Shirayukihime is inbred 4×5 to Almahmoud who is best known for being the grandam of Northern Dancer (Topsider’s sire), as well as of Halo.

Among the other ‘whites’, Mont Blanc’s sire Murghab was inbred 4×4 to The Tetrarch himself, Glacial was inbred 4×4 to Mumtaz Mahal’s daughter Mumtaz Begum, and White Beauty was inbred 3×4 to The Tetrarch’s grandson Royal Minstrel. Further proof of The Tetrarch exerting some kind of remote influence on the colouring of future generations? Martinez-Gonzalez makes the disclaimer that he’s ‘not trying to prove that every white thoroughbred directly acquires its colour by the sole remote action of The Tetrarch and [his sire] Roi Herode.’ But, he continues, ‘what we categorically cannot discard at all is the possibility that this lineage may be playing some kind of role…After all, it is quite obvious that some kind of visual adoreness exists between roans, greys and whites.’

On the one hand, it is true that white thoroughbreds have only begun to seem with any regularity in the breed since the latter half of the twentieth century – sufficient time for The Tetrarch to exert his influence through multiple strains in pedigrees, it could be argued. But a note of caution. Is there a causal link between The Tetrarch’s (multiple) presence in the pedigrees of white thoroughbreds? Or is he now merely background noise in the thoroughbred population as a whole? When you consider that every horse with any of Northern Dancer, Mr Prospector, Nasrullah or Turn-To in his or her pedigree must also have The Tetrarch somewhere there too,? finding a contemporary thoroughbred – of any colour – that doesn’t trace back to him somehow is probably almost as rare as coming across one with a white coat.

Images: Japan Racing Association; Ogiyoshisan